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I’d summarize Oman in three words: tranquil, friendly, safe.

Our local guide, Yusuf, characterized his homeland this way: “Oman is like Dubai was thirty years ago. Our economy is also based on oil, but while Dubai built towards the sky, we prefer to keep our feet on the ground, and preserve our traditional lifestyle, culture and architecture. We’re happy to show the beauty of our country to those who aren’t interested in diamonds and skyscrapers, and would rather experience a tranquil, friendly, safe country and hospitable people.”

Don’t hesitate to visit Oman!
Browse the internet for interesting sights, and book either a half-day city tour, a whole day excursion or even a one-week adventure taking in the whole country. Ever more local travel agencies specialize in catering for tourists – especially one-day jeep tours. Wearing a local dishdasha – a white, ankle-length robe – and a traditional hat or turban, our driver/tour guide is focused on making sure that we enjoy our trip, see all the important sights, and tell as many of our friends as possible about this fantastic country. In a date shop in the old town of Nizwa there are 57 separate varieties, arranged according to their sweetness. After sampling and buying some, you can enjoy them alongside a cup of local cardamom-infused coffee.

The main attraction of the capital, Muscat, is the Al Alam Palace, the royal complex of the Sultan. Few know what the dominant decorative colors of blue, white and gold signify: everything that is most important to Sultan Qaboos. The blue signifies the sea, and the country’s rich maritime heritage. The white signifies peace, and Oman’s characteristic pacifism. The gold symbolizes the golden desert which covers so much of the country.

To reach Muscat’s principal attractions – the Mutrah souq, the sultan’s palace and the museums – we took one of the buses on the red line, which come every twenty minutes and are much cheaper than either the shuttle service or a taxi. Another line took us to the Great Mosque and the city’s biggest shopping mall. The Great Mosque, named after Sultan Qaboos, is a must-see attraction. This is the only mosque that tourists can visit in the morning – though not on Fridays. Women, of course, are only admitted in locally appropriate clothing – a long-sleeved top, long skirt/pants and a headscarf. If you don’t come prepared, don’t worry! By the entrance are some friendly local girls who can fit you out with an abaya and a hijab for a nominal rental fee. Even just for the memorable photos, it’s worth taking advantage of this option.

Taking a jeep up to the highest point in the Hajar Mountains, Jebel Shams, was a fantastic experience. From there you can gaze down at the so-called ‘Omani Grand Canyon’ which has many interesting rock formations. Another option is to visit some oases, Wadi Shab and Wadi Bani Khalid, which are like something straight from a picture book. If you really want to get off the beaten track you can take a 4x4 drive through the sand dunes of the desert, ride camels and sip tea with a Bedouin family, or photograph a picture-perfect campsite in the middle of the desert.

The famous fortresses: Nizwa Fort and the fortress of Bahla are both UNESCO world heritage sites, and the fortress of Jabreen is also an unmissable sight. These are the remaining witnesses to Oman’s long history. Oman’s second language is English, and almost everyone speaks it to some degree. The people are friendly, helpful, and proud of their nation and their culture.

Traditions and a historic past, however, do not prevent Oman from also having a modern identity. In Muscat you will also find shopping districts, fast food restaurants and western-style shopping malls.

But where else can you enjoy a meal surrounded by cheerful Indian and Pakistani guest workers eating strictly with their right hands, then stroll through an evening bazaar thick with fragrant incense smoke while the muezzin evocatively calls the faithful to prayer, and stroll around a fine fish market the next morning and learn about the country’s historical heritage in fine museums? (2018)


Practicals

Transport


There is no rail transport in Oman. Public transport between cities is handled by buses. A single big bus company basically operates the system. There are also domestic air connections between the capital and Salalah in the south. The flight should be considered because transport by bus is time-consuming, renting a car is both time-consuming and tedious, and the terrain is monotonous). The trip takes about 8 hours, whether by bus or by car. In the capital and its environs, most tourists use taxis or shared minibus taxis on fixed routes. Those who want to use the fixed-route taxi without sharing with strangers usually have to pay a fare for 4 people. There is no public transport within the city, so it is worth renting a car for a day of sightseeing. Caution: parking on the street has to be paid for in many places. The number plate of rented cars is red, as is the case for all company cars in Oman. The highways have street lighting after dark and are very pleasant to drive on.

