A taste of the Arabian life awaits travellers in Oman, a sultanate situated on the Arabian Peninsula. Similar to its neighboring countries, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, it is known for wide desert areas and riverbed oases. The only difference is that Oman has a long coastline, including the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. Mosques and souks are included in the sultanate’s must-visits, as well as white sand beaches where ocean temperatures are warm all year round. The country also has its fair share of cultural destinations that can introduce you to Oman’s colorful history.
To help you plan your trip to Oman, here’s a list of some of the best things you can do to make the most out of your vacation:
1. Visit Oman’s main mosque
Oman’s main mosque, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, is located in the capital city of Muscat. Completed in 2001, it is made of Indian sandstone and features a square prayer hall with a central dome which is 50 meters (164 feet) above the floor. Another major interior feature of the mosque is the prayer carpet covering the prayer hall’s floor. It took four years to finish this masterpiece, which is composed of 28 different colors of varying shades. The carpet was also regarded as the world’s second largest single-piece carpet.
2. Enjoy a performance at the Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House is the home of the best cultural and theatrical performances in Oman. Situated in Shati Al-Qurm district of Muscat, it features contemporary Omani designs and it has a maximum capacity of 1,100 people. Aside from the concert theater itself, the Royal Opera House also has a landscaped garden and a cultural market. The first official production that was staged here was Turandot, an opera by Spanish tenor Placido Domingo.
3. Catch a glimpse of dolphins at Oman Fjords
Oman is sometimes referred as the “Norway of Arabia” because of its sea inlets similar to those in Norway. These sea inlets between high cliffs are called “fjords,” and can be explored by joining a tour aboard a local boat called a dhow. This is also a great opportunity to see dolphins in their natural habitat, while swimming and jumping near the boat. Other things you might see during a tour in the fjords are fishing villages and stunning rock formations.
4. Spend a day at Wadi Shab
Love the outdoors? Wadi Shab should be included on your Oman travel bucket list! Located in the Al Sharqiyah region, this nature park features fresh water pools, waterfalls, and caves, which you can reach by trekking for a total of 40 minutes. It is only a short drive from Muscat, making it a popular destination among city-dwellers especially at weekends. Tip: don’t forget to bring decent swimming clothes, which means no bikinis or revealing outfits. Oman has a fairly strict dress code and, as responsible travelers, it is important for visitors to respect the local culture.
5. Go trekking at Jebel Akhdar
If you think Oman is all about deserts and coasts, you’re wrong. The country also has several remarkable mountains where you can enjoy trekking, like Jebel Akhdar in the city of Nizwa. A part of the Al Hajar Mountain Range, it has traditional rose water extractions and agricultural crops. The highest peak, measuring 3,000 meters (around 9,800 feet), is called Jabal Shams, which literally translates to “Mountain of the Sun”. There are also old villages in the area, giving visitors a glimpse of the local life in Oman.
6. Bask on the beach of Salalah
One of Oman’s most popular coastal destinations is Al Mughsail Beach, located in the city of Salalah. It has beautiful sea cliffs and a blowhole that can toss water up to 100 feet (30 meters). Boasting a sandy coast, the beach is an 8-kilometer (5-mile) stretch dotted with several watersport facilities and a restaurant. For bird- watchers, a visit here is also an opportunity to see migratory birds.
7. Join a historical tour at Nizwa Fort
For a glimpse of traditional Omani architecture, you can visit Nizwa Fort. This large castle is the most visited national monument in the country, offering an illustration of the local way of life during the ancient times. It is strategically designed with features including turrets, battlements, false doors, and secret shafts. There are also cannons, wells, prisons, and narrow staircases inside. If you want to learn more about the history of Oman, you can check out the fort’s exhibits showcasing several important historical artifacts.
8. Check out artifacts at Bait Al Zubair
Speaking of artifacts, there’s another museum in Oman you can visit for a dose of the country’s remarkable history. Bait Al Zubair, located near the Ministry of Information in Muscat, has a huge collection of ancient weapons and traditional costumes, as well as several household items. After browsing the collections, you can stay at the coffee shop or check out souvenirs in the gift shop. There’s also an Omani village and a souk nearby.
9. See Oman's "Grand Canyon"
If the USA has the Grand Canyon, Oman has the Wadi Ghul. Popular among hikers, this mountainous area has beautiful trails in the middle of an impressive landscape. The most popular trail is called the Balcony Walk, which will lead you to an abandoned village offering stunning views of the canyon. This trail is suitable for adults, but might be too difficult if you are bringing children. If you wish to stay overnight, there are two options in the area: the Jebel Heights and the Jebel Shams Resort.
