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  • Overview

    The second largest country in the Middle East, Oman occupies thesoutheastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by SaudiArabia and the United Arab Emirates. Its topography is varied anddramatic, with rocky mountains and deep water inlets in the north,rolling dunes and salt flats in the central interior, verdant greenhills in the southern Dhofar province, and a coastline stretchingthousands of miles with magnificent beaches and cosy coves.

    In fact, the main reason people travel to Oman is the astoundingbeauty of the natural landscape. The dramatic coastline of MasirahIsland, the rolling sand dunes of the vast Wahiba Sands desert, theprehistoric fossils in the valleys around Buraimi, and the ruggedHajar Mountains are all unforgettable experiences on any Omanholiday.

    Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has realised that tourism is anintegral part of his modernisation programme. But thus far, it'sthe wealthy who are being urged to bring their holiday funds tospend in Oman.

    Sightseeing and activities are mainly restricted to Muscat andthe southern town of Salalah, famed for its seafood, frankincensetrees, and the ruins of the palace of the Queen of Sheba.Accommodation is offered mainly in luxury resort hotels.

    Making responsible use of oil revenue, Muscat has taken on theveneer of a prosperous modern Arab city without losing its oldworld charm and heritage. It features forts, palaces, and otherhistoric sites of interest to visitors, as well as an excitingtraditional (bazaar) and some stunning long sandy beaches likeQurum, Bandar Al-Jissah, and Yiti.

    Oman is a unique destination, offering visitorsmyriad exclusive attractions. While not typically considered aholiday spot, visitors to Oman will find a rich and sophisticatedculture, as well as incredible and varied landscapes.

    The eastern region of the Arabian Peninsula is hometo superb natural beauty. Sightseers enjoy exploring the strikingbeaches, which stretch for miles along the Arabian Sea coastlineand provide wonderful swimming spots.

    There are also (valleys) to explore, turtle-nesting sites to see, aswell as the extraordinary desert dunes to discover. The Al HajarMountains are also a scenic wonder where visitors can experiencethe dramatic vistas of canyons, gorges, and plateaus.

    A must-see in Oman is the Nizwa Fort, not far fromMuscat, which has stood since the 12th century and is the country'smost visited tourist attraction. Those wanting a taste of localculture and an authentic shopping experience should visit the OldMutrah Souk, the most popular traditional bazaar in Muscat.

    Known to be a sophisticated travel destinationoffering the full array of luxuries and modern amenities, Oman alsoboasts well-preserved ancient traditions and landmarks.

    Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

    The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a new yetarchitecturally classic building completed in 2001, and is one ofthe largest mosques in the world with a capacity for 20,000worshippers. The interior is grand and the prayer hall is home to ahand-woven Persian carpet weighing over 21 tons on the prayerfloor, while an exquisite 46-foot (14m) chandelier hangs from theceiling.

    This is a religious site rather than a touristdestination so visitors need to be respectful of the rules,although English-speaking guides are available to help navigate thevisit. Muslims can visit any time of the day, but tourists of otherfaiths, while very welcome, should only come during visiting hours.Visitors are asked to dress modestly and women are required tocover their hair.

    Address: Sultan Qaboos St, Muscat
    Opening time: Open 8am-11am Saturday to Thursday.
    Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat Richard Bartz
    Old Muttrah Souk

    Old Muttrah Souk is the most popular traditional bazaar inMuscat. The market is a small maze of narrow alleyways formed byadjoining stalls. Tourists can bargain with stall clerks over theprices of gold and silver jewellery, antiques, and othertraditional goods. The market has a less forceful air than others,so visitors are free to wander at their leisure without overtpressure from touts. Although the Old Muttrah Souk is popular withtourists, locals shop here as well, giving authenticity to themarket and mixing ornamental souvenirs in between householdproducts and food.

