The Sultanate of Oman, roughly the size of New Mexico, is perched on the far eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and stretches south along the Arabian Sea down to Yemen. The stunning landscape includes mountains, desert, oases, and coastline -- all of which can be visited within a day’s drive from Muscat, the nation’s capital. The current sultan is Qaboos bin Said al Said, who attained the throne from his father in a 1970 coup, and has since sought to elevate Oman in the global sphere by putting oil revenue towards modernization. This has included a significant revamping of infrastructure and the founding of Oman’s first public university, Sultan Qaboos University, in 1986, not to mention a massive tourism investment and an openness towards foreign visitors. Oman has plenty to offer the adventurous traveler, from wandering the bustling souqs (markets) in Muscat, to diving with whale sharks in the Arabian Sea, to camping on a sand dune under the stars. If you’ve never heard of Oman -- don’t worry, you’re not alone. Take a look at our list of things you should know before booking your flight.
1. You’ll want to hit the road.
Oman is a relatively large country, and one of the primary reasons for visiting is to explore its natural beauty. Buses are available between Muscat and other cities, but they do not offer the flexibility and access necessary to explore Oman’s beautiful interior. Therefore, we recommend renting your own vehicle (preferably with four-wheel drive) and/or hiring a local guide for all or part of your trip. Exploring on your own is quite doable, since all road signs have English and Arabic text. However, a local guide can provide insider knowledge and insight. For the less experienced off-roader, we absolutely recommend hiring a guide, especially if you’re hoping to explore the seemingly endless dunes of the Wahiba Sands. But if you’re comfortable venturing off on your own, we recommend renting a vehicle with camping equipment from Nomad Tours.
2. Nearly half the population is made up of expatriates.
Oman’s small population of approximately 4.5 million comprises over 46 percent expatriates. Most are workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and neighboring countries seeking higher wages for labor jobs. Fortunately, the conditions for foreign workers in Oman are far superior to infamous neighbors, like Qatar, which had its dismal working conditions exposed during the construction for the 2022 World Cup. For visitors, this diverse population provides a wider range of culinary flavors and tastes with plenty of Indian, Lebanese, and Pakistani restaurants found around the country. However, Omani food is worth seeking out. Typical cuisine consists of meat, curry, and vegetable dishes over rice, as well as a variety of seafood thanks to Oman’s lengthy coastline. Be on the lookout for some camel curry or fried camel with rice.
3. The weekend is Friday to Saturday.
Friday is the Muslim holy day. Additionally, expect larger crowds at tourist sights on the weekend, as city dwellers venture out to take in their country’s natural beauty.
4. Pack your swimsuit, but be prepared to dress modestly.
The mountainous landscape is riddled with ravines that channel and hold water from the infrequent rains. In Arabic, these natural phenomena are called wadis, and many of them have formed idyllic swimming holes. For crystal, clear pools and excellent swimming, we recommend visiting Wadi Shab and Wadi Bani Khalid. Omanis enjoy visiting these picturesque and refreshing places just like tourists, so being conscious of appropriate dress is a must. Oman is a Muslim country, so conservative dress is the norm, especially for women. Although more leeway is given to foreigners, having a t-shirt or shorts to wear over one’s bathing suit is advisable. To avoid larger crowds and be more cautious of cultural respect, plan to visit wadis on weekdays (Sunday to Thursday), since most Omanis make weekend trips. Outside of the water, it is respectful to cover one’s shoulders and wear long pants.
5. Slow down for some coffee and dates.
Take a break from browsing the souq or after trekking the rugged slopes of the Jebel Shams and relax with a cup of Omani coffee. The coffee is excellent here and is usually accompanied with dates. It is traditionally served in small handle-less cups and flavored with spices, rather than milk or sugar. If offered coffee by an Omani, it is polite to accept at least one cup to respect the hospitality offered. Expect a taste on the bitter side — cloves and other spices are usually added — but the dates provide a balancing sweetness. Fortunately, dates are easily purchased at souqs, grocery stores, and roadside stands alike. The souq in Nizwa, Oman’s second largest city, even includes a substantial section just for dates.
6. Expect it to be a dry trip.
We mean dry in both senses. There’s a very dry climate, and alcohol is difficult to come by, too. Outside of Muscat and some beachside resorts, alcohol is not frequently sold, and if it is, it’s expensive. There are, of course, no local brews, so the selection is limited to more mass-produced international brands, such as Heineken. You can use this to your benefit and make your trip to Oman a relaxing alcohol detox.
7. Oman is a peaceful country.
Oman’s geographic location and ethnic diversity does not immediately lend itself to an image of peace. Warring Yemen lies to the south and Iran is located just across the Gulf of Oman. The population represents Muslims from multiple sects as well as many peoples from Africa and Asia, yet these disparate groups manage to form a cohesive society. Furthermore, Oman received a global terrorism index score of 0. Oman is undoubtedly safe for tourists, but it is wise to keep in mind that the native Omani are subject to a different rule of law. Dissent and criticism of the sultan is not tolerated, and his word is unquestionable law. Therefore, please don’t prod anyone into a political conversation, unless they introduce the topic themselves.
Where to Stay in Muscat:
Pricing for InterContinental Muscat
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