Leisure and Travel calls Oman “Authentic Arabia,” and there is a lot of truth in that. Featuring four UNESCO World Heritage sites, this country is diverse, rich in history, and has an abundance of natural beauty. Do not expect another UAE, which is just a short flight away and also a fascinating country in its own right. The Sultanate of Oman watchfully maintains its conservation. You won't find any skyscrapers or even high-rises, and the government even regulates the number of visitors to preserve its heritage.
Why is Oman so popular right now?
Oman is a Gulf country on the Arabian Sea, and it used to be overlooked by tourist crowds, which were drawn almost exclusively to its more famous neighbor, the United Arab Emirates. Not anymore! The Sultanate of Oman has been gaining popularity among leisure travelers and adventure seekers alike in recent years, and it's not hard to see why. Oman has breathtaking natural beauty, year-‘round warm beaches, historical forts, cultural attractions, traditional architecture, and hospitable, open-minded people. And, of course, the fjords – let's not forget the wonderful fjords of Musandam, an amazing experience you might not expect to find south of Scandinavia.
Dubbed the “heart of Oman,” this wonderful city is a place where rich traditions and culture meet the spirit of modernity without losing their authentic historic character. One of the cleanest cities in the Arab world, Muscat has everything city life can offer – from modern and traditional shops and restaurants to mosques and museums – and it's surrounded by a variety of natural landscapes. After touring the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Royal Opera House, and Bait Al Zubair, head out of the city for a day-tour. If you're staying in Muscat, you won't have to venture too far to experience the natural beauty of the countryside, as well.
Beaches, deserts, mountains, and everything in between
Nature lovers will find breathtaking landscapes wherever they go, as every part of Oman has something amazing to offer. Just two hours from Muscat, there are the Wahiba Sands, comprised of huge, beautiful rolling dunes where you can witness the traditional lifestyle of the nomadic Bedu people. You can ride a camel and sleep in a camp under the stars.
From the desert to the mountains – Jabel Akhdar is the highest mountain in the country, and it's a perfect hiking place, with its cool high-elevation temperatures and magnificent views. If you don't want to venture too far from the capital, there is the lovely mountain Wakan Village close to Muscat. You'll need a 4 x 4 and a bit of confidence to drive, as the last 1.5 miles of your journey is off-road with deep unforgiving cliffs on the side. From the parking lot, it's only a 720-step climb to the top, a lovely walk amidst fruit trees and other beautiful plants, and you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the valley and the surrounding mountains.
Oman is a great place for a beach vacation as well, and one of its most beautiful beaches, Al Qurum, is located in the capital. It features lots of upscale hotels, restaurants, cafes, and shopping centers. For more privacy and seclusion, go to Al Sifa beach, with its golden sand dunes and crystal-clear water. The winding mountain road from Muscat is pretty fantastic, and the drive itself is highly scenic.
What to visit in Oman:
Jebel Shams (the Omani Grand Canyon)
This 1,000-yard-deep drop is dubbed the Omani Grand Canyon for a good reason – it's the second deepest canyon on Earth, and just like Arizona's Grand Canyon, it is comprised of layers of colorful rock. When visiting the canyon, you can also explore old mountain villages such as Misfah, Wadi Ghul, and a historic 13th-century village, Misfat Al Brein.
Nizwa was Oman's capital in the 6th and 7th centuries. Today, it's a modern city with preserved traditional architecture and a restored fort and old cylindrical tower. Several tour companies combine a tour to the Omani Grand Canyon with a trip to Nizwa.
Bahla and Bahla Fort
The ruins of this huge and impressive fort in the Bahla Oasis, built by the Banu Nebhan people between the 12th and 15th centuries, are now a UNESCO World Heritage site. They are a great example of the ingenuity of early water engineering and a remarkable fortified settlement. Bahla is located fairly close to Nizwa, and some tour companies offer day trips from Muscat covering all three sites: Bahla, Nizwa, and Jebel Shams, although you might find yourself in a bit of a rush.
The green and colorful city of Salalah – with its banana, papaya, and coconut plantations, mountains, waterfalls, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the country – is located on the southern coast of Oman, where well-off Muscat denizens like to go in July and August. Although you will enjoy Salalah in any season, this is the time when the region around Salalah turns into a green oasis. And then there is Khareef, one of the most important of Oman's festivals, celebrating Salalah's monsoon season.
Musandam Fjords (if Norway or Iceland are too cold for you)
You can take a 2-3 hour tour on a traditional boat called a dhow from the coastal city of Khasab to experience the unmatched beauty of these rock formations. The best time to go is early morning, when you have a chance to watch dolphins play in the water, or late afternoon, when the sunset makes the rocks look even more magical. Many tours include lunch and snorkeling equipment.
How to travel to Oman and within the country
While the nation's flag carrier, Oman Air, doesn't fly to the U.S. or anywhere in North America, getting to Muscat is a breeze on many international airlines like British Airways, Turkish, Etihad, Emirates, Qatar, and others. As to domestic air travel, there are four airports in the country apart from Muscat: Khasab, Duqm, Salalah, and Sohar. But if you have the time, consider exploring the country's numerous sights and attractions in a car. And while you're at it, consider an AWD vehicle, so you won't have to shy away from mountains, deserts, or unspoiled beaches, as off-road exploration is the key to unlocking many a door to Oman's natural wonders.
All content provided in this blog is supplied by Andy Shuman and is for informational purposes only. Barclaycard makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog. Refer to the International Travel Advisories and excersise normal precausions prior to booking travel
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