I do wonder how many of us consider Oman as a holiday destination, as many of the travellers dare to think beyond Dubai/Abu Dhabi in the middle east to spend the holidays. Well I must confess, I do or did fall/fell in the list until I got the chance to visit Oman (on an official assignment spanning for about 10 months).
Since I have seen Dubai and Abu Dhabi in detail (thanks to my 2 month visit there), I was quite skeptical about Oman, as many said “You won’t enjoy there like in Dubai, man”. Interestingly, that many included people who never paid a visit to Oman as well, prejudice at its best. So I kept my expectation low and landed in Oman on October 2014. Contrary to my expectations, Oman filled my travel diary to the fullest and “OH MAN” sounds about right to describe my experience in there.
Oman, though rich in oil, is different from its neighbours where excessive wealth in on show. Instead it’s the right kind of place for someone in search of traditional Arabia, with the traditions and culture well preserved amidst making headways into economic prosperity. Modernity and architecture blends well with the local landscape and the low-rise buildings preserves the Arabic charm, retaining a powerful sense of place and past. Oman is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty; vast, quiet and pristine coastline, palm trees, towering mountains (both green and grey), canyons, wadis and infinite stretches of golden desserts. Most important of all I felt was the hospitality and kindness of the peace-loving Omanis.
Unlike my other stories shared through this blog, this article would be written in a different way, as my visit to Oman spanned across 10 months and it was a business visit turned tourist visit (on weekends). In my Oman diaries, I shall be introducing more about the places that I have visited from Muscat as my base station. Finally, I dedicate this blog to my college junior and my dearest buddy Amar Fayyad, for taking me out through the spans of Oman and making sure I was out of my apartment, sitting in his car, traveling somewhere in Oman on a weekend along with mostly Vineeth and Faisal.
Muscat is the capital city of Oman and is located at the foothills of Hajar mountains, facing the Arabian sea. Unlike Dubai or Doha, the Muscat skylines are dominated by oriental arabesque architecture and it blends quite superbly with the stunning geography. Muscat is blessed with quite a few sandy beaches where the land meets the sea and the views can be stunning from the high hills overlooking the city.
Click here for a detailed Muscat Diary.
Top sights in Muscat (I visited)
- Grand Mosque
- Mutrah Corniche
- Mutrah Souq
- Al Riyam Park
- Sultan’s Palace (Al Alam Palace)
- Qurum Beach
- Parliament Building (Majlis Oman)
- Bandar Khayran
- Yeti (Yiti) Beach
Other attractions in Muscat
Although I haven’t got a chance to visit these attractions, depending on your taste, you can pick any and I have given “Lonely Planet” link to the listed attractions.
- Bait Al Zubair
- National Museum
- Ghalya Museum of Modern Art
- Marina Bandar Al Rowdha
- Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum
Imagine a situation wherein you are in the Middle East with shades of very weakly saturated reddish yellow colour dominating the landscape and suddenly after crossing a mountain pass, all you see is green. Well if you encounter this situation, then you have reached nowhere else, but Salalah.
Salalah, the birthplace of the current sultan, Qaboos bin Said and is the second largest city in the Sultanate of Oman, and the largest city in the Dhofar Province. It’s a subtropical city with the Indian Ocean to its South and the Dhofar mountain ranges to its North (which helps capturing the monsoon clouds) and transforms into a green paradise in the otherwise arid landscape of the Arabian Peninsula during the khareef season (monsoon, July to September). Thanks to the climate and the rains, Salalah is blessed with a number of farms that grow coconuts, banana and a variety of many other fruits and vegetables. Here, the palm trees are replaced by coconut trees and the place had a very close resemblance to my home state, back in India, Kerala, having Arabian Sea on one side and Western Ghats on the other.
Salalah has been in the trade map of the world as early as the 11th Century, thanks to the incence trade. The place was known as the “Land of Frankincense” and was at its peak of prosperity in the 13th Century. Until 1970, it was the capital of Oman under the rule of Said bin Taimur. However after his son, the present sultan, became the ruler, the capital was shifted to Muscat.
On a tourists point of view, Salalah has lots on offer and the list of attractions include beaches, wadis, waterfalls, sink hole, mountain drives and historical sites. Four of us (myself, Amar, Vineeth and Jestin) started our Salalah trip on the night of 15th July 2015 (during Ramzan holidays) from Muscat for a 4 day trip to Salalah.
Click here for a detailed Salalah Diary.
“Wadi” means valley and as Oman is blessed with a series of mountains, naturally there are many wadis as well. Wadis form a unique ecosystem in the otherwise arid landscape of the Middle East and it supports plantations, fishes and other organisms. Over the years, the Wadis have attracted people to live in its fertile banks and the turquoise waters of Omani wadis have become some of the major tourist attractions in the country.