You may want to download an offline map of Oman, even before leaving home on google maps and maps.me, if it can be done on two separate devices. Both work in Oman, the problem is usually with the GPS connection: the arrow/dot often disappears while traveling. Shops and other places of interest are only shown haphazardly on these maps. There may also be a problem with street names, but fortunately, the geography of the capital, Muscat, is not that complicated, and getting around is possible.

They really like speedbumps, which seem to crop up every ten meters. Signposting, where it exists, is good. Often the highway design makes it obligatory to yield priority in lane changing, meaning that its impact is limited. They drive somewhat aggressively and interpret rules generously in their own case. But anyone who can drive in a big European city can easily get around here too. There are roundabouts in many places, but signposting on them is a joke.

If you do not want to travel on your own, you should seek the help of a local guide.

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"Public transport is the only area in which Oman still has room for improvement. In Oman, public transport by bus is only available between major cities, while in Muscat ONTC Mwasalat bus travels the main roads, and can take you to the airport for a tenth the price of a taxi. Taxis are expensive and, while it’s possible to haggle, they still charge more for a tourist.

Hitchhiking is possible for the more adventurous. We picked up a Polish couple who said they had traveled around Oman that way and had been picked up everywhere by a local within ten or fifteen minutes.
If you rent a car, however, it should definitely be four-wheel drive, and this is a place where it’s worth spending extra. It’s no coincidence that 80% of local cars are 4WD (and more than half of those are Toyotas :). Renting this category is one and a half times the price of smaller cars, but most of the major attractions are quite simply inaccessible without a few miles of off-road driving in sand / steep gravel roads or simply up a 40-degree incline. Since even comprehensive insurance does not cover damage from off-road driving, however, it doesn’t hurt to drive prudently.

I’ve never driven off-road and 4WD before, but on the internet, you can soon learn the basics of turning differentials on and off-road, and their pros and cons. Gas is ridiculously cheap: approx. $0.40 / liter, so you don't have to worry about fuel consumption in your SUV. I would say a good 4WD is the best investment in Oman: you can get everywhere with one, it’s much cheaper than organized trips (which are horrendously expensive), you always have air conditioning and you can sleep in it anytime you want. The roads are of good quality (where they exist). Be aware that on your way home local BMW drivers will roar up right behind you, blaring their horn, then overtake from just two or three meters distance at 100km/h. Once, a driver overtook so close to us that his rear bumper scratched our front bumper as he pulled in ahead of us.”
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"In the end, our experience of the local car rental wasn’t entirely positive. It was a national holiday, lasting several days, and everything was closed, but we at last found a car rental near the hotel. The price was good, we asked if it was ‘all included'? They said of course. Then of course we got ripped off. When we took the car back, we were told we had exceeded the allowed free 200 km per day and had to pay 26 rials for the extra 522 km we had covered. Obviously, we hadn’t exceeded the limit by that much – it would have been physically impossible. The trick may have been that when we rented the car they marked down a number 500km fewer than the clock actually showed There was a bit of shouting, swearing, the police were called... In the end, we settled on half the original overcharge, but the bad taste lingered. Next time I’ll think twice when I see a too-good-to-be-true local rental price. Gasoline is still in the joke price range, costing about $0.50 a liter in November 2018. (Krista, 2018) "

