Wadi Shab is without a doubt my favourite place in Oman. I can't count the number of times we visited whilst I was growing up in Oman. It's changed a lot over the years, and whilst it may not be quite as perfect as it once was, it's still a very remarkable place. The surrounding developments have sadly taken away from the natural beauty, particularly at the entrance, but fear not, it's still well worth the visit.
You'll start your journey at Wadi Shab by taking a short boat ride. The ride will cost around 1 OMR, if you act like you know where you're going and say that you've been before and live in Oman you may find you get it cheaper. However, every time I have visited the entrance has changed. It started off with a simple boat (back in 2000), they later added a concrete bridge/walkway, but this seems to have been taken out again. Perhaps as the cheap boat fair is a great way for the locals to earn a bit of money. If the water is low, you may also find you can just wade across.
After the boat ride, you'll walk through the wadi, it usually takes us around 45 minutes. The route is fairly obvious but they have added a few basic signs along the way to help you out (usually spray painted onto a rock). There are some bits of the trek that are a little scary when you're high up with an exposed face, but for the most part, it's not too bad at all. My family and I did it countless times when I was only 7 or 8. So trust me you'll be fine! You may have to wade through water depending on the time of year.
After the hike you'll find yourself at the entrance of the water, the depth will vary depending on when it last rained. So in some parts, you'll need to swim and in some parts, you'll be able to wade through. But after 20-30 minutes you'll find yourself at the keyhole.
The keyhole is the entrance to the highlight of Wadi Shab, the cave. The keyhole is a small opening, only big enough for your head to squeeze through. Depending on the water level, you should be able to go through the keyhole, which is around 3 meters long, with your head above the water holding onto the surrounding rock.
When you reach the keyhole, unless you know what's behind it, you'd probably think it was time to turn around. But trust me, the cave is by far the best bit. Inside the cave, you'll find crystal clear waters that are the most beautiful shade of blue you've ever seen. Unlike the rest of the swim/hike through the wadi, there is nowhere to properly sit once you are inside the cave, so be prepared to tread water. Depending on the water levels, inside the cave, you'll find a waterfall. Sometimes it's just trickling in which case you can climb up the waterfall using the attached ropes, other times the water is just too strong. The water in the cave is so deep, so you can have great fun jumping in off the waterfall.
You'll often find you have the cave to yourself, as many visitors don't reach it, either because they don't know about it or they aren't strong enough swimmers. That being said, I always visit early to miss any tour groups.
Be mindful of the water levels and current, it's not always safe to go in - read more below about staying safe!
Behind us is the entrance to the cave
Swimming through Wadi Shab when I was 8!
People have died when visiting Wadi Shab. So please please read this part carefully. Many incidents are a result of drowning, if you're not a strong swimmer don't even think about entering the cave. I suggest if you're not confident in your swimming abilities you also bring a floatation device or even a life jacket. Never enter the water alone, even if you're a strong swimmer.
When it rains, Wadi Shab will fill up and get very dangerous very quickly. I've seen it happen and it's pretty darn scary! If there is any sign of rain, don't enter the wadi. The locals know what they're talking about if they tell you not to enter to the wadi, listen to them. If you visit recently after the rainfall, you'll likely find that the water is high and the currents are strong. The last time I visited was in April 2016 just after rainfall. We could only enter the keyhole for a few minutes as the water was so rough due to the incredibly powerful waterfall inside. I'm a pretty strong swimmer and I was struggling, so please be careful, if you're not sure, don't risk it.
The rocks can get very slippery, so walk slowly and I really recommend wearing shoes with a decent grip. Personally, I always wear water shoes as trainers can get heavy. Always hold on when you're walking in the riskier areas.
Remember, if you put yourself at risk...you're putting someone else at risk too if they have to try and save you.
What to wear
When you visit Wadi Shab, it's important to be mindful of where you are, Oman is a Muslim country. So, they are more conservative then you might be used to. I do usually wear a bikini or swimming costume during the swim. Although, when it's hot it's often a good idea to wear a rash vest to protect yourself and to cover up, particularly if it busy. During the hike, I always make sure to get dressed. If there's no one around you may want to walk in your costume for a little bit to dry off, but be mindful, particularly as you approach the entrance where most of the locals will be. I'd also recommend wearing board shorts as they are quick drying for the walk back!
In terms of footwear, I highly recommend water shoes. You're constantly walking in and out of the water, wading through, and there's nothing worse than soggy feet. Alternatively, you may want to wear waterproof sandals, something like Tevas would be great! Do not wear flip-flops ever. You'll often see abandoned flip-flops along the walk as they'll almost always break, and you don't want to end up barefoot. It's hot on the floor, but more importantly, it can be sharp and uneven. And of course, don't forget to take a hat!
Do I need a guide?
