I wanted to go to Salalah all summer, but I put it off until the temperature dipped down a little at the start of September. Also, technically I was working all summer and my boss only decided that my contract deems me eligible to take some time off at the end of August, but that’s another story for another day.
So, what is the coastal road between Salalah and Muscat really like? Is it worth it? How long does it actually take to drive? Below I’m going to give you the details of my route.
The newest and most glorious part of the route (for a sedan) is in the first three hours coming from the south. From Salalah to Mirbat you get some access to good beaches and the cliffs off of Taqah, but Mirbat is still pretty much part of Dofar and sort of Salalah. From Mirbat to Sadah you go inland for a bit and then after Sadah, the road opens up between Sadah and Hasik you have 64km or 50 minutes of stunning scenery with dark mountainous crags literally falling into an azure sea. If you’re car camping in a two wheel drive, there are some places here that would make for a beautiful overnight. The water is a dazzling blue and turquoise and the road is quite quiet.
The petrol station in Hasik is a good place for a coffee and the beaches there might be nice for camping, I only stopped for coffee. After Hasik, you get a good 10-15km of stunning scenery with the ocean at your right and smooth, layered cliffs on your left. There is a also Natef falls where you can stop, pee, and collect fresh water. After this the 42 begins to climb into a stretch of rocky, curvy mountains where you climb only about 300 meters above sea level, as far as I could tell, but in a sedan you can feel the strain on your engine and it’s best to engage low gears or if you’re in two-wheel drive, manual drive. This mountainous terrain, with stunning drop-offs and view points where you can park your car, goes on for about 80km or an hour, depending on how fast you drive until you arrive at the seaside town of Ash Shuwaymiyyah.
Ash Shuwaymiyyah is a great place to stop for gas and even groceries. The little stores here stock everything from flip-flips to frozen chicken. Going inland, Wadi Ash Shuwaymiyyah is a popular destination for camping if you have a 4×4. If you are in a sedan, the beach at Ash Shuwaymiyyah has some platform gazebos that are in very good condition (at the time of writing). It is common in Oman for people to set up small wooden shacks or stands and to pitch their tents inside this slightly protected area to guard against the wind and the elements. You will see platform gazebos with tents pitched inside all over Oman. Ash Shuwaymiyyah is one of the few beaches accessible by sedan (that I saw) that’s not completely full of fisherman’s boats, meaning you might get a peaceful night’s sleep.
If I had to do this road trip all over again tomorrow in a sedan knowing what I know now, I would camp at the beach at Ash Shuwaymiyyah and drive 9 hours to the turtle reserve at Ras Al Hadd the next day to camp, stopping off at a few places along the way.
From Ash Shuwaymiyyah, the 42 ascends another steep highway pass and ends up at a juncture at Shalim, where there is gas and a few stores, this is about 37 km. From here, you have a choice to either continue the long coastal road up to Ras Al Hadd and on to Muscat, or follow the 42 up to Amal where it intersects with the 39, and from here you can go northeast and be in Haima on the main freeway in under three hours (275km). You could be back in Muscat in about 7 hours if choose to do this. I’ve driven the route from Duqm to Salalah, and then back from Salalah all the way along the coast up to Al Hadd and Muscat, and I can tell you that if you’re in a sedan and in a time crunch (meaning you have less than 2-3 days), the drive from Salalah to Ash Shuwaymiyyah basically covers the most scenic and magnificent parts of the journey. The turtles at Ras Al Hadd are worth a trip on their own, but that can be done from Muscat as an easy overnight trip.
I say this because the road from Shalim northward is dead boring without a 4×4 with few camping opportunities. But if you are like me, with a severe case of FOMO and time on your hands, than by all means, let us press forward.
In Shalim you can get gas and maybe coffee. From here you exit on the roundabout to join the 41 which takes you across a high plateau, you can tell from the limited visibility and the strong winds. Here the clouds almost kiss the round and with the curvature of the road, for me it felt dangerous to drive faster than 130kph. It is 112 km until you descend back to sea level again at the town of Lakabi. If you’re looking for a small, sheltered cove town, you can also descend at Sawqirah where there is a designated camping spot called Camping Aria (pictured below). On my trip from Muscat to Salalah, I took the main road to Haima and then drove toward the coast and ended up here. It was windy but it was cleaner than other places I ended up at on the trip.
