A trip to The Sultanate of Oman was a great end to an overall exciting 2017 – the country surprised us in so many ways as we drove through deserts, slept amidst dunes, swam in glittering turquoise pools in the middle of wadis (valleys), met the friendliest people, explored crumbling villages, lingered over tea and dates, and enjoyed brunches in the mountains – THIS is Oman through our eyes.
Best time to visit Oman
The country’s sweltering summer can get to the most adventurous of tourists. Most locals stay indoors during summer months and it is nearly impossible to experience activities such as dune bashing or desert glamping. For these reasons, we’d suggest planning a trip to Oman during winter months. Anytime between November and February is great to plan a trip to Oman.
Procuring a visa for visiting Oman
UK, EU, and US passport holders can get a visa on arrival upon visiting Oman. It costs 20 Omani Riyals (roughly 50 USD) for a month long visa. Roads are in great shape if you’re up to driving a rental car. You need a 4X4 to drive in the mountains, so make sure you opt for one if you want to visit the gorgeous Jabal Akhdar region.
Indian passport holders need to book a tour in order to procure a visa – the tour agency helps tourists get visas to visit the country. We do have one that we’d recommend. We visited Oman on the invite on the Oman Tourism Board but they arranged our tour around the country with Arabian Experience – do ask for Bassim or Naheed if you book with them. Such great guides and flexible (you do know we like our unscheduled stops!)
Packing for your trip to Oman
Conservative summer clothes are the first things that come to mind when you think of visiting a Middle Eastern country. But that blanket category doesn’t hold true for Oman at all. Do pack a few summer clothes, that cover your shoulders and knees by all means. But also pack your swimwear and a few evening outfits. Omanis like to dress up for evenings out and you wouldn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. Also make sure you pack a couple of warm jumpers or a jacket as evenings can get quite nippy in the mountains during winter months.
Is it safe to visit Oman?
Yes it is completely safe to visit Oman. Oman is one of the most peaceful countries in the Middle East and one of the safest countries to visit in the world. People are friendly and you will love it just as we did!
An Itinerary for your trip to Oman
Days 1 and 2 : Explore Muscat
There is nothing the bustling capital of Oman does not have – fine dining restaurants and hole-in-the-wall eateries, busy souks and luxury malls, local artisans and Opera singers – you’ll find it all here! Spend your first few days in Oman absorbing the splendour of Muscat. There are endless things to do in Oman but here’s a few we would definitely recommend:
- Spend a morning marvelling at the architecture of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It’s easy to spend a few hours going from room to room, swooning over the intricate architecture at the mosque. Try to reach early to avoid crowds and make sure you’re covered from head to toe. If not, you will need to rent an abaya at the mosque entrance.
- Visit the busy Muttrah Souk and pick up souvenirs for friends, family, and yourself.
- Walk by the Muttrah Corniche at sunset. The winding sea-facing road offers the perfect introduction to the city of Muscat
- Explore the Al Alam Royal Palace and go for a walk at the adjacent harbour
- Sample traditional Omani food at Bait Al Luban restaurant. The unique restaurant offers both traditional floor seating and outdoor seating overlooking the harbour. Don’t forget to try their specialities like Shuwa (grilled meat), date bread, or kahwa.
- Sip on cocktails with an incredible view of The Gulf of Oman at the scenic B.A.B Lounge at Shangri-La Muscat
- Visit The Royal Opera House. If you are a culture vulture, you must try and catch a show at the Royal Opera House in Muscat. We were there for a splendid homage to Luciano Pavarotti and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Do book in advance as tickets get sold out far. If the opera isn’t your thing, we would still recommend stopping by The Royal Opera House just to witness the gorgeous building in all its glory.
- Go dolphin watching – while we were not so lucky in spotting them, some of our friends who went just a day before us saw hundreds of dolphins not far from the coast.
There is no dearth of hotels to suit all budgets in Muscat. We stayed at Grand Hyatt Muscat. It is a business hotel but one that is ideally located to explore the city’s main sites. Rooms are spacious and its restaurants are truly excellent. You must try the extravagant weekend buffet at Mokha Café if you get a chance. The delectable spread will leave you well and truly satiated. John Barry Bar serves an array of gourmet tapas and drinks and we made our way there for sundowners almost every evening.
The grandiose architecture of the hotel is sure to leave you spellbound the moment you step foot in the lobby. Enjoy a cuppa and head out to the beach which is right next to the hotel. Make sure you opt for a sea facing room 🙂
Days 3 and 4 : Go glamping and quad biking in the desert
Once you have absorbed the sights and sounds of Muscat, it’s time to head to the desert. At this stage you have two options.
