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The Definitive Guide to Snake Canyon at Wadi Bani Awf

Snake Canyon (وادي الثعابين in Arabic, meaning: Canyon of Snakes, but known locally as Seer Al Zamah صير الزامة), also known as Snake Gorge or Wadi Bimah, is a canyon within Wadi Bani Awf in wilayat Al Rustaq in the South Batinah Governorate of Oman. With its awe-inspiring tall cliffs, impressively narrow paths and blue pools (sometimes murky & dried up – more on that later) Snake Canyon has been one of the most popular destination for canyoning and adventure lovers in Oman – with good reasons too! Having heard so much about Snake Canyon it over the past few years, with many planned trips falling through, I was very glad to finally be able to visit it a couple of times already over the past few months. The thrill of exploring Snake Canyon, a combination of trekking, abseiling down large cliffs, swimming and a couple of jumps, makes it a fantastic adventure that is highly recommended for any adventure and outdoor lovers visiting Oman – with a few caveats!

In this post, I will take a stab at clarifying some of the confusion surrounding the naming and location of Snake Canyon, explain some of the considerations you should take before visiting and highlight the dangers involved in this trip – so read ahead!

Snake CanyonSnake CanyonSnake CanyonSnake Canyon

Snake Canyon is the name given to the main canyon in Wadi Bani Awf, which is visible (and runs along) from the mountain path connecting Al Batinah to Al Hamra (which is really awesome and highly recommended route by the way – I wrote about it on my Wadi Bani Awf post here). Snake Canyon is the popularized name that it has been called (probably coined by English-speaking adventure enthusiasts) due to the way the canyon bends, resembling the shape of a snake, while also alluding to the presence of snakes in this canyon. The locals call the place Seer Al Zamah (صير الزامة) and I understand that some of them don’t like when visitors refer to it as ‘Snake Canyon’ – so do try and refer to the local name if you’re asking for directions or something 🙂

Now, about the snakes – not to scare you but wadis in Oman do have snakes and they can be often seen in shallow pools. I have only seen snakes a handful of times in my many many Wadi visits – and only once in Snake Canyon. I understand that they are venomous; however, these snakes are really tiny (see picture), shy and not aggressive at all – they are probably more scared of you than you are of them. So you should be completely fine as long as you keep your distance from them.

I could not actually find out what the the villagers call the part of the wadi now known as Snake Canyon, but it seems that some sometimes refer to it as Wadi Bimah due to the nearby Bimah Village (بيما) – although Snake Canyon is also accessible from a couple of other villages, including Hatt (هاط) and Al Zamah (الزامة), with each probably calling it something else. Having said that, the most popular section of the Snake Canyon (sometimes referred to as the ‘Right Fork’, this is generally what is meant when someone says ‘Snake Canyon’) is the stretch going from the part of the gorge under Balad Sayt village and ending at Al Zamah Village. The ‘Left Fork’ section of the Snake Canyon is a shorter trek starting from Bimah Village and also ending at Al Zamah.

These should not be confused with what is popularly referred to as the Little Snake Canyon, which is not connected to either Left or Right forks and is a bit of a further drive up from Al Zamah Village (I have written about it on my earlier post here).

Snake Canyon Snake Canyon Snake CanyonSnake Canyon

The Snake Canyon (‘Right Fork’)

This is the route to take if you are really looking for the full gamut of experience at Snake Canyon – trekking, abseiling with ropes, swimming and jumping in pools. It starts right off the bat with a big cliff jump into a water pool (approximately 5-6 m high), and once you jump there is no turning back so you will have to proceed with the full route. I think this is a good way to gauge your ability and ‘fear-factor’ of proceeding with this trip – as this is the most fear-inducing portion of the entire route, in my opinion. Having said that, it is also possible to abseil down this stretch, which again is a great way to get a feel for abseiling if it is your first time trying!

The route through Snake Canyon has been formed from the carving of the rocks due to water erosion, resulting in the smooth polished surfaces you will see. This makes the rocks extremely slippery and difficult to grip, so you should be well aware of this especially when trying to jump into a pool from an awkward angle or traverse through some of the trickier portions. After the pool jump, there will be a bit of trekking, lots of other pools to swim through, a couple more (shorter) pool jumps and two drops (approximately 15-20 m) that you will need to use ropes to abseil down (see Snake Canyon Considerations further down though!).

