I have yet to see a cruise review that gave a port visit to Salalah anything but the thumbs down. So it was with some trepidation that my wife and I decided to take on the challenge when we visited Salalah on board Oceania’s Nautica.
The city of Salalah is known as the “perfume capital of Arabia“.
It is often claimed to be a popular destination for tourism though on the surface this would appear to be due to its natural attractions: the nearby mountain region and an abundance of frankincense trees. Yet time and again I see cruise ship itineraries listing Salalah but never more than the odd poor review.
Shuttle buses are provided to the port gate where passengers are then confronted with a rather unsavoury haggling contest with local taxi drivers. It was made clear to us on the ship that shuttle buses were not allowed to proceed to the town centre, which is some 25 minutes drive from the port gate. It became even clearer that a cartel of taxi drivers were operating from outside the port gates.
Despite a very prominent sign at the port gate referring to taxi fares the drivers would not budge below $40 US despite the exchange rate indicating a fare of $26.00…
Undaunted we quickly agreed a share with two other passengers and reluctantly agreed to a four passenger share at the requested price. Within minutes of departing the port we encountered an amazing sand storm…
Our fellow passengers were keen to visit a souk and to that end the taxi driver was pleased to drop us at the Al-Husn Souq…
Sometimes called the Frankincense Souq due to frankincense being one of the main products on sale this particular souk was for us a disappointment, it had little atmosphere and the majority of shops actually offered rather tacky looking traditional Omani clothes and textiles. There are also large numbers of tailors’ shops here as well as a few simple restaurants.
As Souks go the Al-Husn Souk was a big disappointment. It obviously features in the local taxi driver’ s ‘commission’ incentive scheme.
So armed with a local tourist map, obtained on board our ship, we set off to find the first of our target sites in Salaleh.
First on our list of places to visit was the Burj A’Nahdah, better known in English as the Clocktower. It is the most prominent of the monuments which decorate the roundabouts around Salalah….
…and heads the road junction to the Airport.
As luck would have it we passed en-route to the tower a sign for what was number 2 on our list of sites to visit, the Tomb of Nabi Umran. Also known as Nabi Imran, he was said to be the father of the Virgin Mary…….
The tomb of Nabi Umran is 41 feet long. The grand father of Nabi Umran is said to be the father of Mariam (Mary) and grand father of Eisa (Jesus).
The stone sarcophagus inside the tomb is 33 m long, which has given rise to speculation that he may also have been a giant. It certainly appears to be the longest grave in the world. Little guidance on protocol was available and I therefore was wary of photography internally: particularly as on our visit there were people present who were at prayer. So I rely on this Youtube clip to share what I saw inside the tomb…
…and the following photograph…
(My acknowledgement to TripAdvisor for this photograph.)
The site is a pleasant place, it has a small mosque next to the building housing the tomb, at the back of which there is a small garden with peacocks, guinea fowl and other birds. There was no charge for admission.
Around a 30 minute walk later we reached the next of our destinations, the Sultan Qaboos Mosque which was inaugurated in 2009. It has become a symbolic and landmark structure in Salalah and featured heavily on the ship’s excursion schedule.. The 40,419 sq.m. mosque has four entrances and can accommodate 3000 worshippers at a time. The mosque features a dome with a diameter of 15m. and height of 36m…
Salaleh is steeped in history and a considerable effort is being made to develop both it’s past and archaeological heritage. Ancient trade from the city reached its peak between the 12th and 14th Centuries when it traded with Africa, India and China. Its major export, of course, was frankincense, but it also traded Arabian horses and gold.
Another popular excursion from our ship was a visit to the Al-Baleed Archaeological Park.
…and its adjacent Frankincense Museum…
Archaeological excavation of the site has mainly taken place since the 1970s. The site covers an area of 64 hectares and there is a broad pathway, measuring 2.2km, which enables visitors to walk past all of the major structures, including the City Wall, Citadel and Grand Mosque. These are atmospherically floodlit at night.
Al-Baleed Archaeological Park is one of the most interesting places to visit in the Salalah area. It is the site of the ancient port city of Zafar. The earliest settlement here dates back to around 2,000 BC, in the Bronze Age. It grew throughout the Iron Age, and you can still see the remains of a house from this period…
While not forgetting what it was originally all about, The Frankincense Tree…
Various ship’s excursions were scheduled to visit other sights including the Tomb of Job, The Tomb of the Arabian Scholar Bin Ali, and a dessert trip that took in Taqa Castle and the Ruins of Khor Rori, also known as “Sumhuram“.
In essence there is enough to do and see in Salalah. We certainly enjoyed exploring the area and, should we find ourselves once more in Salalah, we would certainly look to venture further afield along the Frankincense Trail.