Oman’s green mountain has much to offer the outdoor lover. Clear skies, cool temperatures in the summer, and frost in the winter (if that’s your thing!); hiking, climbing, exploring; and of course, off-road driving.
It is just 10 minutes from the ancient capital of Nizwa, with the mountain road starting at the old village of Birkat Al Mouz. It rises some 1700 metres over a series of steep rises and hairpin bends, but don’t worry, it has two lanes and street lights with crash barriers. You must have a 4×4 to gain access to Jebel Akhdar and there is a police post at the bottom of the hill which checks driving licences and car mulkiyas and will stop you if you try to sneak up the hill in a 2wd!
Although Oman has undertaken a huge road building program in recent years which means that most villages are accessible by blacktop, there are still a few hidden gems which can only be reached by rough roads which cling to the side of mountains!
One such place is Sawjah, where an enterprising local has opened a small hotel which can be booked on Airbnb! You can drive down the road or hike down it, though if you choose the latter you will have to hike back up or hitch a ride as there is no bus service down here! You will find the top of the road at N23.11762° E57.65993°.
Another good route for easy mountain driving can be accessed from N23.11440° E57.58589° and winds its way down the mountainside offering a series of stunning views as you go. If you travel during the week try to spot the school buses which are mainly 70 series Land Cruisers with hand-painted “school bus” signs on the doors!
The best place for camping is in the scenic park (entry here -N23.12228° E57.61356°) and from here you can take stony tracks for quite a few kilometres. Right at the back of the park is a mast and if your vehicle has sufficient clearance then try to reach it – the sunsets here in the summer are divine! It is worth researching the time and cap (direction) of the sunrises and sunsets as they are sublime in the cool clear air of Jebel Akhdar. There are also possibilities here to go rock crawling with the security of well beaten paths nearby should you decide the going is too tough!
If you prefer not to camp – and you should be mindful of the overnight temps in the winter and mosquitoes in the summer months– then there are two five-star hotels as well as a couple of rest houses and most recently, some aparthotels.
The nearest repair shop for vehicles is in Nizwa, some 32kms down the winding mountain road, so if you do attempt rock crawling then please take care! You can fill up with petrol at the Al Maha gas station at Jebel Akhdar City; I have heard of it running short of fuel for 24 hours during busy times. There are cash machines near to the petrol station, as well as a couple of Arabic style restaurants.
There are some small grocery shops but not much else; Lulu has not reached 2000 metres above sea level yet! You can purchase firewood, water and basic supplies from the main town and from August to October, the main thoroughfares are dotted with farmers selling their fruit harvest.
When you walk close to villages where local families and elders live, please respect their culture and cover up from neck to knee to elbow, occasionally you may be invited in to a home for coffee and the likelihood of this increases if you are modestly attired. Chances are though, in the winter you will be fully covered in thermal clothes anyway!
This amazing desert escape is only 2.5 hours’ drive from the Al Ain Mezyad/Hafeet border and worth visiting at any time of the year. ■
Written by: Marina Bruce
Photos: Robert Handrikmaan, Mike Galvin and Marina Bruce
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this article was published in OutdoorUAE printed magazine issue #92 December 2018 – January 2019
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