One of several absolute monarchies in the Middle East, Oman is a friendly, safe country for foreign tourists to visit. After watching the rest of the region beginning to modernize in the 1970’s while his nation continued to languish in the past, current Sultan Qaboos bin Said sent the previous occupier of the Omani throne packing, and assumed power.
After doing so, he enacted drastic reforms designed to bring his new sultanate into the 20th century and to open up to the world. The results of these policies have created one of the more successful nations in the region, alongside their neighbours in the United Arab Emirates, as well as Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan.
A seafaring nation that has existed in various forms since the Stone Age, Oman has a wealth of archeological treasures for guests to explore, as it was of the Parthian and Persian empires over the eons, in addition to times spent as its own sovereign state.
With much of Oman being situated within the tropical desert biome, the many blissfully isolated beaches will woo and seduce the dedicated beach hound, while those seeking an active vacation will find their calling in the arid mountains that rise west of the capital, Muscat.
Indeed, being a nation buried within the Arabian peninsula, intrepid travelers will find a trove of figurative gems in Oman, untrammeled and unspoiled by the tourist masses.
Currency: Omani Rial
Languages: Arabic, English, Baluchi, Urdu
What To Do
There are many forts and castles scattered throughout Oman, but one that you should make time for on a tight itinerary should be Bahla Fort. This citadel is located in the oasis town of Bahla in Northern Oman, and it is known for its extensive fortifications, which measure out to seven miles in length. A prime example of civilization popping up in the desert wherever water did, UNESCO recognized this massive fortress in 1987, and it is presently being further restored to bring outs its former glory.
As mentioned in the introduction, Oman has a long history of making their living and their fortunes on the high seas. Get a taste of that bygone era in a physically dramatic part of the country on the Musandam Peninsula, where dhow rides on the fjord-like waterways will rank highly among your trip memories. Sail past small fishing villages that cling to the sides of extremely rugged cliffs, while keeping a sharp eye out on the waters for pods of dolphins, which proliferate in this area, following the fishing boats in their characteristic playful manner.
Those seeking out beach bliss should set sail for Masirah Island, a desert island in the literal sense of the term, only with considerably more companions than you would usually envision in such a scenario.
Despite this, finding the solace of an uninhabited section of beach is relatively easy here still, as east coast strips of sand will prove to be fertile wave hunting grounds for surfers, while those looking for a peaceful dip in the ocean sans rip currents will find the west coast a better prospect.
Those looking to scope out some sea turtles will be in luck here, as they traditionally lay their eggs on these shores at select times of the year, and are visible in snorkeling and diving grounds at other times of the year as well!
Looking to scale some formidable peaks on your holiday? Then have a go at the Hajar Mountains, which are located just west of the capital city of Muscat. Ranked as having the highest peaks in Oman, this high terrain contains many more small forts and castles, along with having many deep canyons like Jebel Shams, and small villages where farming pomegranates, almonds, apples etc are the main preoccupation. Hiring a local guide, trek this mix of natural wonder and ancient homeland of the Omanis, and you will leave with a true sense of the diverse heritage of this nation.
Finally, a trip to a country on the Arabian Peninsula wouldn’t be complete without a visit to see some dune seas, which is what many of us envision when we think of the Middle East’s landscape. The Wahiba Sands are Oman’s best example of this natural feature, situated in the central part of the country south of the city of Sur. Despite the seemingly inhospitable nature of this area, there are over 200 species of plants, and well over 1,600 species of animals (mostly invertebrates) that make this land their home. When you explore this place by 4×4 truck with area guides, they might be able to help spot these creatures in their natural habitat!
What To Eat
As with many Middle Eastern countries, many aspects of Omani cuisine are similar to other nations in the region. Oman enjoys dishes such as kebab frequently, the same as they enjoy it in places like Iran.
One dish that is unique to Oman is Maqbous. This is a dish that emphasizes rice, and it is flavoured by being cooked with spiced meat, with some saffron thrown in for good measure.
Being located by the sea with a lengthy coastline, fish figures heavily in the local cuisine. As such, Mashuai is also a very popular food, consisting of a kingfish that has been roasted whole on a spit and served with a side of lemon-infused rice.
Omanis love a good coffee during and after meals, with Kahwah ranking as their favourite variation of the caffeinated beverage. This coffee drink is spiced up with some cardamom, and is served with some dates and/or halwa (a confection containing nut butter, sugar and pitstachios) as a sweet accompaniment to the strong beverage.