From Lakabi to Ras Madrakah beach you’ve got a long stretch of 207km where you might be close to the sea on your right, but you can’t see it. You’re in the desert. This drive is about 2 hours. A favorite beach along the route for me was at Quwayrah a small white fisherman’s beach strewn with boats and even a little mosque. When I first found this beach on my drive from Muscat to Salalah, I really wanted to camp here but I was sort of chased away by the intense interest the local fisherman showed in me, following me around in their Landcruisers and asking questions as I tried to have a moment of tranquil bliss while inspecting dried out pufferfish and the corpse of the first giant sea turtle I had ever seen. On my way back to Muscat via the coastal route, I could not resist stopping at Quwayrah again and was again approached by trucks full of fisherman, which is when I began to ask them questions and realized, I was at their workplace and they’d be coming back and forth all night and at dawn the night morning. There were hundreds of boats on the sand and to me what served as a perfect opportunity for photography, was for them their workplace. As a solo female traveler with two dogs that warm up to strangers rather quickly, it wasn’t safe for me to stay there.
Actually, most of the beaches between Ash Shuwaymiyyah and Al Hadd which are accessible via sedan car, are fishermen’s beaches. If you’re a solo traveller, it is important to keep this in mind and not expect that you will find a safe, quiet spot to pitch you tent if you don’t have a 4×4.
So on my first day from Salalah to Muscat, my planned stop off point was at Ras Madrakah beach which is 27km down a blacktop road to a village and a beach you can easily see from google maps. I arrived at dusk and ran into a sign that put my heart in my flip-flops, the sign said there was no camping allowed on the beach, no dogs, no fires. The beach was a desolate, empty, conspicuous construction site on the edge of a village filled with workers and I knew that I could not risk breaking the law and I’d surely be seen. With hardly an signal on my phone, I checked google maps and saw a place called Camping Soukrh, just 5 km away.
The vibe at Camping Soukrh at dusk was basically 1990’s cartoon villain’s lair gone wrong. The gravel road led to a narrow path where on both sides small black rocky crags dotted the trash-strewn landscape and disappeared into the humid mist. The road lead to a small cove surrounded by black rocks on all side. There were makeshift camping shelters with rugs and mats stapled to create dirty fabric walls meant to shelter your tent from the wind. I let my dogs out and they immediately went nosing through the most trash I’ve seen in one place in Oman. Each little beach shelter was surrounded by a halo of bottle caps, bones, spilled food and chip bags. My dogs had a blast and refused to even sniff at the food I offered them from my plate that night (it was cold pizza, but still, they wanted the trash).
I could not find anywhere else on the map and I knew I had little light left to decide, so I pitched my tent at Camping Soukrh. The rocks here insulate the little cove so much that a thick humid fog did not lift from 6pm to 7am the next morning while we stayed. This might be a slightly warmer and more insulated place to stay in the winter, but for September it was uncomfortably humid and hot.
If my phone had been able to connect better to the internet, or if I had got back to the 32 (at the turn-off to Ras Madrakah, the road that you’ve been following changes from being marked as the 41 to the 32 on google maps). If I had a 4×4, I might have tried my luck at another beach on the same little peninsula also called Ras Madrakah on a signpost from the main highway. This beach is labeled on google maps as a fisherman’s beach and it’s high cliffs and expansiveness make it look perfect for camping, but you do need a 4×4.
If you want to quit your coastal road trip here, and after the night I spent in ominous, Camping Soukrh (did I mention it felt like the junkyard in All Dog’s Go to Heaven?) shortly after Ras Madrakah you hit a few roundabouts where you can go inland via the 37 and hit Haima in two hours. There’s also Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve which is home to the Arabian Oryx and gazel, and I think you can camp there.
Duqm is the next big city and although it looks promising, it can be a clusterf*ck of confusing roads, it’s sort of an industrial nightmare and I lost a few hours of my life here on my way to Salalah looking for a toilet and a place to buy a grilled chicken for myself and my dogs. Men in trucks here following me around offering to buy one of my dogs. The roads were confusing, Duqm is clearly still a work in progress full of workers and immigrants. I wouldn’t stop off there unless absolutely necessary despite the fact that there’s a Korean restaurant which I never made it to.
