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Explore Oman

Explore Oman or officially The Sultanate of Oman which is in the Middle East, on the southeastern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders the United Arab Emirates in the northwest, Saudi Arabia in the west, and Yemen in the southwest. Oman has two exclaves separated from it by the United Arab Emirates, the Musandam Peninsula and Madha.

Omanis are friendly people and are very helpful to tourists. In turn, tourists should respect the ways and traditions of the Omani people.

Omanis are proud of both their country’s rapid progress and their heritage as one of the great sea-faring nations. Excellent schools and hospitals, good governance, and on-going infrastructure improvement are all important characteristics of this once introverted and closed nation.

Sumerian tablets refer to a country called Magan, a name thought to refer to Oman’s ancient copper mines. The present-day name of the country is believed to originate from the Arab tribes who migrated to its territory from the Uman region of Yemen. Many tribes settled in Oman making a living by fishing, herding or stock breeding and some present day Omani families are able to trace their ancestral roots to other parts of Arabia.

Oman has one of the hottest and driest climates in the world. However, there are substantial differences between the coastal zone, the mountain regions, the arid inland desert and the southwestern region of Dhofar.

Summer day temperatures on the coast can easily exceed 40°C (104°F). Coupled to night temperatures of 30°C (88°F) or more and relatively high humidity, this makes going outside very unpleasant.  Winter is much more pleasant with daytime temperatures generally between 25 and 30°C, and is therefore the preferred period of travel.

Regions of Oman

  • Northern Oman (Muscat, Bahla, Buraimi, Hajar Mountains, Madha, Matrah, Musandam Peninsula, Sohar), the capital city, fertile Al-Batinah coast, majestic Hajar Mountains and the Musandam Peninsula
  • Central Coastal Oman (Ibra, Masirah Island, Sur, Wahiba Sands), awe-inspiring dunes, old forts and coastal scenery fringing the Indian Ocean
  • Zufar (Dhofar) (Salalah) lush coastal lowlands and mountains bordering Yemen
  • Empty Quarter huge desert wilderness including much of the largely undefined border area with Saudi Arabia.

Cities

  • Muscat – the historic capital and largest city
  • Bahla – oasis town which is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Buraimi border crossing town adjacent to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates
  • Ibra – gateway to the Wahiba Sands
  • Matrah – adjoining the capital city and just as historic
  • Nizwa – contains one of the best-known forts in Oman
  • Salalah – the south, which is almost tropical at the time of the Kareef (southeastern monsoon)
  • Sohar – one of the the legendary homes of Sindbad
  • Sur – where dhows are still made by hand

Other destinations

  • Hajar Mountains – a majestic range, the highest in the Arabian Peninsula, which stretches into the United Arab Emirates.
  • Madha – tiny exclave of Oman completely surrounded by the United Arab Emirates
  • Masirah Island – a real desert island experience awaits on this haven for turtles and other wildlife
  • Musandam Peninsula – a rocky exclave on the Straits of Hormuz with some magnificent wadis
  • Wahiba Sands – massive rolling dunes as far as the eye can see

Get in

Visas are required for some countries please to official website. One must apply for a visa online. They are valid for 30 days, which is extendable once for a fee.

The fee is OMR20 and your passport should be valid for no less than 6 months from the date of arrival.  Any visa fees can be paid using UAE dirhams at a rate of AED10 to OMR1. At the airports, visa fees can be paid in any Gulf States Co-operation Council (GCC) currency, euros, and US dollars.

It is prohibited to bring firearms, narcotics or pornographic publications into Oman. Non-Muslims are permitted to bring two liters of alcohol into the country at Seeb International Airport only. You are not allowed to bring alcohol into the country in private cars at land border crossings.

Virtually all international flights arrive at Muscat International Airport (MCT) in Muscat. There are also a small number of regional international flights to Salalah (SLL). Purchasing a visa on arrival in Salalah can be quite difficult, as the airport is very small and immigration officials tend not to have change for larger notes.

All taxi drivers in Oman are Omani nationals as this is a protected profession. In Muscat there are call/telephone Taxi services. Whilst safe and generally turn up when you want them to the costs are comparatively high. Look for “Hello Taxi” and “Muscat Taxi” amongst others.

