Our top 10 reasons to visit Oman
By Martha Hales
Oman combines the magic of classic Arabian scenery with a richly diverse cultural heritage. From the busy capital to peaceful wadis and laid-back coastal resorts there’s plenty to keep you interested in this most charming of Middle Eastern destinations. Whether your priority is seeking out Oman’s cultural highlights or delving deep into the wilderness, you won’t be short of options.
Often it’s Oman’s natural attractions that first grab your attention, such as the majestic Hajar mountains and the fjords of the Musandam peninsula, but while these ensure you will return home with some stunning photos it is the personal interactions and deeper understanding of Omani life which will give you a true sense of what makes this nation tick.
We’ve rounded up some inspiration to help you narrow down your options in Oman.
Photogenically sited between its curved bay and the russet crags of the mountains behind, the original heart of the capital city is centred on Muttrah Port and Old Muscat. Although these areas are now relatively sleepy and much of modern life and commerce takes place in the newer, western end of the city, the two oldest districts hold considerably more charm. Don’t miss the colourful tiled mosques and the warren-like delights of Muttrah souk.
Oman’s staggering landscape encapsulates bare mountains sliced through with wadis or seasonal watercourses which have cut deep canyons through the terrain. As well as spectacular settings, thrilling off road experiences and cool microclimates, Oman’s wadis are often great places for a refreshing dip. Wadi Bani Khalid and Wadi Bani Auf are two of the most picturesque oases of cool and calm.
The drive up to the Saiq Plateau atop the Jebel Akhdar or ‘Green Mountain’ is a winding 30 kilometres on smooth roads with fabulous views opening up as you ascend. The plateau itself offers a close up of the limestone peaks of the Western Hajar and eye-popping views down into the wadis which score the landscape. Visit the attractive villages of Al Aqr and Al Ayn, and don’t miss the rose plantations, harvested for famous Omani rose water.
This enchanting former capital is located inland from Muscat in the foothills of the Hajar mountains. As well as it’s enticing valley situation, Nizwa is also one of Oman’s cultural headliners, with an intriguing history and several monuments worthy of your time. The fort is the major draw, but the souk is livelier and just as enthralling.
Ras al Jinz
At its peak between June and August but continuing year-round, the turtle nesting on Ras al Jinz beach is one of Oman’s enduring wildlife spectacles. Almost every night of the year a handful of green turtles make the tricky journey out of the surf and onto the beach, where they use their flippers to drag themselves up the sand to a suitable nesting spot. You can watch them by booking onto a turtle watching tour, best booked a few weeks in advance.
The Omani Food
A tempting selection of Middle Eastern mezze such as kibbeh, hummus, felafel and tabbouleh are often available cheaply, as well as mildly spiced Indian rice dishes along the lines of Biryani are the mainstays of Omani cuisine along with shawarma wraps and tandoori style oven baked meats. While the food of the interior is based on meat and rice, the coastal zone enjoys some fine fish and seafood. The best selection of restaurants can be found in Muscat.
This ancient town sits huddled at the foot of the Hajar mountains in all its crumbling glory. Centuries old mud brick houses the colour of sand are jumbled together with a network of alleys and lanes weaving between them, with some lovely examples of carved wooden doors and other woodwork on display. The town surrounds a shady old date plantation where you can wander amid the greenery of the palms for a cool, green contrast to the dusty streets.
The stark terrain of Oman has precious little cultivable land, but even the most unlikely corners have sprouted villages whose inhabitants eke a precarious living around a spring or an oasis. These old villages offer a glimpse of Omani life from times gone by, and they are generally very evocative and photogenic places to pause and wander. Bilad Sayt, Misfat al Abryeen and Birkat Al Mauz are all very worthy of the detour.
At around 200km long and approximately 75km wide, the Wahiba Sands are a group of linear dunes of startling beauty and mystique. Classic desert scenery surrounds you as you make your way through the unspoilt landscape sculpted by wind and sand, either by 4 x 4 vehicle, on foot or by camel. There are some Bedouin camps in the folds of the dunes where you can spend the night stargazing and listening to Bedouin folk tales or music.
Oman might not instantly spring to mind when you are thinking of a beach holiday, but the coast has some very appealing stretches of beach and some very opulent resorts which tend to occupy some of the best beachfront locations. Much of the coastal stretch has accessible beaches, though some can be unkempt. Head for the coast south of Muscat towards Sur and the Musandam peninsula for the best diving and snorkelling.
We have picked out our top ten reasons to visit Oman but there are many more, and our local experts are the ideal people to make sure your itinerary reflects your passions and priorities. Get in touch with the Oman specialists today and they will begin to build your bespoke itinerary. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.