Visiting Oman has been on my travel bucket list for longer than I like to think about. This was a third time lucky situation when getting a Muscat layover on my cabin crew roster. They say good things come to those who wait, and they certainly weren’t wrong. Oman is a magical place and one of the most underrated countries I have ever visited. It unfairly gets forgotten with its glitzier neighbours Dubai and Abu Dhabi taking centre stage. Yet it has so much more to offer – its rugged landscape, beautiful emerald waters, abundant marine life, empty idyllic beaches and not to mention its kind people, peaceful culture and stunning architecture. h
We spent five nights in Oman which is probably the perfect amount of time to get a taste for the country. After making a shortlist of our must dos we promptly set out to tick them off.
Muscat is a magical and whimsical city. It has an air of calm and peace. The first must do in the capital is visit the beautiful Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
Visiting hours for tourists are Sunday to Thursday, mornings only. Remember to wear culturally respectful clothing and full dress can be hired or bought at the entrance. We wandered around appreciating the beautiful architecture and dipped into the magnificent prayer room, which for years was home to the world’s largest carpet until 2007 when the opening of the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi took the ruling title. A mosque volunteer effectively gave us a beginners guide to Islam and was more than happy to answer our questions with a profound amount of knowledge. Talking to a guide was something we hadn’t anticipated doing, however it made the experience so informative and valuable.
Muscat isn’t cheap. The city is expensive and dining in hotels will set you back a pretty penny. Venture out of the hotel complexes to save money and also for a taste of more local cuisine. Muscat is filled with great restaurants serving Omani cuisine and also an abundance of Turkish restaurants. Bait al Luban located at the Corniche serves typical Omani food. If you dine on the terrace you get a wonderful view of the Corniche, and if you time it right you’ll get a brilliant sunset. For a special setting visit Kargeen. It’s elegant ambiance with lanterns hanging from every art of the ceiling, the scent of oud filling your senses and the outdoor dining makes this place really special. The food is good, albeit a little on the pricier side but it’s definitely a restaurant worth visiting during your time in Muscat.
If you want to try a cuisine aside from local Omani flavours. Opt for Turkish House. Serving huge platters of mezze, fresh seafood and grilled meats all at a very reasonable price. Due to its location, the restaurant is cheaper than those at the more touristy area of the Corniche.
Oman is a country that should be explored. One of the most spectacular landmarks is the Wadi Shab canyon. Trek through stunning gorges and ending up at a sparkling aqua river. This little oasis is worth the sweaty hike. Make sure you go the whole length of the trail and swim the final stretch of the canyon.
Hire a car and set off on the 2 hour drive out of Muscat. Plenty of guides offer an excursion however it’s much cheaper to hire a car with SatNav and set off on a road trip. The roads in Oman are new, easy to navigate and reliable. It also means you have no time restrictions on exploring the canyon and what time of day you arrive. Wadi Shab canyon costs 1 Omani rial to get the short boat journey from the carpark to the start of the canyon trail. Leave your valuables locked up in the car and only take items that you would be willing to leave unattended at the river bank. We didn’t take anything but bottles of water and a GoPro. Wearing swimming shoes also makes the experience a lot easier, unless you can bear the pain of walking over little pebbles between each rock pool.
On the way back to Muscat stop off at Bimmah Sinkhole. This spectacular landmark is tucked away a 20 minute drive north of the Wadi Shab. We arrived at dusk and it was pretty much empty.
If you have the time (and budget) a visit to the Dimaniyat Islands should not go a miss. The islands are home to some of the world’s most impressive coral and an abundance of marine life. Snorkelling day trips to the islands are popular however we opted for an overnight camping trip.
You can check out my full write up of this experience here.
After a day of snorkelling at three different spots we arrived at a tiny desert island for the night. No electricity or signal meant this remote little getaway allowed us to completely switch off from the rest of the world. Sunset followed by a bbq of fresh tuna, lamb and salads on the beach was the perfect end to a busy day exploring the oceans. The following morning is spent snorkelling at two different locations before returning to the mainland. It’s an expensive 24 hour excursion (£180 per person) but for the amount of snorkelling and exploration you get it is absolutely worth every penny. You can also just do the morning snorkel session which is £50 from 8am to 1pm.
We booked the camping trip with Daymaniat Shells (email Lea at email@example.com) The boat departs from the Al Mouj Marina at 1pm and returns 24 hours later.
Five days exploring Oman and I’ve come away with a list longer than I started. Seeing the desert dunes, forts and idyllic beaches mean I need another trip back to what quickly became one of my favourite countries in the whole world.
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