10. Take a dip in a sink hole
Sinkholes are usually seen as a destructive natural phenomenon, but in Oman, there’s one that has become a well-loved tourist attraction. It is known as the Bimmah Sinkhole, located at Dibba Al Bay Ah. Visitors are welcome to take a dip in its waters and have a picnic in one of the gazebos. There are no shops or restaurants nearby, so make sure to bring enough picnic items. The best part about this attraction? There’s no entrance fee and parking is free
11. Explore the old Muttrah Souk
A vacation in Oman wouldn’t be complete without visiting Muttrah Souq, one of the oldest marketplaces in the country. Nestled near Muscat Harbour, it is usually crowded during the Eid season when locals flock here to buy garments, as well as jewelry. Some of the most common local products you will find in the souk are household items, shoes, ready-to-wear clothes, perfume oils, and spices.
12. Enjoy a stroll at Qurum Natural Park
Qurum Natural Park, the largest park in Oman, spans approximately 1.7 square kilometers ( 0.66 square miles). It features a lake where visitors can enjoy boating, and a fountain system illuminated beautifully during the evening. You can also take a stroll along the nature trails lined with flower beds. If you’re coming between January and February, you might even get to witness the annual Muscat Festival held here. For those bringing kids, here’s some good news: the park has amusement rides and games for children. There are also cafes and restaurants where you can have a quick bite to eat.
13. Learn about Oman’s history
Oman was once an underdeveloped land, very far from the progressive country that it is today. You can learn all about the country’s history when you visit the Museum of the Frankincense Land. It has an exhibit hosted inside an impressive building and it is filled with beautiful photos of old Oman. Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside the museum. For photo ops, you can go outside to the nearby landscaped walking trail instead. There are also reed beds where you can go birdwatching.
14. Shop and dine at Muscat City Center
For some retail shopping in Oman, head over to Muscat City Center, which is located just 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away from Muscat International Airport. It opened in 2001 and underwent an expansion in 2007, which created 60 more retail stores to cater to the needs of the Omanis. In 2013, there were additional redevelopments done to the mall, which were intended to give more space for entertainment and leisure. Some of the most popular stores at Muscat City Center include Carrefour Hypermarket, Home Center, Centerpoint, Max Fashion, and Emax.
15. Experience desert camping at Wahiba Sands
It’s time to explore the wonders of the desert! Wahiba Sands, also known as Sharqiya Sands, is a desert region in Oman that has a total area of 12,500 square kilometers (4,800 square miles). One of the most popular tourist activities at the Wahiba Sands is dune bashing, a kind of off-road driving that uses a large sport utility vehicle to go around the dunes. If driving is not your thing, you can ride on one of the camels instead. Desert camps are also a common option for those who want to stay overnight.
16. See endangered green sea turtles
Green sea turtles are currently classified as endangered species. At Ras al-Jinz Beach in Oman, there’s a turtle reserve that take cares of these animals. Luckily, they allow the public to watch the nesting process of the turtles. The peak season is from July to October, a period where approximately 20,000 turtles lay eggs. There are guided night excursions available for tourists to gain a better understanding of the preservation efforts.
17. Visit the fish market of Barka
Barka Central Fish Market, located in Al Filaij, is a wholesale fish market featuring a state-of-the-art operating system. You can observe how the freshest catch are brought to the market, as well as fish auctions where people go through the process of bidding on items. This market was created with the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, with the aim of improving the quality of fish marketing in Oman.
18. Go birdwatching at Al-Ansab
In the heart of Muscat you will find the Al Ansab Wetland, which is home to approximately 291 bird species. If you are into birdwatching, this should be the top destination on your Oman itinerary. One of the wetland’s year-round residents is the black-winged stilt. Meanwhile, eagles mostly flock here during November and stay until the winter season is over. Aside from birds, it is also home to an abundant number of local plants and butterflies.
19. Join a hop-on hop-off bus tour
For an overview of Muscat, the capital city of Oman, you can go on a hop-on hop-off bus tour. A ticket allows guests to ride on a double-decker bus that offers 360-degree views. Some of the most renowned local landmarks included in the tour’s itinerary are Muttrah Fort, the Watchtower, and Al Alam Palace. A tour commentary is provided for more interesting trivia and information about Muscat. There are two types of hop-on hop-off bus tickets: a 24-hour ticket and a 48-hour ticket.
20. Eat a kebab and drink kahwa
Finish your Oman adventure with a taste of the local fare! With both Arabian and Indian influences, most of the local food includes chicken, fish, and lamb, as well as spices and marinades. Rice is also usually included with meals. Don’t forget to have some kebab, a local curried dish that is grilled and served with a vegetable side dish. For drinks, you can have kahwa, a traditional Omani coffee that symbolizes hospitality. Meanwhile, if you would like to have a taste of shuwaa or roasted goat, you have to come during a festivity! Other traditional Omani food worth trying includes harees, machboos, and mashual.
Enjoy the beauty of Oman
With warm and sunny weather throughout the year, Oman is an ideal destination for those who like basking on beaches and exploring the desert. Take note that this is a Muslim country where there are certain rules that you need to abide by as part of your respect for the local culture and customs. Remember, being a responsible traveler will never lessen the quality of your travel experience!
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