An authentic experience... in Oman
The oldest independent state in the Arab world, the Sultanate of Oman, is a lesser-known holiday destination in the Middle East, making it all the more special. Hugging the coast of the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, it’s not short of pristine sandy beaches. Oman’s inland, on the other hand, has dramatic mountain scenery and endless dunes providing incredible views and tranquility. The capital city, Muscat, highlights the authentic and culture-rich Arabia, with bustling souks, ancient forts and palaces as well as archaeological sites.
You may well be wondering why you should visit Oman, as opposed to one of it's better known neighbours. The answer lies within the question – the fact it's not a mainstream tourist destination adds to the allure, it's possible to come here and see virtually no other tourists – if any. This isn't only an advantage for those who enjoy the feel of getting off the beaten track; it also means you can look forward to taking in local attractions without having to peer around the tourist crowds to see them – something that is often a problem at major attractions elsewhere in the world. No matter where you go in Oman, you can see locals going about their everyday life.
It isn't just the lower numbers of tourists that makes Oman stand out, the locals are extremely hospitable and the attractions are all so diverse. This is a destination where you can enjoy stunning beaches, soaring mountains, vast deserts and cities that seem almost frozen in time – all in one trip. What's more, the cuisine, which is Lebanese in style is delicious, particularly in the capital, Muscat.
Oman: a quick overview
Located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, Oman is an Arab state that can be split into three regions for tourism purposes. The first being the north of Oman, where you will find the Musandam Peninsula – separated from the rest of the nation by the UAE – which is characterised by beautiful coastlines and striking mountain scenery. The second is the centre of Oman, which is where most of the key sights can be found. Here you will find Muscat, Nizwa, the desert and mountains. The south, meanwhile, is home to many of the country's key archaeological sites and ancient forts in the Dhofar Province, including the Lost City of Ubar.
Where to go in Oman
The capital city of Muscat lies between the rugged Al Hajar mountains and the coast. Soak up the local culture in Old Muscat, visiting the Bait Al Zubair to learn about Omani culture and the Al Jalali and Al-Mirani forts that guard the entrance to Muscat Bay. New Muscat on the other hand is much more business-orientated with less to see.
Part of the joy of visiting Muscat is admiring its continuity with days gone by; building regulations mean that even newer installations have to reflect traditions in some way, such as including a dome, which means a walk here is like stepping into the past. It also means there are few high-rise buildings, and the combination of the two creates a capital city that will seem quite unlike any others you've visited. The historic port, which is still operational to this day, is a great part of the city to head to get a feel for local life. Food is another thing to look forward to in Muscat; the local restaurants are absolutely fantastic, serving fresh Middle Eastern cuisine.
Nizwa is approximately two hours from Muscat, close to the Jabal Akhdar mountains, which are also well worth a visit. As well as acting as a gateway to a host of historical attractions, this city was once the nation's capital, another reason to include it on your itinerary. Among its most famous attractions is the Al-Hoota Cave, famous for its stunning display of stalactites and stalagmites and the immense circular Nizwa fort.
Translated from Arabic as 'Green Mountain', Jabal Akhdar is a fantastic place to explore, especially for keen walkers, nature lovers and those seeking a refuge from the desert heat. Here you can discover the nation's agricultural land and take in the spectacular views from the mountaintops over the dramatic gorges, at 2000m above sea level. The Alila Jabal Akhdar resort is a luxurious hotel found among the rugged landscape, perfect for some rest and relaxation. You won't want to leave waking up to these views. Opened in 2017, the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar is an alternative up in the mountains. Here you can dine at Diana's Point, a platform overlooking the canyon named after Princess Diana.
During the months of June to September, the Dhofar province experiences the khareef – a monsoon season – which lowers the usually soaring temperatures and leaves the landscape verdant and lush. Dhofar is home to ancient forts, archaeological sites, fishing villages and most notably, the Lost City of Ubar. Said to have been buried in sand because of the ancient inhabitant's wickedness, it is a fascinating attraction. In the 1990s it was rediscovered with the use of satellite technology and to this day it remains mostly unexcavated.
The Musandam Peninsula
The dramatic coastline of the north overlooks the Straight of Hormuz and is home to secluded sandy beaches. Board a traditional Omani dhow and set sail in search of marine life; dolphins in particular. Khasab, Musandam's capital, is a popular holiday destination with Omanis and is approximately three hours to Dubai, should you want to combine your holiday with the UAE.
Near to Muscat is the town of Sawadi, from here you can take a boat trip to the barren Daymaniyat islands: its beauty lies underwater. A designated marine and natural reserve, the crystal clear water makes for incredible snorkelling around the coral and marine species. Colourful fish and turtles are often spotted here and, less frequently, dolphins and whale sharks. A perfect outing for children.
What to do in Oman
Go to the Friday cattle market in Nizwa
Each Friday morning, Nizwa hosts a cattle market. Lasting just a few hours, it's intriguing watching the cattle being inspected, auctioned and sold, giving one an idea of local life and the middle eastern way of trading. Afterwhich, explore the bustling souks where you can haggle for beautiful silver jewellery or admire the handmade crafts.
See dhows being built in Sur
Venture to Sur to watch the traditional Omani dhows be built in the dhow yards, there is a long history here of dhow building and carpentry. As well as seeing the boats under construction, the open-air museum will give you the opportunity to see other traditional vessels as well.
Spot turtles at Ras al Hadd Turtle Reserve
One of the world's principal locations to spot turtles is in fact in Oman. Covering an area of 120 sq km of beach, two lagoons and a large stretch of coast, an estimated 20,000 turtles come here to lay their eggs in the reserve. The best time to see them is between August and September, although they tend to lay their eggs all year round, this is the prime time.
Stay in a Bedouin camp
An unmissable experience when in Oman, take a trip into the Sharqiya Sands and stay overnight in a Bedouin camp. Not only is this is a great way to experience one of the country's most remarkable landscapes, but also to experience the culture of the bedouin tribes that live with their camels. Explore what feels like the never-ending desert either by 4x4 or by camel. The sunset over the dunes is mesmerising and as the sky darkens, the twinkling of the stars begin.