    Address: Hellat Scoral Lawatiya, Muscat
    Opening time: Open 9am-1pm and 4pm-9pm Saturday through Thursday;open 9am-1pm on Fridays.
    Old Muttrah Souk in Muscat Old Muttrah Souk in Muscat Shawn Stephens
    Bait al Baranda

    Even for those without an interest in Muscat's history, the BaitAl Baranda Museum presents a fascinating if long (750 millionyears) story of the region. The interactive exhibitions takevisitors through tectonic plate shifts to recent folk art with anadherence to detail and historical fact. Instead of simply housingartefacts, the Bait Al Baranda's dynamic exhibits often requireaudience participation. The museum is situated in a remodelledhistoric building which also periodically features localcontemporary art exhibits.

    Address: Al Minaa Street, Muttrah
    Opening time: Open daily (except Fridays) 9am-1pm, and4pm-6pm.
    Bait Al Baranda Bait Al Baranda Ji-Elle
    Al Jalali and Al Mirani Forts

    The Al Jalali and Al Mirani Forts were built during thePortuguese colonial rule of Oman during the 16th Century and noware beautiful windows into that era. Situated on either side of apalace, they give a fortified appearance to Muscat's harbour. Theforts are examples of traditional architecture, with Al Jalalibedecked with traditional doors, rugs, and pottery.

    Both Al Jalali and Al Mirani have ancient war memorabilia suchas armour and weapons on display. Their strategic position on amountain overlooking the harbour gives tourists commanding views ofthe city and Arabian Sea below. Opening times can be fickle butmany undeterred tourists enjoy the scenery from outside theirwalls.

    Address: Qasr Al Alam Street
    Opening time: Various
    Fort Jalali dominating MuscatHarbour. Fort Jalali dominating MuscatHarbour. Brian Harrington Spier
    Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace

    Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace is the working office for SultanQaboos. Built in 1972, it is flanked on each side by the ancient AlJalali and Al Mirani Forts, making an impressive and well-fortifiedgreeting to ships entering Muscat's harbour. Tourists are notallowed inside the classically-styled building for obvious securityreasons, but it remains a popular area to walk around and tophotograph.

    Address: Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace Old Town
    Opening time: Closed to public but always open to view from theoutside
    Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace Ji-Elle
    Muttrah Fish Market

    An attraction that offers visitors a wonderful taste of localproduce is a trip to the Muttrah fish market. Every day, the marketturns out a vast selection of ocean-fresh fish, squid, and crab tochoose from. Visit the neighbouring vegetable market for any otherfresh produce required to put together a delicious feast.

    Address: Muttrah (Old Muscat)
    Opening time: Daily 6:30-9am
    Fish Market Fish Market dlisbona
    Beaches in Oman

    With a coastline stretching 1,060 miles (1,700km)along the Arabian Sea, it is unsurprising that Oman boasts astunning array of sunny, swimmer-friendly beaches. As the Omanigovernment seeks to promote tourism throughout the country, itsbeaches have become focal-points for this exercise, with more andmore fun beach activities such as diving, kite-surfing, andjet-skiing being offered on its shores.

    There has also been a huge spike in the developmentof luxury beach resorts up and down the Omani coastline, offeringvisitors an air-conditioned retreat from the blazing sun and sand.Some of Oman's best beaches include Qurum Beach, which is locatedin Muscat below the Crowne Plaza Hotel. It's a beach which isperfectly set up for family vacationers, featuring picnic areas andshady palm trees.

    Qantab Beach, located a short drive from centralMuscat, has an established local fishing trade, and tourists arestrongly encouraged to take a trip out with one of the localfishermen to explore some of the area's sheltered coves andsea-caves. Finally, Marjan Beach features small coral reefs ideallysuited to novice divers and snorkelers. It also boasts a livelynightlife, with several restaurants and hotels often frequented byexpatriate workers in Oman.

    Tourists don't need to worry unduly about thedress-code for Omani beaches: western swimwear is perfectlyacceptable while you're on the beach. Just make sure to cover upappropriately when you're on your way to and from your hotel orbeach resort.

    White sandy Beaches of Oman White sandy Beaches of Oman Martyna Zambrzycka Millspaugh

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Despite being on the coast, the weather in Muscat can beunbearably hot. The best time to visit the arid climate is betweenDecember and March, when the more temperate winter season providesless extreme temperatures with average highs of around 77°F (25°C).February is the coolest month. The rest of the year temperaturescan be well over 104°F (40°C). Sudden rain can cause flash floods,although precipitation is unusual.

