Oman is a wonderful combination of ageless heritage and modern Muslim life. A large part of the Sultanate’s unique charm is the hospitality of the Omani people, who follow the Islamic faith. It is common for visitors to be invited for Omani coffee and dates by locals when travelling through the country, an offer that you simply could not refuse.
Muslim Friendly Oman
Thanks to its strategic position at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate has always played a major role in trade including the ancient Silk Road and Spice Routes where Oman served as a gateway for ships traversing the Strait of Hormuz, Indian Ocean or the Arabian Sea. Before the coming of Islam, Oman was dominated by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians, each of whom sought to use Oman’s strategic location to trade with the world.
Signiﬁcant modernization did not begin until after the coup in 1970 that brought Qaboos bin Said to power, at which point Oman rapidly began to develop an advanced economy. The once insular country now actively encourages tourism, and travelers come from afar to enjoy its hospitality and unspoiled landscapes.
The late Qaboos bin Said, the Sultan of Oman is highly respected and holds a place in the hearts of the population. Qaboos, a member of Oman’s Al Bu Said dynasty, was educated at Bury Saint Edmunds, Suffolk, England, and at Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy, in Berkshire. He was called home in 1965 by his father, Said bin Taimur, who kept his son a virtual prisoner for six years while maintaining his subjects in a state of relative underdevelopment despite the country’s growing oil revenues.
One of the most outstanding geological features of the country is the Al Hajar Mountain range, which forms an arc from the north-west to the south-east of the country. Jebel Shams, at just over 3000 metres high, is Oman’s highest mountain and truly a geological outdoor museum with fossils embedded in rocks hundreds of metres above sea level.
Oman’s culture is deeply rooted in heritage and history of seafaring, trading and exploration. Today, long-standing traditions blend seamlessly with modern day living, with the latest fashion and electronics brands sold alongside traditional hand-made crafts, jewellery, and even goats and cattle at souqs around the country.
Despite Oman’s relatively rapid transformation to a modern society, traditional Omani culture is embedded in nearly every aspect of daily life, from clothing and food, arts and crafts, to the way Omanis welcome visitors. The uniquely Omani culture and heritage continues today in many of the same ways it has been for hundreds of years.
When in Oman there is one attraction that stands out from the rest, which is known for its grand stature and mystiﬁed history, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
The mosque used to have the world’s largest carpet and chandelier, but the title was short-lived. Bigger versions were made in mosques in Qatar and Abu Dhabi. Regardless of titles and records, the mosque is still pretty impressive. The chandelier is located in the centre of the men’s prayer hall and measures a staggering 14 meters and weighs 8.5 tons. It holds 600,000 shining bright Swarovski crystals, 24-carat gold plating, and took more than four years to complete.
Non-Muslims are allowed to enter the mosque from 8am to 11am every day, except Fridays (Jummah). Children under 10 are not allowed in the prayer halls and females must be fully covered. The guards are quite strict about the rules. If required, female visitors can buy cloth to cover their knees and head.
The mosque was completed in 2001 and took six years to build. It covers a massive area of 416,000 square metres, and can hold up to 20,000 worshipers. The building itself is made up of 300,000 tons of sandstone. There’s a special hall for women worshippers that can hold up to 750.
Take your time to walk the halls and study the handcrafted details of the mosque. It is truly a one-of-a-kind piece of art. Thereafter, head over to the huge mosque library. Although you may not be able to read any of the books, the library holds more than 20,000 books and is an impressive sight.
Special enclosures have been created with a fountain- looking construction in the centre which is the ablution room. This is where worshipers come to perform the wudu (puriﬁcation) before prayer. It’s quite easy to spend a few hours in the mosque and the gardens that surround it.
Al Dhalam (Darkness in Arabic) Souq is the local name for the Mutrah Souq. The Mutrah Souq is perhaps one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arab world. It is located adjacent to the harbour of Muscat and has seen an immense trade in the age of sail, being strategically located on the way to India and China.
It has been named after darkness because of the crowded stalls and lanes where the sunrays do not inﬁltrate during the day and the shoppers need lamps to move around. The market was a source of supply for Omanis where they could buy their needs in the 1960s. Most of the goods were imported, in addition to local products like textiles, fruit, vegetables, and dates.
In the past, the market was built from mud and palm leaves, which well-suited the high temperatures and the hard climate conditions. Thankfully, today, the souq stands renovated to make shopping a pleasurable experience.
The main thoroughfare of the souq carries mainly household goods, shoes and ready-made garments. Further inside, there are mixed smells of frankincense, perfume oils, fresh jasmine, and spices. There are also tiny shops that sell Omani silver and shops that white dishdashas and embroidered kumahs.
Short drive from Mutrah Souq is the Al Alam Palace, the ceremonial palace of His Majesty the Sultan. The palace is located in the heart of the Old Muscat, it is surrounded by the Al Jalali and Al Mirani forts. The palace is not open to the public, but tourists can walk around the yard and gardens in front of the palace at any time.