Whilst I would definitely recommend avoiding tour groups, a local guide might not be a bad idea. If you think you'd feel more comfortable with a guide then go ahead and ask one of the locals at the entrance. We used a guide a few times when we first visited, and often the Omani's used to tag along with us anyway. I remember we had the most lovely Omani man who sang songs along the hike, and even carried me on his back as we did the swimming part (I was only 8 years old). I have no idea how much a guide would cost now though, as it was over ten years ago now.
The route is pretty self-explanatory as there is really only one direction to go. So if you're confident and feeling adventurous, I'd say do it by yourselves (don't go completely alone though!). As long as you keep walking straight down the gorge you'll get there. You'll have to cross the wadi at certain points, so look for the red arrows on the rocks. For most of the walk, you'll be at the base of the wadi. So if you find yourself wandering too high up on what does not appear to be a path, you may have gone the wrong way. There are some bits that are higher, but they're fairly obvious as they're mostly manmade paths and steps. If it begins to feel too precarious, look back and see if there is a better route.
Getting to Wadi Shab
If you have a car with you, getting to Wadi Shab is super easy. It's around a 1.5-hour drive from Muscat, and it's well signposted so you won't miss it! Simply take highway 17 towards Sur, and you'll pass Wadi Shab Resort. When you reach the Wadi Shab sign, pass under the highway towards Tiwi. You'll know you're at the entrance when you're at the carpark underneath the overpass. Of course, you can just stick it in google maps and you'll be there in no time!
I highly recommend driving if you can get your hands on a car. You'll have so much more flexibility, and won't be waiting around for anyone. Be sure to stop at Bimmah Sink Hole on the way or way back.
If you don't want to drive or can't drive, the next best thing would be to hire a driver for the day. You'll want someone who's willing to wait around for a few hours though! Most taxi's in Oman will be willing to wait around for the right price, so get negotiating!
There are many companies who offer tours to Wadi Shab, but I would recommend you avoid them. They're usually very pricey, and unflexible. Plus, many of them are in huge groups, which really detracts from the beauty of Wadi Shab. If you do want to go with a company be sure to find out exactly what you're getting. you want to make sure you've got plenty of time to go at your own pace and spend time in the cave. Many of the companies don't allow time for swimming all the way to the cave.
Where to stay
Every time I've ever visited Wadi Shab, I have always stayed overnight in Tiwi. It was one of our main camping spots when we were growing up. One of the benefits of staying overnight is you can easily be one of the first people there without waking up too early.
The last time I visited I took my partner who had never been before. We were driving from Oman and didn't want to bring all of our camping gear for one night we decided to stay in Wadi Shab Resort. Wadi Shab Resort didn't exist when I was growing up in Oman. I believe it opened in around 2013. It's somewhat tired, but functional. It's not a hotel that I'd rush to stay in, but it's a perfect place to stay near Wadi Shab if you don't want to camp. They'll also be able to offer you a guide if you would like. The food was a buffet for both breakfast and dinner. Similar to the rest of the resort, the food was average but fine. Like I said, it's not an amazing hotel. Don't go expecting anything special, but it's totally worth it to be able to wake up early and be the first ones in the wadi.
*As of 2018, the resort is known as Sama Wadi Shab Resort, as it's management has been taken over by Sama Resorts & Spa. I haven't been since then so I have no idea if anything has changed.
Get there early - Wadi Shab was once one of the best kept secrets of Oman, more recently it's been increasing in popularity, particularly since the 2012 Red Bull Cliff Diving final, and it's definitely no longer a secret. Therefore I highly recommend getting there early. By early I mean don't even consider arriving after 8 am. The last time we visited was Easter weekend, so I was expecting it to be pretty busy. We made sure we were there at 7 am to set off. Which paid off, as we had the place mostly to ourselves. We only passed a couple of groups that were keen like us. However on the way back at around 10 am, we passed SO many people. When we arrived back at the carpark there were at least 3 big tour buses parked up. Thank goodness we missed them!
Take plenty of water - there's nowhere to buy anything once you set off. So, make sure to have plenty of water, particularly in the summer months. You can always leave it at the entrance of the water when you start swimming.
Take snacks - especially important if you're traveling with kids. But let's face it, who doesn't want a snack to keep them going! As I mentioned, there's nowhere to buy food, so it's worth bringing some. You could even bring a picnic, you'll often see Omani families having picnics along the wadi.
Dry Clothes - although you'll likely have dried off by the time you walk back to the car. But just in case, pack a change of clothes for the drive home.
Water shoes - I mentioned this above, but I can't stress this enough, you will thank yourself for bringing water shoes. I wear them the whole way including on the hike as it saves worrying about getting your trainers soggy. In the water when you're swimming to the cave there are lots of rocks that are sometimes sharp. They're also always very slippy, water shoes will make a massive difference.
Leave the valuables - don't bring valuables with you that can't get wet. If you want to bring a camera, make sure it's waterproof or bring a drybag. You can feel free to leave your clothes at the entrance of the water. But I wouldn't want to risk leaving anything valuable.
Let me know if you've visited Wadi Shab in the comments below!
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