The whole path should take anywhere between 4-6 hours depending on how many people there are in your group, and how many stops you take. You will go through the narrowing path of Snake Canyon surrounded by impressively tall cliffs – some part just wide enough that you are almost able to touch the sides of the canyon with your arms outstretched. Half-way through you will reach a really cool cave with limestone formations (stalactites) hanging down the side. Unfortunately, the water levels at Snake Canyon has been receding over the past couple of years to a level where many pools are much shallower than they used to so there are fewer slides and jumps to do. This also results in some of the pools being filled with murky stagnant water – not the most pleasant to swim through, but alas that is part of the adventure 🙂

The ‘Left Fork’ Snake Canyon

The left fork of Snake Canyon starts further down the canyon then the Right Fork, reducing the total distance to be traversed. The Left Fork should take anywhere from 2-4 hours (I did it with a group of ~8 people and it took us approximately 3 hours), and it actually ends up connecting to the main Snake Canyon route after about an hour. No abseiling or ropes are required here, but I would still not consider this route ‘easy’ as it requires a bit of scrambling, at least one slide and a a couple of cliff jumps, from which there is no way back – it is just shorter and doesn’t require abseiling like the Left Fork. This route also goes one-way, and ends at Al Zamah Village. I personally think this route is a lot of fun and a great start for canyoning!  Snake CanyonSnake CanyonSnake Canyon Snake Canyon

Safety Considerations in Snake Canyon – Flash Floods!

There are a few considerations you should take into account for your visit to Snake Canyon. Your safety is the most important thing!

With the rising popularity of adventure sports in Oman in general, and the ‘social media’ effect, more and more people are keen to explore the adventure spots in Oman especially Snake Canyon, which is fantastic. However, many underestimate Snake Canyon assuming it is just like any other wadi in Oman!

The dangers involved should never be underestimated – and you should really understand the risks involved before you visit, some of which include: flash floods, deceptively shallow water pools, smooth rocks, big cliff drops. Unfortunately, there has been many incidents the past years of people stranded (and some even losing their lives) in Snake Canyon – either due to being unprepared or not heeding the flash flood warnings (check video of one, and read J. Schreurs excellent write-up here). This, in combination with the need for some technical skill and knowledge in abseiling down means that I highly recommend you visit Snake Canyon with a professional guide, who should:

  1. Be aware of flash floods warnings, and advise if trip is to proceed or not based on the conditions in Wadi Bani Awf
  2. Know the path at Snake Canyon intimately, preferably based on recent water levels in the pools
  3. Be skilled in using the required gear needed (harness with descender, ropes, etc.) and able to teach you their use
  4. Know the location and conditions of all hooks and locations to tie the ropes
  5. Ensure your safety and the correct use of gear
  6. Provide the required gear, including: harness with descender, helmets, life-jacket (for people who are not good swimmers), sufficient length of rope and gloves
  7. Have back-up plan in place in case of emergency

Having said that, this should by no means discourage you from visiting Snake Canyon – even if you have never used any of the gear. With the right group and guide, this could be one of the most exhilarating and fun trips you could do in Oman 🙂

If you are an experienced climber and have knowledge in using ropes and necessary gear, then go ahead and visit but ensure to check the weather conditions (prepare to abandon the trip or change your plans if there are any chances of rain) and have safety back-up plan (including informing your plan and expected completion time to friends, whom can call for help in case of an emergency).

Other Considerations for Visiting Snake Canyon

Keep in mind the following:

  • Four Wheel Drive (4WD) car is a must. You will need to have at least two cars in your group as another car is needed at the exit point in Al Zamah Village
  • Footwear: Ideally water-permeable shoes with good grip and ankle-support (some old tennis shoes might do) – you’ll need to swim in these shoes too (I personally use the Adidas ‘beach surf’ slip-ons, which seem to have been discounted – the  Terrex Climacool Slip-on looks similar though)
  • What to wear: you will swim and trek in the same clothes so something quick to dry – avoid loose clothes so it wouldn’t get stuck in the ropes/harness. Snake Canyon can get very cold in winter as it does not receive much sunlight, so wear a wet-suit if you plan on visiting between November-February if you don’t want to be shivering for the full trek (trust me, I experienced that and it is not fun!).
  • Snacks and drinking water (you don’t have to pack a lot as with little sun exposure you’ll unlikely to get that hot)
  • Change of clothes and towel in the car
  • Water proof bag for your camera and gadgets (or leave them in the car)

Tours & Guiding Service for Snake Canyon

I am not a specialist in abseiling or mountain climbing by any means (I do hope to learn and get licensed down the line); however, I happen to know guides who know Snake Canyon inside out, and whom I fully trust to conduct Snake Canyon tours safely and professionally. I often work with them to include Snake Canyon in my customized tours (sometimes I am the back-up safety in these trips), either as a day-trip from Muscat or multi-day tour including Wadi Bani Awf crossing, Balad Sayat and Al Dakhiliyah attractions.

