With our expectations held in check, we winged our way to Oman. As it turned out, the country, the amazing vistas, the sightseeing attractions and the Omani people soon cast their spell on us…
A warm welcome
I’ll admit it – I was not exactly euphoric about our vacation this time.
We had decided on Oman mostly because in November it beckoned with warm temperatures and it is a short flight there from home. Acquaintances also had shared many positive impressions about the country with us.
As we landed at 7 on a Friday morning in Muscat, with the sun smiling at us and a warm breeze caressing my face, the first few inklings of euphoria announced themselves after all.
Oman road trip!
From that point on, starting in Muscat, we pieced together the following one-week road trip whose highlights included touring the mountains surrounding Nizwa, overnighting in the desert dunes at Al Wasil, and relaxing on a beach-side holiday at The Chedi Muscat.
City of contrasts: Muscat, the capital of Oman
Muscat is located on the Gulf of Oman, surrounded by mountains and desert. The city’s history reaches back into antiquity. Sites worth visiting include the historic center at Mutrah with the Corniche (seaside promenade) and the old Souk, with other points of interest scattered throughout the city.
A monumental mosque – with Swarovski!
New developments with housing and office buildings and even complete mosques are sprouting in all directions: the monumental Sultan Qaboos mosque alone is worth a visit to Oman!
As our first day in Muscat drew to a close, I was again pleasantly surprised by the contrasts this city offers. It is a simply fascinating mix of modern metropolis and 1001 Nights.
Nizwa, gateway to the Hajar Mountains
An easy hour and half drive southwest from modern Muscat took us some 100 miles into the country’s interior to the picturesque small town of Nizwa.
Nizwa has its animal market and souk, but most of all it is the fortress that makes it a tourist magnet.
Nizwa is also the gateway to the Hajar Mountains. Al Jabal Akhdar (Arabic for “green mountain”) is part of the Hajar range, which stretches several hundred miles along the Gulf of Oman.
Thanks to the Mediterranean climate, the region is known as Oman’s fruit basket. But the closer we get to it, the “green mountain” is anything but – it looks really rugged and barren.
But soon I’m overwhelmed by seeing how deeply the steep gullies cut into the mountains!
A mountaintop design hotel
If the mountain views are the cake, the Alila Jabal Akhdar Hotel has to be the cherry on top – on the mountain, as it were.
It’s a dream of a hotel!
Regretfully, after just two nights it is time to pack our suitcases again. But I’m already excitedly looking forward to the next stage: from the mountains, we are about to head for the Wahiba Sands, Oman’s largest inland desert.
A night in the Wahiba Sands desert
Sand dunes that seem to go on forever, powdery sand and an unforgettable play of colors at sunset are on the program here.
Again, I have to say that visiting the Wahiba Sands desert was a definite highlight of our Oman trip!
We spent a night in the Desert Nights Camp. Naturally, it had to include a camel ride.
For more on our desert stay, see our report here.
The wadis – mountain oases
Oman is a land of many wadis. These are stream beds in mountain valleys, most of them dried out until the rainy season. Then they fill with water again, so that they are transformed into paradisiac oases surrounded by stunning rock formations.
The wadis are particularly verdant and have cool deep pools in them suitable for swimming.
One of the Sultanate’s most beautiful and greenest wadis is Wadi Bani Khalid, which has water flowing through it year-round.
Two more wadis also well worth a visit are Wadi Shab and Wadi Tiwi. They are located about 1 1/2 hour’s drive from Muscat along the coastal road heading toward the town of Sur.
As we were running short of time we skipped them. Insted, we went back to exploring Muscat city and relaxing at the Chedi Hotel. Here is our review of the Chedi Hotel – another dream right out of 1001 Nights…
Connecting the Oman dots
Oman was a real surprise for me!
First of all, I had expected barren rock and sand deserts. Oman does have them, but the bizarre mountain formations, the dunes of Wahiba Sands and the verdant wadis made for fascinating contrasts and surprising variety.
The hospitable and helpful Omanis were another pleasant surprise.
Oman blends modernity with traditional culture
All my concerns relating to what was for us a strange Islamic culture evaporated; Oman is among the most modern of the countries on the Arabian peninsula.
The Sultanate blends fairy tales from 1001 Nights, modernity, tradition, and openness to the world. Much of the credit for this goes to Sultan Qabus, the reigning monarch.
An enlightened ruler
After he had sent his predecessor – his own father – into exile after a coup, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said propelled the country within the space of a few years from the Arab Middle Ages into Western modernity.
He constantly works to advance the country’s opening and modernization, for which he is revered by his people.
Road trip travel tips for Oman
We put together some practical travel advice for Oman on our Oman country website to help give you a headstart on your travel planning.
Here is where our our road trip route totaling just over 850 miles took us:
- Muscat Al Mouj – Mutrah Souk: 50 miles (2 visits)
- Muscat – Nizwa: 100 miles
- Nizwa – Misfat Al Hamra and Bahla: 100 miles
- Nizwa – Alila Jabal Akhdar: 149 miles (two round trips)
- Nizwa – Desert Nights Camp: 120 miles
- Desert Nights Camp – Wadi Bani Khalid – Muscat: 186 miles
UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites
It’s not generally known, but Oman has no less than four UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites!
- Bahla Fort
- Archaeological sites at Bat, Al Khutm and Al Ayn
- The Al Aflaj irrigation system
- The incense plantation of Dhofar, where incense grows wild
The land of incense…and more
You get the scents of incense everywhere in Muscat. This sap of the incense bush once upon a time was the most precious gift that one could give to kings and queens.
Because it was closer to our route, we visited the Al Abryyin irrigation system. Mud huts and palm trees cling to the craggy rocks there for a very picturesque contrast with the surrounding mountains.
On a final note, farther north you also have Oman’s exclave surrounding the Musandam fjords. We did not visit the area; it is probably easier to reach via Dubai than from Muscat.