The Sultanate of Oman- "Undisturbed gem in the Middle-East"
Oman may occupy just the tip of Arabian Peninsula but it is the heart and soul of the Middle-East. Effortless natural beauty, vibrant culture and extremely warm and cordial locals make a must visit for every traveler. Unlike its neighbors, Oman is very humble. The Grand Mosque at Muscat holds the world’s largest and heaviest chandelier layered with gold and Swarovski stones until its neighbor UAE stole the title. This is peppery as Oman is least interested in being grandiloquent about the ‘firsts’ or the ‘biggests’. But it swanks its rich culture and heritage with pride. The Sultanate of Oman has rapidly developed with its oil wealth. The unique heritage protection strategies have immensely helped Oman save and beautifully preserve its Bedouin culture. An unexplored land of forts, Oman has the third longest current reigning monarch in the world. A coastline with good length engulfed with dusky deserts makes Oman a perfect destination for outdoor activities and unique attractions.
I would love to take you on an unforgettable cultural spree to Oman. This blog will give you a complete insight about your journey to Oman. And if not planned, you will surely kick your bucket list.
1. Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman - This glorious piece of Islamic architecture tops our list of "Amazing things to do in Oman". The mosque was a gift to the people of Oman from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30 year reign in the region. Breathing first in 2001, its main hall of prayer will leave you wonder-struck with its beauty. As you enter, the carpet underneath is a Persian version of artistic wonder. Hand-Loomed by 600 women for 4 years, it spreads to 70m by 60m, making it the second largest hand-loomed Iranian piece de resistance in the world. The azure tiled doom of the mosque suspends a chandelier- one of the world’s biggest and most beautiful chandelier, ornated with Gold and Swarovski. Don’t forget to admire the contemporary architecture in every nook and corner and roof of the mosque. This huge mosque can envelop 20,000 worshipers at one point of time. It is an active place of worship with a private musalla (prayer hall) to accommodate 750 women worshipers. A must stroll in the outer corridor of the mosque decorated with finely polished exquisite tiles is recommended. Don’t miss the library within the mosque. Lecture theater at the mosque holds lecture events for both Muslims and non-Muslims to promote inter-faith dialogue. Women and girls (7 and above) must cover up their hair. An abaya (long dress) and head scarf can be hired at the mosque café if required. You might have to deposit some ID at the counter. Tours are available to assist you. Avoid visiting on Fridays to keep traffic jams at bay.
2. Bahla Fort, Bahla, Oman - Succeeding multiple restorations, Bahla Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the top tourist attraction in Bahla. Bahla Fort spread over a large area offering a grand sight of the modern settlement of Bahla. It was erected by the Bani Nebhan tribe in the 12th and 15th centuries. The gauge of the fort and bird’s-eye view from the battlements are the two major magnets of this attraction. You can best explore this site while on foot. Mud houses in the surrounding stand as fine example of the medieval Islamic community. To the northwest at about 11 km lies the Jabreen Castle which you hop easily to. Jabreen Castle is one of the best preserved cultural archaeological sites in Oman. Right in the center of the castle is a flagpole surrounded by a beautiful courtyard. Jabreen has been a center for learning for astrology, medicine and Islamic law. You will admire its painted ceilings and beautiful architecture is not to give a miss. Another optional hop off is the Nizwa Fort toward the South-east of Bahla Fort. This fort has a prominent 40 m round tall tower. Once you have stepped up to the top of the tower, you can have a panoramic view of the massiveness of the fort and its battlements.
3. Muttrah Corniche, Muscat Oman - Muttrah Corniche is a breathtaking grid of buildings and mosques. A perfect place to relax and unwind, Muttrah Corniche is the most visited sight in Muscat. The Corniche is enriched with the restaurants, clean park, neatly designed pathway, Muttrah Fort and Muttrah Souq. The sunset view at Muttrah Corniche will leave you awe-struck as nature has designed it with gradient effects on the mountains that stand guarded. Evenings at Muttrah Corniche send invites for a long stroll across the sea or a bike ride. In the day time, you might find a slow pace in the life of the Omanis but as the sun takes a dip, the Corniche illuminates as stars in the dark blanket. You can also explore the Omani seas on traditional dhows and navy vessels. As you glide through the industrial buildings alongside the Muttrah Corniche, Muttrah Fort at the eastern end will grab your eye balls. Erected by the Portuguese in 1580, this fort is used for military purposes and has been reopened for visitors. Standing at the top of the Muttrah Fort gives you an artistic view of the ocean. The harbor engulfs bustling fish markets along with staple raw food. Muttrah Souq is another feature of this picturesque bay. History claims this Souq is one of the oldest in the Arab world. The set up has coffee shops brewing the traditional aroma. Although cards are accepted here, carrying cash will make things easier for you. Loaded with Arabic and India merchandise, Muttrah Souq also takes care of foodies sniffing rich and authentic Arabian food. It fairly secures the third position on our amazing things to do in Oman list. Don’t breach the privacy of residents at Al Awatiya historic district which you might possibly (or accidently) walk into.
