Lesser on the lips of those planning to travel to the Middle East is Oman, an underrated country that has more to offer than what one can expect. What Oman lacks in publicity, it makes up with authenticity. It’s a great place for you to start your adventure in the region as the country has natural, unadulterated beauty and it is definitely more than just the sand dunes ?
Forget about the other flashier Middle Eastern countries, let’s take a look at why Oman should be in your travel bucket list!
1. Wahiba Sands
We’ll start with what makes Middle East so exotic – the desert! The Wahiba Sands is a region of desert named after the Wahiba tribe which is located about four hours away from Oman’s capital Muscat.
Credit: Christopher Rose on Flickr
The place holds scientific interest since a 1986 expedition by the Royal Geographical Society documented the diversity of the desert with its flora, fauna and wildlife species. It is also home to the Bedouin.
Visitors can set up camp at the desert to have an experience of a lifetime. The rolling sand dunes are an amazing view, what more with staying a night under the sky’s starry night.
Credit: @enjoy_reisen on Instagram
The temperature can drop at night, so don’t forget your jacket or shawl to protect yourself from the cold.
2. Experience the old Arab world
The Sultanate of Oman and its beautiful land is steeped in history dating as far back as 5,000 years. The peaceful country has many forts and watchtowers, remnants from the old days that have survived the years.
Credit: @bethaniele on Instagram
Some of the ruins have been successfully restored and this gives a chance for travellers to explore Oman and experience old Arabia. Its culture and tradition are preserved through modern times and it is beautiful to watch.
[caption id="attachment_16064" align="alignnone" width="900"]
A view of Muscat, Oman[/caption]
The Omanis I’ve met are a friendly and hospitable lot, eager to make you feel welcomed in their country.
[caption id="attachment_16065" align="alignnone" width="900"]
A group of Omanis playing a traditional game at Mutrah, Oman[/caption]
Credit: Andrea Moroni on Flickr
3. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The number one landmark in the country has to be the Grand Mosque, named after the ruling Sultan. The mosque can accommodate 20,000 worshippers at a time.
Credit: Tom Oliver on Flickr
It is located in Muscat and became one of the attractions in the country due to its amazing architecture.
Credit: mike-mojopin on Flickr
An interesting feature of this mosque is the prayer hall floor. Despite measuring 4,200 square metre, the floor is covered by only a single piece of Persian carpet. Imagine how big the carpet is! It is made of 1,700 million knots that took 27 months to complete and weighing 21 tonnes. The carpet is weaved by 600 women using 28 different colours from plant or natural dyes.
Credit: Cazz on Flickr
Like any other mosques, non-Muslims are allowed to visit every day with the exception of Friday between 8.30am till 11am. Visitors must comply with modest dress code and women are required to cover their hair.
Sultan Qaboos St, Muscat, Oman
4. The world’s most beautiful sinkhole
Somewhere between the coastal towns of Dibab and Bimmah lies an amazing water-filled depression known as Bimmah Sinkhole.
Credit: @badoor11 on Instagram
Its turquoise water catches the eye and the camera lens! Some locals believe that the sinkhole was created by a meteorite despite the sinkhole being formed by a collapse of the surface layer due to dissolution of the underlying limestone.
Credit: @gracewu89 on Instagram
In efforts to preserve the sinkhole, the local municipality constructed a park around it complete with a stairway leading down to the lake. If you can find a spot at the lake, you can take a dip!
5. The Royal Opera House Muscat
The Middle East just got its premier music destination when the Royal Opera House Muscat was completed in 2011. His Royal Highness Sultan Qaboos loves classical music and arts and ordered for the construction of the opera house.
Credit: Andrew Moore on Flickr
With a 1,100 pax capacity, the place serves as a prestigious platform to showcase the rich and diverse artistic creations not only from Oman and the region but the world as well.
Some world renowned performers such as Andrea Bocelli and Renee Fleming have played at the venue and if it wasn’t for her sudden death, the Grammy-winning performer Natalie Cole would have sang there as well as she was scheduled to sing at the Opera House on April 30 this year.
Credit: Prasad Pillai on Flickr
Check out the Opera House’s upcoming performances here
Royal Opera House, Al Kharjiyah St, Muscat 103, Oman
6. Souks of Oman
Like any other Middle Eastern countries, souks
, or traditional markets, are aplenty in Oman. The two most famous souk
would be Mutrah souq in Muscat and another souk in Nizwa.
Credit: @nicole_apollon_photography on Instagram
Between the two, I personally like Nizwa souk better as the market lies within a fortress, known as Nizwa Fort.
Credit: @beber75fr on Instagram
Some shops accept credit cards but you can get better bargains if you deal in cash. If you want to buy yourself an authentic abaya from Oman, look no further than Mutrah Souk! There are so many designs to choose from and you can alter it immediately at the shop if you need to fix the length of your abaya or robe.