Wadis I visited in Oman
- Wadi Shab
- Wadi Bani Khalid
- Wadi Al Arbaeen
- Wadi Al Hawqayn
- Wadi Ad Dayqah (Dayqah Dam)
- Wadi Hatta (Hatta Pools)
Click here for detailed description
Jebels of Oman (Hill tops)
“Jebel or Jebal” means mountain or hills in Arabic and by now, I wouldn’t have to detail the fact that Oman has plenty of the same. The Al Hajar Mountain which runs parallel to the Gulf of Oman, range is the highest mountain ranges in the Eastern Arabian peninsula, extending for about 500 kms from Sur (East of Oman) to Musandam (North of Oman). This spectacular mountain ranges entices adventure seekers, nature lovers and explorers with its wealth of attractions. There are numerous sites of geological, cultural and historical importance as well in the area. The temperature on top of some of the hills reaches sub-zero levels during winter and is mostly cooler than the rest of Oman by 10-20 degree celsius.
Two of the most popular attractions are :
- Jebel Shams (Oman’s Highest Mountain)
- Jebel Akhdar (Fruit Bowl of Oman)
Click here for detailed description
With over 3100 kilometres of coastline, it goes without saying that Oman has got a big list of beaches overlooking the Sea of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Straits of Hormuz in the North. While some of the sandy beaches are ideal spots for picnics or marine excursions, there are a few which offers amazing snorkeling and diving experience.
- Al Sawadi Beach (Barka, Al Batinah)
- Tiwi Beach (Ash Sharqiyah)
- Yiti beach (Muscat)
- Ras Al Jinz (Sur, Ash Sharqiyah)
- Mughsayl Beach (Salalah)
- Qurum Beach (Muscat)
- Al Haffa Beach (Salalah)
Click here for a detailed description.
Wahiba Sands (Dessert)
240 kms from Muscat
Route: Muscat – Fanja – Ibra – Bidiyah – Wahiba Sands (near 1000 nights camp)
Location : Our camp site,
A desert drive was long pending in my bucket list and I was unable to make on when I was in Dubai. However, as my Oman trip came up, I’ve decided to tick off my desert trip. Thanks to my college senior, Vishnu, who had a 4×4 (Prado), we (the usual gang, Amar, Vineeth, Faisal) planned for the trip.
The mesmerizing sands of Wahiba Sands is definitely one of the most beautiful places I had been to. The dessert located in Ash Sharqiyah Governorate stretches for about 170 kms with its sand dunes here as high as about 100 metres.
In the month of April, we started from Muscat in two cars (Toyota Prado and Kia Sportage) by around 10 PM. By around 12:30 AM we reached the last town before the sands, Bidiyah. Before venturing into the sands, we released some air from the car tyres, to have a better sand grip (we were carrying pressure gauge, to make sure correct air pressure). It was pitch dark and the road leading into the sands didn’t have signage as well. All that was visible was a whitish patch and we slowly moved in. Our target was to reach near “1000 Nights Camping point”, which was 35 kms from Bidiyah. We went with our tents and food, however there are many camps inside Wahiba Sands, which offers accommodation, camel ride and desert safari (was bit on the expensive side for us). The night sky was majestic and by around 1:30 AM, we reached our camp site (location shared above) and under a desert tree, we setup our camp, did barbecuing and went to bed. The night was cooler and we didn’t have any issues getting a sound sleep.
Once the sun started shining over the dunes, our tent started feeling the heat and slowly one by one we woke up. The place became suddenly active as many adventure seekers bringing their customised cars and trying to climb up the dunes. However, we stuck to enjoying what they had to offer, though our hearts pumped for a climb. We roamed in the vicinity, took as many photos as possible and slowly started to head out to Muscat. On the way, we saw many camels on the desert road and shared a few oranges with them. We also met two nomads from Germany, who hitch-hiked with us. We all were curious to hear about their journey from Germany to Iran by road and then to the sands of Oman (spending just about EUR 1000). They were calm, collected, cool and had no sense of hurry/fear/concern on what next, which was something I could never be, not certainly in the middle of a dessert, hoping someone will drop me to the next town. I can still remember their faces and eyes.