4. Nakhal Fort, Al -Batinah Region, Oman - Crowning its neighboring dates and Hajar mountains offering a striking backdrop, Nakhal Fort is the most visited tourist attraction in Nakhal village, Al-Batinah region. Sitting on a huge chunk of rock, this fort has undergone many enhancements since centuries and delights its visitors with panoramic views of the Nakhal Village. The fort is now reloaded as a museum that bestows historic artifacts collection. The architecture at the fort is a Pre-Islamic version with its uniquely aligned windows to let cool breeze within. Excellent defense system like suspending boiling cauldrons of honey in door ways, spiked doors and round towers to suspend cannonballs, can be appreciated. Other "things to do in Nakhal" are to visit Al-Ain Tawarah plantations blessed with natural hot springs. Once a royal home, the beautifully restored Al-Ghasham Museum is a good visit to meet ancient history paired with culture. You can explore a lot of Wadis around the Nakhal Fort.
5. Jebel Samhan Viewpoint, Salalah, Oman - Soaring on the eastern portion of Salalah Plain, Jebel Samhan Viewpoint is a maze of sinkholes and limestone caves. Home to the endangered species of Arabian leopard, Jebel Samhan sanctuary protects the elusive wonder of nature. The sanctuary is closed to public visit. So the Jebel Samhan viewpoint brings you close to nature but does not allow you to breach its beauty. This stunning viewpoint is 1300m high offering a picturesque coastal panorama. Your way to Jebel Samhan viewpoint is natural artwork of flora and fauna. Desert roses, elephant plants and dragon trees welcome you to this breathtaking attraction. The plateau of Jebel Samhan ends in a sudden drop at 1000 m, definitely not meant for casual visitors. The locals have their own secret paths to climb up and down the viewpoint. Trekking to the steep cliffs can be planned only if the local operator recommends. Taiq cave is another tourist attraction in Salalah. Well signposted from Taiq village, you can drive your way till the car park. The rest of your journey is a delight on foot. It is surrounded by a vast limestone cave in Salalah plain. Another natural feature in Salalah is the Baobab trees. Surrounded by thick jackets of lush green trees, you will spot the only Baobab tree giants of the Arabian Gulf. Spotted on the Tawi Atayr Mirbat Road, a viewpoint signage will guide you right on point.
6. Rustaq Fort, Al- Batinah Region, Oman - Your trip is incomplete without this attraction that holds the 6th position on our 10 Amazing things to do in Oman. This is the most impressive looking forts in the country. A 13th century superlative version of fine architecture, the foundations of Rustaq Fort have pre-Islamic snippets. The massive outer walls date from the 18th century and the interiors of the fort are a fort-lover’s paradise. The entrance of the fort has a murder hole to pour boiling oil on the bandits. Vertical stairways and enormous earthwork are worth admiring this magnum of ancient era. Rustaq Fort is pillared by many watch towers. This vintage structure has been heedfully restored. With mountains as its backdrop and hidden passages as its interiors, Rustaq Fort is a sight to behold. Narrating the legacy of Azid kings, Rustaq fort has interesting neighbors. Rustaq hot springs which is famous for its medicinal properties, Rustaq souqs amidst spectacular wadis are a must visit when you are done with your fort visit.
7. Land of Frankincense, Dhofar, Oman - This attraction is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Land of Frankincense proves luxury trade 5000 years ago. Frankincense, an aromatic resin of desert trees that survive in the most merciless environments on earth. These resins are extracted in their hardest forms and then sold at the most fancy price tags. They are of very high quality and come from a very rare species of trees in the wadis of Oman. You will find this incense very often in Oman at many places. We highly recommend a visit to at least one or two Lands of Frankincense so you can learn the significance of the most sought luxury that is still thriving today. Khor Rori Fort is the closest attraction to this site which was a trade hub for frankincense for 800 years. This fort displays many artifacts related to the trade as it was an important halt for traders from countries like China and Africa. Sailors from all over the world were attracted to this fort to buy frankincense in exchange of oil, cloth and other necessities. If you wish to see frankincense trees closely, you can drop off at Wadi Dawkah Frankincense Park, just 40 kms from Salalah Muscat highway. You can witness how carefully this resin is treated to be ready to sit in the market. The Museum of Frankincense Land is another stop by to admire the historical luxury. Next to this museum is Al Baleed Archeological Park which is not be missed as it a UNESCO listed site. It has chronicles of trade of frankincense and a good option for bird lovers.
