8 reasons why you should be planning a trip to Oman
Pristine beaches, ever-shifting sandy dunes, breathtakingly beautiful 'wadis', fjords and craggy mountains make Oman an outdoorsy paradise. But visit also Muscat's historic quarters, or the country's many forts, and taste the rich food, and you will return home with 1001 stories to tell.
1. Wild camping
With beautiful beaches, mesmerising 'wadis' and majestic mountains, Oman is an outdoor-lovers paradise. And the best part? You can pitch your tent almost everywhere,as wild camping is legal in Oman.
If you want to fall asleep listening to the waves, camp by the Salalah Mughsail, a white sand beach flanked by mountains on both ends. Or sleep under the stars in one of Oman's many 'wadis', or valleys, – just make sure there's no rain for the night, as the valleys can fill with water very quickly.
2. Amazing off-road driving
Apart from camping, Oman's landscape is perfect for off-road driving. There are plenty of tour operators offering rides across the sandy dunes or mountain ranges, or, if you are an experienced driver, there is the option for testing your skills on various types of terrain. A three-hour drive from Muscat lies the Wahiba sands: an ocean of dunes that stretch beyond the horizon. Wahiba's dunes are constantly moving, making permanent roads impossible. Instead, you'll find just a few tracks created by visitors and a few Bedouin tribes. Watch the sand changing its colour from pale golden to deep red and orange as the sun starts to set by camping along the dunes, or have an adrenaline-packed day dune bashing on a 4x4 with a local driver.
3. Pristine beaches
Oman has about 3000 kilometres of coastline, washed by the Arabian Sea. As the temperature of the water never drops below 24°C, you can swim all year round. The east coast is known for wild beaches, and you can also find pristine natural pools with crystal-clear water at the bottom of valleys and canyons. Some of these pools are accessible by car, others need a bit of hiking.
If you are after a romantic spot to watch the sunset, head to Yiti Beach's soft sands, an hour's drive away from Muscat. Or drive to the secluded Tiwi Beach in the eastern nooks of Oman. The bay is sheltered by sea-worn rocks and there are no changing facilities or restaurants lining the shore. One of the most pristine beaches in Oman is favoured not only by humans, but also turtles: arrive after 8:30 pm and you can share the sands of Turtle Beach, or Ras al Hadd, with turtles making their way towards the sea.
Rising on the shores of Gulf of Oman, and surrounded by mountains and desert, Muscat is Oman's capital city. Here, you can still see the traditional dhow boats bobbing in the harbour and you can still witness the old Muscat in its Old Town and souk with stalls selling everything from scents to spice. Visit also the Grand Sultan Qaboos Mosque, the only mosque in the Middle East allowing entry to non-Muslims, or take a look into the Bait Al Zubair and Bait Al Baranda Museums, where you can immerse in the history and the traditions of the region that gave the world the magical tales of 1001 Nights.
5. The food
As the oldest of Arab states, Oman's culinary history is long and layered. Hospitality is a big part of Omani culture so you will encounter plenty of kahwa, that is coffee, and dates in various forms on your visit. Coffee in Oman is not just a regular cup of joe, but can include cardamom and rose water. In fact, a lot of Oman's food is characterised by rich flavours. For example, the national dish shuwa, typically served on special occasions, is prepared by slathering meat with a mixture of oil and spices such as hot chillies, cloves and cardamom. Shuwa is cooked and smoked in an underground pit over hot embers for at least 24 hours so for a quick snack, try the popular street food Mishkak, a grilled skewer of beef, chicken, or mutton. And don't forget to try Oman's national dessert, halwa, made with almonds and farina, caramelized sugar, rose water, saffron, butter and cardamom.
6. The fjords
In the northern tip of Oman peninsula lie the fjords of Musandam, or, the 'Norway of Arabia'. The fjords are one of the Persian Gulf's great wildernesses and they can be experienced in many ways. Take a road trip and discover the majestic fjords from land, or hop on to one of the traditional Omani boats, a dhow, or a kayak and experience the landscape from the sea, often accompanied by dolphins. You can also combine a boat and swimming trip – the temperature never drops below 23 °C here, so don't be alarmed by the region's Arctic nickname!
7. The mountains
Oman is not only wild beaches and desert dunes as the country's heartland in the north is dominated by a mountain range. Here, cliff-top villages, date plantations and barren, craggy peaks create a unique landscape of the Hajar Mountains.
But you don't only need to admire the mountains from afar, as the mountains have a network of marked trails which make hiking easy. But even as the routes are well-maintained, and there are plenty of other hikers along the way especially on weekends, these mountain paths require some experience. In Haja Mountains, trek to Oman's highest summit, the Jebel Shams (9872ft or 3009 m), with views of Wadi an Nakhur, the country's deepest canyon.
8. Historic forts and castles
It's not all natural wonders in Oman as, according to some figures, the country hails over 500 castles, forts and other fortifications. In Muscat's old port area, two forts, Jalali and Mirani, guard the entrance to Muscat and serve as sentinels to the Sultan's palace. The forts were built by the Portuguese in the 1580s and they are still used by the police and the military, and are not open to visitors. Located in northern Oman, Ar Rustaq is one of the most historic places in the country, with legends dating the city's origins back to the times when the Shahanshahs of the Persian Empire ruled the lands. Ar Rustaq's fort and its four towers date back to the 17th century. 15 minutes away from Ar Rustaq, Al Hazm Castle is an impressive stronghold with canon galleries, historic gates, and dungeons.