    The winter months are a delightful time to visit Oman, when theair is clear, the nights are cool, and the daytime temperaturesrarely rise above 30°C (86°F). There is some rain, but any showersare short and sharp.

    Visitors are guaranteed warm and dry weather in the autumn andspring months, with temperature averaging in the mid-thirties. Thesummer months are best avoided, when heat soars to 54°C (130°F) andthe humidity is stifling.

    Traditional Omani cuisine is based around spiced and marinatedfish, lamb, and chicken dishes served with rice, including soupsand curries. Typical dishes include mashuai (spit-roasted kingfishwith lemon rice), maqbous (spicy saffron-tinged meat and rice), andmuqalab (tripe spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, garlic andnutmeg).

    Visitors should note that many restaurants are closed during theday in the Ramadan period and plan accordingly by buying food aheadof time or making reservations at hotel restaurants that cater totourists.

    Muscat International Airport
    Location: The airport is located 20 miles (32km) west of Muscatcity centre.
    Time: GMT +4.
    Getting to the city: Public buses run by the Oman National Transport Company stop onSultan Qaboos Highway outside of the airport complex.
    Car Rental: Car rental facilities are available in the airport.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis from Muscat International Airport can be found outside thearrivals hall. They have a convenient fare chart for major hotels.Taxis are also available for transport to other cities insideOman.
    Fascilities: The airport is currently being enlarged. There is a currencyexchange bureau, food courts in the arrivals and departuressections, a large, well-stocked duty-free shop in both arrivals anddepartures, and a book shop. There are public telephones, a prayerroom and left luggage facilities.
    Parking Short and long-term parking facilities are available in front ofthe terminal building for a fee.
    Money:

    The currency of Oman is the Omani rial (OMR), divided into 1,000baisa. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, exchangebureaux, hotels, and at the airport. Outside banking hours,moneychangers operate in the evenings and at weekends. US Dollarsare recommended. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa creditcards are readily accepted in large shops and hotels and by anincreasing number of traders in souqs. Most banks in cities andtowns have ATMs.

    Language:

    The official language of Oman is Arabic, but English iswidely spoken. Hotel staff often also speak German andFrench.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 220/240 volts, 50Hz. Plugs withrectangular, three-pin flat blades are used.

    Entry Requirements:

    A passport valid for six months from date of arrival isrequired. A one-month tourist visa or three-week business visa isobtainable on arrival for a fee.

    A passport valid for six months from date of arrival isrequired. A one-month tourist visa or three-week business visa isobtainable on arrival for a fee.

    A passport valid for six months beyond date of arrival isrequired. A one-month tourist visa or three-week business visa isobtainable on arrival for a fee.

    A passport valid for six months from date of arrival isrequired. A one-month tourist visa or three-week business visa isobtainable on arrival for a fee.

    A passport valid for six months beyond date of arrival isrequired. A one-month tourist visa or three-week business visa isobtainable on arrival for a fee.

    A passport valid for six months beyond date of arrival isrequired. A one-month tourist visa or three-week business visa isobtainable on arrival for a fee.

    A passport valid for six months from date of arrival isrequired. A one-month tourist visa or three-week business visa isobtainable on arrival for a fee.

    A passport valid for six months beyond date of arrival isrequired. A visa is not required for stays of up to a maximum ofthree months.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    All visitors (except those with Gulf Co-Operation Councilpassports) require a visa to enter Oman. Visas can be obtained onarrival. The visa fee must be paid in local currency (OMR) or bycredit card. All visitors require a passport with spare pages,valid for six months, or a year for a multiple entry visa, onwardor return tickets and a hotel reservation confirmation or a privateresidential address with contact details in Oman, and all documentsneeded for the next destination. E-visas can be obtained beforedeparture at https://evisa.rop.gov.om/, passengers must haveprinted confirmation.

