By Steve and Dianne Owad-Jones
Steve and Dianne lived and worked in the Sultanate for five years, check out their Info File for further tips and details.
Under the rule of Sultan Qaboos for 49 years, Oman was transformed from a medieval-style feudal state with 1 km of paved road, to a sensitively developed modern society. Upon the Sultan’s passing in January this year, Oman had earned the sobriquet “Pearl of Arabia,” and for good reason, it’s a delight to visit with a plethora of natural and cultural highlights. It should be noted that the climate in summer is brutal, often reaching highs of 50C, so unless you are going to Salalah, summer is best avoided!
Visas obtained online are relatively straightforward, single entry 5 OMR for 10 days, 20 OMR for 30 days (visas suspended during COVID-19). VOA is only available for crossing by land from the UAE. The 30-day visa is recommended as there’s plenty to see and do, and you can only renew for 30 days when in country.
What to Do/See
Muscat offers many notable sights and retains a low-rise charm, in contrast to elsewhere in the Gulf. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Mutrah Souq, the newly opened National Museum, the Opera house, a morning stroll along the Corniche and a visit to the fish market. A personal favorite: Bait-al-Zubair museum with its excellent ethnographic collections. Snorkelers and divers head to “the aquarium” at the Daymaniyat Islands with reliable access to whale sharks from September to November.
Self-drive trips are straightforward, roads are excellent, although sign posting is sketchy! Speeding tickets are easily obtained and don’t run a red light, lest you spend a weekend at the red light jail! Standout destinations include Nizwa with the early morning Friday goat market, Raz al Jinz turtle beach, hike and swim to the waterfall cave at Wadi Shab, Wahiba Sands desert camps, and the majestic geology and beauty of Jebel Shams (Grand Canyon-like) and Jebel Akhdar (green mountain). There are several tastefully renovated forts to visit along the way, such as Nakhal Fort, the ones at Nizwa and Bahla are UNESCO listed. One of the off-the-beaten-track sites worth detouring for are the ancient beehive tombs at Al Ain, where you could well be the only visitors. Staying at a homestay in the traditional village of Misfat al Abryeen and going on an agricultural tour of the village is a great local experience, and traditional accommodation in other places like Nizwa, are becoming more accessible and offer unique cultural engagement.
Going further afield, Salalah is lush and green in summer and a perfect escape from the northern winter for sun and beaches as well as the fascinating Frankincense trail and history (again, UNESCO listed). Musandam (an Omani exclave on the Gulf of Hormuz) offers spectacular fjords (Khors) and an opportunity to visit Telegraph Island, an eerie outpost of the British Empire, and origin of the phrase “going round the bend.” To safeguard against Musandam being listed as a separate TCC destination in the future, it’s best not to miss it!
We must finish by saying that the Omani people are gentle, hospitable and good-natured, and follow Ibadism, a variant of Islam characterized by tolerance and inclusiveness. We can’t say that the local food was really to our taste, but try some camel meat stew, and a real treat, local dates dipped in fresh tahini!