Experience Adventure in the Misty Mountains of Dhofar

The “Well of the Birds,” ancient Baobab forest, old kingdom’s castle, and majestic seaside cliffs

While Salalah is today’s principal city in Southern Oman, it has not always been so. Long ago, the sleepy fishing village of Mirbat once dominated the global Frankincense trade.

The road east of Salalah to Mirbat is full of adventure to those who will take it. A direct route to Mirbat will take about 45 minutes. Once there, you can get out and enjoy exploring the labyrinth passageways of Mirbat castle which stands guarded by a trio of cannons. After exiting the fort, take some time to stroll along Mirbat’s quiet beaches, and maybe grab a quick coffee or tea at one of the beachside shops.

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For the more adventurous, consider taking the alternative mountain route to Mirbat which will lead you to the mammoth Tawi Atayr sinkhole, and through a nearby Baobab forest. To access this route, turn left off the main road to Mirbat and follow the road leading to Wadi Darbat. At 2.7 km from highway, you’ll see a signpost for Darbat, continue going straight on to head toward Tawi Atayr. As you enter the village of Tawi Atayr, turn sharply left after passing the petrol station. Take the second right after 500m, then turn right again 500m after that to reach the parking area for the sinkhole.

Tawi Atayr sinkhole, aptly named “the well of the birds” not only greets you with actual music from the many birds that inhabit the area, but with jaw-dropping views of one of the largest, and at 211 meters, one of the deepest sinkholes on the planet. You have the option of either following the paved path to a pleasant viewing area, or exploring the area for paths leading further down into or above the sinkhole. Either option will yield great spots to snap some memories before heading back to the road.

Once back in the village of Tawi Atayr, continue following the main road toward Mirbat. Toward the end of this road you’ll reach a series of steep switchbacks leading you down toward the coastal plain, and the road leading east to Mirbat. About midway down the switchbacks, you’ll find a track on the right leading to the Baobab forest. There are no signs posted, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for it.

Those who’ve visited Africa or Australia will be familiar with the odd shape of what are sometimes called ‘upside down trees,’ referring to the Baobab’s extremely thick trunk, and spindly, root-like branches. From the parking area, following the path uphill past the plaque and you’ll discover a well-worn trail. After a 10 minute walk, you probably won’t be able to miss the massive specimen, spanning more than 10m in diameter in some places. Since, unlike most trees, Baobabs don’t contain annual growth rings, one can only guess how old this leafy giant truly is.

At the end of the switchbacks, you can either turn left to continue on to Mirbat, or right to return to Salalah. If you choose the right option, consider throwing one last item onto your itinerary with a visit to the cliffs lining the seaside from Mirbat to Khor Rori. You’ll need to off-road a bit to access the cliffs, but once there you certainly won’t regret this chance to view the majestic waves from well over 30m in some places.

Tips for the day:

  • In Mirbat, and Tawi Atayr, you’ll encounter a more traditional, and conservative lifestyle. Remember to be respectful of the local environment and to dress comfortably, yet modestly.
  • If you opt to take the road to Tawi Atayr, try to procure a tourism map (available at many public locations) so you can be sure to stay on route. While the road is fairly straightforward, there are several places you could get lost if you take a wrong turn.
  • Also, if on the mountain road to Taxi Atayr during Khareef, be sure to enjoy the views, but do be careful. The mountain is often cloaked in thick mist that can make driving difficult, and other drivers can appear quite suddenly – even if you’re watching for them
  • The beautiful Baobab forest, like so many places during Khareef, plays host to visiting mosquitos. Be sure to bring a bottle of insect repellent with you to take in the views with comfort.
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