Al Alam Palace is surrounded by Al Jalali and Mirani forts, both of which are unfortunately not open to the public. Both forts were built in the 16th century around the time of the Portuguese invasion of Muscat. You can get a closer look of both forts and get a breath-taking view of the back of the palace by driving through the Al Alam road near the Omani French Museum where you can almost literally park your car behind the palace.
Just on the outskirts of Muscat, make a stop at Amouage on the way to Nizwa, the makers of ﬁne fragrances. The factory has various ingredients, sourced from around the world, being blended into fragrances & perfumes and then bottled.
There are over 40 varieties of dates that are grown in Oman. Dates are offered, along with coffee to guests. And sure enough, you will be treated to some delicious varieties of dates. Make sure not to forget the halwa, a local sweet delicacy that is beautifully created in Oman.
It was now time to visit Nizwa Fort, a 15-minute drive from town. It is Oman’s most visited national monument. The fort was the administrative seat of authority for the presiding Imams and Walis in times of peace and conﬂict. The main bulk of the fort took about 12 years to complete and was built above an underground stream. The fort is a powerful reminder of the town’s signiﬁcance through turbulent periods in Oman’s long history. It was a formidable stronghold against raiding forces that desired Nizwa’s abundant natural wealth and its strategic location at the crossroads of vital routes.
Nizwa Fort is unique among other forts in Oman due to the cylindrical shape of its main tower which also happens to be the biggest tower in a fort in Oman. Nizwa Fort has seven wells, a number of prisons, and prosecution ground. The main tower features many defence mechanisms Omanis used in the past such as pitfalls, honey traps, and gun shooting windows. The fort also contains many exhibits and artefacts displayed in each of the rooms of the fort.
Jabrin Castle was built by Imam Sultan bin Saif Al Ya’arubi in 1670. It was a castle initially and afterwards two towers were added to it and was transformed to a fort when Imam moved his capital from Nizwa to Jabrin.
Like in Nizwa Fort, here too defence mechanisms were in place like holes for pouring boiling date oil on invaders, and holes for shooting. The fort includes many rooms for the Imam and his wives, guests and soldiers, a large date store, a stable, a Mosque and a Quran school on the rooftop, a spacious kitchen, and a beautiful courtyard. The fort also has its own water wells and an irrigation channel ﬂowing through it. The castle has rooms and ceilings decorated with ﬁne carvings and ﬁnely painted ﬂowers and symbols. After his death Imam was buried in this fort and his very modest tomb lies within the fort.
On your way from Jabrin to Jabal Akhdar, lies the Bahla Fort. The fort is believed to have been built between the 12th and 15th centuries by the Banu Nebhan tribe who inhabited the area at the time and were known for controlling the trade of frankincense at the time. As part of the complex, there is also a citadel oasis adjacent to the fort and an ancient wall spanning 13 kilometres part of which are still standing. The majority of the oasis is in ruins but the structure and some of the houses still stand. As the fort was built with bricks made of mud and straw, erosion damaged the structure until rehabilitation efforts were launched.
From Bahla, it would take you about 2 hours to reach The Anantara Jabal Akhdar, perched on the edge of the mountains that offer excellent lodging facilities, ﬁne views of the sunset, and the valley. It’s luxury redeﬁned.
The Jabal Akhdar, literally ‘The Green Mountain’, is part of Al Hajar Mountains range. This mostly limestone mountain is one of the highest points in Oman and eastern Arabia. It forms the central section of the Hajar range, which is mostly desert, but at higher altitudes receives around 300 mm of rain annually making it moist enough to allow the growth of shrubs and trees and support agriculture. It is this that gives the mountains their ‘green’ name.
The area is known for its traditional rose water extraction and agricultural products including pomegranates, walnuts, apricots, black grapes, and peaches. It is also the site of honey bee breeding for much of Oman. The area is mostly inhabited by the ancient Arab tribe Bani Riyam. Most descendants of the tribe are now in the four nearby villages, including Nizwa, Izki and Ibra.
Wadi Bani Khalid
Wadi means a stream or a river. Off the many wadis that spring out of the mountains of Oman, Wadi Bani Khalid is one of the best-known and popular in the sultanate. Its stream maintains a constant ﬂow of water throughout the year. Large pools of water and boulders are scattered along the course of the wadi. As a geographical area, the wadi covers a large swathe of lowland and the Hajar Mountains.
Located in the Ash Sharqiyah region, this beautiful valley offers great respite to locals and tourists alike; especially in summer months when the emerald green waters of the pools created amongst the boulders urge visitors to dive in.
Wadi Bani Khalid is made up of two sections. The northern part is a leisure area which has palm trees, pristine pools and rock faces for picnics and swims, while the southern part (also known as Wadi Hayer) has a rocky terrain that is perfect for trekking and bouldering. It even includes Muqil Cave which is part of a cave network in the area that opens into a small waterfall.
The Sharqiya Sands, popularly known as Wahiba Sands, is a region of desert in Oman. The region was named for the Bani Wahiba tribe. It has an area of 12,500 square kilometers.
Based on the types of dunes found in the area, it is divided into the high, or upper, Wahiba and low Wahiba. The upper area contains mega-ridge sand systems on a north-south line that are believed to have been formed by monsoon. The dunes of the north, formed at some point after the last regional glaciation, measure up to 100 meters.
