Godfrey Hall is an award-winning UK based travel journalist and member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. He has been in search of elves in Iceland, traveled to the depths of central Australia and been off the beaten track in Bulgaria.
The Sultanate of Oman is a charming and friendly destination and one of my favorite countries to visit. Located next to Yemen and the UAE on the south eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, it is a bit bigger than Italy.
Places to Visit
Oman has a great deal to offer – including spectacular mountains, canyons, wadis, desert, coastline, and some magnificent hotels.
A good place to start any visit is the capital, Muscat. Go to the Mutrah Souk situated by the port. The area is full of shops selling spices, jewelry and clothes and it is a great place to find a bargain, but do be prepared to haggle.
There are also several museums, as well as the magnificent Al Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque which can hold up to 20,000 worshipers. An iconic structure, it has five minarets and splendid gardens.
An ideal way to see Muscat is to take a trip on the hop on hop off bus which stops around the city.
First time visitors should also consider a trip to the old city of Nizwa, with its bustling market, fine fort and intriguing passageways. Around a two hour drive from Muscat, the road to Nizwa cuts between beautiful mountains where you can also find several luxurious campsites that will not only cater to all your needs but also give you the chance to experience some amazing sunrises and sunsets.
Misfat Al Abriyeen and Wadi Ghul
When you are in the mountains look out for the mud villages. One of the best examples is the village of Misfat Al Abriyeen, which is located in Wilayt Alhamra in A’Dakhiliyah Governorate. Here you will find decorated houses and mud towers.
Another sight worth searching out is Wadi Ghul, Oman’s very own Grand Canyon. To see it at its best try the balcony walk.
If you have children consider going turtle watching on the beaches of Ras Al Had or Ras Al Jinz. There are also many beach resorts in Salalah, althought this will require you to to take a quick flight or long distance bus from Muscat.
Alternatively seek out the Frankincense Trail and visit Wadi Dawkah or visit the children’s museum in Muscat.
Muscat is full of luxury hotels including the Chedi, a luxury five star establishment in the North West of Muscat. A personal favorite, the Chedi has its own private beach and a really ‘cool’ feel to it.
If you are looking for something a bit different then you might want to consider staying in a Bedouin camp out in the desert. These can be quite luxurious. I have stayed at the Desert Nights Camp which has excellent facilities and plenty to do. Accommodation is in comfortable, individual, stone buildings.
For a room with a view you should head to the mountains and The View, Al Hamra. Recently upgraded, the outlook (as you would expect) is quite spectacular. Ask for a unit overlooking the valley. But be warned; this is definitely a 4×4 location. Although the scenery is well worth the effort!
Food and drink
Omani hospitality is world famous, so don’t be surprised if you are asked to partake of an Omani coffee (Omani Kahwa) or tea. Also expect to see dates on the menu.
That said, whether you are looking for international cuisine or local food, Oman will not disappoint. Many of the upmarket hotels have world famous chefs, while a lot of the smaller establishments offer more traditional food.
Chicken is a popular dish, as is fish and mutton. And while Omani food is not as spicy as elsewhere in the region, dishes often contain lots of herbs and spices. Popular dishes include Shuwa (meat cooked for several days) Mashuai (kingfish with lemon rice) and Halwa (a very sweet dessert).
Being a Muslim country there is no alcohol available except in licensed hotels and bars. Local drinks include Laban (yoghurt and buttermilk) and some delicious fruit juices.
Nightlife in Oman is mainly concentrated around the bars and hotels; however the Royal Opera House, which opened in 2011, provides an outlet for those interested in the arts. There are also some Muscat cinemas featuring international films, and in Salalah there are evening festivities throughout the rainy season of July and August (locally known as khareef). These events often attract tourists from elsewhere in the region.
If chilling out is more your style then the coffee shops around Muttra Souk and along the nearby corniche are a great place to spend an evening.
Oman Air flies all over the world and provides an excellent service in both economy and business class. Once you have arrived in Oman, there are daily buses that run between the main towns. However, if you intend to use taxis it is a good idea to fix the price before you leave.
Another suggestion is to hire a driver and guide via the tourist office. If you are going it alone and rent a vehicle, make sure it is insured for off-road travel otherwise you could have problems.
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Featured Image: Muscat, Capital of Oman (Shutterstock.com)