Not so long ago, the Sultanate of Oman was just a tarmac road, one hospital, a handful of schools and a vast yawning expanse of absolute nothingness.Read More
Not so long ago, the Sultanate of Oman was just a tarmac road, one hospital, a handful of schools and a vast yawning expanse of absolute nothingness. It’s only relatively recently that a network of roads and graded tracks, such as the coast road from Filim to Shwaymiyah, or the adventurous mountain track to the ancient tombs at Gaylah, has made it possible to penetrate Oman’s pristine landscapes, as well as its more visited ones. While Muscat has been a port hub for many years, in the Sharqiya Region you'll discover some of Oman's main attractions like the beautiful beaches of Sur, turtle nesting sites in Ras Al-Jinz and the desert dunes of Wahiba Sands. Oman’s culture and traditions are palpable, unlike its brash Middle Eastern counterparts. Although it is now open to tourists and the world, it has still retained its traditional heritage and culture with stunning scenery ranging from golden sand dunes to rugged wadi (gorges) and ship-wreck dives in the ocean.
Best Time to Visit
Two main types of climate prevail in Oman - Mediterranean in the East and North, tropical in the West and South and a more desert climate in the centre with permanent heat, even at night. The best time to visit Oman is between November and mid-March, when the cooler air brings the mountain scenery sharply into focus and daytime temperatures average 25°C. However this is the peak tourist season.
Holidays@Leisure recommends....“must see” places in Oman.
See the Grand Mosque in Muscat. The Grand Mosque is breathtaking for its architecture, Italian marble, 21-tonne hand woven rug and Swarovski crystal chandelier. This glorious piece of modern Islamic architecture was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark the 30th year of his reign. Quietly imposing from the outside, the main prayer hall is breathtakingly rich. The Persian carpet alone is 70m x 60m wide, making it the largest carpet in the world; it took 600 women and four years to weave.
On the ‘must see’ list is the Sultan’s Al Alam Palace. A vision in turquoise mosaic and gold leaf, behind impressive black gates adorned with the Sultan’s coat of arms bearing a traditional Omani dagger, it was built in 1972.
Mutrah Souq. Go shopping at the Mutrah Souq. Many people come to Mutrah Corniche just to visit the Mutrah Souq. A maze of tiny winding streets, where the heat, the hustle and bustle and the exotic aromas are dizzying, it is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir or two. There are some good antique shops selling a mixture of Indian and Omani artefacts among the usual textile, hardware and gold shops. Haggling is part of the fun. Shopkeepers are extremely friendly, and a smile and joke goes a long way, as does reverse psychology! The best buys include spices like saffron, kohl make-up, silver charms and the aromatic frankincense.
Live like the desert nomads for a day. Cross the desert across the Wahiba Sands. A destination in their own right, these beautiful dunes offer the visitor a glimpse of a traditional way of life that is fast disappearing as modern conveniences limit the need for a nomadic existence. Stay in the desert camp which has all the basic facilities. Visit the house of a Bedouin. Eat around the campfire while belly dancers and soulful music entertain you. Wake up early to watch the stunning view of sun rising over the sands. Go quad biking or camel riding.
Soak in a Wadi at Wadi Bani Khalid enroute to Wahiba Sands. A lush oasis of deep blue pools fringed by date palm trees, it stands in stark contrast to the Wahiba Sands. The Wadis are basically dried riverbeds that come into their own after the rains providing a delightful counterpoint to the harsh, parched Omani palette. Thanks to falaj or an indigenous irrigation system, the wadis support small villages fringed by mango and banana trees. Spend a day soaking and swimming in the aquamarine waters. Watch the locals going about their routine even in such harsh conditions.
Visit Ras Al Jinz Scientific and Visitor’s Centre. This centre was set up specially to bring back the green turtles from extinction. Visit a green turtle sanctuary where you can see the female turtles come ashore at dusk to lay their eggs on the sands.
Visit the Sultan’s Armed Force Museum. Although named Armed Force Museum, it is far more than just a display of military hardware. It was built in 1845 as a royal summer home but used mostly as the headquarters of the sultan's armed forces. The lower rooms give a comprehensive outline of Oman's history, and the upper rooms explore Oman's international relations and military prowess. Since it is on the itinerary of visiting dignitaries, you will be given the mandatory military escort!
Get up close and personal with the waterworld. Go diving or dolphin watching in the waters of Oman. Oman’s waters are so unspoilt that the marine life is unique. The waters are rich with reef and whale sharks, sunfish, barracudas and turtles too. If that sounds too ‘deep’, then head out to see dolphins frolicking in the surf, instead.
Visit the Al Hajar Mountains. They are a patchwork of mountains with their striations of green copper and deep red iron, forged by erosion and volcanic activity. This is a bleak region inhabited by goats and sheep and weavers creating sheep wool rugs in brilliant colours. Visit Shorfat al Nakhar framed by Jebel Shams, the highest mountain at over 3000 metres and look down the precipitous walls at the floor of the Wadi Nakhur, popularly called the Grand Canyon of Oman. See tiny villages ringed by date palms on the floor of the valley. If you dare, then there is a walking route along the rim of the canyon, obviously not for the faint hearted!
Hailed as a monument to Omani architectural ingenuity, Nizwa fort reflects the military engineering prowess of fort-builders of a bygone time. It is also one of the Sultanate's finest historical edifices. There are 500 forts in Oman and the 400-year old Nizwa fort is the biggest in the Arabian peninsula. It has been restored back to its original and murderous splendour. Climb the narrow staircase and look up at the murder holes where boiling oil or burning date juice could be poured over marauding enemies trying to enter.