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
I visited Oman twice, and basically both trips were quite similar in terms of organization and budget:
- I spent 2 weeks in Oman over X-mas 2012 & New Year 2013. The itinerary covered Muscat (the capital), Jebel Shams & Jebel Al 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).
- I spent 11 days in Oman in February 2022. The itinerary covered Jebel Shams & Jebel Akhdar (the mountains), Nizwa (fortresses and more), the Wahiba Sands (desert), Musandam (the lonely peninsula on the Strait of Hormuz) & last but not least one day in Muscat (the capital).
Why Travel To Oman?
When we organized the first trip to Oman, back in 2012, Oman was a largely underrated destination, widely unknown from the majority and we had honestly no real idea what to expect… What a surprise it was! This is why I decided to return 9 years later… And even on the second trip, I had to skip the south with its abundance of incense trees around Salalah.
Challenges Organizing The Trip – What Would We Have Wished To Know?
Organizing a trip to Oman is actually quite easy – Guide books are numerous and excellent, answers from Guesthouses or local agencies (car rental, desert stays…) come quickly and are accurate. The only questions that were difficult to answer for us were:
- Sedan Car or 4WD (see bellow, Getting Around In Oman)?
- How long to stay and what itinerary (see below)?
Highlights Of The Trip
- The Omani people – So gentle and welcoming!
- A few days in the Desert / Wahiba Sands – We regretted not to stay a 3rdnight at the Nomadic Desert Camp
- An overnight Dhow Cruise in the Fjords of Musandam – One of the best Wildlife Watching experiences I had so far!
- The haggling at Nizwa’s Goat Market on Fridays, one of the most vibrant markets I have ever experienced in all my trips
- Hiking Wadi Ghul – Oman’s Grand Canyon
- Harat Al Bilad Heritage Village – Unbelievable that such a treasure is completely unknown and that we were the only visitors that morning! This is surely one of the most underrated sites I have ever visited!
- Fortress hopping – and we only visited a few of the nearly 500 that can be visited in Oman…
Let’s start first with a few overall considerations
- The itinerary of course depends on the amount of time you have at hand, and I would strongly recommend taking more than the usual 6-8 days most visitors allow for this stunning destination! Ideally you need 2 weeks, if you want to integrate the Fjords of Musandam () (one of our top highlights) and even more if you want to have time for the South around Salalah!
- Most visitors spend a few days in Muscat, and in our humble opinion, this is a waste of time: other places are much more spectacular!
- One of the mistakes we made was not taking sufficient time for the Desert: the Wahiba Sands are truly unique, breathtaking, different from everything that we know. Looking back, we should have spent a 3rd night there, as this was THE highlight of the trip. Read our recommendations on how to make the most of this unique place.
- A Dhow Cruise in the Fjords of Musandam is one of the highlights of a trip to Oman, now it requires to fly the round trip from Muscat to Khasab and back to Muscat. This is expensive and time consuming. The better alternative, one that we had actually already identified back in 2013, is to fly to Dubai, then take a bus (or ask the agency organizing the Dhow Cruise to organize the transfer) for approx. 3 hours to Musandam, then take the Dhow Cruise for 24 hours (starting at 09:00 am or 04:00 pm, depending on your time of arrival), then fly to Muscat where you can take a “classic trip” through Oman, then fly out of Muscat back to Europe (or anywhere else).
- Last but not least, beware that you will want to see the Friday Goat Market in Nizwa, therefore you will need to stay overnight on Thursday night in Nizwa, in order to be at the market at around 06:30 am. This will of course influence your overall itinerary…
Now to the itinerary itself!
- Land in Dubai and head straight for Musandam for an overnight Dhow Cruise (the agency organizing the Dhow Cruise will arrange the transfer)
- Fly to Muscat, and do not spend too much time there (we skipped it basically almost completely) except if you have a lot of time at hands
- Head for Nizwa, that you will use as a base for:
- Head to the Desert for 3 nights / 3 days in the desert / Wahiba Sands, a most unique experience
- Then go and discover several of the Wadis with emerald water pools on the way back to Muscat. It will require 2 days / 1 night to visit 3 or 4 of these Wadis. Wadi Al Arbeieen Resort was a really nice option for the overnight stay on this part of the trip. Note that based on the many negative feedbacks, we decided on the second trip to skip Raz Al Jinz to see turtles, as this place seems not to respect basic Wildlife Watching rules.
- Then head back to Muscat or further south, if you have enough time at hand…
How To Go Off The Beaten Track?
- Heading further south
Most visitors are on tours and focus on Muscat, Nizwa, the Wahiba Sands and some of the more popular Wadis. The majority only spends 6 to 8 days in Oman… Therefore, as soon as you leave these areas, 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. Wild camping is possible and allowed as long as you do not disturb the neighbors… 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. 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 Jebel Shams and Jebel Al Akhdar.
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.
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 fly 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. I tried during the first trip and overall skiped it on the second
- 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
First, there is no network of public transport, so you have to rent a car. Car rentals are cheap and gasoline prices far cheaper than in Europe, nevertheless this remains a significant part of the budget. We spent 25 € per person per day on both trips.
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 Mountains (Jebel Shams and Jebel Al Akhdar, where 4WD is absolutely mandatory). 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.
Since beginning of 2020, people from several European countries no longer need any visa if staying less than 2 weeks. Check if you are eligible – As French people, we were.
Conclusion About Oman…
Oman is the perfect (family) destination for a two to three weeks 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, except if you are into Wild Camping!