That was everyone comment as we were announcing our improvised last minute one-week trip to the beautiful yet little known Sultanate of Oman.
Located on the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, the peaceful Sultanate of Oman has only recently opened its doors to tourism… and is perhaps the best kept secret of the Gulf region.
Landing at the Muscat International Airport, we paid around 20 Rial each (approx. 40 euros) to get our visas stamped on our passports. Outside, a driver wearing a long white dishdasha and a kuma (traditional Omani hat) was waiting for us in a tinted luxury vehicle…a BMW serie 7!
Yep, it did not take long before we plunged into the atmosphere of Oman: an intriguing blend of modern wealth and ancient tradition.
As we were heading to our hotel (The Chedi), it hit us: Oman has a totally different feel to Dubai and Abu Dhabi (UAE). No skyscrapers or flashy architecture here! We will learn later that it is actually due to a height limitation and a uniformed colour code commanded by the ruling Sultan.
Surrounded by dramatic volcanic mountains and bordering the Gulf of Oman, Muscat (Oman’s capital) is a calm and authentic Arabian city with blindingly white buildings and domed structures.
Our top list of things to do to get a snapshot of what Oman has to offer:
We had a great last minute deal to stayed at the luxurious Chedi Hotel & Spa Muscat, nestled between the Hajar Mountains and the Arabian Gulf.
Designed in the style of traditional Omani architecture, this exclusive beach resort was simple yet sleek. The service was outstanding and the room tastefully decorated. We really enjoyed our stay here. Activities and food are quite expensive if you stay in the hotel though!
Just before venturing in the boundless desert, we stopped at a tyre shop to release the tyre pressure (and later reinflate them fully when we heading back).
What followed was a thrilling dune drive in a 4WD.
Varying from deep red to a rich golden colour, the rolling sand dunes stretched to as far as the eye can see. Beautiful!
The desert is occupied by Bedouins, who generally lives along the oasis near the desert border.
We were welcomed into a Bedouin tent where Omani coffee and dates were served.
Wadi Bani Khalib
Rocks, rocks and more rocks, turquoise spring water, endless date palm trees. The incredible Wadis (‘Wadi’ means ‘dry river bed’) are an absolute must-see of Oman.
Relaxing in the lush green oasis of Wadi Bani Khalid was simply amazing. Just perfect since we were about to pass out from heat exhaustion! Over 40 degrees at this time of year (we travelled there in late May).
We also had the chance to experience the latest pampering craze…fish pedicure, except it was free and in the wild. As we put our feet in the water, little black fish came over to eat the dead skin off our feet. Tickling guaranteed!
Home to a huge variety of marine life, the coastal waters of Oman are untouched paradise.
We therefore decided to take a day trip to scuba dive and snorkel around the Daymaniyat Islands.
Underwater, we enjoyed beautiful coral reefs and an abundant marine life including turtles, sting rays, and plenty of multicolour fish.
The main architectural sights are forts, forts and…fortresses.
We discovered Old Muscat, dominated by Al Jalali and Al Mirani, two medieval forts (used to protect Muscat from intruders) and home to the Sultan’s Palace.
We strolled around the Corniche stretching beautifully along the harbour.
We explored the covered alleyways of the old traditional Muttrah Souk.
This market is a labyrinth of stalls full of spices, perfumes, hand-woven textiles, countless pieces of Omani silver and other authentic Arabic products like frankincense (incense burners).
We marvelled at the view of the opulent Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, that can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers and is home to the largest hand-made carpet in the world.
A few Omani facts that surprised us…
- Zanzibar was once Oman’s capital and residence to the sultans.
- Oman offers extraordinary hospitality: the Omani people are exceptionally warm and friendly.
- Small budget travelers may have a tough time here. Going almost anywhere involves driving. Most of Oman travel is done with tours, hiring taxis, or booking a rental car. Plus restaurants in hotels (which are mainly sea-side resorts and world-class hotels) are quite pricey as well.
- The Sultanate of Oman is ruled by Sultan Qaboos, who came to power in 1970 after murdering his father.
- Sultan Qaboos is well-respected in the region as a peacemaker and is credited with modernising and opening up Oman as a tourist destination. In 1970 Oman had only 5 km of tarmac roads!