Salalah (Photo:Patrik Dietrich/Shutterstock)
Salalah (Photo:Patrik Dietrich/Shutterstock)
3.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Cruise Critic
Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Salalah

As the hordes who now sail from Dubai will attest, cruising the Middle East may be fascinating, but it's not very picturesque, given that vast tracts of scrub desert are not especially easy on the eyes.

Shore Excursions

About Salalah


Pro

Ancient tombs and artefacts can be explored, together with an atmospheric souk

Con

Cruises dock in the commercial area and transport is required in order to access the city

Bottom Line

It combines a fascinating history and good beaches with a pleasant sightseeing climate


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Salalah, Oman's second-largest city, is an exception. While not as beautiful as the country's capital, Muscat, Salalah has considerable charm as a cruise port of call. Its annual Khareef (monsoon) gives the city and the nearby al Qara Mountains a temperate climate, creating an emerald oasis amid the sand dunes.

If you want pretty Arabia, you'll find it here -- complete with leafy boulevards, lit by black and gold filigree lamps and lined with elegant, low buildings that have been created in traditional Islamic style, with elaborate latticework balconies and lovely, curved windows.

It also has some very pretty beaches, is a haven for SCUBA divers and birdwatchers, and is steeped in Biblical tradition, with some notable ancient sites -- including a ruined palace believed to have belonged to the legendary Queen of Sheba and the tomb of the prophet Job.

And then, of course, there are the fragrant groves of frankincense trees, which have earned Salalah the title of "Arabia's Perfume Capital" -- and which supply the wares for the pungent stalls at the city's atmospheric spice souk.

Salalah lies on Oman's southern coast, about 1,000 kilometres from Muscat. It is a popular call on winter cruises, often appearing on world cruise schedules and on Middle East and Arabian Gulf cruises, operated between November and May by Costa Cruises and smaller, destination-oriented lines like Spirit of Adventure and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Most cruise visitors take ship-sponsored or independent tours there, as local taxi rates can be high.

Where You're Docked

Salalah Port itself is just scrubland and is very dusty, with containers stacked high. It's a long, hot, grubby walk to the dock gate, but most ships will shuttle you there. The port is a 15-minute drive from downtown.

Port Facilities

There are no facilities at the port, and there's nothing to do nearby, but you'll find a Crowne Plaza and a Hilton en route to town (about five minutes' drive from the port); both have Internet access and ATM machines.

Good to Know

Salalah is prosperous and well-cared-for, with broad streets that are lined with verdant, grassy verges. (Money is clearly no object where maintenance is concerned.) When walking about, though, you may (literally) stumble across some uneven paving stones, so take care, and wear flat shoes for exploring.

Also, keep a lookout for stalls selling milk bananas and lady finger bananas. Locally grown, they are about half the size of typical bananas; they're sweet and definitely worth tasting.

Getting Around

Downtown shuttles are not allowed into the port area by the protectionist local taxi drivers association, which offers its services at the port gates. Many cruise lines offer a tour that's essentially roundtrip transportation to the souk.

A taxi ride downtown costs about five Rials by taxi. It's hard to get a firm idea of rates from the port gate drivers, but do negotiate; our booked-in-advance driver quoted five Rials (about $12), but the port agent quoted $20! A roundtrip ride to Job's Tomb (including time for you to look around) should cost about 20 Rials.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The local currency is the Omani Rial; see www.oanda.com or www.xe.com for the latest conversion rates. Although you won't be able to withdraw or exchange local currency at the port, ATM's can be found at the Hilton and Crowne Plaza Hotels (about five minutes by taxi from the dock).

Language

Arabic is the main language, but a local variation called Shehri is widely spoken. Most of the locals will speak at least a smattering of English.

Food and Drink

If you like to eat as the locals do, typical Omani dishes include mathpe (barbecued meat) and gabole (cooked rice, enriched with meat juices). If you're feeling brave, you could try camel meat (quite gamey but not unpalatable), or have a slurp of camel's milk, which has half the fat of cow's milk and is recommended for diabetics because of its low sugar content. But in cosmopolitan Salalah, it's also possible to enjoy a wide variety of international cuisine.

You'll find many ethnic restaurants if you stroll along July Street in the heart of town; they include the Al-Fareed, which has an Arabic theme but also serves Indian dishes, and the Omar al-Khayyam, which serves both Indian and Chinese cuisine.

If you're not an adventurous diner, play it safe by eating at one of the city's hotel restaurants, including the Hilton's Al Maha, Palm Grove and Sheba's restaurants, or the Crowne Plaza's Al-Luban, Darbat and Dolphin Beach Restaurants.

Locals say that Bin Ateeq restaurant, just one street up from the Corniche, serves the best Omani food in Salalah; offered are thick chicken hares (stew), spicy lentil broth and melt-in-the-mouth halva . And, it's served on silver trays to guests seated on big floor cushions. If you can't find it, ask someone on the beach to give you directions.

For a less adventurous meal, grab a kebab at Al Kutaini, a fast-food restaurant near junction eight of A'Salam Street. You'll find skewers of grilled or barbecued lamb, beef or seafood, served with a pita, salad and tahini sauce.

Kargeen, located in the Madinat Qaboos Shopping Centre courtyard, serves a wide range of international dishes. You can dine on French onion soup, salad Nicoise and yummy chocolate cake, while sitting on cushion-lined benches in a pretty, tented setting.

Shopping

Incense is the main product in Salalah, though it also produces coconuts, palm trees and bananas. Prices vary according to the quality of the incense, but $6 will buy you a basic kit -- burner, charcoal and a bag of incense -- at the handicrafts souk.

Also worth buying are traditional Omani Khangar daggers or Saifs (long swords). Just check your airline's rules about checking these items in your luggage, as you'll likely not be allowed to carry them onboard.