In the past, Oman has been my weekend jaunt, tacked on the back of a Dubai trip. This February, I extended for a fabulous ten days. And I’m now convinced that Oman is the best place for a gentle introduction to the Middle East. Why?
1. Because you are welcome.
The wise leadership of Sultan Qaboos bin Said has created the Arabian Success Story. He manages Oman’s prosperity with a generous heart toward the welfare of his people. He models the virtues of openness and respect for all. And when you visit this oasis of tranquility, you will see why the Omanis love their Sultan.
When you enter Qurm Park, you immediately see a large sign that says FREE, which reminds you that you didn’t pay to enter. The Sultan wants everyone to have access to Muscat’s amenities.
Unlike Dubai, where the only Emirati you see has just blown past you in his Maserati, the Omani people are everywhere. They speak English, smile and greet you, and answer your touristy questions.
Go to the beach at five o’clock, and you will see friendly soccer games and family gatherings. This father, dressed in traditional dishdasha, leads his hoverboard-propelled son in search of the perfect spot to enjoy a balmy evening on the beach near the Hyatt Hotel.
3. Because desert camping is epic.
The Arabian Oryx Desert Camp offers family cabins with three air-conditioned bedrooms.
Sand dune sledding at sunset is incredible, even though it was no small trek to race the sun to the top of the dune in order to get these shots.
4. Because the hiking leads you through breath-taking canyons and mountains.
Every Oman travel site recommends Wadi Shab. Yet it’s still free, after a 1 Rial boat trip to the trail head. A leisurely stroll beside a lazy stream with grey herons, great egrets and cute donkeys is just a tease. Within minutes, hiking Wadi Shab gets serious. The rust and gold rock walls narrow into a slot canyon and challenge you to climb and scramble over rocks and between boulders for almost an hour till you finally earn a much needed dip in the emerald pools.
As much as you need to watch your step, you must stop and admire the stunning, unspoiled nature along the way, your up-close-and-personal introduction to Oman’s rugged geography.
When you arrive at the pools, you shed your hiking clothes on the bank, put your iPhone in a waterproof cover, and swim the rest of the route. Along the way, you pause to watch brave souls jump from cliffs.
Finally you arrive at the cave, where awesome beauty is a well-deserved payoff for your long trek.
If crawling over rocks is not your thing, travel a few more miles down the road to Wadi Tiwi, where you can drive through a beautiful deep canyon almost all the way to the pools.
But even a leisurely stroll along the Corniche can be very entertaining.
In the harbor sits one of the yachts belonging to Sultan Qaboos. The Al Said is the world’s third largest private yacht, able to accommodate 70 guests and 154 crew. In front of the yacht is the royal dhow.
Meticulously landscaped gardens, designed hedges, and topiaries line the other side of the Corniche, which technically is a winding walkway between a waterfront and a steep hill.
5. Because bike tourism is growing.
An Adventure Tourism company brought mountain bikers to overnight at our desert campsite.
The annual Tour of Oman featured two teams from the United States, as well as the 2014 Tour de France winner, Vincenzo Nibali. It’s a grueling course with warm weather and steep hills, and Nibali won again.
Here we are cheering on the leaders of stage five on the course between the Marina and the Al Bustan Palace Hotel.
And then watch the rest of the pack whiz by about six minutes later.
6. Because the birding introduces you to species you won’t see in the West.
Especially if you come in late summer, and particularly if you fly south to Salalah. Oman has about 525 species of birds, many of which are common only in the vicinity of West Asia and Africa. We enjoyed watching the the sea eagles, red wattled lapwings and grey herons at the beach, but someday we may fly south to add four other species of heron to our life bird list.
7. Because the culture is interesting yet not overwhelming for the foreigner.
Once made of straw and mud, the Muttrah Souq is Muscat’s original market. Today it is a rabbit warren of tourist shops, only crowded when cruise ships are in port. Unlike other markets around the world, the vendors at Muttrah are not aggressive. Most of the products are Indian or are knock-offs. But some traditions live on.
You can still find frankincense as well as frankincense burners and Omani-style gold.
Non-Muslims can visit the huge Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (at no cost) on Thursday mornings between 9:00 and 11:00. Less than ten-years-old, it’s modern and beautiful. And you’ll especially appreciate the fourteen-foot Tiffany crystal chandelier. (See this blog site in March for more information.)
8. Because the beaches are beautiful and entertaining.
As a matter of fact, there is so much to do at the beach—swimming, snorkeling, diving, cruising, camping, people-watching, birdwatching, dolphin and whale watching, five-star-hotel living—that I’m going to turn that topic into its own blog. For the best part of Oman, you gotta come back here next week.
Even wonderful leaders like Sultan Qaboos don’t live forever. And since he has no heir, it’s hard to say what will result when he eventually passes. In addition, the Omanis know that their oil reserve is limited, so they are scrambling to build their tourism industry as an alternate economy when the time comes. At present the oil/tourism partnership is flourishing. So visit Oman now while it enjoys this golden age of peace and stability.
For more photos and videos, go to my Facebook page, Nancy Adair Writer.
For a fun video with two young Seattle guys in Oman, link to youtube.
Feature image is from Monica Adair.