Wadi Dirbat

Dhofar (Arabic: ظفار — pronounced Zufar) is the southernmost region of Oman. It is best known for being one of the main producers of aromatic frankincense, both historically and in modern times.



Tamarind trees in Rub al Khali - in fact, not all of it is empty desert

Dhofar is a rugged, sparsely-inhabited region encompassing both extremely arid desert and verdantly tropical wadis. The Dhofar Mountains run parallel to the coastline and attract the khareef (southwest monsoon) from the Indian Ocean, resulting in cool, wet summers from June to September and transforming the landscape into a verdant paradise. The rains do not cross the mountains, though – travel just a short distance to the northwest and you could easily die of thirst. Dhofar also occupies part of the Rub al Khali (Empty Quarter), that vast, uninhabited sea of sand which covers a large part of the southern Arabian peninsula.

The Dhofari population is comprised of several distinct ethnic groups. These include the nomadic Badawi (Bedu) who live in the interior deserts, the Jebali (Jiballi) who live in the coastal mountains, and the Hadhari, who live along the coasts and in larger settlements. The Jebali tribes share many cultural and linguistic traits with tribes in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and most still herd cattle, camels and goats in the same districts as they have for generations. Omanis of African descent also make up a percentage of the population; most immigrated from Zanzibar when it was once part of Oman's maritime empire.

Dhofar has not always been united with nor had good relations with northern Oman, the most recent conflict being the Dhofar Rebellion (1962-1976). The defeat of the rebels in 1976 was partly accomplished through radical reform and modernization of the Omani state, which has subsequently led to much improved relations between the two.



All Dhofaris speak Arabic, and many now also learn English in school. In the mountains you may also hear Jibbali, which refers to a number of different languages related to Amharic (spoken in Ethiopia).

Get in

Most visitors fly to Salalah, which has Dhofar's only commercial airport with service to Muscat, Dubai, Sharjah, Jeddah, and Doha.

For the adventurous it is possible to drive from Muscat to Salalah in about 12 hours. From Nizwa the new Highway 31 heads inland through oil fields and a few small settlements. An alternative coastal route heading south from Sur will become viable in the next couple of years as the final stretch of highway linking Shuwaimiyah and Hasik is completed. There are few petrol stations along either route, so it is advisable to fill up at every opportunity.

Public buses also ply the main highway between Muscat and Salalah; see the Salalah article for details.

Get around

A rental car is necessary to really explore the region. Most areas are now easily accessible with a 2WD, but there are still a handful of sights (e.g. Shisr and some of the more remote wadis and beaches) that require a 4WD, particularly during the khareef.


Frankincense tree at Wadi Dawkah Natural Park


Salalah to Rakhyut / Dhalkut (near the Yemeni border)

Coastline near Mughsayl

Dalkut is the furthest west you can drive, as the border with Yemen is currently closed. The drive to Dalkut requires 3-3.5 hours each way, making for a long day. For a more leisurely drive, the turn off for Fizayah is a good spot to turn around, or alternatively consider spending the night in Rakhyut.

Salalah to Jabal Samhan

Tawi Atayr, the 'Well of Birds'

Jabal Samhan (1821 m) is the highest point in Dhofar, and makes for a rewarding day trip with some outstanding views. Hojari, the highest quality frankincense, is produced in this region. In the remote, inaccessible eastern reaches of the mountain range is the Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve, the last wild habitat for Arabian leopards (closed to the public).

Salalah to Hasik

For those few travelers venturing east of Salalah beyond Mirbat, the road offers wonderful views, fascinating geology, and ancient ruins. Plan on 3 hours each way.



Dhofar is well-known for honey, which is harvested several times a year. There are several distinctive seasonal types, the most unusual of which is frankincense honey, harvested in April and available in the souqs.

Stay safe

Common driving hazards

Always drive cautiously outside of Salalah as visibility can be bad due to fog/mist, particularly during the khareef. Camels and other livestock frequently wander onto roads, so it is advisable to stay within speed limits even if the road is not monitored by radar.

Dehydration and heat exhaustion are risks especially during the dry season. Bring plenty of water, and on extended day trips bring food as well, as outside of the larger towns eating establishments are almost nonexistent.

There are three venomous snakes endemic to Dhofar: the Arabian cobra, found in the mountains; the puff adder, found in dry wadis and on the high plateau; and the saw-scaled viper, found throughout the region, usually near water. When hiking, wear boots, stick to defined pathways, and avoid poking through brush or overturning rocks. Bites are rare, although if you are bitten you should seek medical attention immediately.

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