Mountains, beaches, and desert: a combination that makes the Sultanate of Oman one of the tendencies of tourism in the last few years. Even though it isn’t as popular or hosts as many tourists as its neighbour, Dubai, it wins in authenticity. There is a lot to be surprised about in this fascinating Middle East nation with less than 4 million inhabitants. Below is a list of 10 reasons why you should go.
A LAND OF OASIS AND WADIS
The oases of Oman are special since they nurture the country’s agricultural zones through the falaj – an irrigation system that has been used for centuries by the Omani and continues to function today. In the wadis, the Arabic word for “valley” or “dry river bed”, natural pools are formed, where it is possible to swim and indulge in nature. The most popular one is the Wadi Bani Khalid.
Oman’s capital, Muscat, is a great example of how past and present coexist in this sultanate. In the city, no building can surpass the height of the minaret of the main mosque, and all houses must feature a detail of traditional architecture, so nothing disturbs the balance of Muscat – whose streets are clean three times per day and gardens are meticulously cared for. One of the most emblematic buildings in the city is the Sultan Qaboo’s Grand Mosque, the third largest of its kind in the world. While in Muscat, it is also worth visiting the National Museum, which tells the story of the country from prehistory to the present day.
Also known as the “Arabic fjord”, Musandam is situated in the Strait of Hormuz, in the north of the country. To get there you should hop on a dhow (traditional wooden boat) and into an unforgettable trip during which it is possible to observe the local nature at its rawest. Tall escarps, animal-shaped islets, coral reefs, caves, extraordinary fish and seabirds are some of the elements to encounter along the way. The beaches are somewhat secret and the sheer rock formations create natural balconies to the bays. It is a great place for divers and snorkeling lovers.
Despite having been a mere waterfront village for a long time, nowadays, Mutrah is one of the most effervescent neighbourhoods of Muscat. The fishermen’s port is picturesque and the souk – with more than 200 years – is one of the most beautiful in the country and the ideal place to buy traditional clothes, jewellery, daggers, and perfumes that emanate unforgettable aromas. At the end of the day, all paths lead to corniche, the seafront boardwalk where locals admire the sun set behind the mountains.
Nizwa was once the capital of Oman. Nowadays, it is the main city in the region of A’Dakhiliyah, located in a huge oasis and, as such, palm trees are part of its landscape. The city is known for its fortress as well as people’s customs – like the Friday goat market. On the outskirts, it is possible to visit the Jabrin Castle and the village of Al Hamra, which is very similar – in terms of architecture – to the settlements of neighbouring Yemen. The Bahal fortress was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO and also deserves a visit.
Oman has 1.700 kilometers of coastline with fantastic, warm water beaches and lagoons, almost always deserted and very distinct from one another. Besides, temperatures oscillate between 20º C and 30º C in wintertime, while in summer thermometers reach 45º C. Thus, it is possible to enjoy the beaches all year round. Al-Sawadi, Khor Al Sham, Kumzar (great diving spot), Yiti, Raz Al Jinz (a protected area where turtles lay their eggs), and Fins Beach are some of the beaches to visit, without rush.
Oman’s strategic location has always attracted Europeans, among whom the Portuguese managed to stay for 150 years. Hence, it is not strange that the country has many forts, depicting the conquerors’ preoccupation with the defense of the region. In Muscat, the most popular forts are the Al Jalali (originally constructed by the Portuguese in the 16th century), alongside the Al Mirani, which predates the Lusitanian presence and still guard the port and the residence of the Sultan, the Alam Palace.
MOUNTAINS FROM NORTH TO SOUTH
The country of Oman is dotted with mountains, the tallest one reaching more than 3.000 meters is situated along the Al Hajar range. All of them have distinctive landscapes – some covered by lush green vegetation, others utterly arid – but they all share the trait of being great places to practice extreme sports. In Al Jabal Al Akhdar, also known as the Green Mountain, it is possible to climb as well as go canyoning. Seiq Al Sheria, Wadi Beni Habib, Al Saqer, and Al Oasa are some mountain villages worth exploring.
With two-thirds of its territory covered by desert, it is natural that this is one of the reasons why tourists travel to Oman. It is worth visiting the nomadic villages and spend a night surrounded by the desert sands of Al Raha Tourism Camp. There are sand dunes that reach 300 meters in height, one of the most famous ones being the Wahiba, in the A’Sharqiya region, where you can reach either by dromedary or jeep. The silence and vastness of the landscape are embedded in the memory of those who experience the deserts.
Dhofar is the southernmost region of Oman. In Salalah, the second largest city of the country, there is a special souk, the Al-Hafah, where the raw material of choice is the incense removed from the resin of trees growing at the gates of the Omani desert. There is also the Maritime Museum of Al Balid and the archaeological excavations of Taqa and Khwar Ruri – all of which help in unraveling the history of this country in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula.