Oman is a country of natural beauty, with stunning landscapes ranging from desert to mountains to coastline. I had the pleasure to live there for two years, and in my eyes, it’s a country right out of 1001 nights, a veritable fairy tale.
I have visited many Middle Eastern countries and lived in a few. What attracts me again and again to Oman is the country’s long history and remarkable landscapes. Oman’s heritage is preserved in its museums, castles and traditions and its landscapes vary from Muscat’s coastline of black and white rock formations, to desert patches, high mountains, wadis and sandy beaches.
The display of wealth in Oman is much more subtle than in, say, Dubai or Abu Dhabi. For instance, there are no skyscrapers in Oman. New buildings cannot be higher than 131 feet or 5 stories and a mezzanine in an effort to protect the country’s natural beauty, especially of the coastline.
Here are just a few of the enchanting places you can visit in Oman.
Although more low-key than neighbouring Dubai, Oman has its fair share of glitz and glamour. Muscat is the seat of the sultan’s beautiful white, blue and gold palace (one of several in the country) and the magnificent Muttrah Souq.
It’s a traditional souq with elaborate hand-carved wooden ceilings and the scent of frankincense. Stalls sell colourful clothes, gold jewellery, Omani silver daggers, and a variety of food. The bazaar is particularly beautiful at night.
The Bait Al Zubair Museum is also well-worth visiting. It started as a private collection and is the best place to see the traditional clothes worn in the various parts of the country. The colors and embroideries are dazzling and provide a great overview of Omani culture and tradition. It is also an educational center.
A stroll along the Muttrah Corniche is a must-do in Muscat. You can admire all kinds of ships, including the Sultan's splendid personal dhow. On the other side, near the souk, numerous small cafes and restaurants with outdoor tables are inviting to a soft drink or snack.
Getting out on the water is well worth the effort. The waters off Muscat are home to dolphins. You can go on a boat trip to watch them frolic. In the evening, you can go on a traditional dhow to watch the sunset.
Finally, you can't miss Sultan Qaboos' Grand Mosque, which features the world's second-largest hand-woven Persian carpet. When visiting, dress appropriately and take your shoes off. Women can hire an abaya at the entrance.
Take a day trip to the Daymaniyat Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and nature reserve located off the coast of Muscat. The nine islands are home to a diverse range of marine life, including colourful fish, sea turtles, and sea snakes. The islands are also a popular nesting spot for thousands of seabirds, including terns, gulls, and boobies.
Snorkelling is a great way to explore the underwater world of the Daymaniyat Islands. You'll see a variety of fish, including butterflyfish, angelfish, and clownfish. You may also spot sea turtles, rays, and dolphins. The water is clear and visibility is typically good, making it easy to spot marine life.
You can also go hiking, diving, and kayaking on the Daymaniyat Islands. Several hiking trails lead to secluded beaches and viewpoints and diving is a great way to explore the coral reefs and shipwrecks. Kayaking along the coastline lets you see the islands from a different perspective.
Located in the heart of the Omani Mountains, Nizwa Fort dates back to the 17th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort is a stunning example of Islamic architecture, with its intricate carvings and impressive towers.
I went with a private car and driver from Muscat because I planned to continue on to Oman’s highest mountain, Jebel Shams. The drive from Muscat to Nizwa is about two hours, and the scenery is absolutely stunning. The road winds through the mountains, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to stop and take pictures.
It is advisable to go with a 4-wheel drive car because on the way you have to cross several wadis which may or may not be filled with water. Wadis are dry riverbeds that can fill up with water after a rainstorm. If you’re not in a 4-wheel drive, you may have to turn around and find another way to get to Nizwa.
Jebel Shams is the highest mountain in Oman, and the wind can be very strong at the top - I was nearly blown off and had to cling to a rather rickety iron rail. Be sure to dress in layers and wear a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
The views from the top of Jebel Shams are incredible. You can see for miles in every direction, and on a clear day, you can even see the Persian Gulf. It’s a truly unforgettable experience.
In the heart of Oman lies the enchanting Wahiba Sands, a vast sea of undulating dunes and an emblem of the Arabian desert's timeless beauty. Here, the golden sands stretch as far as the eye can see, creating a mesmerising landscape that shifts with the desert winds.
