It’s not all camel rides through the desert in the sandy vista of Oman, although they are possible! The vast expanse of land is mythical in itself, shadowed by mountains, and exotic architecture, captivating locals and ghost towns, it is easy to get carried away by an Arabic adventure.
I visited Oman when the country was still in its forty days of mourning- the much loved Sultan Qaboos bin Said had passed away, and the country was sombre. However, it didn’t affect the stunning scenery, and vistas which dominate the southeastern coast of Western Asia.
The capital city of Muscat offers a mixture of sandy deserts, patch-worked by cloud-capped mountains. The piercing blue sky and soup-warm sea allows visitors an option of trekking through deserts at dawn and spotting dolphins at sundown.
The weather in Oman is generally vacation-friendly. Sunny in the day, and cooler when the sun goes down; the only rain is the occasional flash flood, which consumes the wadis and creates waterfalls down the mountains. This short-lived, and out of character commentary from Mother Nature keeps the greenery fresh and the vegetables growing, although I’m not sure what the local camels think of it!
Arriving in this fairytale country is like jetting into a Disney movie. The local men predominately wear white Alladin-like twin sets, while the women wear all black. It is the head coverings which differentiate which part of the country they come from, but the country is an open state with many religions living harmoniously.
The sound of the call to prayer echoes across the land and adds to the sense of mystique as you journey across Oman in a four wheeled drive, and it may take a moment to adjust to the fact of how different this Middle Eastern country is to its neighbours. Instead of high rise malls and theme parks, Oman is much more understated- consisting of streamlined properties and an abundance of proud minarets, which are the beacon of the city’s 120 mosques.
Situated on a cove surrounded by volcanic mountains- the capital city, Muscat is connected by a well-maintained road, which joins the west and the south. The world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert extends across the Arabian Peninsula to the west encompassing neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates; while Rub’ Al Khali (the ‘Empty Quarter’) is an estimated 583,000 square-kilometres of uninhabited dunes and is a hotspot for thrill seekers.
Locals zip about in weather-beaten 4x4s which are needed to traverse the wadis and winding hill ascents. These cars are also used for the popular dune bashing past-time, where the adventurous try to summit the sandy peaks.
A foolish hobby? But one which has many fans, and gives a mind-bending adrenaline rush. Motorbikes are pretty unheard of, but I was informed by my local guide, there was a group of “Omani Angels” (my words, not his) who cruise the mountains and seek fast thrills when the weather is good.
Hikers flock to Hajar Mountains, near Nizwa- a 90-minute drive southwest of Muscat takes in glassy-fresh air and views for miles. Further afield, is Jebel Shams, Oman’s tallest mountain. However, the Green Mountain in Jebel Akhdar is most accessible; located 2,000 meters above sea level, it has abundant rainfall and seasonal produce includes apricots, peaches, grapes, and roses, which are used for sweets and perfume.
Stay in the boutique luxury accommodation at Sahab Resort and Spa, which offers a perfect base for exploring the surrounding landscape. Guests can choose from an array of treks and hikes taking in lush wadis, hidden waterfalls, ancient villages, natural canyons and breathtaking views- depending on fitness levels. Reward yourself at sunset, and wind down with a cocktail on the hotel’s terrace, or your private patio- or book in for a range of enticing spa treatments.
Descending from the mountains, the well maintained (albeit very steep) highway will take you through the Wadi Al Abyad, to the base of the spectacular Dunes by Al Nahda resort. A unique hotel experience that consists of fifty luxurious bedouin tents spread over 17 acres, you are really camping under the stars. However, these are less glamping, more luxe apartments, as these sturdy constructions come complete with a king size bed, running water, sunken bath, electricity, TV, WIFI and traditional Omani art.
Built as a boutique camp, these spacious tipis are situated at the top of the majestic dunes. Not only offering an imaginative, and incredibly romantic location, there are uninterrupted views of the incredible surroundings from the bar and infinity pool. With a distinctive open air spa, guests can enjoy specialist treatments to the sound of the call to prayer; or if you are more adventurous, hire out a quad bike or sand board and join the locals in their attempt to conquer the dunes.
You might not want to leave this slice of paradise, as you will be waited on head to toe- the menu is extensive, and there is a vast selection of Omani, Western and Indian options, which the Chef will tweak for your preference. And meat eaters should definitely sample the local speciality- Shuwa, which is marinated in Omani spices, then wrapped in palm leaves and cooked in an underground sand oven for almost a day. However, vegetables are widely available and anyone with intolerances need not fear!
The hotel is also the ideal location to get into the city, and a City Tour with Al Fawaz Tours, will give you an insider's guide to the capital. A two hour drive to the metropolis, will take you to the heart of Muscat, and the Old Town, and a morning excursion will give you ample time to visit the largest city mosque.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is set in delightfully manicured grounds and is open to visitors, but women need to be suitably covered from head to toe. Upon entering, you will be bowled over by the ginormous, breathtaking Swarovski crystal, chandelier, which weighs around eight tons and beautifully detailed carpet that covers the 70×60 metres of the main prayer hall. This peaceful setting is a representation of the architecture that sums up the Islamic religion. Follow this with a visit to the impeccably presented Al Alam Palace, which is near the harbour, and is surrounded by an impressive driveway and lots of palm trees. These grandiose, royal court buildings are not open to the public, but are a nod to the relevance of the Omani royalty, and sum up the value of the Sultan.
Finish up your tour at the Muttrah Souk, where bargain-hunters will not be disappointed. If you are shopping for perfume, slippers, oils, spices, nuts, dates, or textiles, you will be spoilt for choice- just so long as you can get over the strong scent of frankincense.
Locals and tourists alike are welcome to have an amicable haggle, and even though some stalls don’t take cards, they will lead you down an alley to a shop that does. is a labyrinth of ceramics, jewellery and camel-themed souvenirs, and the best buys are butter-soft llama wool pashminas, leather and brash gold jewellery.
Whatever your preconceptions of the Middle East are, a visit to Oman will add a totally different dimension to them. Head on over if you’re a hiker, history lover, sun-worshipper, water baby, foodie or culture vulture. Even better, switch up your accommodation and you can tick off all these boxes in one trip.
Southall Travel (0208 705 0147 / www.southalltravel.co.uk ) offers 5 nights at Dunes by Al Nahda on a half board basis from £1,555 per person (two sharing) including private return transfers from Muscat airport and return economy international flights with Oman Air.
Southall Travel (0208 705 0147/ www.southalltravel.co.uk ) offers 4 nights at Sahab Resort & Spa, Jabal Akhdar on Breakfast and 3 nights at Dunes by Al Nahda, Barka on half board basis from £1699 per person (twin sharing) including all private airport transfers and return economy international flights with Oman Air.
Southall Travel (0208 705 0147/ www.southalltravel.co.uk ) offers 5 nights at Sahab Resort & Spa on a breakfast basis from £1,165 per person (two sharing) including private return transfers from Muscat airport and return economy international flights with Oman Air.
City Tour - Al Fawaz Tours www.alfawaztours.com
For further information on things to do in Muscat and beyond, please visit www.experienceoman.com