Oman is a natural link between Africa and India.
It is also one of the few countries where you can explore a great variety of beautiful landscapes; the Indian Ocean and its golden beaches, the mountains reaching 3000 meters, and the ochre desert still inhabited by Bedouins.
In the 13th century, Marco Polo made a stop in Oman upon his return from China and described the country as a very important trade center.
In Oman, the traveler has always been considered as a guest, hence the long tradition of openness and hospitality.
The country’s rich history is still present today in the hundreds of stone castles of Oman, witnessing 5,000 years of history such as the Bahla Fort included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Located on the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman lays at the crossroads of the legendary Silk and Incense Road. It has recently opened its doors to tourism while preserving its natural environment and traditional architecture . There are no ostentatious skyscrapers but only traditional buildings and homes.
Oman is a unique destination, where the mix of cultures is beautifully expressed . Oman is the opposite of mass tourism and must urgently be discovered !
Various legends are still alive in Oman: Sinbad lived in Sohar, the remains of Sumhuram were once the residence of the Queen of Sheba and the ruins of Shisr are those of Ubar, the door of Atlantis !
Legend or reality, the archaeological sites of Sumhuran, Al Balit and Bat (3rd millennium BC) are listed as World Heritage Sites by Unesco.
In 536 BC, the Persians seized the country and were the conceptors and engineers of the irrigation system called the ” Falaj”, a natural spring water pipeline system made of intersecting canals still used nowadays. The Persian domination lasted until 640 AD.
At the time of Muhammad, the Ibadism branch of Islam prevailed in Oman thus promoting tolerance toward other religions and people.
The Portuguese established their trading post on the coast of Oman in 1507 and stayed there until 1650 when the Omanis kicked them out and took back their land.
Zanzibar, Mogadishu, Bahrain, Baluchistan (Pakistan at present) became Omani spice counters and make the fortune of the Sultans.
Oman was the most powerful maritime power in the Indian Ocean up until 1870. Zanzibar became its second capital up until 1964.
Since the 18th century, it is still the oldest legally independent monarchy in the Middle East.
From 1871 to 1976 the country was a British protectorate.
Since 1970 and the coming to power of Sultan Qaboos, Oman has undergone a phase of modernization. While proudly preserving its tradition, the main wealth of the country today remains the exploitation of oil and gas.
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RAIN: between 5 and 10 days of rain per year, mostly between November and March.
MEANS OF TRANSPORT FOR TOURISTS:
To move around the city of Muscat, it is best to take a taxi. Recognizable by their white and orange colour, they are not yet equipped with the meter and it is important to negotiate the fare before you board the taxi. In the rest of the country a four wheel drive car is recommended.
The road infrastructure is excellent in Oman. There are highways across the country which are fully lit at night including the mountainous areas.
To rent a car, it is necessary to have an international driver’s license. A four wheel drive type vehicle is required for the desert and some mountain roads.
Muscat is the capital. Nizwa is situated in the center, on the tip of the peninsula. In the south you find Salalah in Dhofar and in the north lays Khasab in Musandam
Mobile phones work fine in Oman but are very expensive. For calls to France dial 33 followed by the digits of the phone without the first zero.
Ex: +33 6 12 34 56 78
From France to Oman dial 968 followed by the digits of your correspondent.
You can buy a local chip at the airport for 3 OMR (6 €) and credit some Rials to the account if you need to make local calls.
Banks are opened Saturday to Thursday from 8h to 12h (a few remain open until 13h).
Almost nonexistent. You must purchase your stamps in the shops that sell postcards.
The souks are open from 8h to 13h and from 16h to 21h every day. Businesses around the souks open at approximately the same hours.
There are many shopping malls in the major cities that are open every day from 10h to 23h without interruption.
Many small shops, grocery stores and services are open from 10h to 20h except for Friday.
Many restaurants exist and they serve you at any time.
There are “coffee shops” which offer cheap grilled specialties, salads, sandwiches from 10h to 23h. Many close on Friday.
Long known as the world’s smallest capital, Muscat offers many attractions starting with the area of the Muttrah corniche, its harbor, its souk and the fish market.
Al Alam Royal Palace was built in 1972 and houses the official ceremonies. It is surrounded by two Portuguese forts, Jalali and Mirani, built around 1580. Nearby, the Bait Al Zubair Museum holds a rich collection of objects that depict everyday life over the centuries.
The former French consulate was turned into the French-Omani museum to trace the relationship between the two countries (open Sunday to Thursday from 9am to noon).
Opened in 2011, the Muscat Royal Opera House was the first Opera House in the Arabian Peninsula. It is a grand construction inspired by the architecture of the fortresses of Oman.
Not to be missed:
Sultant Qaboos Grand Mosque is a must for its fine architecture. Opened in 2011, this building made of sandstone and marble is covered by a dome with inlaid gold mosaic which is illuminated at night. Inside the mosque you may visit the main prayer hall which is very impressive (accessible to all, from 8 am to 11 am except Friday).
The largest crystal chandelier in the world (14m) illuminates the room, while a Persian carpet covers the whole 4263m2 hall.
The only public beach is Qurum. It’s the perfect place to experience the life of the Omanis wandering in the evening with their families.