8. Telegraph Island, Musandam Peninsula, Oman - This Island is a snorkeler’s paradise. It has lots of maritime wonders to offer besides its significance. Telegraph Island was a center of communication laid down by the British to exchange information with their occupied colonies. It used to take a month long to exchange information until the British came up with communication through cables laid down in the Arabian Gulf. Operators of the communication station were believed to go psychic as they had to survive scorching heat and isolation of the location. This tiny abandoned island has nothing much to offer but its waters and significance is worth a visit. You can access the island on a traditional dhow during high tide. You can explore the waters nearby that guard chunks of Omani lands.
9. Bimmah Sinkhole, Quyarrat, Oman - The locals and some media reports have quoted Bimmah Sinkhole as one of the most beautiful sinkholes in the world. And we couldn’t skip this attraction from our ‘Amazing things to do in Oman’ list. Wittingly displaying hues of fresh blue waters, Bimmah sinkhole is a one and a half hour drive from Muscat to Quyarrat region. The Bimmah sinkhole is located in the premises of Hawiyat Nazm Park. Its measurements range from 40 m wide 20 m under the surface and 550m from the sea level. The geologists have their version of how the Bimmah Sinkhole was created. They say it was the erosion of land with the limestone wash. But the locals say it was a meteorite that struck this part of the earth. There is ample parking space at the attraction. It is very well equipped with facilities like washroom and food tables. You can spend 3-5 hours here with activities such as cliff diving and swimming. You are expected to follow the signage carefully and you shall be fine while at Bimmah Sinkhole. The sinkhole is surrounded by walls for safety and has staircases gliding down to the shore.
10. Archeological site of Al-Ayn, AL-Khutm and Bat, Al-Dahira Region, Oman - The last attraction on our list of Amazing thing to do in Oman is another UNESCO World Heritage site. This site is a group of necropolis where the ancient civilization is laid to rest and is guarded by the Hajar Mountains. A 30 min drive from Ibri, three different sites of tombs of the dead are a combined visit as Bat tombs have beehives as old as 4000 years, Al-Ayn has better preserved tombs and Al-Khutm has remains of the ancient graves. Unlike the modern burial methods, this site has a peculiar way of laying the dead to rest. At sunset, the spiked Jebel Mountains add beauty to the landscape of the Hajar Mountains. The site does not require a huge project for restoration as its isolation is its shield. But locals have started using tomb materials to construct their own houses. Much has to be researched about the tombs but a must visit in your itinerary as it unfolds many chronicles as to how and why such a burial method was invented. The site has signs of restoration work but unfortunately has no names. You will have to visit the site carefully so that you do not cross the line of access.
Bits of tips:
Oman is a Muslim country. Dress up conservatively to respect the culture of the locals.
Beachwear is not recommended on public beaches as this hurts the sentiments of the Omani people.
Omani locals are very warm and friendly. So rude behavior or gestures is a big no. You might end in legal trouble.
Oman is a hot sunny country. Visit during winters with 25°C is a good and pleasant time. But if trekking on mountains, nights are freezing cold.
Cities in Oman have different festivals and seasons. Research and plan well so that you are at the right place at the right time.
The official language in Oman is Arabic. But locals speak English very well. Hindi, Swahili and Baluchi are also widely spoken.
Omanis welcome with dates and coffee which is their tradition.
You can find multi-cultural cuisines in Oman. It is a vegetarian’s paradise. Food is quite cheap in Oman as compared to stay.
Oman is one of the safest countries in the world and free from terrorism. Don’t carry any weapons. In case of concern, just reach the local police.
The most common experience will be the scent of frankincense. You will find it almost everywhere, even at homes.
Oman has abundant mosques. So a call for prayer 5 times a day will be a regular voice.
Most of restaurants don’t serve alcohol. During Ramadan, you are expected to follow a strict regime of not eating or drinking in public place.
Stay in Oman is on the higher side. Accommodation choices are limited. Check on the internet for deals while planning your trip.
Oman is not a busy tourist spot. You will have good space of your own to explore yourself and the country.
Oman has a good network of local transport.
The local network of transport does not reach deserts and mountains which are most visited. Hiring a cab is recommended.
If a bus driver does not take you on board, learn that he is shuttling a cruise group that has its ship on the port. Once this done, you can board a bus. Usually this is a good time for taxi drivers to sell their services to you. They are the best kiosks for info.
Traffic rules are being revived in Oman. It is recommended to hire a cab. If self driving, make sure the cab is not dirty as it is illegal to ride a dirty vehicle in Oman.
Taxis are excellent option in Oman as they are safe and well maintained. Drivers are well behaved and driving skills are decent.
Sharing cabs is a culture in Oman and it is safe.
While cruising on a tourist or private vessel, be aware of not entering in borders of neighboring countries to avoid indulging in disputes.
While visiting attractions for swimming or snorkeling, please carry your own towels, slippers and swimsuits. You can wear swimsuits while on your visit to sinkholes and private beaches.
While visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites, you are expected to be responsible so that no damage is caused to the heritage structures.
Oman has more than 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites to visit. But its geological location and cultural abundance is an attraction you won’t be able to resist.