Do get in touch if you’d like to book your next adventure with me 🙂

Camping & Places to Stay

A few spots are possible for camping including near Al Zamah village or the flat area before Al Bimah village (near entrance to the Left Fork of Snake Canyon); however; possibility of flash floods should be considered as some of these areas are susceptible. There is also accommodation available at Bimah House, which I have not tried personally (if you have stayed there, please do share your experience in the comments below!).

How to reach Snake Canyon

Snake Canyon can be reached via the Wadi Bani Awf crossing either from Al Batinah side or Al Dakhiliyah side – it is a tough and steep graded where a 4WD car is a must. Even with a 4WD, if you are not confident driving on steep mountain paths then please ensure you go with an experienced driver.

If you’re coming from Muscat, drive towards Nakhal towards Al Rustaq and trun into Wadi Bani Awf after Al Awabi village (alternatively, a longer route that may take less time is to take express way all the way to Al Rustaq and drive from there towards Nakhal). From the turn to Wadi Bani Awf it is ~20 km to Al Zamah village – which is the exit of Snake Canyon. It is approximately another 6 km of steep & tough mountain paths from there to the entrance of Snake Canyon (‘Right Fork’), just after the Balad Sayt ‘Audi’ football field (the ‘Audi Balad Sayt Football Field’ referred to as such because Audi had placed the artificial turf on the football field used by the village, they did that for a commercial which you can check out on YouTube here).

Check google map below for full details:
Snake Canyon Snake Canyon Snake Canyon Snake Canyon Snake Canyon Snake CanyonSnake Canyon Snake Canyon

Tiny SnakeSnake at Snake Canyon

27 replies on “The Definitive Guide to Snake Canyon at Wadi Bani Awf”

Hi Ali

Will you be having trips to snake canyon in second half of July and onwards or summer is an off season.

Regards,
Mohamed Wagih

Hi Mohammed,

Unfortunately, I do not have any upcoming trips there – it is indeed a quiet time during summer here. It is possible to arrange a personalized trip for you/your group though – feel free to drop me an email to discuss 🙂

Best regards,
Ali

Hi Ali
Are you doing a mountain drive wadi bani awf /snake canyon in next 2 weeks?
Here on holidays driving around this wonderful country but
I have 4 Wd but not used to these roads !!
Thanks Helen

Hi Helen,
So far I don’t have any plans to do that trip over the coming couple of weeks. If you want to enquire about having a tour or a trip, drop me an email on ali@omantripper.com
It’s possible to drive through with a 4WD or I could alternatively arrange for a guide from the village to drive you through if you wish 🙂

Best,
Ali

Hi Ali,
I am going to spend the next two weeks in Oman. My trip is not fully planned and I would love to add a canyoning. Do you plan a canyoning in the next couple of weeks or could get me in touch with a guide so that I could do it ?
Thanks for your well detailed blog/web site. It is a great help and gives a lot of ideas for such trip !
Regards
Cesar

Hi Cesar,

You’re welcome, glad that you enjoy reading the blog!

I don’t have plans personally, but one of my affiliates might – please drop me an email with your travel dates so I can check and let you know if there is any trips you could join!

Best regards,
Ali

Hiya! That looks great, it makes me thinking of doing the same. I have a friend coming in one week and she would love to do canyoning as well. Do you have any plans to go or can recommend a tour operator? Thanks and have a great eve! Maria

Nice pics and story. Unless anyone knows different, I was the first non-Omani to visit the top end of Snake Canyon, in 1980. We only went in maybe 300 metres, but I still sustained a dislocated shoulder. A memorable exploration!

Hey James,
Wohaa, 1980 must have been amazing to see it back then before all the changes due to extensive ‘foot-traffic’. How did you sustain the shoulder injury, please do share the story! And if you have any photos to share from that visit, it would be amazing to see them!

Best regards,
Ali

Ali, Thanks for your response.

I was Head of a Drilling Engineering for PDO from 1978 to 1981. In 1978, there was not even a hard top road from the airport to Muscat. I liked nothing more that exploring the Jebel Akhdar with my wife and baby son in our Land-Rover at week-ends, camping in the wadis. One day we took off with friends and found what looked like a new track headed off, and followed it, cut out of the side of a thousand foot cliff,with bends requiring three-point turns. Eventually we stopped at a bull-dozer on the track, which marked the then end of the road, though maybe the bull-dozer extended it later. From there we walked, only a few hundred metres, to a pool (50 metres across) with a waterfall flowing into it. A stream flowed out from the pool into a gorge, maybe one hundred metres deep, but two to five metres wide at the bottom, dark like a cave. Two of, Clement and I, walked, waded and swam down the bottom fo a hundred metres, when I slipped, put an arm out to steady myself, no big deal, but dislocated my shoulder. Clement helped me back to the car, swimming behind me and holding my head up through the pools. After some food, and beers, I relocated my shoulder on the front bumper of the Land-Rover, and Clement drove home. The PDO doctor, next day, examined me and only believed the story becoz his daughter was with us on the trip. I have never otherwise, before or since, dislocated anything. There are no Omanis, or anyone, near this location, which had probably only had a track to it for a few weeks at most, so maybe we were the first to enter what you now call “Snake Canyon”,

