Grand Escapades’ Travel Guide To Oman – 1001 Nights Flair, Ancient Culture, Stunning Landscapes & Such Gentle People!
Oman is special. Where else on the Arabic Peninsula has some of the “Sinbad the Sailor” feeling survived? Besides this 1001 Nights flair, we were stunned by lush oases, ancient fortresses, sandy beaches, dramatic mountain scenery, rolling desert dunes, picturesque wadis, deep fjords and overly friendly people. All in one country!
Itinerary And Time Of The Visit
We spent 2 weeks in Oman over X-mas 2012 & New Year 2013. Our itinerary covered Muscat (the capital), Jebel Shams & Jebel Akhdar (the mountains), Nizwa (oases, fortresses and more), the Wahiba Sands (desert), Ras Al Jinz (turtles) & last but not least Musandam (the lonely peninsula on the Strait of Hormuz). This is roughly the route we covered, with many more places in between.
Why Travel To Oman?
Honestly, when we booked the flight to Muscat, we had no real idea what to expect… Only when we started reading travel blogs in more detail, did we find out that the 2 weeks we had would never be enough to visit all major attractions. The south with its abundance of incense trees around Salalah, we had to save for another trip.
Challenges Organizing The Trip – What Would We Have Wished To Know?
Organizing a trip to Oman is actually quite easy – Guide books (especially the Bradt Guide) are excellent, answers from Guesthouses or local agencies (car rental, desert stays…) come quickly and are accurate. The only question that was difficult to answer for us was Sedan Car or 4WD (see bellow, Getting Around In Oman).
Highlights Of The Trip
- The Omani people
- Small town Khasab on the Peninsula of Musandam – guarding the Strait of Hormuz
- A few days in the Wahiba Desert
- Driving into the heart of the Hajer Mountains on a windy dirt road, that reminded us tremendously of Bolivian “Death Road”
- Hiking Wadi Ghul – Oman’s Grand Canyon
- Gazing at the 5.000 year old tombs of Al Ayn – just us
- Fortress hopping – and we only visited 8 from the nearly 500…
- The haggling at Nizwa’s goat market on Fridays, at least very early morning, before busloads of tourists arrive
- Meeting Khalfan in his very personal museum in Al Kamil
- Egg-laying turtles at Ras Al Jinz
- Walking through the tranquil gardens of a tiny oasis on the fringes of Wahiba Desert
How To Go Off The Beaten Track?
- Heading further south – Most visitors are on tours and concentrate on the area between Muscat, Nizwa, Ibri & Rustaq, plus Wahiba Sands and to a lesser scale Musandam. As soon as you leave this area, or when stopping at some smaller towns in-between, you might be the only visitors of the day…
- Oman for outdoor people… – Those who like sleeping in tents may also have an amazing time in Oman. Camping is possible on lonely beaches (fishermen shuttle you back and forth), in the mountains, in the desert and probably everywhere else. But be aware! Nights are chilly at this time of the year, especially in the mountains, where we watched the wind fiercely beating the few bushes from our cozy hotel room. But the intrepid camper may find this heavenly. Also hikers can live up to their passion: countless trails, short and long (up to 8 days) take you through the spectacular scenery of the Hajer Mountains.
What Will We Especially Remember?
- Gentle, friendly and open-minded people – the Omani are really special
- Huge contrasts: within a few kilometers, you move from the most modern 21st century city to a village that could be in the Middle Ages
- A stunning capacity to embrace technological changes and to safeguard traditions – how many times did we wonder at young men dressed in the traditional Dishdasha, surfing on their iPhones.
- Indian food, which seemed to be the base of our diet during 2 weeks
What Would We Do Differently?
Slightly change the itinerary: fly into Dubai (instead of Muscat), take a taxi (2,5 hours) to Khasab on Musandam and the ferry (5 hours) to Muscat. Then start the loop there and finally fly from Muscat back to Europe, probably via Dubai.
- Skip Scuba diving – visibility was really disappointing
- Spend more time in the Hajer Mountains, Jebel Shams and trekking along Wadi Ghul – And trek Wadi Ghul in the afternoon
- Head south to Salalah – with the time saved on the changed itinerary and scuba diving, it could fit in a two week trip – although the perfect time to visit this region is supposedly September
Is It Safe & Is It Morally Justifiable To Travel To Oman?
