“If the only thing you knew about Oman was its location, you might never go at all.”Hanya Yanagihara
… but that would certainly be to your detriment, I guarantee it!
Oman, the country piggy backing the Northern and Eastern sides of Saudi-Arabia on your world map, needs to make your bucket list. Still fairly undisturbed by tourists, and also much of the conflict which has afflicted the Middle East, it is a country ripe for discovery amongst tourists and I promise that if you don’t go soon, you’ll be hearing all about it from your friends!
- A humble capital city with character!
Driving through Muscat, Oman’s capital, you’d be surprised to look out the window and see that there are no real skyscrapers lowering over the whitewashed homes of its residents. Only the beautiful form of an occasional ethereal mosque, or the standalone intricate architecture of a state building like the Royal Opera House, perforate the skyline to give the city a modest sense of grandeur.
This distinct lack of great glass monoliths is a welcome change from other developed cities in the Middle East, like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There is Omani legislation in place to prevent the construction of skyscrapers and Muscat has all the more character for it. The streets have a relaxed and friendly feel, which was also reinforced to me by the amicable personas of just about everybody I met there.
I could wax lyrical about Muscat; however, I am far more inclined to shout the praises of the fabulous people and the country’s untouched natural landscape.
- The people
Oman has a diverse population of wonderfully friendly people. As I said before, they are incredibly amicable and welcoming.
As with the city of Muscat, Oman’s people haven’t been corrupted, for good or bad, by an overall excess of wealth. They are honest and friendly people who have largely stayed true to their cultural roots, wherever they originally hailed from. I shared food with locals in their homes and exchanged smiles with people I passed on the streets. I was even invited into a mosque to observe aspects of the Muslim faith which I had never been exposed to before.
The fantastic traditions and generousity, which I also saw amongst the nomadic Bedouin people who I broke bread with in the desert, are undoubtedly a reason to go out of your way and visit the country.
- Wild Oman
Oman’s wild side is truly something to behold. Scuba dive down into its underwater oasis at the bottom of the Arabian Sea and an array of colourful fish will swarm around you, fairly unperturbed.
Oman’s coast is a rare diamond, made to sparkle even brighter than other tourist destinations, perhaps because the standard flocks of European tourists who run riot across the Mediterranean and Sharm el Sheikh haven’t quite drawn their boats up onto the beach just yet.
Even snorkelling, or walking the beaches, you are very likely to see turtles bobbing on the water or dolphins racing each other and flipping nonchalantly on the horizon. If you really want to get up close and personal with the wildlife, book a turtle hatching tour at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah or a similar hotel for a magical experience.
I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to visit Salalah on my trip, although I am told that the area around the city is stunning. The river, Wadi Darbat, supplies Oman’s lush forests in its southern region, provides natural diversity to the landscape which is undoubtedly worth experiencing. Moreover, the opportunity to see a blue whale off the nearby coast sounds like a reason in itself to visit Salalah and Oman for me!
- Extreme activities
As well as spending our time on sandy beaches, my friends and I also ventured into the desert for a spot of dune bashing.
Essentially this involves riding your 4 x 4 up and down the great sand berms of Oman’s desert. It’s even better than it sounds. If you haven’t been to a desert before, this will get you up close and personal with the sprawling sands, without you having to touch a grain of it. Off-roading to the next level, this is any car-lover’s dream activity.
What if you like the water of the beach but not the sand that goes along with it? Then Wadi Shab is for you. An oasis running up a gorge into Oman’s rocky hills, Wadi Shab is beautiful! Just check out the photo that goes along with this article!
Swim and hike up the valley to dive off the very same rocks that Red Bull deemed worthy of their Cliff Diving World Series in 2012. Refreshing cold water to alleviate Oman’s sweltering heat is dreamy and creates a natural swimming pool like few others! This is not to be missed.
Dune bashing and cliff diving, while not then on my to do lists, will now forever be amongst my hobbies when I find myself with the opportunity to do them.
I have to pay tribute to the love of my life. Chicken shawarma, cooked by true artisans on the dockside of the Port of Sultan Qaboos, would be enough to draw me back to Oman on their own.
Delicious meat with a side of salad, tangy sauce, and a warm pitta, make for a divine combination which should be enough to lure you to Oman alone. My mates and I fed the restaurants cats with our leftovers whilst marvelling at one of the Sultan’s many beautiful ships. It is a memory I’ll never likely forget!
- The Muttrah Souq
I will finish with the last part of my trip, although undoubtedly one of the best, the Muttrah Souq, or Al Dhalam Souq to locals. My friends and I went there to experience a real Omani market and were not disappointed.
Oman’s Ports have long been a point of intersection between traders moving East and West. As the premier port on the Eastern Coast of the Middle East, goods have been funnelled through the Souq for centuries. Over the years, thanks to its unplanned nature, the Souq has subsequently become both a rabbit warren and a treasure trove!
It is here that a local salesman insisted I be fitted for a dishdasha, and another sold me an intricately carved ornate jewellery box for my sister. It is a fantastic place to pick up souvenirs but also to experience an integral part of Oman’s history as a trading post between massive empires!
I cannot recommend the country enough. Oman is one of the safest Middle Eastern countries. It also has a unique blend of quality infrastructure, which is perfect for travelling, as well as honest and ever present homages to its traditional roots.
The country is also an adventurer’s paradise with opportunities to get back to nature and try out extreme activities. As soon as you can after lockdown, get yourself out there!