The orange-badged taxis are usually owner-operated, these are unmetered with negotiated fares before departure. If you get a very cheap price, then do not be surprised if the Taxi stops to add extra passengers unless you request for it to be private. You may ask for engaged, just say ‘engaged taxi’ to the driver, and you will pay for all the seats (4) and now have the taxi to yourself. Women must always sit alone in the back.

There are also mini-buses (Baisa buses), the principle is you share the bus or car with others and pay a lower price as a result. This is how women living in Oman travel if they must use public transport. Women should sit next to other women if there are any in the bus. Men should move to other seats. If they do not move immediately, simply stand at the door, looking at them expectantly. They will take the hint and move. Although this might feel strange to foreigners, it is expected behavior for Omanis. Not sitting next to a man will avoid any unfortunate situations of mixed signals.

Believe it or not, but it’s actually illegal to drive around in a dirty car in Oman. You may get stopped by the police who can fine you OMR10, although they are more likely to just tell you to wash your ride.

Driving around Oman in your own (rented) car is quite easy. A four-lane road connects Muscat and Nizwa and a recently constructed four-lane highway goes from Muscat to Sur.

There are still large parts of the Sur – Muscat route that has no mobile phone signal. If you break down be prepared to wait it out. Or hitch a ride to the next town and find a mechanic to bring back to your vehicle.

Arabic is the national language, but most Omanis will speak good to excellent English, particularly in major tourist areas and cities. An English-speaking traveller should have no language difficulties unless really off the beaten track.

 

What to see. Best top attractions in Oman.

Oman is famous for its historic forts which are the country’s most striking cultural landmarks. There are over 500 forts and towers which were the traditional defense and lookout points to deter potential invaders. Some of the best examples are conveniently located in the capital, Muscat. Jalali and Mirani forts stand at the entrance to Muscat Bay and date from the early 16th century.

Bahla Fort at the base of the Djebel Akhdar highlands is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has 7 miles of walls. It was built in the 13th and 14th centuries when Bahla was a thriving oasis town.

Oman’s rugged mountains offer some stunning scenery and probably the best opportunities for driving in dry wadis anywhere in the world. Many of the wadis have made roads (often unsurfaced but decent enough) while others require serious off-roading. You can easily get well off the beaten path into remote areas.

Huge desert dunes roll for as far as the eye can see at Wahiba Sands.

Oman’s beaches are major breeding locations for various species of sea turtle. Masirah Island is the perhaps best bet where four species breed, including the largest number of leatherbacks anywhere in the world.

The country can boast not only vast expanses of desert, and hundreds of miles of uninhabited coastline, but also mountains of over 9000 feet.

The currency in Muscat is the Omani rial (OMR). One rial is made of 1000 baisa and is officially tied at 2.58 US dollars per 1 Omani rial making the Omani rial one of the most valuable currencies on the planet. Exchange rates on the streets are 1-2% lower.

There are ATMs at the airport and many other in Muscat and every main town, but not all of them take foreign cards. You can change foreign currency at the counters inside the airport and at money exchanges throughout Oman.

What to buy in Oman.

The Omani national symbol is the silver-sheathed dagger known as the khanjar. These vary widely in quality and cost, but almost every shop will stock several different models. Most of the modern ones are made by Indian or Pakistani craftsmen under Omani direction, while many are actually made in India or Pakistan. There is a large variety in quality, from the handles to the sheath. The best handles are made of silver-adorned sandlewood, while the lesser quality handles are made of resin. Look carefully at the sheath to determine the quality of the silver work. A good quality khanjar can cost upwards of OMR700. Typically, those will come in a presentation box, and include a belt.

Another reminder of the country’s tribal past is the walking stick known as arsaa. This is a cane with a concealed sword in it, which can prove quite a talking point at home. Unfortunately, in many countries, it will prove a talking point with customs officials rather than friends and family. In Musandam, the khanjar is frequently replaced by the Jerz as formal wear, a walking stick with a small axe head as the handle.

Omani silver is also a popular souvenir, often made into rosewater shakers and small “Nizwa boxes” (named for the town from which they first came). Silver “message holders” (known as hurz, or herz), often referred to in souks as “old time fax machines” are often for sale as well. Many silver products will be stamped with “Oman” on them, which is a guarantee of authenticity. Only new silver items may be so stamped. There is a large quantity of ‘old’ silver available which will not be stamped. Although it may be authentic, stamping it would destroy its antique value. Caveat Emptor are the watch words. Stick to reputable shops if you are contemplating buying antique Omani silver of any sort.