For a more upgraded and private area but with an entrance fee, you can go to the Capital Yacht Club or the Oman Dive Center beaches.
If you appreciate watching dolphins which swim close to the shore, you may board boats from the Marina every morning.
45 km north of Muscat, the village of Sawadi offers beautiful beaches as well as flora and fauna of great wealth.
To the south, the deserted beach with its turquoise waters, provides a refreshing break while returning from Wadi Shab Wadi Tiwi.
Near the desert, the ancient capital of Nizwa has retained its traditional architectural style. Meeting point of caravans arriving from the south and north, the city has grown into a green oasis. Its souk has long been one of the most beautiful and richest in the country still reflecting its business mission. There are all kinds of objects, foods and spices.
On Friday, you should not miss the cattle fair involving Bedouins from different tribes who come to sell and buy their animals.
Nizwa is worth visiting for its fort built in the 17th century, the largest of the Arabian Peninsula with a guard tower 34m high and 45m in diameter. This citadel houses an interesting museum on the Omani history.
This city is also the starting point for many excursions including abandoned villages Tanuf and Birkat AL Mawz. The nearby Al HAMRA village with its beautiful ocher adobe houses is one of the most authentic of Oman.
Nearby, the Bahla Fort, listed as UNESCO heritage is very impressive. The fort is also known for its potters.
Finally, visit the magnificent castle Jabrin, built in 1670 which has beautiful painted ceilings and houses a museum.
The heart of Oman is home to this vast sandy wilderness still inhabited by Bedouins. Its high dunes vary from white to red through yellow depending on the time of the day.
To enjoy the desert, you will need a four wheel drive car and to be accompanied by a local guide. You must check that you have enough fuel, food and water.
Your excusion can be a day trip, but the magic of a night under the star-studded vault in the silence of the desert is an unforgettable memory. Housing opportunities in fixed camps or in tents can be set up for you!
Near Wadi Bani Khalid, in the middle of the mountains, is a refreshing spot where you can swim in natural pools. Omanis come on the shores of the pool to picnic with their families. There are banks shaded by palm trees and a small restaurant.
The Arabic name of this desert means “empty quart” because it covers a quarter of the Arabian peninsula. The Omani part lays in the south of the country. A road leading to Salalah crosses this desert.
This desert is the last sanctuary of the white Arabian Oryx that is part of the local landscape. Do not venture out into the desert until you have properly prepared your trip and planned sufficient water. The few petrol stations that exist are shown on local maps.
ON is the ideal city to discover the sea life of the country. You can ride the waves on some of the last “Dhow”, a traditional boat of the Sultanate. You will admire white houses with beautifully carved wooden doors, a living evidence of the link between Oman and Zanzibar.
Continuing eastward, Ras Al Jinz is famous worldwide for the green turtles which lay their eggs on its beaches throughout the year. Two months after being laid, little turtles will rush into the sea. This is an incredible sight! Recently, the Scientific Centre for the study and protection of turtles opened an exhibition space and now organizes guided observations every night.
Masirah Island is particularly popular with kitesurf enthusiasts due to exceptional wind. Between two sessions of kitesurf, it is not uncommon to see flamingos and sea turtles.
JABAL AKHDAR: The name “Green Mountain” comes from its terraced slopes which are covered with cultivated vegetation and produce. Particularly fertile and appreciated for its freshness, this massive mountain is lined with many small traditional villages. Plateau Sayw, towering at 2000m is best known for growing “roses” from which farmers make the famous “Rosewater” obtained after traditional distillation.
JABAL SHAMS is the hightest peak of Oman at 3075m. This mountain is home to the Oman GRAND CANYON that offers a breathtaking panorama from a plateau at 1950m above sea level. This area is particularly rich in traditional villages, palm groves and “Wadi”. These valleys were formed by rivers which are often dry but where you can find some oasis with natural pools.
Customers always enjoy the WADI BANI AWF which is one of the most spectacular and winds between huge rock formations.
The mountains are covered by the ‘Falaj’ of the Sultanate, the traditional irrigation system made of intricate canals that open and close off the water.
Musandam Peninsula is separated from the rest of Oman by part of the United Arab Emirates, facing the Strait of Hormuz. The region is nicknamed “fjords of Arabia” for its high cliffs that plunge straight into the sea and best reveals itself from the sea. You can discover the coast aboard a “dhow”. These traditional boats are used to make shore excursions to admire the bay and islands and snorkel outings.
In Khasab, the fort was converted into a museum and a small mountain road enables you to explore the heart of the peninsula.
In the far south, the tropical ambience of Salalah offers a very different aspect from the rest of the country with beautiful sandy bays lapped by crystal clear waters. Coconut and fresh fruit stalls infuse an exotic touch to a seaside holiday. The coastline is characterized by lagoons populated by birds and known for deep sea fishing. The marine fauna of the region is particularly rich and varied.
Still little explored, the seabed is rich with corals which will not disappoint even the most experienced divers.
Mirbat, 70 km to the east, is worth visiting for its picturesque small harbor and strong winds. The children there enjoy flying kites.
Note that June-September monsoon makes the sea impracticable.