Before 1970, Oman was underdeveloped and clearly lagging behind many of its Middle Eastern neighbors. When Qaboos bin Said al Said, the current head of state of Oman, entered the picture, everything changed. Education, infrastructure, and more importantly, tourism were developed in this country clearly on the crossroads of the powerful Gulf region.
Tourists that come to the country quickly discover the wealth of activities that can be done in Oman’s seas and deserts. Not only are Oman’s beaches good for swimming, some of them are also the breeding grounds of protected sea turtles who come to the shores every July to October to lay eggs, a sight not to be missed. Heading inland, visitors will come upon the vast desert that is the Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter, a territory it shares with Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. The vast sand dunes are the perfect places to do desert excursions aboard either a camel or a 4x4 truck.
As for historical attractions, Oman does not hold back its grandeur as it is home to some of the grandest fortifications and castles in the region. The imposing Nizwa Fort in the bustling old city of Nizwa is one good example.
One particularly recommended activity is shopping in this country’s old souqs or markets. Omani silver in the form of jewelry and even rosewater holders are quite popular items sold in the markets. Real aficionados wanting a piece of Oman’s heritage to take home with them will need to find a good quality khanjar, a traditional dagger considered a national symbol, and one which appears on the Omani national flag.
Getting in is easy as most travelers, including those from the US, are offered a visa on arrival at the country’s main international gateway, Muscat International Airport. Those flying from the US, however, will need to transit in the regional hub of Doha before flying to Muscat. Traveling within the country is easy and comfortable, with coaches and minibuses being the main option for getting around. Otherwise, a car hire, preferably a four-wheel drive, is worth considering. This gives visitors the opportunity to really explore Oman’s great wilderness.
- Watch protected sea turtles in the Ras Al Jinz
- Ride a camel through one of the greatest expanses of desert in the world, the Empty Quarter
- Cruise along the rugged and beautiful Omani coastline aboard a traditional sailing vessel called a dhow
- Learn about Omani history by visiting many of its old forts including Al Jalani Port and Al Mirani Port in Muscat, Bahla Fort in Bahla and the grand Nizwa Fort in Nizwa
- Take a peek at how locals practice religion in the huge Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
- Sample the distinct flavor of Omani cuisine with a delicious grilled kingfisher dish called mashuai
- Haggle for the most famous of Oman’s souvenir items— silver
- Join the grand festivities in the capital’s biggest event, the Muscat Festival