If you are looking for an adventure, but nothing to strenuous, Wadi Shab is the perfect hike. Oman has amazing countryside and scenery with lush valleys and Wadis to explore. Wadi Shab can be done as a day trip from Muscat with a car or a private driver. In this blog, I’m going to outline all of the practicalities of visiting Wadi Shab, and include pictures and video to show you how beautiful it really is!
What to take to Wadi Shab
Decent walking boots are essential for this trip and any hiking in Oman. The ground can be rocky and there are thorns that can stick into your feet. Get waterproof and breathable ones as the conditions can be very hot and so you don’t want your feet to get too sweaty.
You will need to take snacks and a water bottle for the trip. It’s a short hike there and back plus around an hour to explore and do the swim at the Wadi with the waterfall and caves. Therefore the total amount of time that you will spend at Wadi Shab will be at least 3 hours. If you are coming from Muscat it is a 2 hour drive there and back, and so your total time will be a full day trip of around 7 hours in total.
You will want to take your swimming stuff with you especially if you want to swim to the waterfall and cave. Your swimwear should be extremely conservative such as swimming shorts and T shirt for men and full swim wear that covers the thighs and shoulders for women. Bikinis are an absoloute no-no. Sure, some tourists do wear them, but it is offensive to the locals.
Take aqua shoes (swimming shoes) because there is a section where you need to walk across stones and pebbles to get to the cave area – without something on your feet it KILLS!
Googles are a great thing to take if you want to see under the water. Also take a waterproof phone case if you want to take pictures inside the cave. A go pro with waterproof case is brilliant for filming the swim.
Getting to Wadi Shab Oman
I would recommend that you take a day tour or hire a driver and guide for Wadi Shab. Although it is possible to drive there yourself, you probably won’t be used to the roads or terrain. You also don’t want to get lost or stranded in the heat which can be particularly intensive during the Omani summer.
A local guide has the added bonus of translating for you and knowing where you can stop for food and Karak (Omani tea!). You can book a Wadi Shab trip with Get Your Guide and Viator travel. I can also recommend a private guide (Idrees) if you need one – he advertises on Air BnB experiences. Most drivers and guides combine this trip with the Bimah sink hole.
It takes just over 2 hours to get to Wadi Shab from Muscat travelling South East along Route 17 which is on the way to Sur. You will park up on the car park at the start of the Wadi Shab hike (which takes just under an hour to get to the Wadi). We were greeted by goats on the car park and a spot of street art! The goats are quite cheeky and we saw some trying to get into someone’s car to eat their food!
There are free toilet facilities by the car park – use these to pop to the loo and get changed into comfortable hiking clothes with swimwear underneath. Take toilet roll if you are bothered about this, but like all toilets in Oman they do have the ‘bum gun’! There won’t be anymore toilets for the rest of the hike and swim!
From the car park you need to get across the lake in a shared boat – the cost is just 1 Rial (there and back) for the short boat ride (just a few minutes). Don’t go too late and miss the last boat back – you will get stranded on the other side! It’s worth checking the times before you board, but if you have a guide with you or are on a tour they will know and double check that for you.
The Short Hike
The hike from the car park is around 50 minutes and is a relatively easy to moderate hike although the ground is a bit rough in places with rocky terrain – you might find yourself climbing over boulders in parts! As I’ve mentioned be prepared with good walking boots or very comfortable footwear.
I’m travelling with asthma and endometriosis and I managed the hike this OK in the sunshine. However, it’s not doable for people with mobility problems unfortunately and the Wadi is not wheelchair accessible.
The scenery is beautiful with the contrast of bright blue sky, sand coloured mountains and green wadi water. Along the Wadi you will see irrigation channels built by the locals to transport water from the Wadi.
Swimming in the Wadi
When you arrive at the Wadi there are some lovely ledges to sit on and admire the view. It’s safe to paddle and swim in the wadi, just be aware that the fish may want to nibble on your feet and ankles. It’s harmless but tickles! Free foot spa!
If you are a strong swimmer you will probably want to swim through the three pools in the valley and into the cave with waterfall. Be aware that that the pools are very deep and the waterfall in the cave can have strong currents if it is a high level, and so you should be a strong and experienced swimming to do the Wadi Shab swim. There was an incident of a tourist almost drowning in the Wadi Shab cave during high water who was saved by a Swiss tourist (read about it here). The police and locals will tell you that there have been incidences of drowning at Wadi Shab in the past.
It’s not a good idea to bring a bag with you for swimming up to the cave, and with your goggles round your neck, aqua shoes on and phone in a waterproof case, you won’t need one either. This is the other added advantage of having a guide – someone to guard your stuff while you do the cave swim!
Here you can see that the water starts quite shallow – it gets MUCH deeper, trust me! Between the first and second pool, you need to get out and walk across pebbles and stones….OUCH! This was torture for my poor feet which I endured for the payoff to see the cave! But please wear your aqua shoes on the swim. You’ll thank me later 😉
Between the second and third pool, there is a VERY slippery section with rocks covered in slippy green algae – be very careful here. Take your time and step slowly. Sometimes I actually found it better to slide along on my arse!
The third pool is very deep and leads to a cave that you can swim into that has an indoor waterfall. How difficult it is to swim into the cave will depend on the water level. When I went the water level was quite low and so I didn’t need to go completely under the water to get into the cave. I just held onto the ledge and kind of doggy paddled in with my head low! In higher waters, you may need to swim under water for 2-3 seconds to get into the cave. It’s beautiful in there, but I didn’t think that my iPhone would survive it, and so I will let that be a surprise 😉
Wadi Shab Village
After you have experienced the hike and swim, head to Wadi Shab village for a true Arabic village experience.
We had a funny situation in the local restaurant when a menu came out without any prices on it (this is legal in Oman). I heard Idrees (our guide) talking to the waiter in Arabic, which I couldn’t understand, but at one point I heard him say ‘English system!’ I piped up! ‘English System?!?!?! There is no English system!!’ I think that our guide said to them to sort it out or he would report it. The free stuff then swiftly started coming out!!! Basically, in Oman, they have to give you a menu with prices and are not allowed to charge you. You can insist on reporting them to the authorities if they try to rip you off. Please note that this is the only time that anything of the sort happened to me in Oman.
It’s nice to walk around the village and pop in the local shops and restaurants. The meals are generally fish or chicken with rice and humous. There are a lot of children who will follow you inquisitively. Oh, and expect a lot of goats!