Africa and Middle East |
Worth the Visit
Little known to foreigners, the country of Oman is a place of real serenity and calm in the Middle East. Unbothered by some of the conflicts that other neighbouring countries in the region have suffered, this surprisingly diverse country is worth a visit.
Oman’s head of state is Sultan Qaboos, a benevolent (albeit absolute) ruler, who singlehandedly modernized the country over the last four decades. Thanks to his vision, the country has built up its modern infrastructure, cultural institutions and, of course, welcomed tourists (the first tourist was admitted only in 1983).
Muscat: the capital city
Incredibly safe and immaculately clean, the capital city of Muscat stands out with its modern Islamic and Oriental architecture, whitewashed against the sun. Arches, curves and straight lines guide the eye.
(There’s even a giant frankincense burner perched atop a hill, a nod to Oman’s ‘desert gold’ trade in the scented stuff, a tradition for over 5,000 years.) Unlike the steel-and-glass skyscrapers of Dubai, the buildings here are no taller than ten storeys. It’s kind of refreshing.
There’s nothing quite like experiencing a real desert landscape for the first time, as we do in the Wahiba Sands, named for its inhabitants, the Bani Wahiba tribe. Imagine endless seas of sand stretching out across the horizon, not another party in sight, or rippling dunes as high as the eye can see. And don’t get me started about nighttime in the desert, gazing up at a blanket of stars.
Beaches & Coastline
There’s more than just sand inland: situated on the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, 1,700 kilometres (1,056 miles) of coastline means there are beaches, traditional fishing villages and shipbuilding towns aplenty.
It’s also home to one of the largest turtle nesting sites in the world: twenty thousand endangered green turtles lay their eggs on the beaches of Ras Al Hadd and Ras Al Jinz from June through October, with hatchlings emerging to scuttle back into the sea.
Mountains & Canyons
Oman also boasts soaring green-tipped mountains that you don’t expect: marvel at Jebel Akhdar, ‘the Green Mountain’. Hike along its paths, marvel at the scenery, and maybe spot a mountain goat or two! The Omani Grand Canyon is another notable sight, with dramatic gorges and rocky cliffs to peer down into. (By the way, the infinity pool at our hotel is also a fine spot to perch, especially at sunset).
The Oasis: A Desert Miracle
Wadis, or valleys, are another typical desert feature that you need to experience…all that hidden water has to end up somewhere! The best oases are a collection of shimmering pools and springs, the popular watering holes giving locals and visitors alike a place to relax, swim and sun.
Last but not least, it’s the people of Oman that make this country worth the visit; it’s why I love coming back to visit our local friends, and introducing our travellers to this special place.
Recently, on a trip to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a young Omani boy approached our group to see if we had any questions about the local customs; when he couldn’t answer our queries to his satisfaction, he roped in several locals, until we had a veritable crowd of Omanis debating amongst themselves how best to answer our questions! The gentle warmth and genuine kindness of the Omani people is something that will stay with you, long after you leave.