Visiting Wahiba Sands offers a peek into the nomadic way of life, with opportunities to experience authentic Bedouin hospitality. Dune bashing in 4x4 vehicles is an exciting way to explore the desert, otherwise go by camel for a more traditional and serene means of transport. As night falls, the desert sky is unspoiled by city lights, making it a perfect spot for stargazing.
If you can spare the time, camping under the starlit sky in a Bedouin tent is an unforgettable experience. Waking up to the serene silence of the desert dawn is a moment of profound tranquillity. The easiest way to experience the desert is on this excellent tour that starts and ends in Muscat.
On the way to Salalah, pass through the city of Sur. This is a must-stop for those interested in maritime history.
A small city on the eastern coast of Oman, Sur has a long and rich history of maritime trade. The Maritime Museum is a small but fascinating museum that tells the story of Sur's maritime history. The museum is home to a collection of traditional dhows, as well as artifacts from the city's trading past.
Just a short walk from the museum, Sur's shipyard is one of the oldest and most active in the region, and it is still home to several master dhow builders. It’s a fascinating place to see traditional dhows being built.
There are few places in the world where you can see craftsmanship like this. The master dhow builders who work there are incredibly skilled, and they use traditional techniques that have been passed down for generations.
Salalah is a captivating destination in Oman that is renowned for its unique climate and lush landscapes. The city is a refreshing contrast to the arid desert scenery that is typically associated with the region.
The city's greenery is a result of the Khareef or monsoon season, which transforms the region into a vibrant, verdant oasis. The monsoon season also leads to the creation of breathtaking waterfalls and a cooler climate, attracting visitors seeking respite from the heat.
But it’s the pristine white beaches that stretch along the Arabian Sea that are the highlight of the city. The beaches provide a serene escape for beach lovers, and they are also a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing.
The city was once a hub in the ancient frankincense trade, and it is home to the Frankincense Land Museum. The museum is part of an Archaeological Park and documents Oman's maritime past and its important role in the spice trade.
If you head for the craggy cliffs of Jebel Shams you can discover another wonder of Oman: the mud villages of Misfat Al Abriyeen. Perched precariously on the edge of the escarpment, they offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
One of the most striking things about Misfat Al Abriyeen is the way the villages have been built into the cliffs. The houses are clustered together, and their roofs are often used as pathways to reach other parts of the village. The narrow streets are lined with date palms and other trees, and the air is filled with the sound of birdsong.
The villages are home to a small number of people, who live a simple, traditional lifestyle. They grow their own food, raise their own animals, and build their own homes using mud and stones. The villages are a fascinating glimpse into a way of life that is slowly disappearing.
The people of Misfat Al Abriyeen are friendly and welcoming, and they are always happy to share their culture with visitors. They are proud of their heritage, and they are eager to show off their beautiful villages.
Every year, about 20,000 turtles migrate from the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea, and Somalia to specific locations in Oman to lay their eggs: Ras Al Hadd, Ras Al Jinz, and Masirah Island. The hatching process takes 55 days, and interestingly, the gender of the baby turtles is determined by the temperature of the sand.
The sea turtles that come to these locations to lay their eggs are loggerhead, hawksbill, and others. They drag themselves out of the water at night, dig deep holes, and lay their eggs. The best time to see this spectacle is between July and October. Both "Ras" are turtle sanctuaries that protect the endangered sea turtles, their eggs, and the hatchlings until they reach the ocean safely.
While all the places above are worth seeing, nothing beats the thrill of witnessing baby turtles emerging from their eggs and scurrying across the sand to the ocean, as if pulled by an invisible string.
The hatching also takes place at night by torchlight (only guides are allowed to use flashlights because they know how to avoid disturbing the turtles). You are not allowed to go on your own; you must join a tour with a guide.
One of the best is a two-day tour that starts from Muscat and includes an overnight stay at the Ras Al Jinz resort, as well as a few stops along the way.
The highlight of the tour is, of course, the hatching - an experience you will never forget. In fact, many people I have met on the tour are so fascinated that they come back year after year. I am one of them.