    Visitors with valid visas for Dubai and Qatar generally do notneed a visa for Oman, but it is best to confirm this with thenearest embassy before travel.

    Travel Health:

    No vaccinations are required for entry to Oman, except foryellow fever for those entering within six days of having been inan infected area. Visitors should ensure they are up to date on allroutine vaccinations.

    Avoid mosquito bites, as dengue fever may be a risk, and thereis a small risk of malaria in remote areas. Brucellosis isreported, particularly in the south of the country. Health andmedical services in the country, particularly Muscat, are of a highstandard

    Treatment is expensive for foreigners at these facilities, whileOman nationals receive free treatment. Therefore, health insuranceis recommended. Food and water in Muscat is considered safe. Butbottled water and precautions with unpasteurised milk are advisedoutside of the city.

    Tipping:

    A service charge is usually added to bills. However, a 'littleextra' of around 10 percent is appreciated.

    Safety Information:

    Like all the Gulf States, Oman is considered to be under a highrisk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, particularly againstWestern interests. Therefore, vigilance is necessary. Crime,though, is not a problem for visitors, although common senseprecautions should be practised.

    Rental and company vehicles have been vulnerable to robbery inthe southern areas of Thumrait, Marmul, and Nimr. Piracy isconsidered a threat in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Womenare advised not to wear shorts or scanty clothing in the towns toavoid risk of sexual harassment. It is advised to carry a copy ofyour passport at all times.

    Local Customs:

    Oman is a predominantly Muslim country and visitors shouldrespect religious sensitivity, particularly in the matter of dressand public conduct. Women, in particular, should wear loose fittingclothes that cover most of the body. Eating, drinking, and smokingin public during the holy month of Ramadan should be avoided, as itis forbidden by the Muslim culture.

    Homosexuality is sadly illegal in the country. Importing obscenepublications or videos is subject to severe penalties. Alcohol isavailable only at licensed hotels and restaurants and penalties fordriving under the influence of alcohol are drastic. The legal bloodalcohol level in the country is close to zero.

    Business:

    The business world in Oman is minute, with a small core offamilies controlling most of the country's industry and trade. Asin most of the Middle East, it is preferable to conduct businessface to face and develop good working relations built on trust andfriendship. Hospitality is important and visitors will be treatedwith respect.

    It is a good idea to have a basic idea of Omani customs andattempting to speak some Arabic will be appreciated. Businessattire is usually formal with suits and ties the norm. Women inparticular should dress modestly. English is spoken widely. Theworking week is normally from Sunday to Thursday, and hours canvary. Most businesses are open from 8am to 1pm and 4pm to 7pm.

    Communications:

    The international direct dialling code for Oman is +968, and theoutgoing international code 00, followed by the relevant countrycode (e.g. 0044 for the UK). City/area codes are in use. Local SIMcards are widely available, and free wifi is available in mosthotels and some restaurants.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers to Oman do not have to pay duty on 400 cigarettes and2 litres/2 bottles of liquor per family, provided they arenon-Muslim visitors. Meat products officially require an Islamicslaughter certificate.

    Videotapes for personal use may be confiscated and sent toMinistry of National Heritage and Culture for verification.Prohibited items include dates (including shoots of date palm),coconut, ornamental palm trees, and parts thereof.

    Also prohibited are firearms and toy weapons, swords or knives,and flammable material, obscene reading material and non-cannedfoodstuffs from cholera-infected areas. Items of value may beexempt, subject to an assessment by a security officer.

    Useful Contacts:

    Directorate of Tourism, Muscat: +968 2458 8700 orwww.omantourism.gov.om

    Oman Embassies:

    Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, Washington DC, United States(also responsible for Canada): +1 202 387 1980.

    Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, London, United Kingdom (alsoresponsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7225 0001, +44 (1)71 2250001.

    Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, Pretoria, South Africa: +27(0)12 632 8301.

    Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, Tokyo, Japan (also responsiblefor Australia and New Zealand): +81 (0)3 5468 1088.

    Consulate of the Sultanate of Oman, Auckland, New Zealand: +64(0)9 522 4426.