Some unusual politics? Oman is not only the oldest independent state in the Arab world, but also one of the more traditional countries in the Gulf region and was, until the beginning of the 1970s, one of the most isolated. In its heydays it stretched out along the East African coast and included paradise-like Zanzibar.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said is omnipresent in Oman. His portrait seems to adorn every room, public or private. So do billboards along the perfect roads built under his ruler ship. The respect and admiration he receives from his citizens is equally ever-present. Not surprising considering what he has achieved! Educated in Britain, he overthrew his overly conservative father in 1970. More or less single-handedly he then moved this country from the Middle Age to the 21st Century, turning it into a prosperous, modern state.
A transformation so deep, but nevertheless so smooth that it makes Oman stand out. The result is a unique, peaceful place in an otherwise not so stable region of this world. Maybe it helped that his subjects are only a flock of 2 millions and there is plenty of oil, although in modest quantities compared to its neighbors.
Just to give you an idea where he started off: in 1970 Oman had merely 3 kilometers of tarred road, one hospital with 12 beds, no schools. Sultan Qaboos’ father was so conservative that wearing sunglasses or playing music was forbidden. All this changed under Qaboos’ rule, but he made sure to balance the move forward with a healthy conservation of Oman’s cultural heritage. Today modern cities, excellent roads, state of the art telecommunication, excellent schools and universities (for men and women) equal western European standards. Nevertheless, none of the skyscrapers that dominate Dubai or Abu Dhabi can be found here, only elegant oriental architecture prevails.
Best Time To Visit Oman
Oman’s climate is typical of the Arabic Peninsula, with blisteringly hot summers (April to September, when temperatures rise far above 40 degrees Celsius) and pleasantly mild Mediterranean winters (October until March).
Salalah is an exception, with a monsoon season, called the khareef, between June and August, with bearable temperatures.
Communication (Language Barrier?)
Communication is extremely easy in Oman, with a vast majority of the people speaking perfect English.
Getting Around In Oman
There is no network of public transport, so you have to have a car. Car rentals are cheap in comparison to Europe and gasoline costs close to nothing, nevertheless this remains a significant part of the budget: 350 € per person for the 2 weeks.
Sedan or 4WD? This we asked ourselves quite a bit before we started off. Roads are excellent, so a sedan car will do for reaching most places, except crossing the Hajer Mountains, going from Nakhal to Jebel Shams. Even Wahiba Sands is doable in a sedan, since most of the agencies will pick you up for a small fee.
Visa On Arrival is readily available at Muscat International Airport or at the border crossings that are open to foreigners. Note that if you drive from Oman to Musandam through the United Arabic Emirates, you will have to buy a new visa.
Photography – Oman: A Photographers’ Dream!
- Key Factors For Taking Great Pictures?
Wide Angle Lens – Our EF-S 10-22 mm lens turned out to be quite useful during this trip, especially to take pictures of the outside and inside of Fortresses.
- Polarization Filter – Too much light is your major challenge while photographing in Oman. Hence, you should use one pretty much all the time when photographing outside in Oman, to improve contrasts.
- Timing – The real challenge is to be at the right place for the perfect light, like for the “Blue Hours”, shortly after the sunset. Getting up early enough for the soft morning light can even be harder… Being early enough enables you also to avoid the busloads of tourists at some points, like the Cattle Market in Nizwa, where we enjoyed great photo opportunities in the very beginning, and could no longer take any pictures after one hour due to the number of tourists.
- Best Opportunities For Great Pictures
People – Do not hesitate to ask: if some people refused being photographed, many people gently posed for the picture.
- Landscapes – We found some of the most spectacular landscapes in Oman, which offer great opportunities for photographers: Mountains, Canyons, Deserts, Lush Oasis, …
- Architecture – The many Omani Forts are simply spectacular and offer great subjects.
Best & Most Inspiring Travel Blogs For Oman
Conclusion About Oman…
Oman is the perfect (family) destination for a two to three week trip escaping the European winter. The country is really easy to travel, offers a huge variety of highlights and some of the most gentle people on this planet, but is expensive!