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"The sky darkened, the rain started to fall. And the locals all seemed to panic on the highway. You could see they were afraid, having had no experience in this situation.” (Aji, 2018)
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- There are speed cameras in many places, so be careful, though the fines are not large. You can’t go faster than 120 km/h, and all cars will sound their horns continuously to tell you if your speed is above that.
- At roundabouts you have to turn out of the inside (!) lane. Pay attention to this, because it’s an illogical rule, but there it is. Anyway, Oman is a country of roundabouts – for some reason they love this traffic solution. (Bono)



Oman - Muscat - taxi with decoration celebrating the Sultan - Krista photo

Oman - highways in perfect condition and with little traffic - Krista photo

Oman - Muscat - Paid parking - Krista photo

Oman - Wadi Shab - boat - Krista photo

Food

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Oman - fish market - hammer-head shark meat for sale - a smile of final desperation - Elter photo

Muscat - fried fish in a restaurant of Mutrah - Krista photo

Shopping

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Oman - livestock market - cossets for sale - Elter photo

Muscat - Mutrah Souq - Krista photo

Muscat - shopwindow in a mall - Krista photo

Oman - kuma, traditional Omani hat - Krista photo

Fun

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Muscat - traditional music concert in a mall - Krista photo

Public safety

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Oman - old man with an even older musketoon - Elter photo

Oman - Nizwa Fort - b.d. photo

Others

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Muscat - one of the city beaches - Krista photo

Background

Oman - national flag - The national emblem (Khanjar Dagger) is on the upper-left.

Destination in brief

Oman in brief
 
Oman is an Arab country located in the Middle East, on the southeastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. Neighbors: United Arab Emirates (northwest), Saudi Arabia (west).
 
Size: 309,501 km² (119,499 mi²) – 82% of its land are desert areas and valleys
 
Capital city: Muscat – 1.5 million (2020)
 
Population: 5 million. About 45% are foreign workers, many of them from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
 
Language: Arabic - English is the unofficial second language of Oman and if you’re staying in any of the major cities, or even venturing out into traditional bazaars outside of Muscat, you will likely come across many English-speaking locals.
 
Religion: The majority of Omanis are so-called Ibadi Muslims, followers of Abd Allah ibn Ibad. Ibadhism is a form of Islam, distinct from Shi'ism and the "orthodox" schools of Sunnism. Oman is one of the five most religious countries of the world.
 
Form of government: Oman is an absolute monarchy. Its omnipotent ruler is the Sultan. Oman has not been colonized since the 18th century and is politically a very stable country.
 
Oman is an important oil exporting country with vast reserves and its economy is strongly depended on oil production.
 
Currency: Omani rial (OMR)
 
Average net monthly salary: 4,200 USD for skilled jobs (2020) – even a maid can earn as much as 1,800 USD/month
 
Most frequent surname: Al Balushi
 
Optimal timing for a tourist visit:
November-March
 
Safety: one of the countries in the Arab world that is least affected by terrorism, any kind of violent crime is very rare
 
Most important tourist attractions:
 
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Nizwa, Bahla Fort, Jabreen Fort, Wadi Shab, Wadi Tiwi, Wahiba Sands, Khasab, Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, Salalah
 
 
In Oman, men traditionally greet each other with a handshake and a kiss on the nose.


Geography

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Oman - landscape - Elter photo

Oman - oasis - t.i. photo

Climate

I used to be able to endure the heat, but the kind of heat here (even in May) is really brutal. Muscat is known to be a great little town, but despite being on the coast, it’s surrounded on three sides by a 2000+ meter mountain range that turns the whole area into a giant cauldron. Of course, the mountains have 0% and I mean ZERO vegetation, so even in the evening, it is very hot, because the rocks heated during the day pour out heat even after dark. I jumped into the sea and even it was hot. I've never experienced this before. Never before have I landed my little man in such hot water during an evening swim.



Nowadays

"What is it that makes this country especially pleasant? The people are SATISFIED!! Honestly, I have never encountered such a society. For 40 years there were only 2 grammar schools and a primary school in operation, then Sultan Qaboos took power and the country started to develop very fast. Today, universities and hospitals are being built, university education is being established, and infrastructure is constantly evolving. And what’s at the root of it all? Oil oil oil ...

