10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE TRAVELLING TO OMAN
Oman is a country of beaches and mountains; its landscape contrasts sharply with the deserts of the neighbouring countries. It has only opened up to tourism about 20 years ago, therefore, visitors have the opportunity to get to know the peculiarities of a culture which keeps most of its old traditions alive.
In a nutshell, Oman is a place where paradoxes convert into authentic attractions, with strong cultural heritage and natural beauty shaping the atmosphere of this Sultanate of the Arabian Peninsula. Still, there are always some things you should know before travelling to Oman.
YOU WILL EAT AND DRINK WELL
It is relatively cheap to eat in Oman and, as there is a lot of Indian influence in the cuisine – which is visible through the number of restaurants that dot the streets of the main cities -, you can expect good quality dishes. In most places, the food is carefully prepared but often lacks variety: there is always rice served with chicken or different types of fish (some parts of the country eat camel meat) and a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber, with pita bread on the side. As a desert, there will be dates, no doubt. The water is drinkable, so there are no problems in eating fresh salads or drinks with ice. And speaking of drinks, the lemonades with mint are something to keep in mind.
BEAR WITH THE WEATHER
Despite its location near the coast, the weather in Oman can be hot almost to the point of becoming unbearable. The best time to visit the country would be from December to March, when the more temperate winter season provides tolerable temperatures, with highs averaging 25°C. February is the coldest month and during the rest of the year, temperatures can very well be above 40°C. Although precipitations are not frequent, sudden rainfall may cause unpredictable flooding.
A LAND OF FORTS
Forts are spread all around the country, at times giving the impression that they are still guarding something. Oman was, until very recently, a country shredded in a tribal regime. There was the need to conserve and keep your lands from neighbouring clans. Besides the particular historical values that each fort holds, from some of them, it is possible to have great views over extensive palm tree-laden oasis surrounded by vast mountains – which is the case of the Bahla Fort.
A LOT OF “FREE SPACE”
“Free space”? Indeed, in Oman, it feels like there is a lot of free space around. Even in public transport (which are not many), the few there are usually drive around almost empty. Apart from some specific events or traditional gatherings – like the goat market of Nizwa every Friday – there are not a lot of people around. This strange sensation creates the impression that all monuments, beaches, mountains, and even the wadis are all yours.
BE AWARE OF CLOTHING
There are no prejudices with clothing; you can wear whatever you want, as long as you respect the local culture. As a general rule, avoid short and low-cut clothing. This is more relevant in special occasions or sacred places. For instance, in a visit to the Grand Mosque, in Muscat, men should have shoulders and ankles covered. Meanwhile, women must cover their shoulders, arms, hair, and ankles – easily solved with a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and a nice handkerchief.
LONG LIVE THE SULTAN
Another interesting aspect of Oman is that it is an absolute monarchy. For the past 48 years, the Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said has been the leader of the country, having managed to govern in a relative peaceful way. He is the current oldest governor of the Middle East, and the seventh monarch in the world with the longest reign.
Most nationalities, including citizens of the European Union, USA, Canada, and the majority of South American countries, can obtain a visa to visit Oman (as tourists) at the international airport of Muscat, as well as at the land borders with the UAE. Conversely, some countries may require an eVisa, which should be organized through the website of Royal Oman Police.
ANOTHER SIDE TO THE MODERN ARAB WORLD
Forget about the Arab reality where everything is the biggest and the best. Oman has no megalomaniac features, despite being in a region where megalomania prevails. This may very well be what distinguishes the country from its neighbours – you will find a rich and preserved historical heritage, a great sense of identity that has not given up its culture to be Westernized at any cost. Ancient traditions, the pride of being part of the Incense Route, and the culture of the desert Bedouins, are present throughout the land.
TRY NOT TO REFUSE INVITATIONS
When an Omani invites you for a coffee, a meal, or a simple snack of dates and fruit, try eating something since it would be impolite to refuse it. If you are in someone’s home, they will most likely give you a bowl to wash your hands. Make sure you only wash your right hand, the hand used for eating (the left one is used to clean up after going to the toilet). Yes, in Oman locals eat with their hands.
Many Omanis (particularly men, if they are from the same tribe) greet each other by touching their nose – much like the Inuit. Still, there are some guidelines and meanings to this salutation, so despite the curiosity, it’s best you leave nose-to-nose greeting to the locals.