First and foremost Oman is a country of varied terrain so there is something here to appeal to every tourist, whether a beach, culture or adventure enthusiast. And what’s more, the people are especially known for their hospitality and friendliness.
OK, so what is there that’s special to see or do? Well here in Muscat, the capital of Oman, you can visit the traditional Souk of Mutrah selling everything from colourful cloth, to household goods to exotic perfumes. A stroll along the Corniche at night is delightful and there’ll be no hassle from street hawkers. And into Muscat itself there is the Al Alam Palace (home of the ruler) guarded by the 16th century forts of Jelali and Mirani.
Whilst in the capital area why not visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque which welcomes non-Muslims every morning (except Fridays), or book seats at the beautiful Royal Opera House Muscat (a wonderful programme of international concerts entices the visitor from September through to end-April). For a country of approx. 3 million, to have 10 museums of different types in Muscat alone gives you the opportunity to learn something about Oman’s historical past or its nature. Boat trips to watch dolphins and whales or to go fishing are all available. Why not ask a local fisherman to take you down the coast for a few dollars, and maybe catch a fish or two for your barbecue.
The second largest city is Salalah in the Southern Region which can be reached by an Oman Air flight in approx. 1.1/2 hours or by coach taking 10 hours. Or hire a car and drive yourself on Oman’s excellent roads. This is where the 4 sites of UNESCO’s Land of Frankincense lie, and they include the wonderful archaeological sites of Al Baleed Park and Maritime Hall, the Khor Rori site of the Queen of Sheba, and the famous Ubar. Here one can wander the Souk for the best granules of frankincense, or take to the hills and valleys to see hundreds of migrating birds in the season. Be aware that the monsoon season is from approximately mid-June to end-August, but this does turn the landscape a lush green.
The scenic Musandam peninsula with its mountains and fjords -referred to by some as the ‘Norway of Arabia’ – is another ‘must see’ if you have time. It’s great to take a dhow (traditional boat) and see a family of dolphins swimming and spinning alongside, and to go snorkeling or diving. Again easy to reach on Oman Air’s domestic flights which ply the route daily..
What else is special in this land of varied terrain, much more than meets the eye.
Beaches – they are golden and unspoilt from Muscat down the coast to Salalah.
Adventure tourism – for the more intrepid tourist, caving, canyoning, rock climbing and hiking are all on offer as well as numerous water sports.
There is lots to see and do inland in the Nizwa area, for example the traditional goat and cattle Souk which is held early on Friday mornings, a 4×4 drive up the 3000-metre Jebel al Akdhar where roses and sweet pomegranates grow on the terraced gardens, and where there are hiking trails. Bahla is worth a visit for its fort and wall listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and the nearby 4.5 km Al Hoota cave is spectacular.
For peace and tranquility – a 4×4 drive into the Sharqiyah/Eastern Sands to a tented camp in the desert or perhaps a spot of dune or buggy bashing appeals. The kids will love to toboggan down the dunes too. Here one can also meet the Bedouin and experience their traditional dancing and see their woven handicrafts. If you’re lucky there may be a camel or horse race going on near one of the towns. After a night spent watching the stars why not arrange a picnic and drive down to the Wadi Bani Khalid, famous for its deep pools where one can take a refreshing swim?
Sur would then be on the circular route-it’s interesting to visit for its traditional dhow (ship) building yard and then why not go on to the Ras al Jinz Marine Turtle Reserve where you will see the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) come ashore at night to lay approximately hundred white eggs in the sand.
The Batinah coast has some interesting towns and forts to explore too – Barka, Bait al Na’man, Nahkl, Rostaq, and Al Hazm immediately spring to mind. Wadis (dried up river beds) can be found in this area too if one heads for the foothills – great fun to drive your 4-wheel drive up and down along the dusty tracks. On the Batinah road one reaches Sohar after approx. a 2-hour drive, and then you’re not so far from the border with the UAE. Sohar was once famous for its copper. If you happen to be visiting the Batinah coast at any time from May to early-October you’re sure to see dates being plucked from the palm trees and then sold at date auctions in the souqs – a great photo opportunity.
The geologist will find something to explore almost everywhere – Oman is one of the few places in the world where one can see ophiolite exposed and if one looks in the right places there is strata showing catastrophic meteorite collision which some say caused the extinction of the dinosaur.
Accommodation? Not a problem in most towns around the country where it is of varying standards from 5-star hotels in Muscat, to guest houses, to tented encampments so where you stay depends on the size of your pocket or credit card. And if you’re hungry you have the choice of a good restaurant with a corked bottle, or if on a budget in a cheap and cheerful café where a biryani might cost you just $2.60.
Need we say more as to why Oman is a special place to visit – there is something for everyone!