Normally, all meals are included in desert camps. And at the camps, there was no exception. You’ll find a buffet spread accompanied by some local live music. No belly- dancing, just a few male singers!
Sur is the capital city of Ash Sharqiyah region, north eastern Oman, on the coast of the Gulf of Oman about 150 kms southeast of the Omani capital Muscat. Historically the city is known for being an important destination point for sailors. Today the sea still plays an important part of life in Sur.
The Muslim explorer, Ibn Battuta commented on his visit to this “roadstead of a large village on the seashore.” In the 16th century, it was under Portuguese rule but was liberated by the Omani Imam Nasir ibn Murshid and underwent an economic revival, as a trade centre with India and East Africa. This continued until the mid-19th century, when the British outlawed the slave trade. The city was further ruined by the opening of the Suez Canal, which saw it lose trade with India.
Sur is famous in the Gulf region in building wooden ships. Its historical location gives it the hand to monitor the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. Many ships have been built in this city, like the sambuk and ghanjah. They formerly went as far as China, India, Zanzibar, Iraq and many other countries. These vessels were also used in pearl ﬁshing.
Salalah, the 2nd Largest city in Sultanate of Oman, is a coastal city in Dhofar Governorate. It is a unique place in the Arabian Peninsula and know for various things to do all year round. There are many tourism places to visit and tourist attractions, and this Salalah tourist guide will provide you information about tourism in Salalah.
On the northern side, the city has a mountain range known as Dhofar Mountains or Al Qara Mountains, with greenery, springs, and waterfalls in Monsoon season, known as Khareef in Arabic. On the Southern side, Salalah has pristine white sand beaches of the Arabian Sea, which are sunny from September to June every year.
Salalah is surrounded on land by a half-circle of mountains and behind that by the classic sand desert of the vast and infamous Empty Quarter. It has served as a natural fortress for thousands of years. Along with favorable harbors, it is the Khareef, the cooling, renewing annual monsoon that has drawn rulers and merchants, to visit or settle the shores of Frankincense Land.
Even the Queen of Sheba fell under the spell of the area’s treasure far greater than gold and sent gifts of frankincense to impress Solomon! Today it is the fine sand beaches, the cultural history and archaeology, and the natural diversity that draws visitors to this ancient paradise, mainly from Europe and the Middle East.
How to get there
From the UK you can fly direct with Oman Air or British Airways. There are plenty of options flying via Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha for example to combine Oman with another country. Flight prices are reasonable if booked early starting at £390 per person. Visit www.rihaala.com to book your flights to Muscat.
Where to stay
There are so many great places to stay in Oman. We recommend you stay at least a week to get the most out of your trip and here are some of the places you can stay. You can stay in one resort or hotel, but day trips to Wadi Bani Khalid and Jabal Akhdar will be long days. So if you’re up for hotel hopping, spending one or two nights whilst touring Oman is a great way to travel.
Driving is as safe as other gulf countries, but not what’s expected in the UK. Drivers can often be found speeding on the straight highways, but the Omani traffic police are always on the look out. If you do choose to drive, be extra careful and keep to the local laws.
Nestled at the foot of a mountain range, overlooking the calm blue seas stands a breathtaking hotel that offers pure satisfaction to those looking for the ultimate holiday getaway. Shangri La Barr al Jissah situated in Oman, is a luxurious resort offering hours of fun and relaxation for the whole family. Perfect for Muslim couples and families, this spectacular hotel provides you with beautiful scenic views, top of the class facilities, amazing spa treatments and services, countless activities for kids, the very best restaurants and cuisines, and perfectly designed rooms and suites. Rates start from £75 per person per night.
Be surrounded by blissful views of dramatic mountains and the sandy beach of Zighy Bay when you stay at the Six Senses Zighy Bay Resort. It’s here that you’ll experience a taste of Oman and its many beautiful surroundings with the specially designed village-styled accommodation and private marina. Perfect for halal honeymooners, Muslim families, and groups of friends, here you’ll get to relax in stone duplexes that offer spacious villas and suites. Take a pick from the handful of villa selections, and be mesmerized with the modern furniture that perfectly blends in with the Arabic culture inspired design. The quickest way to get there is actually to fly to Dubai! Rates start from £365 per person per night.
Escape to the cool mountain climes two hours’ drive inland from Muscat. Located on the fabled Green Mountain, elevated luxury reveals dramatic canyon views at one of the world’s highest resorts. Traverse the surrounding desert in search of adventure. Unwind at our Oman resort with spa and hammam rituals. Stargaze from the viewing platform where Princess Diana once stood. Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort offers Omani splendour in the most breathtaking of natural settings. Rates start from £145 per person per night.
The Arabian Oryx Camp provides a comfortable Bedouin experience in the desert. Head out dune bashing, sand surfing or on a memorable camel ride as the sunsets. Free-standing traditional bungalow-style rooms are quite basic inside but they are clean and comfortable with en-suite bathrooms and air conditioning. While the camp doesn’t provide classic tented Bedouin-style rooms, you can enjoy all the usual desert activities, lovely food, and comfortable rooms.