There is a wonderful selection of Omani silver available as jewelry as well. Items for sale in the Muttrah souk may not be genuine Omani items. Instead visit Shatti Al Qurm just outside of Muscat or the Nizwa Fort.

The distinctive hats worn by Omani men, called “kuma” , are also commonly sold, particularly in the Muttrah Souk in Muscat. Genuine kumas cost from 80 OMR.

Frankincense is a popular purchase in the Dhofar region as the region has historically been a centre for production of this item. Myrrh can also be purchased quite cheaply in Oman.

As one might expect, Oman also sells many perfumes made from a great number of traditional ingredients. Indeed, the most expensive perfume in the world (Amouage) is made in Oman from frankincense and other ingredients, and costs around OMR50. You can also find sandalwood, myrrh and jasmine perfumes.

Opening hours during the holy month of Ramadan are very restricted. Supermarkets are less strict, but don’t rely on being able to buy anything after iftar. At noon, most shops are closed anyway but this is not specific to Ramadan.

Using credit cards in shops is hit or miss. It is better to get cash at an ATM. Small denomination notes are hard to come by but necessary for bargaining. Unless you are in a supermarket, restaurant or mall bargaining is recommended, and this should be conducted politely.

What to eat

The food is mainly Arabic, East African, Lebanese, Turkish, and Indian. Many Omanis make a distinction between “Arabic” food and “Omani” food, with the former being the description of the standard dishes found throughout the Arabian Peninsula.

Omani food tends to be less spicy and served in quite large portions – whole fish are not uncommon at lunch in some local restaurants (sticking to local food, it is quite easy to eat a substantial meal for less than OMR2). As befits a country with a long coastline, seafood is quite a common dish, particularly shark, which is surprisingly tasty. True traditional Omani food is hard to find in restaurants.

Omani sweets are well-known throughout the region, with the most popular being “halwa”. This is a hot, semi-solid substance which behaves a little like honey and is eaten with a spoon. The taste is similar to Turkish Delight. Omani dates are among the best in the world and can be found at every social place and at offices.

American fast food chains, especially KFC, McDonalds, and Burger King, are not hard to find in the bigger cities, especially Muscat and Salalah.

In Khaboora you can get Pakistani Porotta. They are double the size of Indian Porottas and look like pappadams. But they taste like porottas and are much thinner and delicious. Three porottas are available for the equivalent of Rs11. Traditional Omani Khubz (bread) is hard to find outside of an Omani home, but for an experience one should try hard not to miss. This traditional bread is made of flour, salt and water cooked over a fire (or gas stove) on a large metal plate. The bread is paper-thin and crispy. It is eaten with almost any Omani food, including hot milk or chai (tea) for breakfast– “Omani cornflakes”.

In Sohar you may get an excellent lunch with Ayla curry, Ayla fry and Payarupperi. Expect to pay only 400 baisa (OMR0.40) which is considered a very low lunch price here.

A good bet for budget travellers are the many ‘coffee shops’ which are usually run by people from the Indian sub-continent and sell a mixture of Pakistani/Indian and Arabic food, dishes mostly cost one rial or less, especially ‘sandwiches’ which can be around 200 or 300 baisa. They usually sell falafel, which is a good and cheap vegetarian option. Their actual coffee is often uninspiring Nescafe but their tea reflects their sub-continental management in being masala chai.

Food & Hospitality Oman is an annual international exhibition that focuses on Oman’s food and hospitality industry. It showcases food and beverage, hotel equipment and supplies, kitchen and catering equipment, food packaging products, and food processing technologies, and other related products and services.

What to drink

The legal drinking and purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 21.

Bottled drinking (mineral) water is easily available at most stores. Tap water is generally safe; however, most Omanis drink bottled water and to be safe, you should too.

Alcohol is available only in select restaurants and large hotels and is usually very expensive (ranging from OMR1.5 for a 500mL Carlsberg to 4 rials). Drinking alcohol in public is prohibited, but you can get your own drinks and enjoy at public areas but in privacy such as camping by beaches, sands, mountains, or actually in any remote areas. Only foreign residents can buy alcohol from alcohol shops and with certain limits. Residents need personal liquor licenses to consume alcohol in their private residence(s). But an alcohol black market is widely spread around the cities and alcohol can be found easily.

