In the desert of Oman is Wadi Bani Khalid, an oasis of natural swimming pools!
Oman is dry, hot and dusty. The Gulf of Oman is classified as either semi-desert or full on desert, with the only rainfall pouring down during the annual monsoon. I was travelling to Wadi Bani Khalid, and the route took me past the Wahiba Sands, a vast area of dunes- the full on desert part of the country- in the Sharqiya Region south of Muscat.
On one side of the dust blown road- towards the coast- arid mountains rose blindingly in the bright sunlight, while towards the west, desert sands stretched to eternity- the sort of territory that the famous British explorer Wilfred Thesiger would have been much at home taking his camels through.
Somewhere in this wind swept landscape of rock and sand though was an oasis. Wadi Bani Khalid was in the mountains to the east, a hidden valley of water and swimming holes, a place with an abundance of greenery and life in stark contrast to the surrounding harsh landscapes of Oman I was witnessing now.
Wadi Bani Khalid Oman
Wadi is the Arabic term for a river valley, many of which remain dry for the majority of the year- filling up only in the heavy monsoon seasons.
Wadi Bani Khalid though, is a real oasis in the desert, because water here flows continually, all year round.
To reach this hidden valley, I drove into the mountains that had been shimmering at me on the highway all morning.
I passed through small Omani towns and villages, before the road began winding through perilously steep mountain passes and ever higher into the range.
The road soon began to follow a local Fallaj system- irrigation channels which have been used for centuries to funnel water and are vital for the livelihood of the people who call this arid land home.
Abruptly the road stopped, surrounded by towering mountain cliffs.
Following The Fallaj To Wadi Bani Khalid
I left the car under the shade of the mountains,and followed the Fallaj into the increasingly green valley. A short hike later and I emerged into a wide, flat area of green-blue water and date trees.
The midday heat was by now brutal. The sun was high in the sky and beating down relentlessly. Sweat was dripping from every pour.
But still there were workers toiling tirelessly in this hot oppression, working on the water’s edge to dam up the channels and ensure the flow of water into the Fallaj.
The Oasis In The Desert
Wadi Bani Khalid stretches upwards along the rising valley into the steep and rocky mountains above. At the base, is a scene in drastic contrast to the landscapes I’d driven through to get here.
Wide pools of fresh water get ever deeper, and with the Wadi becoming ever popular with tourists in Oman, bridges, verandas and even a small restaurant have been built to navigate the river and provide shade and refreshment for locals and visitors.
Wadi Bani Khalid was looking increasingly inviting in the parched, dry heat that my British heritage could never be prepared for.
To The Top Of The Wadi
The Wadi forms a labyrinth like network of swimming pools and rock slides. It’s possible to work your away from top to bottom with a bit of climbing and a lot of swimming.
I trekked along the edge of the Wadi, looking down at the water below and getting hotter and hotter on the way upwards.
I was going to make my first swim in the water really count, and then work my way down to the larger pools at the base.
Swimming At Wadi Bani Khalid
I stopped in the shade when the rocks began to plateau out. If I’d have carried on then further into the valley are caves, and for the really adventurous, a three day hike will bring you over the Hajar mountains and onto the coast of Oman.
This was as far as I was going, the water here was clear, inviting and numbingly cold.
Exactly what I needed.
The Wadi has carved an intricate path over millennia and the rocks now form natural water slides and cliff jumping points. I slid into the cold, cold water, and began working my way back downstream.
I was surrounded by white stone walls and swam and climbed through the rocks and channels on my way down again.
Wadi Bani Khalid is a natural water park- that’s best way to describe this place- the opportunities for swimming and jumping are endless in the maze of swimming holes and waterfalls.
After hours exploring this desert oasis though, it was time to hit the long, dusty road back to Muscat.
How To Travel To Wadi Bani Khalid In Oman
- Wadi Bani Khalid in Oman is found around 250 kilometres south of Muscat. It would be almost impossible to reach by public transport, so either a hire car or a tour is needed to reach here. Plenty of tour companies in Muscat offer either day trips, or multi day excursions including the surrounding areas.
- If driving directly from Muscat, take highway 15 out of the city- this is the road towards the Samail Gap and Nizwa- but turn off onto highway 23 south towards Ibra. When I drove this road there were heavy roadworks as they are turning the single lane road into a multi lane motorway, similar to the coastal road towards Sur. Expect lots of jams and traffic unfortunately until it is completed. You’ll pass through mountains, and winding roads with some hairy drops over the edge so take it easy!
- Once you are past Ibra, there is a turn off by the small town of Bidiyah which will take you into the mountains. There are a lot of steep, sharp turns on the way to Wadi Bani Khalid, so it can get a bit jammed up here when it is busy too.
- Drive through the town of Wadi Bani Khalid and keep going until you can’t go any further! This is the car park, and it is surrounded by high cliffs- pretty spectacular.
- Walk along the Falaj- the water irrigation system- and you will find Wadi Bani Khalid ahead of you after a ten minute walk.
- There is a restaurant serving buffet lunches and refreshments, as well as toilets and changing facilities- all quite basic.
- There was no entry fee when I visited in October 2017.
- Although the trip is doable in a very long day trip from Muscat, I would recommend combining it with the opportunity to see more of this part of Oman. I drove the coastal road towards Sur, stopping at Bimmah, Sur and then seeing the turtles at Ras al-Jinz. On my way back to Muscat I then stopped at Wadi Bani Khalid.
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