[caption id="attachment_16077" align="alignnone" width="900"]
Some of the items available at Nizwa Souk[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_16078" align="alignnone" width="900"]
Credit: @karlbuc on Instagram
Don’t be surprised to see Bangladeshis manning the shops though, there are many immigrants working at the souks instead of locals and most of them speak fluent Arabic after residing there for many, many years. Some of the things that you can buy at the souk include frankincense, lamps (I’m a genie in a bottle!), abayas (definitely), dates, nuts, pottery, daggers, fresh fish, vegetables and many more.
7. Omani food
Omani cuisine is a harmonious blend of Arab, North African, Indian and Persian influences congregating in one pot. Like most Arabic dishes, Omani food is rich in flavour with its herb and spices. The meat such as beef, chicken and lamb are heavily spiced, perfect for meat lovers.
[caption id="attachment_16079" align="alignnone" width="900"]
Credit: @tasteoftheplace on Instagram
[caption id="attachment_16081" align="alignnone" width="900"]
Credit: @orangekitchens on Instagram
Rice and bread are staples and curries can be found in the country due to the Indian influence. Because Oman is also a coastal country, seafood such as prawns and lobsters are also abundant. The only way to complete your meal is by having traditional Omani desserts, best to have with tea.
[caption id="attachment_16080" align="alignnone" width="900"]
Karak or spiced Omani milk tea, and flatbread[/caption]
Don’t worry about missing rice while in Oman because there are delicious rice dishes in Oman!
8. Nizwa Fort
Built in the middle of the 17th
century, Nizwa Fort helped the fight to chase the Portuguese out of the country.
[caption id="attachment_16084" align="alignnone" width="900"]
A view of Nizwa from the top of Nizwa Fort, with the mosque in the foreground[/caption]
Credit: @robgardinercyclist on Instagram
The 400-year-old fort in the country took 12 years to build and it is linked to a castle, which also means many intricate hallways and stairways.
Credit: Francisco Anzola on Flickr
More than just a national monument, the fort is a reminder of the spirit to defend the country from external forces that sought to raid Oman of its natural resources.
Credit: @asaad_hilal on Instagram
Today, the fort also houses a souq (the Nizwa Souq) where traders make a living selling their goods.
9. The ruins of Tanuf
While in Nizwa, there are ruins worth checking out particularly one known as Tanuf.
Credit: Groundhopping Merseburg on Flickr
The bricks came from a time long ago where a village used to occupy the spot, a sign of human existence before Islam came to the place.
Credit: Hello Talalay
To imagine such simple construction of bricks to the buildings we have now, Tanuf really brings you back a step in time! You can’t help but feel like an archaeologist in Tanuf.
Credit: Hello Talalay
The Tanuf ruins are also nearby to a water bottling plant as there is a freshwater source called Wadi Tanuf.
10. Mutrah Geotrek
About 20-minute walking distance from the Mutrah souk is Mutrah Geotrek, a geological site that is rather hidden but a surprising gem once you find it.
Credit: @creightonjam on Instagram
It was once a mainland route between old Mutrah and the port and it is believed to have been used by miners of the Majan civilisation as early as 5,000 years ago.
Credit: Riyadh Al Balushi on Flickr
The route starts at Riyam Park and takes you through a large outcrop of igneous rock known as an ophiolite. The path is marked with Oman’s flag, so follow the flag! Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, wear sunscreen, bring water and some snacks.
Credit: Riyadh Al Balushi on Flickr
You would need more than 3 hours to cover the track especially if you’re stopping for photos. It will take some effort to hike up and you will sweat, but the view on top is amazing as you can see the port and the city. Leave early to catch the sunrise.
11. Wadis of Oman
Oman is home to some beautiful wadi, or valley, and the great news is that there are many wadis in the country! You can hike around the valley, stop by the water and even have a simple picnic.
[caption id="attachment_16091" align="alignnone" width="900"]
Credit: @bobandthecity on Instagram
Some wadi are steeper than others, some have a waterfall, some are just like ponds but one thing for sure, the landscape is breath-taking and it will remind you of how wonderful nature can be.
[caption id="attachment_16092" align="alignnone" width="900"]
Credit: @karlbuc on Instagram
If you’re an outdoor lover, a trip to any of the wadis in Oman is not to be missed. So be sure to study the area of Oman you’re visiting, and find out the nearest wadi to you.
[caption id="attachment_16093" align="alignnone" width="900"]
A reprieve from the sweltering heat at Wadi Shab[/caption]
Credit: @adventureclub.om on Instagram
The best time for you to visit Oman would be between November and the middle of March as the average temperature would be around a pleasant 25 degrees Celsius.
While other neighbours are racing towards modernisation and building tall monuments, Oman’s rather slow pace isn’t because it is losing in the race. Oman is steady, a pace one can enjoy and not be rushed through to appreciate. Oman is authentic and never pretentious, giving you the best of the Middle East.