Wow, that is amazing James.. it must have been painful at the time, but I suspect the memories even with the dislocated shoulder are great. Thanks for sharing the story, and please do get in touch if you happen to come back to Oman for a visit anytime. I would be glad to join you on a visit to Snake Canyon 🙂

Really enjoying your blog! Very helpful in planning our upcoming trip to Oman. Wondering if it’s possible to reach the start of Snake Canyon from Nizwa without driving all the way around?
We would still be doing a guided tour (haven’t found a company yet) but would ideally like to be able to meet at the starting point. Really appreciate any assistance you can provide!

It is possible to do that, but it means you’ll need to go through Al Hamra then Sharaf Al Alamaeen, which is a more scenic and beautiful route (check my article on ‘Wadi Bani Awf Crossing’ for details on that route).

For a guided tour, please drop me an email if you wish to arrange through one of my trusted affiliates.

Hi Ali,
Thanks for sharing this blog post, really interesting. Im interested to go 22nd January this month (in a couple of weekends)
I’m looking for a good tour guide, can you recommend anyone?
I’ll also probably be camping too!

Thanks a lot for sharing this and for your help!

Hi there,

Is swimming an absolute within Canyan? how about someone like me who is tall like 5ft10inch but doesnt know how to swim?

Thanks,

Hello,
Yes, you need to swim to go through this canyon. We usually ask everyone to wear lifejackets even if they are good swimmers. I would not recommend it for someone who isn’t able to swim, I would say at the least they should get some practice swimming with a lifejacket in a pool or other wadis before trying this canyon.

Hi Ali,
Thanks for all the information, this is great! My friend and I are in the midst of planning our trip in Oman and would like to go trekking in snake canyon on either December 26th or the 28th. We hadn’t realized how technical it was until reading your blog. Can you recommend a guide? Also we rented an SUV, but can’t seem to get in touch with the rental place to find out of its a 4×4 or not. Will an SUV be OK? Thanks!
Marla

Hello Marla,
Happy to hear that, I am sure you will have a great time. I have to say it is going to be very cold in Dec, so I would only advise to do it if you’re OK with that and/or have a wet-suit. If you still need a guide, please drop me an email and we can take it from there.
I highly recommend a proper 4WD car especially since the road often gets damaged after rains, I have seen SUVs go through it but its difficult to tell to be honest.
Hope that helps,
Ali

Hi,

My son and i were planning to visit snake gorge (via ferrata). Can you recommend us any guide or agency?

It’s a beautiful place to stay with family and friends.and can njoy a lot with clean and fresh mindset

Hi Ali, your blog has been so insightful.
My partner and I will be in Oman the 2nd last week of September.
We are keen hikers, kiters (going to Masirah island). We are interested in canyoning – would you be able to recommend a guide.
Also, if we wanted to camp either around Seer Al Zamah or Jabal Shams, without having our own camping gear – is this something that can easily be organized / rented?
Regarding hiking in Jabal Shams in September – will it be too hot?
Thank you in advance for your help!
Anne-Sophie

Hi Anne-Sophie,

Sorry I just saw this comment, if you are still interested in guide for canyoning and/or camping please email me directly with the date you have in mind and I will be happy to arrange.

Camping can also be arranged at both locations. Seer Al Zamah is a bit more tricky as you don’t want to camp by the wadi or near the village, but there are a few spots.

Jabal Shams should be nice in September, it will still be hot during the day (that is the case even in Jan!), just take all precautions please (I always recommend UV protective clothes, sun-screen, hat and min. 3 liters of water).

Best,
Ali

Hi! My family is traveling to Oman over the Eid break and we (I) am interested in visiting the snake valley. Do you think it is suitable for a 9 year old and a 60 year old? How athletic does the group have to be? If we get a guide, would they be able to provide the transport from the end of the wadi back to the cars? And would you be available at any point during the Eid (Thursday/Friday)?

Thanks a lot!

Hello Leyla,
This should be fine, your group should be able to do it with the right motivation and support of a good guide (assuming no health issues). I can find you a suitable guide for the requested dates, can you give me your email address or just send me an email and I can send you details.

Please also let me know how many of you and if you have a 4WD car.

Best,
Ali

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