Jabal Shams (جبل شمس) (sometimes also spelled as Jebel Shams) is the highest mountain in Oman, right in the heart of the Western Hajar Mountain chain in Al Dakhiliyah region, which also host Jabal Akhdar. Jabal Shams is one of the must-see attractions for any visitor to Oman, with views of the Al Nakhr Canyon so spectacular to be labelled as “The Grand Canyon” of Arabia, as well as its mild climate, exciting trekking paths and off-road adventures it offers.
Jabal Shams literally means the “Sun Mountain” in Arabic, and it is so called because it is the first place to receive sunrise in Oman due to having the highest peak. The temperatures up in the mountain are mild and are usually 10-15°C cooler than down at Al Hamra, pleasant in the summer and cold in the winter (with the occasional snow). Jabal Shams offers various activities for all people, whether you are interested in night photography, demanding hike to the peak, exploring abandoned villages, camping under the stars or just a bit of off-roading. We have visited the mountain on numerous times, for one or a combination of the reasons above.
Jabal Shams for Camping
For many, the main reason to go to Jabal Shams is to camp by the edge of the Canyon, which offers a good escape from the heat in the summer and can be quite cold in the winter months. Depending on who you ask, this is the best place to stay at Jabal Shams and as a camping-lover I can’t disagree with that! The most popular location to camp is right by the edge of the canyon, a short drive after the paved road stops immediately following Jabal Shams Resort. Keep in mind that there are only a few suitable camping spots and they could get crowded on public holidays or weekends during the winter months so you may have to settle elsewhere if all the spots are taken. Alternative options are to camp on the opposite side of the road across the edge, where you could get a more private spot, but be careful while driving there as there are many sharp rocks. Wherever you choose to camp, a beautifully illuminated night sky and an amazing sunrise is likely in store for you!
Jabal Shams for Star Gazing / Night Photography
Jabal Shams is a great place to escape the city lights and gaze at the starlit night sky, and experiment a bit with night photography if you’re into that. The conditions have to be right, as you will need a clear moonless sky, and you could get lucky with a view of the milky way as well. Even though the ‘accessible’ areas are still reasonably fine for this, there is still a bit of light pollution from the nearby hotels and from Al Hamra village in the bottom; therefore, for best results try stargazing closer to the peak, away from light pollution sources, which you will reach if you take the W4 route (more on this later).
Hiking in Jabal Shams:
There are three hiking routes at Jabal Shams: Al Nakhur Rim Hike (W6 Route), Al Khitaym to Wadi Ghul Hike (W6a Route) and the Jabal Shams Summit Hike (W4 Route).
1) Al Nakhur Rim Hike (W6 Route)
This is the most recommended route for casual hikes as it is an easy hike through the rim of the ‘Grand Canyon’ starting from Al Khitaym village. This is the village at the end of the road at Jabal Shams, right at the edge of the canyon. As you get in the village and past the ‘stalls’ set up by the villagers, you will notice the white, red and yellow flags indicating the start of routes W6 & W6a.
The route takes you from Al Khitaym village through the rim of Al Nakhur Canyon, with spectacular views of the canyon and villages in the bottom. The route is well paved with a gentle downward slope, taking you past a couple of corners that are worth a stop to take in the view, all the way to an abandoned village called “Al Sab” where you can see traces of terraced gardens, towers and houses. There is a water pool accessible with a bit of climbing from the village, but it is not immediately obvious how to get there so make sure you follow the route markers. In addition, there is apparently a ‘Via Ferrata’ climbing route up to the Jabal Shams plateau from here, but we have never attempted that (yet!). Overall, the roundtrip hike from Al Khitaym to the abandoned village of Al Sab shouldn’t take you more than 2.5 hours, and is an easy hike suitable for all levels (even for the younger ones).
Al Khitaym village on its own is a worth visiting, as it is probably the last remaining form of how villagers used to live up on the mountain. You will villagers offering various trinkets and woven keychains for sale on benches, as well as some fruits and mountain berries. The villagers of Al Khitaym also keep numerous goats and fowls, and probably own all the goats you encounter up on Jabal Shams.
2) Al Khitaym To Wadi Ghul Hike (W6a Route)
Since we haven’t attempted this route yet, we will leave it as a placeholder for when we complete it. However, a google search should get you some information on this route.
3) Jabal Shams Summit Hike (W4 Route)
This is ‘the hike to do‘ in Jabal Shams, and is a steep climb up the plateau all the way to the ‘summit’. To start the hike, you need to take the turn off at the Jabal Shams Heights Resort from the main road (not to be confused with the Jabal Shams Resort that is further up), and follow the graded road to a wadi with an open space suitable for parking and a sign indicating the start of the W4 route.
The hike is quite steep and can be demanding especially if you’re a casual hiker. A roundtrip should take anywhere from 10-12 hours, with the ascent taking 5-7 hours depending on how many stops you take. We usually split the hike over two days by camping up near the peak to make the most of the visit and enjoy the hike instead of rushing to do it in a single day. The disadvantage is that during the winter months the weather can get extremely cold, and it is hard to find a suitable flat ground for camping. In addition, carrying the extra load needed (food, water, tent and sleeping bag) on the ascent makes it more challenging. About an hour into the hike, you’ll reach the edge of the canyon with some more great views that are worth stopping at for some photos, and this is a place worth going even if you don’t intend to do the full hike.
Keep in mind that the ‘summit’ reached in the hike is not the actual summit, instead it is ~2,997 m high while the highest summit (~3,009 m high) is a restricted area due to a military outpost.
How to get to Jabal Shams:
Jabal Shams is a about 250 kms from Muscat, and is accessible from Al Hamra village which is about a 2 hour drive from Muscat. The drive from Al Hamra up to Jabal Shams shouldn’t take more than an hour, and is partially paved with large sections that are graded and steep. Even though smaller cars can be occasionally seen up on Jabal Shams, 4WD cars are definitely recommended especially since the steep mountain road gets occasionally washed out due to rain, becoming impassable for smaller cars. The following map shows all the attractions mentioned in the post:
Places to Stay at Jabal Shams (besides camping)
If you’d like something more than camping, there are a few places up in Jabal Shams. As you drive up you will pass first by Jabal Shams Heights Resort and then by the a larger resort which happens to be confusingly called Jabal Shams Resort. There is a also a third place located off a side road before you reach any of these two, called Jabal Shams Sunrise Resort. We have not stayed in any of these places to give our experience; however, they look decent enough if you want to running water and a bed to sleep on, but don’t expect anything fancy or overly luxurious (we think?).
Another option is to stay overnight at Misfat Al Abriyeen in Al Hamra, either after or before going up Jabal Shams. Of course the only place there is the Misfat Old House. This may not be ideal if you’re planning to watch sunrise or star gaze, but worth keeping in mind if you’re not sure where to sleep around in Jabal Shams.