Foreigner travellers are allowed 2 liters of spirits as duty free baggage allowance. Travellers can pick up spirits at the duty free shop in the arrival lounge.

During Ramadan, drinking anything in public is prohibited during daytime (i.e., sunrise to sunset), even for foreigners. Take care to drink in the privacy of your room.

Where to sleep

Oman has the full spectrum of accommodation – from ultra-luxurious hotels to extremely rustic huts in the desert constructed from date palm leaves.

In recent years, Oman has been attempting to turn itself into something of a five-star destination for well-heeled travellers. This does not pose a problem to the budget-minded in Muscat, and even outside of the capital there is still a range of budget options. In some parts of the country, however, accommodation may be limited to higher-end hotels and resorts.

Camping is allowed pretty much anywhere, and it is generally easy to find a spot to pitch a tent once outside of big cities. Small dirt tracks constantly branch off from main roads, and following those for a few minutes usually leads to a good spot. Camping in wadis is also possible, but can be dangerous in case of rain (when the wadi turns into a river).

Oman is a relatively safe country and serious crime is rare. The Royal Oman Police is notably efficient and honest.

Driving in Muscat can sometimes be a problem, although this is due more to congestion than bad driving on the part of the locals. Outside of the major cities, a common driving risk is falling asleep at the wheel due to the long stretches of featureless desert. Driving in Oman calls for attention to the unexpected. It has the second highest death rate from traffic accidents in the world (surpassed only by Saudi, followed closely by the UAE). Omani drivers outside of the cities tend to drive very fast and pass with impunity. Driving at night is especially hazardous as many drivers fail to turn their headlights on. Camels will walk into the road even if they see cars approaching, and collisions are often fatal for both camel and driver.

As with most other Islamic countries, prostitution is illegal.

Oman isn’t as severe as neighboring Saudi Arabia with the LGBT community, but the Omani government doesn’t condone any form of LGBT activity. Punishments include fines, and up to 3 years in prison.

Oman is warm year-round and summers can be extremely hot. Always carry drinking water with you and be wary of dehydration in high temperatures. If you’re not used to the heat it can sneak up on you and cause serious health problems.

Several people have tried to cross stretches of the Omani desert on their own in a rented 4WD. Some of these people have died or got rescued just in time.

Travelling through a desert requires proper preparation. It looks easy from a modern air-conditioned 4WD, but if that fails you are suddenly back to basics.

Never go off-road alone. A minimum of two to three cars (of the same make) is the rule. Leave your itinerary with a friend with clear instructions if you do not return in time. Take at least: – recovery tools: spades, rope (and attachments), sand mats or ladders – two spare tires and all required equipment – a good air pump (high capacity) – sufficient water (at least 25 liters more than you think you will need for drinking) – sufficient petrol: there are no petrol stations in middle of nowhere.

If you have – or can get – a satellite phone, take it. (Mobiles work only in limited areas.) Check your car before embarking on such a trip.

What to respect

The Omanis are generally very humble and down-to-earth people. The usual rules of respect when travelling in a Muslim country should be followed in Oman, even when locals appear to be a little less uptight than their neighbors.

Stay quiet about the sultan, who has done more to develop the nation in recent history. He is expected to be held in extreme respect.

Staring is quite common in Oman. Children, men and women are likely to stare at you simply for being a foreigner, especially if you travel off-season and in out-of-the-way places. This is not meant as an insult but shows an interest, and a friendly smile will leave the kids giggling and showing off and the adults happily trying out their few English phrases.

Outside of Muscat and Salalah, do not smile at the opposite gender, as nearly any interaction with the opposite gender can be considered flirting. The highly segregated society makes any chance people have to speak to the opposite gender to be viewed as having at least semi-sexual overtones.

It must be understood that under Omani law, an Omani can take or be taken to court for insulting another person, like calling them an insulting name (“donkey”, “dog”, “pig”, “sheep” etc.). Omanis, though “humble” are extremely sensitive to anything they perceive as criticism, whether personal, national, or anything they perceive as being directed at the Gulf. Though Saudi Arabia is usually a fair target for jokes in the Arab world (especially in the Levant), Omanis don’t take well to it. What Westerners would usually consider “ridiculous” levels of sensitivity, are fairly normal in Oman and are due largely to the fact that Omanis have grown up in an environment in which criticism and name calling is more or less outlawed.

Official tourism websites of Oman

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