Traveller’s guide to Oman: Experience endless beauty
Lonely Planet, a global travel guide, listed Oman in 8th place in the top 10 countries to visit in 2017. With this in mind we asked leading travel writer Kelly Topping to compile the ultimate travel guide to this Middle Eastern hotspot.
Tasting Halwa in all its delicious date and nuttiness, washed down with a strong Omani coffee, it’s time to contemplate the day. Will it be capital Muscat for the Sultan’s Palace or the Royal Opera House, or something a little more adventurous? The landscape in Oman with over 2000 miles of coast, rugged mountains and vast deserts are a huge factor in the country’s rise in popularity- it was Lonely Planet’s eighth top country to visit for 2017. And with new indoor theme park Majarat coming this year, Oman is primed to eclipse its glitzy cousins Dubai and Abu Dhabi on the culture, adventure and entertainment fronts. It’s time to take a closer look at Oman.
You may not have been to Jabal Shams in north east Oman, but you’ve probably seen pictures of it. Person sat arms outstretched on the precipice of a huge mountain peak staring down into the 3000 metre abyss, with a smile of blissful satisfaction. Jabal Shams or Sun Mountain is the highest peak in the Arabian Peninsula, the place where the sun rises and sets, and where hikers, trekkers and thrill seekers flock. With well-maintained routes, Jabal Shams is said to be one of the safest treks there is in the country. And if you want to get serious about it, Envago app offer the Jabal Shams challenge from provider Hussak with prizes awarded for the first male and female to reach the summit.
South of Jabal Shams, around two hours from Muscat is Nizwa fort, one of over 500 ancient forts in Oman, and the most visited. Its distinctive round tower is the largest in any of Oman’s forts and here you can see how Omanis once defended themselves with huge cannons and traps. Once caught, prisoners would have been held in one of Nizwa Fort’s many prisons. Close by in the oasis of Bahla is Bahla Fort, an immense ruined fort and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Around three hours down the coast from Muscat, is the Ras al Jinz Turtle reserve, full of craggy cliffs, mountains and sandy shores where thousands of endangered green turtles return each year. Oman is home to five of the seven species of green turtle and the best time to visit is nesting season between April and May but if you come outside of this time, you may still be in luck as Ras al Jinz, uniquely, gets turtle visitors coming ashore year round.
There are many luxurious places to stay in Oman, the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa near to Muscat, or the Ritz-Carlton owned Al Bustan Palace also in Muscat, but for the unusual option, head to the desert! Continuing our journey south, the A’Sharqiya Sands, still known locally as the Wahibi Sands are over 10,000 sq. km of red desert sand. As well as a night under the stars or a trek across the dunes on a camel, you can get a feel for the traditional Bedouin way of life by visiting a Bedouin home. Nearby, the Wadi Bani Khalid oasis is one of Oman’s many ‘wadis’ or valleys that offer freshwater swimming and a unique picnic spot.
Escaping the heat in the summer months is a priority for Omanis, and they will head to Salalah on the southern tip of the Sultanate in the Dhofar region for the summer monsoon known as khareef. The Dhofar region covers around one third of the country, and from June to September, Salalah enjoys its own micro climate with a manageable 27 degrees and a cooling drizzly rain that is more welcoming than you might imagine! Between mid-June and mid-September, you’ll be able to explore Salalah’s souks and white sand beaches fringed by coconut palms, as well as the colourful family friendly Salalah Tourism Festival.
So what’ll it be? A performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the Royal Opera House or enjoying the Omani hospitality that the country is becoming so well known for at A’Sharqiya, getting that once in a lifetime mountain summit selfie at Jabal Shams or bargaining your way to an exquisite footstool in the souks of Salalah? Decisions, decisions, maybe there’s time for just one more Omani coffee first.
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