I drove from Duqm up through the oil fields and ice factories (where you can buy ice, by the way) up to Al Khaluf. The road here was where I saw my first white sand dunes, the very beginning of Wahiba Sands. Al Khalouf has a stunning coastline dotted with traditional Arabian fishing dhows but the village itself is impassable via sedan car due to the sands. Thick fluffy white sand clogs most of the streets. I drove into the village and drove straight out after a 4×4 pulled up next to me and a local asked what I was doing there. He was being nice about it, but it was clear to me that this was not the village for my Yaris despite what Google maps said about it.
North of Al Khaluf, you come to a crossroads where you can continue on the 32 north or you can turn toward the coast, toward Mahoot, a small town with plenty of bigger grocery stores, juice places, and restaurants. I did explore Mahoot very much but it looked like it was the best shopping center between Salalah and Sur, and better suited for campers and travelers than Duqm. At this point, Google maps only shows a fraction of the shopping and places that are really available in Mahoot. I was very much surprised but it is not surprising since this is a starting off and refueling point between Wahiba Sands and Bar al Hikman, Oman’s famous but dangerous saltwater paradise.
From Mahoot, I skirted Wahiba sands and drove north toward the turtle reserve at Al Hadd. Very few places along this road had service roads to the beach, which was disappointing to me. My little sedan was banished to the main highway and at once point when I did take a service road which I thought was good enough for my car, I got stuck and had to wait for a local in a Nissan Patrol (the ultimate 4×4 in Oman) to pull me out. Luckily he did and I gave his kids all bags of crackers from my stash.
The only place along this route north of Duqm on the way to Al Hadd which had seaside camping spots accessible for a two wheel drive was the town of Al Ashkharah which had coffee shops and it seemed like every store I passed was selling firewood, I can only imagine because people go inland from here into Wahiba sands.
From Al Ashkharah to Al Hadd is only about 87km or an hour or so.
Al Hadd is famous for being a turtle reserve. I booked a room here via Airbnb at a place called Orchid Guest House which allows dogs. I needed a shower and I had booked the room last minute after I left Al Khaluf. This guest house exceeded my expectations. The guy they have managing the house brings you coffee or tea moments after you are settled, he has all the information you need.
Before sunrise, I woke up and headed to a nearby beach reserved for nesting turtles. I honestly did not expect much but as soon as I started walked toward the ocean, I saw sand being sprayed into the air from under the ground and there were two turtles, meters from one another digging holes.
I tried to give the Mamma turtles space while taking photos. I was not alone and a few families approached them as well, with one father taking photos of the turtle while it was scooting into the ocean like he was paparazzi at the Grammy’s. The beach at Al Hadd is an experience that I would happily repeat over and over again. I can’t believe how many people live in Oman without ever doing it.
My dogs needed to run so I left the main turtle beach and drove just a few km up to an area covered with fisherman’s trucks and tents, obviously not part of the reserve and interestingly this beach is right next to an old airport. I was surprised to find baby turtles here making their way through the tents and trash to the water! Since a sign posted at the previous beach gives visitors permission to help the baby turtles find the water, that’s what I did. It was an experience that I can’t quite put into words. I wanted to stay for days at Al Hadd walking the beach and helping baby turtles find the sea.
The drive from Al Hadd to Sur is fast and in Sur you can find excellent coffee, restaurants and big supermarkets. From Sur, you can follow the coast through more small villages to Tiwi, where you can visit two famous wadis, Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab. The villages of Fins and Bimma have quiet beaches and from there it is a short drive through the mountains and other villages to Al Amarat and Muscat.
The drive requires planning and a willingness to be spontaneous. What I read told me to fill up at almost every petrol station I passed, and I did. I stashed two boxes of Dominos in the trunk of the car because most places on the route only have chips and ice cream. There are some restaurants, that’s true, but stopping off at Duqm on the way down had cost me over an hour of time just to get a grilled chicken and most places had been closed. I was happy to be able to focus on the road and pull out a slice of cold pizza when I needed it.