***Muscat. A small, tidy, unspoilt city with a calm atmosphere, some good museums, forts, public buildings, a traditional covered souk (market) and some hideous sculptures that lurch, perch and pour over rocky outcrops.
***Nizwa. A pleasant town with aging mud houses, a superb fortress, and a new antique souk. This is a good base to explore Jebel Akhdar mountains, wadis and Jabrin Fort.
***Wadi Bani Awf. A gorgeous (dried) river bed that can be driven (4WD) or walked (or ridden if you can get a horse). 20/30km long it skirts pretty villages (esp. Bilad Sayt), pools and waterfalls. Terrific views. Camping sites available.
**Jebel Akhdar. A rocky mountain range with great views – including the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Oman, and plenty of climbing opportunities.
*Jabrin Fort. The best fort in a country famous for them.
**Sur. A couple of forts, some excellent beaches and an interesting dhow (traditional sailing ship) building yard. 3 or 4 hours from Muscat.
*Sohar. Home of Sinbad and an exceptional white fort.
***Wahiba Sands. A very accessible, traditionally rolling-dune desert, unlike most of this rocky country. Great for contemplation and chilling, though over chilled at night.
** Ras el Jinz. Various kinds of turtle nest here and a ranger escorts visitors for night visits. Has a camping ground near the beach. Get a permit!
***Salalah. A totally different feel to Muscat, Salalah is a humid southern town of empty beaches and full coconut groves, squeezed onto a narrow, green coastal strip below a high plateau. Excellent for beach activities (particularly at Mughsail) or archeological expeditions, tho’ a looong drive or short flight from Muscat.
n. b. the ‘lost city’ of Ubar is disappointing and should stay lost, but ‘Job’s Tomb’ – on a hilltop overlooking Salalah – is well worth the trip. Wet June-Sept.
***Musandam Peninsula. Also known as the ‘Norway of Arabia’, this collection of barren rocky fjords and fertile valleys penetrates the Arabian Gulf at the strategically important Strait of Hormuz. Musandam is separated from most of Oman by the United Arab Emirates, but is, nevertheless, a magnificent diversion if you have the time or money. You can drive there across UAE.
Driving: This is easy motoring country with good roads and careful drivers, so, if you can afford it, a 4WD self drive is the way to see Oman efficiently. Some tourists like to experience the sand dunes via a quad bike or 4×4 but it’s important to spend at least some time surrounded by the silence of dunes and preferably travelling by camel.
Desert camping: a popular and potent trip is camping out in the Wahiba desert’s rolling dunes (much of Oman is rigid rocks! ). The desert’s silence is incredible. Transport required, whether 4 legged or 4 wheeled.
Climbing/Hiking: very rocky, very hot, but stunning views, remote villages and secret oases are out there. The Hajar mountain range should provide a few handholds.
Wadi Bashing: the classic expats’ weekend fun in the sun consists of heading up dried river beds on foot, hoof or tyres. Some wadis are very, very pretty and there’s plenty of choice. Wadi Bani Awf is a favourite.
Watersports: most beachside hotels will offer a good range of beach equipment, from sailing to scuba, especially in Muscat and Salalah.
Fishing: Big game fishing is a growing sport here, especially from Salalah. The season is Oct-May, best Jan-April
Scuba Diving: see Dive Page
Wildlife: Oman has strict laws against hunting and several large nature reserves:
Sealife: Turtle nest at Ras el Jinz and on Daymaniyat Islands Reserve (permits required), while many species of whale and dolphin also swim these rich waters. Whale watching is a growing attraction.
Oman Diving: plenty of underwater action, especially around the Daymaniyat Islands and around the distant Musandam Peninsula.
Birds: Flamingoes and other water fowl head for Salalah in December-January and African migratory birds in May. Muscat is home to birds of prey such as spotted eagles and kestrels around October-November.
Leggy animals: Other Reserves such as Arabian Oryx Sanctuary have leopards, sand cats, wildcats, desert foxes, ibex, oryx, gazelles and more.
Ramadan month (see above) can be a problem because Muslims fast during daylight hours – including no drink. Services, like taxis or restaurants, can be difficult to find as staff often don’t work. If they do work you may feel guilty about slurping half a litre of chilled water when the poor bloke next to you hasn’t drunk anything for 6 hours.
Idd/ Eid el Fitr, the biggest celebration is a day of celebration and feasting at the end of Ramadan.
April/March, Eid el Adha, celebrating the pigrimage to Mecca.
June/July, Mohammed’s birthday.
Nov, National Day. Official celebrations, mostly dull and everything closes.
For some precise dates, more suggestions and information see: Exotic Festivals
These are required but most visitors, including those from EU, America, Australia and New Zealand can get a 2 week visa at Muscat airport or border crossings. A one week extension is available from the Immigration Department in Muscat.
We don’t usually mention specific hotels but the Al Bustan Palace in Muscat is a bit special, beautifully designed (inside anyway! ), superbly maintained, with excellent kitchen and has a good beach and huge grounds. The lobby is particularly impressive. It is, naturally, expensive.
The average Omani is so keen to please strangers that if you ask the way and he doesn’t know it, he may just guess.
This is a conservative Muslim country so sensitive tourists should avoid shorts, short skirts, tight clothes and tank tops except on a beach. Hair cover is not neccessary for women.
Some of the best value crafts from the Arab world are produced in this country. Look for pottery, Bedouin jewellry, and woven goods including carpets, of course. Salesmen are not pushy but you will need some negotiation to get the right price.
Western food is available in hotels but elsewhere the cuisine tends towards rice/Indian style offerings. Muscat has several international options. Good restaurants and hotels usually serve alcohol.
A Brief History of Oman
Although there are signs of stone-age habitation in Wattayah near Muscat, the country was hardly recognised until a series of Persian (now Iran) dynasties took control of the peninsula from 6thC BC.
In 7thC AD Islam arrived and was widely accepted.
The Portuguese took control of the country in the 16thC as a useful base for trading and protecting their sea routes to India and beyond, hanging on for 140 years until a vast army of Yemenis swept them away and replaced the Europeans with a line of Arab Sultans that still rule today.
During Oman’s heyday they controlled the waters and large areas of land around the coast of East Africa, participating in remunerative slave trading to Zanzibar (now in Tanzania, it was Oman’s capital for some time) and Mombasa (now Kenya).
There has been a great deal of mutual respect and support between Britain and Oman for a couple of hundred years. When an Oman province, Dhofar, rebelled against the Sultanate in 1962 British soldiers were ‘hired/borrowed’ to assist and train the armed forces of the new Sultan, Qaboos who at the same time introduced many new and effective social reforms. With some assistance from the Iranian imperial army the rebellion ended in 1975. Since then British military are still in evidence, with rumours of regular patrols by the SAS.