    Foreign Embassies in Oman :

    United States Embassy, Muscat: +968 246 43400.

    British Embassy, Muscat: +968 246 09000.

    Canadian Consulate, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: +966 1 488 2288.

    South African Embassy, Muscat: +968 2464 7300.

    Australian Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabi: +966 (0)1 488 7788.

    Irish Honorary Consul, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: +966 11 4882300.

    New Zealand Consulate, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: +966 1 4887988.

    Oman Emergency Numbers : 9999 (General Emergencies)
    Oman

    Shopping in Muscat is a rewarding experience for travellers,with a range of goods available from local (markets) and shopping centres. It isacceptable to ask for a discounts or a 'last price' fromindependent outlets, while supermarkets and shopping centres ormalls display fixed prices. Most shops are open from 9am to 1pm andfrom 4pm to 9pm, Saturday through Thursday; the Sultan Centre isopen 24 hours a day. The Muscat city centre is the primary shoppinghub, and nearby Muttrah is also quite popular. Best buys includefolk art and craft such as (carpets), wall hangings and pottery, whilefrankincense and myrrh are also very sought after Omani souvenirs.Silver and gold jewellery and accessories (priced by weight) arealso a good buy, as well as the sought-after Amouage perfume, madeat a Muscat factory open to visitors. Muscat shopping centresinclude the Muscat City Centre mall, the Sultan Centre and theAl-Zakher Centre, hosting big-name brands such as Zara and Gap, aswell as computer shops, book stores and furniture shops. The Sabcocentre is a collection of half a dozen shopping centres that arepopular with locals, including a souq-like collection of shops;however the best to visit is the large one in Muttrah,considered one of the best in the Gulf region, where bargaining isexpected.

    Buses are the cheapest way to get around in Muscat.Modern buses travel major roads with specific bus stops. For moreout of the way destinations, Baiza buses are common and zigzagthrough the back roads effectively, although the buses themselvesare sometimes a bit dilapidated.

    Taxis are widely available and an easy way to get toand from the airport. Insist that the driver uses their meterunless there isn't one, in which case agree on a price beforegetting into the car. Taxis are expensive but convenient when youcan't find a bus or don't want to wait in the sun. There is nosubway or railway in Muscat and some travellers decide to rent acar and drive themselves around, which is the best option forflexible travel.

    There is no shortage of things to see and do in Oman's bustlingcapital. Visitors can wander the maze-like souqs of Mutrah andwonder at the massive and beautiful palaces, forts, and mosquesthat serve as reminders of the city's culture and history.

    Along with the architectural wonders, visitors can learn aboutMuscat at a number of museums in the city, including the NationalMuseum, the Children's Museum, the Sultan's Armed Forces Museum,the Omani French Museum, and the interactive Bait al BarandaMuseum.

    Muscat offers a number of active pursuits as well, and thenumerous tour companies in the city facilitate activities likescuba diving, rock climbing, camel racing, horseback riding, turtleand dolphin watching, trekking, and night safaris.

    To enjoy the natural beauty of Muscat, travellers can take awalk in any of the city's parks, ranging from small neighbourhoodspaces to the enormous Qurum National Park, which boasts beautifulrose gardens and manmade waterfalls, a lake, and an amusement park.Another spectacular natural site is Wadi Shab, located about 62miles (100km) southeast of the city and home to vivid emerald greenpools with dramatic caves and cliff faces.

    Bahla

    Bahla is an ancient city in the northern part of Oman, not farfrom Muscat. It was founded at an oasis for caravans and travellersto stop at and rest on their desert journeys, and was the capitalof Oman between the 12th and 17th Centuries.

    The famous Bahla Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dates backto 1,000 BC, and remains the city's most popular attraction. Bahlahas a rich tradition of pottery, and you can still see pottersworking at their kilns and haggling over their wares.

    Bahla Fort Bahla Fort Francisco Anzola
    Al Hajar Mountains

    The Al Hajar Mountains stretch from Muscat, throughnorthern Oman and into the United Arab Emirates. While theyinitially appear inhospitable and arid, they are becoming anincreasingly popular destination for adventure travel. Thepicturesque range offers dramatic vistas of canyons, gorges, andplateaus, while the rich colours of the igneous rock formationsmake for unforgettable sights.

