The constant assault of flowing water thousands of years ago left in its path a canyon that has become a favourite to many hikers not only in Oman but in the region. Without the water pressure that cut deep into the river bed, Snake Canyon, or locally known as Wadi Bimmah, would not have been possible today.
Located in the Al Dakhiliyah Governorate, many misunderstood the origin of its name. Although the 300-metres deep Snake Canyon is definitely home to different snake species, it was called that because of its formation — snaking its way deeper into Wadi Bani Awf where it is a part of and linking Rustaq with Nizwa.
Referred to by many as the largest natural water park in the Sultanate, access to the Snake Canyon can be difficult with its terrain suitable only for the physically fit.
“I had been there 6 years ago but I thought revisiting it this year would allow me to see the changes that have happened in the last few years,” outdoor lover and photography enthusiast Ahmed al Jaabri shared.
Accompanied by a group of 7 other people, Ahmed shared that he and his team met near Lulu in Barka on a Friday where they also had their breakfast and discussed their plans for the day.
“From Barka, we drove to Wadi Bani Awf which was about a two-hour drive. We arrived at our planned destination at 9.30 in the morning. Anyone who would like to take this trip should definitely take a 4WD car,” Ahmed shared.
Upon reaching Wadi Bani Awf, the signpost Nakhal-Al Rustaq should serve as guide of the turn one has to take. The reason why one needs a four-wheel drive is because although the road is paved for a few kilometres, it eventually passes through villages where the roads are rougher.
“There are two routes — the long route which takes 4 to 5 hours and the short route (which requires no abseiling) which takes about 2.5 to 3 hours. I recommend the full route. It’s worth the drive and the 4 to 5 hours will fly by,” Ahmed said.
Exploring Wadi Bani Awf, one would find a spectacular scenery, historical in one sense as it tells you the story of the last thousand years as etched in stones. As Ali Mohammadi, administrator and one of the owners of popular blogsite Omantripper.com who visited the area in 2014, said, “The rocks we found there were just amazing. We wish we had a geologist with us to tell us how they form, but these rocks were like wood panels, and made some really stunning formations.”
“It was a hot sunny day with clear skies and barely a cloud in sight,” Ahmed narrated. He shared that it is important to make sure of the weather conditions as the Snake Canyon is not a good place to be when the water is getting high.
“It is impossible and very dangerous to explore Snake Canyon when it’s raining. The wadi fills up fast and the water surges through the narrow wadis at high speed. There isn’t a way out other than getting to the end. If there are any clouds in the sky or possibility of rain, avoid exploring it. Also, don’t do it without any guide or expert or local guide to help you through the journey,” he warned.
Little Canyon, Big Canyon
Not known to everybody is that there are two Snake Canyons — the Little Snake Canyon, often disregarded, and the Big Snake Canyon which is the most popular one.
Mohammadi shared that the entrance to Little Canyon is located just off the graded road after turning left to on an intersection with signboard saying Wadi Bani Awf.
On his blog, Mohammadi narrated, “The canyon is covered on both sides with very high cliffs giving you an appreciation of the vastness of this place. There are some huge boulder stones and small waterfalls that you need to scramble through as you trek but the coolest place is the long water pool about 1 hour after the hike.”
He also added, “The Little Snake Canyon may not have amazing waterfalls or places to jump in the pools (unlike Wadi Shab or the proper Snake Canyon) but it is a fun place to visit and because of the relatively short trek, it is an ideal stop for people who are tackling the Wadi Bani Awf to Balad Sayat off-road track.”
For Ahmed and his team, they’ve set their eyes on the Big Snake Canyon. Even a few minutes of hiking, one will already have a general idea of how vast the network is and how challenging the trek would become.
“The canyon has magnificent steep sides and drop-offs. The stone formation is awe-inspiring. The different rock surfaces take you on a trip down memory lane. You can imagine the force of nature carving its way into this vast land,” Ahmed said.
“The Snake Canyon is a huge gorge by which you make your way through by abseiling. The one we abseil on was about 20 metres down. We used the ropes 3 times,” Ahmed said.
He added, “We swam where the water was the deepest. There are cool pools every now and then — it’s a fantastic sequence of scrambling, hiking and swimming. We have to jump off a cliff, sometimes hurdle big rocks.”
“This can be done by anyone with a sense of adventure and reasonable fitness level including teens,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed shared that as a natural water park, the whole stretch of the canyon offers waterfalls made vibrant by algae and other plants, pools of varying depth and sizes and lovely rock formation.
Mohammadi noted that “due to the canyon shading the water pools, water temperatures can be very cold especially as the wind blows through the canyon.”
He also added, “This is a proper canyoning adventure that you should probably attempt only with a guide if it is your first time. It involves jumping into several water pools that you are unable to climb back from, and you will be exiting the canyon at another end from where you being with (near Al Zammah village).”
“Just a small suggestion. Other than the four-wheel drive car, you should also come with mobile GPS, sufficient food, and a lot of water. You will definitely have a memorable time in Snake Canyon but be ready to get wet all the time as once you are there, there are no shortcuts you can take. It’s a long road ahead,” he said.