Nakhal Hot Springs (Al Thowarah)
35kms from Barka, 100 kms from Muscat
Location : Nakhal Springs
The sleepy town of Nakhal is just about an hour’s drive from Muscat and is known for its majestic fort, which had witnessed quite a few battles. It was in the my list of places to visit, however somehow our attention shifted a few kilometers past the fort, to Al Thowarah hot springs. Once you get past the fort, about 3 kms of narrow – palm shaded roads will take you to a parking lot next to a stream. A few steps from there will take you to a concrete tub, likely filled with many like you, certainly having free flowing warm waters. The water comes out from underneath a rock formation, through a narrow gap. It might feel a little too warm when you take the first dip, but slowly your body gets adjusted to the warmth. The clean warm water relaxes your body and I never felt like coming out of it.
We also went a few steps downstream from the shot springs and the fishes offer you free pedicure as a token for your visit. It was a first experience for me, taking bath in a hot spring and I enjoyed the trip. However I should have also visited the fort.
Ras Al Jinz – Turtle Reserve
60 kms from Sur, 250 kms from Muscat
Location : Turtle Watching
Ras al Jinz, located 60 kms from Sur is the Eastern most tip of Arabian Peninsula, but most importantly it is a major nesting point on the Indian Ocean for the endangered green turtle. The coastline from Ras al Hadd to Ras al Jinz has been declared as a highly protected turtle reserve by Oman, however the turtle reserve consists of a visitor center, which offers escorted tours (limited seats) to the nesting area. The nesting season stretches from June to September and after about two months, baby turtles starts to come out and take their first steps towards the sea.
The turtle viewing trips are scheduled at two slots, 4:45 AM and 8:30 PM and MUST be pre-booked through email (link), as they allow only limited visitors. The timings can change (when I went it was 3:45 AM, so please visit the link shared to get the latest timings). One can book accommodation provided by the reserve, which includes complimentary breakfast, entry to Museum and turtle guided tour (night and dawn). For those not using the accommodation facility, an adult has to pay OMR 5 (OMR 3 for Oman residents) for turtle viewing .
We (myself and Sadiq) took a night journey from Muscat during the month of August (started somewhere around 10 PM) and reached the location by around 3:00 AM. We waited at the visitor center and by 3:45 AM we lined up for the turtle watching trip (after producing the confirmation printout). The visitors, accompanied by a guide are taken in a battery operated van towards the beach, where turtles come for nesting. We have to walk the last 100m to reach the nesting grounds. The guides uses small LED lights to communicate and help guide each other to where turtles are present. The visitors are advised to remain silent and not to be in the line of sight of any turtles. The guide explained to us about the nesting features and pattern of turtles, we saw a big green turtle covering her eggs in sand, after she laid them. We were also lucky to see a couple of baby turtles taking their first steps as well. Time was passing by and soon the sunlight started to expose at least 5-6 mother turtles, heading out to the sea after laying their eggs. Turtles neither incubate their eggs nor do parenting. It leaves everything to mother nature and as a result, hardly 5-10% of the baby turtles reaches adulthood. The reserve also don’t intervene with the ecosystem and allows the predators to prey on the turtles thereby avoiding selective protection of one species.
The beach was spectacular during sunrise and we returned back to the visitor center by around 6:00 AM. It was a wonderful experience for me as I had never seen a big green turtle as well the tiny one up close. After this we drove towards Ras al Hadd, visited the fort and the beach before returning to Muscat.
Note: Though cameras were not allowed to be carried for the trip, mobile photography (WITHOUT FLASH) was allowed.
Bimmah/Dabab Sink Hole
113 kms from Muscat
Location: Sink Hole
Bimmah/Dabab Sink hole is located quite close to the Muscat-Sur highway in Dabab village. In general, sink holes are formed either by impact of meteorite or naturally. Until the geologists came in for a study, people believed this sink hole in Oman been born due to meteorite impact. However, studies proved otherway and concluded that it was a geological formation caused due to the reaction of limestone with water. No matter how it formed, this sink hole is a beauty and the clear pool of water inside is an invitation for anyone with swimming skills to plunge into. One must keep in mind that the water is too deep and someone with no swimming skills should rather stay outside or stand at the shallow end of the pool and appreciate this work of nature rather than jumping right into it.
450 kms from Muscat
Route: Muscat-Bidbid-Sinaw-Shannah- Masirah
Masirah Island, the largest island in the Sultanate of Oman, is located on its South-Eastern Coast. The island is almost 100kms long (North to South) and its widest portion stretches to 14kms. Until recently, the main purpose of the island was to serve as a strategic military base for the British and Oman armed forces. It was not long ago when the island was opened for tourists and nature lovers, engaging themselves in turtle watching (it’s the home of the largest population of Loggerhead Turtles), bird sighting (migratory birds that travels across the seas and lands), kite surfing and of course wide option of beaches to pick for.
Click here for a detailed diary
- Jabreen Castle
- Nizwa Fort