    Highway 15 winds up the mountains to the old city ofNizwa, home to an impressive 17th-century fort and an early-morninggoat market. Nizwa makes an excellent base to explore the mountainsfrom, including traditional villages and mudbrick towns, dateplantations, and historic forts. There are a number of trekkingroutes ranging from three hours to multi-day hikes, and travellerscan visit the famous rose gardens of the Saiq Plateau.

    Al Hajar Mountains Al Hajar Mountains Mark Hills
    Nizwa Fort

    Oman's most-visited tourist attraction, the NizwaFort stands as a monument to architectural ingenuity, and afascinating record of the fort-building practices of a bygone age.The fort's underlying structure dates back to the 12th century,though it was completed by Imam Sultan bin Saif al Yaarubi in 1668as a defence against invaders looking to exploit the region ofNizwa's valuable natural resources.

    The historical interest of the Nizwa Fort issignificant, as it represents a major advancement in militaryengineering in the early days of mortar-based warfare. Thecentrepiece of the fort is a drum-like tower that reaches 98 feet(30m) into the air and has a circumference of 118 feet (36m),fitted with 24 openings for mortar fire.

    Visitors to the Nizwa Fort are allowed to freelyexplore the area, which consists of maze-like stairways andcorridors leading to high-ceilinged rooms and terraces which affordgreat views of the city of Nizwa and its surrounding plains. Ahighly recommended tourist sight in Oman, budget at least threehours to take it all in.

    Nizwa Fort Nizwa Fort yeowatzup
    Wahiba Sands

    All travellers to Oman, whether young or old, arestrongly encouraged to make an excursion to the desert region knownas the Wahiba (or Sharqiya) Sands, a surprisingly biodiverse areaof 4,800 square miles (12,500 sq km) near the country'snortheastern coastline.

    In addition to the area's abundant nature life, whichincludes thousands of invertebrate species, birds, and 150 speciesof native flora, the Wahiba Sands is also home to a Bedouinpopulation that is becoming increasingly marginalised as the modernworld exerts its influence over Oman.

    Visitors are able to explore the Wahiba Sands bythemselves. However, a 4X4 vehicle is required to navigate thedunes and summer's heat makes the months between April and Octobera dangerous time to get lost. Since it's no fun getting stuck inthe sand, a far more popular option is to book a tour with one ofthe ubiquitous tour organisations based in Muscat. Typical tourpackages include 4X4 transportation through the desert (althoughcamel rides are possible) and an overnight stay in a desertcamp.

    Travellers who aren't looking to go off-road can alsoexperience the Wahiba Sands on the sealed road from Al-Ashkara toShana'a, which is still a unique and memorable desertexperience.

    Wahiba Sands Wahiba Sands Andries Oudshoorn
    Salalah

    The capital of the southern-most Omani province ofDhofar, Salalah makes for a wonderful contrast to the hot, drydesert conditions that predominate throughout the country'sinterior. Salalah experiences a monsoon season, known as theKhareef Season, between June and September. This sees thesurrounding countryside become lush and green, surprising visitorswith the sight of herds of cattle calmly grazing in verdantfields.

    Its relatively cool climate makes Salalah a greatfamily holiday destination in Oman and it is a great place to buyOmani souvenirs for friends and family back home. Known as the'perfume capital of Arabia', frankincense trees line the roads inSalalah and it is unsurprising that most visitors to the regionleave with an assortment of perfumes safely packed away in theirluggage.

    Notable sights in Salalah include the al-Hisn Souq, atraditional market-place brimming with great things to buy, and theSultan Qaboos' Palace, a graceful building that commemorates thebirthplace of the current Omani leader. Salalah is also home to agorgeous coastline, offering wonderful bird watching opportunities.Swimming and diving are also possible, but only in limited areasdue to dangerously strong ocean currents.

    Salalah Salalah A Vahanvaty