If you are short on time or want an upscale private experience, we’d suggest heading to Dunes by Al Nahda, just an hour’s drive away from Muscat. It is a great glamping site that opens its doors to guests b/w 1 September and 30 April each year. Luxuriously-appointed tents boast of decadent drapes, large beds, work-desks, and bath tubs. A number of experiences such as massages in the unique sand-spa and quad-biking over the dunes are offered here. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, we would recommend dinner in a canopy overlooking the dunes.
If you have 2 days at hand, we’d suggest heading to Wahiba Sands, 4 hours away from Muscat. Wahiba Sands is further afield but the dunes here are expansive and much more beautiful. The best glamping site in this area is Desert Nights Camp. It offers a variety of excursions including quad biking, picnicking on the dunes, and dune bashing.
Day 5 Drive to Jabal Akhdar and explore Nizwa and offbeat gems along the way
Once you’ve had your fair share of desert-related activities, it is time to start the drive towards Oman’s magnificent mountains. A 4X4 is compulsory if you want to drive to Jabal Akhdar, so make sure you have rented an appropriate car. The drive to Jabal Akhdar is peppered with famous historical towns and little-known gems. Leave early so you can savour each of them during the course of the day. We recommend stopping at the following places along the way:
- The impressive Nakhal Fort isn’t very popular with tourists but we would definitely recommend stopping here. It is over 1500 years old and dates back to pre-Islamic times. Combine this with a visit to the Ain Al Thawarah spring, also known as Wadi Al Abyadh.
- The little souk of Fanja is the perfect place to get a cup of Omani coffee, chat with locals, or pick up a souvenir or two.
- Nizwa is famous because it is an ancient city with plenty of character. Explore the Nizwa Fort and stroll through the busy alleys of the Nizwa souk
- If you’re a keen photographer, we would definitely recommend making a little detour to visit a panoramic viewpoint overlooking the Birkat Al Mouz ruins in the Nizwa Area. Ask your driver or a local to guide you to the exact spot. Bassim, our guide, took us to this spot. You can see the Birkat Al Mouz area, surrounded by dates and palm trees, stretching out in front of your eyes here. The best part? There is no one else around!
Day 6: Unwind and hike in Jabal Akhdar
Jabal Akdhar, located in the Al Hajar mountains, offers panoramas that you wouldn’t expect in Oman -peaceful mountain villages, clifftop hikes, and sleepy alleyways. There is no better place to unwind in the area than Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, the highest resort in the Middle East. The luxurious hotel is ideal for a honeymoon or romantic getaway. Opt for a cliff-facing villa and wake up in the midst of mountains every day. Villas are spacious, decadent, and well-appointed. Expect a large sitting room, spacious bedroom, and a gorgeous bathing area resembling a traditional hammam. But the pièce de résistance is the outdoor lounging area that included a private plunge pool offering sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. The sunset from the villas is to die for 🙂
The hotel complex also boasts of a traditional middle-eastern tea lounge, an exquisite Italian restaurant (you must try their burrata!), and lookout points that offer incredible views of the canyon and the Al Hajar Mountains. We definitely recommend pampering yourself at their sumptuous spa but do step out to explore the surrounding villages. These crumbling cliff top villages present a rare opportunity to interact with locals and savour their way of living, if only for a day. These villages are famous for farms full of roses, so don’t forget to pick up some locally-produced rose water in Jabal Akhdar. If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, you could also go rock climbing here.
Day 7 – Drive along the Coastal Route
It is time to head back to Muscat but not before you see some of Oman’s most iconic attractions. On Day 7, start early because this day will take you along Oman’s famed Coastal Route. There are plenty of attractions along the way but make sure you put the following on your itinerary of Oman
- Wadi Bani Khalid – here a series a sparkling blue and green natural pools are enveloped in a valley. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic or swim
- The village of Finn – it is home to one of the prettiest beaches of Oman. The white Beach is ideal for an afternoon siesta or a quick photograph or two
- Bimmah Sinkhole – a natural sinkhole surrounded by limestone rocks and formations. Bimmah Sinkhole boasts of a bright blue lake which changes colour with the position for the sun. It is ideal for a dip and one of the prettiest swimming spots in Oman!
Day 8 – Fly out or continue to Salalah
If you have just a week, then you holiday in Oman comes to an end here. Fly out of Muscat airport. But if you have a few more days on you, we highly recommend visiting Salalah in Southern Oman. It is a 9 hour drive or 1 hour flight away from Muscat. The beauty of the area has everyone, including locals, wrapped around its little finger. In fact locals refer to it as the ‘Switzerland of Oman’. Expect waterfalls, mountains, and panoramas by the dozen. We were unable to visit Salalah due to paucity of time but will definitely re-visit Oman to explore Salalah and the entire Dhofar province.