People are essentially NOT taxed, so there are plenty of foreigners, from Europeans through Indians to the despised Bangladeshis, who have been working here for quite a few years. Salaries within professions are not really knowledge-based but mostly depend on nationality. Europeans receive a Western European salary, with the advantage that the state takes nothing back in taxes, so it can be saved. Since Omanis are not yet skilled enough, the country has mostly been built by foreigners.

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Oman stands out among ostentatious petro-states of the region because it does not seek to copy Western patterns. Kábus does not allow the construction of skyscrapers, there are no tourist attractions, no listings in the Guinness Book of Records. The country is not inundated by tourists either, although this is partly because the climate is unbearable from May to October. They can still be found in the capital, but locals still stare dumbfoundedly at every foreigner they see. Maybe that’s why they’re still very kind, happy to help without any selfish interest, and even, without directly asking, evince curiosity about where we came from and how we like their country. Men wear disdasa, a snow-white, dish-clean, edge-ironed, floor-length dress, and women wear an abaya that completely covers their bodies, with a scarf on their heads. Some of them only have their eyes visible, some not even that. Almost everyone speaks English, and the explanation for this is interesting: guest workers do not speak Arabic, so locals can only communicate with them in English. In a shop, at most the checkout assistant might be Omani." (2016)

Oman - Nizwa - with decorations celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Sultan’s reign- Krista photo

Muscat - The Royal Yacht of Sultan Qaboos in the port of Muttrah - Krista photo

People

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Oman - small talk with the greengrocer - Elter photo

Oman - conversation in the grand mosque - t..i photo

Oman - Nizwa souq - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Tourist etiquette

Bikinis

At the Omani wadis you can find natural pools of all shapes and sizes year-round, and the urge to take a dip in their crystal-clear waters is almost irresistible – especially in the suffocating heat of summer. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that the locals – though very friendly and accommodating
towards tourists – don’t appreciate people swimming, sunbathing or wandering around in bikinis.
These days, the appropriate bathing attire is signposted, and guards oversee bathers. Ladies can swim in a short-sleeved t-shirt and shorts, while men can swim in a standard pair of swim-shorts and a t-shirt.
Apart from these, a towel and a pair of plastic shoes wouldn’t go amiss (the ground around the pools is often rocky or covered in gravel) and a cap, drinking water and SUNSCREEN are all necessary in sufficient quantities!

Wadi Bani Khalid and Wadi Shab both provide changing facilities at the entrance.
(Barbara, 2019)

Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque - Ladies need to cover their heads with a handkerchief - Krista photo

Gastronomy

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Oman - Nizwa Fort - show cake cooking - Krista photo

Attractions

Jebel Shams
- You can get here by car, but you’ll definitely need a four-wheel drive. You won’t make it
otherwise
- Practically the whole route is off-road
Jebel Al Akhdar
- I ‘ve heard that you’re only allowed to travel up here with an Omani driver’s license, but
since all of us have one, I have no idea whether that’s true or just an urban legend…
- There are police at the bottom who check your car – you’re only allowed up in a four-wheel
drive, since while the road is tarmacked right to the top, it’s also extremely steep.
- If you do go up, make sure to visit the Alila (Alila Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort) a very beautiful
hotel with a spectacular view down over the valley. You can visit even if you’re not staying at
the hotel. There’s a restaurant where you can eat/drink and admire the scenery. It’s also
worth taking a look round the hotel, both inside and out.
- Bring a sweater with you, because it’s at an altitude of over 2000 meters, and it can get very
cold in winter


- The Wadi Tiwi is quite close by, and it’s also beautiful, through quite different

