Camel treks, desert camping and 4-wheel drive safaris through mighty canyons are just some of the adventures awaiting visitors to Oman. From frankincense plantations and atmospheric souks that speak of vanished centuries to gleaming modern cities and 5-star hotels fronting on to perfect beaches, Oman is everything you would want from Arabia.
What marks this desert kingdom out from its neighbours is a complex history of interaction with the outside world. From the ports of Muscatand Salahat, Omani traders roamed across the Arabian Sea, pushing back the borders of the Portuguese empire in africa and founding trading outposts as far afield as Zanzibar and Mozambique, before aligning with the British after the abolition of slavery.
The result, thirteen centuries later, is an outwardly conservative, but strikingly open Islamic society, with a firm belief in the importance of its own traditions but a strong acceptance of other cultures. Many regard Oman as the most welcoming of all the Arabic nations; this is a place where foreigners are invited to sit and sip tea and eat dates out of genuine hospitality, rather than as a preamble to selling souvenirs.
The ruling sultans have taken great pains to preserve the traditional crafts and customs of their ancient civilisation, and the cities of Oman feel much more historic and lived-in than the skyscraper cities appearing elsewhere in the Gulf. The borders of Oman are guarded by a staggering 2,000 desert fortresses, most meticulously restored. It's easy here to feel transported back to the days of Arabian Nights.
Along the coastline, enigmatic dhows still sail from port to port, while rugged wadis (river valleys) snake into the interior, studded with date-palm plantations, dramatic rock formations and hidden pools. Beyond, immaculately tarmacked highways cross the desert to neighbouringYemen, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, though many chose to fly to avoid endless drives through barren desert scenery.
More than anything though, Oman is a place to feel safe and at ease. The Omanis are gracious hosts, and visitors will find traditional Arabian hospitality and Islamic culture at its very best.
When To Go
Oman is very hot and humid during the summer months. A good time to visit is during September to April. These months are a bit cooler than others and are much drier, making it better for recreational activities. Although visiting the country throughout the year is fine, exploring the cultural centers and wildlife may be a little uncomfortable due to the scorching heat. One exception to this is the Dhofar region of Oman, which is often much cooler than the rest of the country and also has the most rain and fog.
- Women, in particular, should dress modestly as it is frowned upon to wear tight fitting or revealing clothes.
- When walking along the beaches, it is prohibited to pick up seashells, coral and other sea life on the shore.
- Littering is strictly prohibited, so respect this and other local customs.
- Take a camel ride across the Shargiva sands desert, which could include a picnic of local foods afterward to make the perfect day.
- Try driving four wheelers in the Empty Quarter in the Dhofar region, which offers both plains and mountainous areas that are perfect for riding.
- Check out the Al-Hoota Cave in the Nizwa area, which has some of the most amazing limestone structures in the entire country.
- Visit the blowholes at Mughsail in Dhofar, which blow misty water through your hair.
- Travel to the Jebel Shams, an amazing mountain area that has a gigantic canyon called the Wadi Ghul.