Rugged and welcoming, Oman makes a fascinating destination for travellers seeking an authentic Arabic experience. Less ostentatious than neighbouring Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the country’s dramatic landscape combines jagged mountain ranges, vast swathes of desert and pristine coastline. Here we present five destinations for your Oman itinerary.
Oman’s capital city is an attractive, sprawling port on the shores of the Arabian Sea, framed by the Hajar mountain range. Explore maze-like Mutrah souk in the old city, where you’ll browse ceramics, leather goods and jewellery. Haggling is part of life here, so don’t be afraid to barter!
Visit the opulent Grand Mosque, a contemporary gold and white marble showstopper built for the country’s revered sovereign, Sultan Qaboos. Gaze in awe at lavish crystal chandeliers, extravagant mosaics and intricate Persian hand woven carpets – including the second largest in existence. You’ll need to dress appropriately (i.e. long sleeved and ankle length clothing, plus women should cover their hair with a scarf).
Take a sunset excursion into the Gulf of Oman in a traditional wooden sailing boat, or dhow, and spot dolphins leaping in the waves. Wander Muscat’s corniche, the attractive waterfront, and feast on freshly caught mashuai (grilled kingfish with spices and lemon), an Omani specialty.
Also known as Sharqiya Sands, this undulating sea of golden sand dunes lies in the northeast of Oman, about three hours’ drive from Muscat. The seemingly barren desert hosts a surprising biodiversity; 200 animal species and 150 plant types thrive in the harsh terrain. The area is also home to several Bedouin tribes, who eke out a semi-nomadic existence. Experience the desert’s beauty with an overnight stay in a tented camp. You’ll witness the dunes ablaze in the rays of sunset and sunrise, and sit beneath dark skies floodlit with stars. Several camps offer accommodation ranging from basic but comfortable facilities to a high-end, deluxe experience. Activities such as camel safaris, sand surfing and 4WD dune excursions can be arranged.
A historic fortified city, Oman’s former capital sits on the plains below the Hajar Mountains, bordered by a leafy oasis of date palms. Nizwa’s huge 17th century fort looms over the town. If you’re energetic enough to climb its 130 foot high tower, you’ll gain superb views of the surrounding landscape. Visit the historic souk, where you’ll find pottery and silver goods, including traditional handcrafted daggers or khanjar. The city hosts a bustling livestock market each Friday, when traders descend on the streets, accompanied by the atmospheric sounds (and smells) of goats, sheep and cattle.
Nizwa serves as a popular base for a visit to Jebel Shams, meaning Mountain of the Sun. Oman’s highest peak soars to just under 10,000 feet. A hike or drive up the mountain rewards you with views into ‘Arabia’s grand canyon’, spectacular Wadi Ghul. This huge limestone cleft in the earth features sheer rock walls that plunge 3,000 foot to the valley floor. Perhaps best avoided if you’re a nervous driver, a snaking mountain road passes several prime viewing spots into the canyon, marked by flimsy metal handrails on the roadside. If you’re hiking, choose from popular walking routes which traverse the peak, passing observation points above the gorge.
In the north eastern tip of the country, hemmed in by the United Arab Emirates, lies Oman’s beautiful Musandam peninsula. This is a remote, unspoilt wilderness of mountains and seashore, edged by the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Khasab is the region’s main settlement, a bustling town which only gained proper road links 40 years ago. Many of the regions coastal hamlets are still only accessible by boat. Explore the rugged coastline laced with steep fjords (khors) on a dhow, and watch for whales, basking sharks and dolphins swimming in the azure waters. Dive and kayak from the regions glorious white sands or take a 4WD excursion into the mountains. The craggy peaks are littered with an impressive number of well-preserved fossils and the area is renowned for historic petroglyphs (images of people and animals) carved into the rocks, and believed to be thousands of years old.
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