Bimmah Sinkhole
- Not really a big deal, to be honest, but still worth stopping to take a look at if you’re in the
area – it isn’t far from Wadi Shab/Wadi Tiwi. If you’re not, I wouldn’t say it alone is worth
the trip
Wahiba Sands
- It’s worth spending a night in the desert, and there are plenty of opportunities to do so.
- If you’re not going with locals then it’s a good idea to pay for a specialist tour. The 1001
Night’s Camp is heavily promoted, but I think others, for instance the Desert Nights Camp,
are better. If you have the opportunity, I’d recommend the latter.
- Still, I think it’s best to avoid the ‘all mod-cons luxury hotel’ style of desert accommodation,
you can find local hotels which are both cheaper and more authentic
- The Wadi Bani Khalid isn’t far from here, but while it looks good in photos, I found it a bit
underwhelming.

There are also some fortresses which are worth seeing, if your route takes you in that direction:
Nakhal Fort, Bahla Fort and Jabreen Castle in particular. Don’t expect anything jaw-dropping, but
they’re still attractive, and well worth stopping off at if you’re in the area. Besides these there’s also
a perfume factory, where they make a fragrance called Amuage. It isn’t terribly famous in the west,
but the Arabs consider it very prestigious. You’ll see it frequently at the airport and on billboards.
There’s also a beach at Ras Al Jins, which is a nesting ground for turtles. You’ll probably see them in
the evening, but you’ll have to sit and wait patiently. (2019)


Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque - Krista photo

Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque - Krista photo

Muscat - Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque - Krista photo

Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque - Swarowski - Krista photo

Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque - Quran reader - Krista photo

Muscat - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque - ornaments - Krista photo

Muscat

“Muscat is a pleasant city, with lots of character. We had a good time here. The first day we struggled to cross the street because there are no zebra crossings (or very few). From day two onwards, we routinely crossed the streets, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that motorists generally brake when pedestrians step into the road. It felt good to know we could go anywhere because public safety was perfect. We ate well. There are a surprising number of Turkish restaurants.
I especially liked that in Muscat, the local Omani were very hospitable, kind, and helpful, not like the arrogant citizens of Dubai. It is true that the Omani also look down on South Asian guest workers, but at least they were kind to us and talked to us.
The highlight was the Great Mosque – very impressive.
Important: Money can only be exchanged on presentation of a passport.”
(aji, 2018)

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“In Muscat, most buildings, castles, ruins, and fortresses bear the characteristic signs of Portuguese architecture. For the Portuguese were the first people to anchor on this part of the peninsula who brought their architectural culture with them. It has now become a trademark of Oman, and family villas are even built in this style. Moreover, even the water tanks on top of the houses follow this design, imagining it as a quasi-bastion shape seen from a distance. In most places, the door jambs and frames are also nicely carved, but the new houses are a shinier white.

Travelers arrive to find a well-functioning system. As in America, there are 3-lane highways running through the city, which stretches for more than 35 km along the coast. It does not expand inland because there is no room. Gasoline is cheap enough to cover distances – about $0.50 a liter – and almost everyone has a car. Urban sprawl is halted by the sea on the one hand and the mountains on the other. In the mountains, passages are cut through the passes.

The most surprising thing is the cross-country network of street-lit roads. At roundabouts, public artworks make a particular location distinctive, e.g. a statue of an engineer holding a ruler, hammer, wrench; or steering wheel in two hands, or gigantic sculptures of water pitchers, with water gushing out of them, to name just a few. But it is most fashionable to have the book of the Qur’an rising in the middle of a roundabout.” (2014)

