Jebel Shams or The Sun Mountain was something I was really looking forward to. As a mountain goat I would always choose mountains over anything else. Hiking in Oman is supposed to be a must -do activity and the Balcony walk is the most popular one. And Jebel Shams is the highest mountain of Oman – can this be any better?
Journey to the mountains
The road from Muscat to Jebel Shams is an adventure by itself! First part of the drive is nothing exciting, modern road, small villages and lots of mosques. Hussain, our guide wanted to show us the scenic road so we took the longer path via Al Rustaq, Balat Sayt and Al Hamra. From Al Rustaq on, the road gets more and more adventurous and scenic. There are several valleys (wadis) that we drove through and several viewpoints where we stopped to photograph the mountains. We even found the famous football field in the middle of nowhere – apparently Audi built it for one of their ads.
On the way we stopped at a small traditional village of Balad Sayt (بلد سيت). Its amazing setting amidst dramatic mountains and beautiful terraces and date palms is really picturesque and we spent some time photographing the area. On top of the village there is old watchtower which offers elevated views on the village and the mountains.
Arriving to Jebel Shams
On our arrival to Jebel Shams we checked in to our hotel and immediately left for an afternoon walk. Apparently the Balcony walk (or W6 walk) is the most popular in Oman. Ever since I heard about this walk I wanted to do it. We had no idea what to expect so I suggested we take our tripods and headlamps with us in case we want to photograph sunset at the Balcony.
From the hotel (Sama Heights) to the small village where the walk starts is just a short drive. At the location there are a couple of souvenir stalls and few houses and we met this old goat shepherd who was kind enough to pose for a quick portrait. Then he left to collect his goats before the night. Him walking away is one of my favourite shots.
The Balcony walk trail is well marked and well maintained. It is technically not difficult and there is no real exposed areas. For a round trip you should count about four hours. This will be enough time to enjoy the views and have several photo stops. Walking in the afternoon is easier as you will be in shade most of the time. Also the light on the other side of the canyon is nicer.
Jebel Shams and its Wadi Ghul is the largest canyon in Oman and it is nicknamed Omani Grand Canyon. The views through all the walk are spectacular and every turn reveals something unexpected. I was surprised to stumble upon an abandoned village at the end of the canyon! What made people in ancient times to come and settle here?!? This really puzzled me. Must be water as there is a pool above the Balcony and when it rains even a waterfall. People even built terraces here to grow crops and it seems that small community has thrived in old days.
When we arrived to the Balcony we explored the surrounding and chased a group of goats to get some cool shots. They weren’t too cooperative except one that was resting on a rocky ledge. We decided to return back before it gets too dark – there was no clouds in the sky and the air was hazy so we did’t expect a spectacular sunset. A hot shower and dinner felt better than ever.
I thought I will sleep well but a wild donkey had a concert right outside of our hotel. Damn, this creature is loud! It was super funny however it did not help with getting a good rest. Nevertheless, Dave and I decided to try our luck with a sunrise over the canyon. We drove to the nearby viewpoint and we were rewarded with beautiful mists rising up around the mountains.
When we were leaving Jebel Shams we were treated with nice views on Jebel Shams, the highest peak of Oman. The Balcony walk was definitely one of the highlights of our Oman trip and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes hiking.