The Supreme Committee last week has announced that, unlike last year, Dhofar will actually be opened for visits to residents and citizens who had taken the first dose of the vaccine.
This was welcomed with a sigh of relief by a lot of tour operators, hotels and restaurants operating in Salalah and the nearby wilayats as they too had suffered tremendously over the last couple of years with businesses gravely affected.
After the announcement was made, a lot of people are contemplating whether travelling to Salalah at a time of the pandemic is worth it. We compiled a list of tips inspired by our recent visit to Oman’s ‘Garden City’ that will hopefully give you some insight as you make that decision.
Avoid flying when you can
During the peak of khareef season, the number of tourists travelling to Dhofar will definitely rise. The one place you don’t want to be will be at the airport.
In our recent visit, despite it not being peak season of khareef yet, the plane we were on was fully booked. Just imagine what it’s like when a lot of people all go at the same time. Unlike the clear guidelines on the ground for businesses where they have to abide by the 50 per cent capacity rule, such a rule seemed not to apply to airlines. While the rest of the airport consistently observed the social distancing guideline, everything flies out of the window by the time you proceed to the gate. Can you imagine what if the plane is like fully packed? With a screaming child three aisles in front of you and an elderly gentleman coughing at the back, it will be a very stressful ride. One asymptomatic person will definitely ruin not just your travel plan but raise the potential risk of getting infected. If you really want to go, then you have to at least double mask, avoid touching any surface and keep your head down and hope that you’d come out well after the flight.
Consider privately driving on the long and winding roads
Health-wise, driving on your private car is more sound as a decision. But remember that Salalah can be an 8 to 10 hours drive from Muscat depending on whether you take the coastal road passing through Sur and Al Ashkarah or the Adam-Thamrait Road. If you decide to drive with your family, make sure to stack on food. As you will be crossing a long expanse of desert, always remind everyone to hydrate. You won’t be able to enjoy Salalah if you get dizzy once you arrive. Also, make sure to put on petrol every opportunity you have as the distance from each petrol station can be miles apart. Enjoy the ride but also always check on the timings — you don’t want to be caught driving in the middle of a curfew.
Pre-book your apartments or hotels
Because of the ongoing curfews, making sure that you have a place to crash when in Salalah is just as important as the safety precautions on the road. Unlike in the past that you have all the time to look for a space to rent, such a scenario has been cancelled at the time of the pandemic. So before even going to Salalah, make sure that you pre-book your places to stay. To save on costs, some apartments are really good options. When these apartments allow you to cook your own meal, that is an even better deal. Make sure to have a Plan B and C of where you choose to stay.
Explore the unique food scene in Salalah
If there’s one thing we realised, Dhofar is really a big place and that there’s always something to discover. In our recent visit, we assumed that we already tried all of its street food but we were wrong. Other than the much-loved mishkak grilled on stone (which is some of the best in Oman, btw) and the chicken madhbi (also grilled on stones), we lately came across with masarin which is surprisingly good. We won’t describe it to avoid spoiling the fun. There’s also the desert called fattah which is a close cousin to Um Ali that is also delicious. Other than the street food, do enjoy the local fruits abundant during the time of the khareef season. And you can’t miss the coconuts. Did you know that there are several varieties of coconuts you can try if you ask the seller?
Take the uncharted path
Salalah during khareef is nature at its finest. We won’t even bother talking about it if it’s not worth visiting. But Salalah is far more than just the usual attractions. If you’ve visited all the ains, waterfalls, peaks and beaches, remember that you have a wide playground at your disposal and there is definitely a different corner you haven’t checked out. Heard of the unique baobab trees, some of the biggest that has grown in Salalah? Definitely sound intriguing right? Our recent visit had taken us to a wrong turn where we ended up visiting the upper part of the big waterfall in Wadi Darbat. From the top with the sweeping view of the valley below, that was a truly memorable experience.
Keep the mask on and socially distance at all times
Remember, we are still in the middle of a pandemic. We are also faced with an enemy who constantly mutates. The newer variants, as a lot of us already know, have a faster tendency of getting transferred so that’s definitely a risk we can’t take. Keeping our group close and adhering to the Supreme Committee rules as well as keeping precautions at all times made us enjoy our trip to Salalah the same as the previous years we explored it before corona. We would have to keep reminding though, while it’s all fun and games and before you book that flight or drive that car, check on your family members. Contemplate. Is one of your family members considered high risk? If they are, the choice is always yours to make.