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"Oman sharply contrasts Dubai. Compared to Dubai, the calm Muscat does not offer much: the sea is beautiful, the water is fine, the beach is pleasant to walk on, there is a great range of dining options, it's clean, with good hygiene conditions, traditional markets, and modern shopping malls. The locals are hospitable and friendly. Near the capital, you can eat at wonderful oases and wadis (dry river valleys which periodically fill when it rains) and these are worth visiting. There is a sort of Sindbad-style exoticism, super-high quality roads, and an authentic Arab world in a more pleasant version. There are also enough contrasts for excitement: an elegant diplomatic district (Qurum) vs. cheap, run-down Indian eateries, Bedouin traditions vs the modern world. Complicating the discovery of the capital is that it is vast (half of Oman’s population lives here). (You need to rent a car.) The multitude of dazzlingly white houses is impressive.” (Aji, 2018)

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“Muscat cannot be explored by the public transport, which is useless for tourism purposes, so you either have to rent a car or pay for tours, or there is a hop-on-hop-off bus here as well. Within the capital there can easily be distances of 20-25 kilometers, the sights are not next to each other and there is no real downtown, particularly not a district for taking longer walks, aside from the seafront promenade. But there are one or two quality little museums, as well as of course a bazaar and several public beaches. Because the Sultan is opera-friendly, a fabulous opera house was built in his name, and though it’s generally frequented only by Europeans who work here, during the day you can go in and even local people without the slightest interest in opera can marvel at its splendor.

What I liked best about Muscat is the sight of the multitude of almost separate white village houses set against the lean, dignified mountains. The residential houses themselves are mostly in a tidy condition and the cleanliness of the capital’s main thoroughfares is very notable. The garbage so ubiquitous in many Arab countries is less common here, and only found in places which tourists do not visit (though of course, perverse as ever, we also wandered into the run-down districts).” (2018)





Muscat - city view with the Al Jalali Fort - Krista photo

Old Muscat - Al Alam Palace, used to be a ceremonial palace by Sultan - Krista photo

Muscat - Bait Al Zubair - an excellent ethnographic Museum, a must-see - Krista photo

Muscat - Mutrah Corniche - Krista photo

Muscat - Mutrah area - Krista photo

Wadi Shab


,,  You can approach it on the road to Sur.  I think this is the wadi (oasis) most often recommended to tourists, because it’s very beautiful and interesting, with a route that leads you through gorges and across water.

It’s worth going in a pair of shoes you don’t mind getting wet, and in which you can swim. At the end of the wadi there’s a cliff, and it looks like there can’t be anything beyond it, but there is. Beneath the surface of the water is a sort of tunnel, about 2-3 meters long, and though

it’s a little narrow it’s perfectly safe. If you swim through it then you’ll emerge in a sort of cave the sun shines into – it’s quite a unique experience. I think it’s worth it, though the swim through the underwater tunnel is a bit frightening.

If you don’t want your clothes to get wet you can leave them near the mouth of the underwater cave. Nobody will touch them.

The Wadi Tiwi is quite close by, and it’s also beautiful, through quite different. " 

Oman - Wadi Shab - Krista photo

Oman - Wadi Shab - Krista photo

Oman - Wadi Shab - Krista photo

Oman - Wadi Shab - Krista photo

Oman - Wadi Shab - slightly difficult hiking terrain - Krista photo

Oman - Wadi Shab - reward bathing at the end of the inward journey - Krista photo

Bahla Fort -  a UNESCO World Heritage site

Oman - Bahla' - Krista photo

Oman - view from the Bahla Fort - Krista photo

Oman - Bahla Fort - Krista photo

Oman - Bahla - Krista photo

Oman - Bahla Fort - many Omani tourists - Krista photo

Jabreen Castle

Oman - Jabreen (or Jibreen) Castle - Krista photo

Oman - Jabreen Castle - Krista photo

Oman - Jabreen Castle - Krista photo

Oman - Jabreen Castle - Krista photo

Oman - Jabreen Castle - Krista photo

Nizwa

Oman - Nizwa - Krista photo

Oman - Nizwa - Krista photo

Oman - Nizwa Fort - I like this photo - Krista photo

Oman - Nizwa Fort - Krista photo

Oman - Nizwa - Krista photo

Oman - Nizwa - Krista photo

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