Is it worth going to Oman?
Imagine a country steeped in the ubiquitous smell of incense, whose history is over 3,000 years old, where you come across fortified forts every now and again defending their crews with thick walls. A country where you can bathe in the crystal-clear ocean waters to look at the same ocean from an almost 2,000-meter high cliff just one hour later, where one day, up to the horizon, the sand dunes of the endless desert stretch, and the day later you are surrounded by majestic mountain peaks. This is a place where you can stand a meter from a huge sea turtle laying eggs on the beach, or redefine the concept of infinity and emptiness in the Bar al Hikman salt pan. A country where at sunrise a herd of pink flamingos greet you or annoy lazy camels that block your way.
With my two brothers, our wives and kids — twelve people in total, we decided on spending a holiday in, I think, one of the still underestimated traveling destinations — Oman. Winter break is a perfect time to have proper rest and catch some sun in exotic countries at a reasonable price. Almost three weeks on the Arabian Peninsula have passed very quickly. Recalling the adventures we had and showing the photos from the trip to Oman to our friends, I faced a question — ‘Is it worth going to Oman?’. So I started to wonder if it was really worth going there. Read more, to get familiar with our experiences during that trip and find out the answer to this question by yourself.
People in Oman
Really cool people, these Omani. Mostly friendly and smiling. After some time we got used to the fact that twelve tourists, coming out of a huge van with backpacks, aroused interest. Mostly we could hear something like: ‘Do you need help?’, ‘Maybe you need a travel guide somewhere? No? OK.’, or ‘Welcome to Oman!’. It was enough to stop for a moment, smile, show some interest and find someone willing to talk or at least say hello. There was only one ‘misunderstood’. At the very beginning, we had that argument with a taxi driver who could not understand that we actually wanted to rent a van, instead of using his and his friends’ service. But yeah, you know that taxi drivers are a special group of people. Not only in Oman. On the other hand, however, we had one of the nicest meetings in Oman with a group of Jordanians, who became our good friends and we still stay in contact. The Omani, especially those at the cash register, often looked haughty, and they were very far from the openness we experienced in other Middle East countries, Iran being here the best example. Although, I am sure that if any of us spoken Arabic, we could have expected a more warm welcome. Summing up, most of the people were kind and helpful, so it is worth to go to Oman for the sake of meeting locals and knowing more about their culture and every-day routine. Who knows, maybe you can even make some friends there as we did.
The larger ones, such as Salalah or Muscat, stretch for miles, the smaller ones usually have several houses, a mosque, and some restaurants. Muscat continued to amaze me with its’ purity, if it is about architectural aesthetics, from traditional types of mosques and residential buildings to modern architecture monuments. I definitely could live in Salalah, if you asked me. However, maybe when I retire. Not much to do, other than relaxing. I honestly felt sorry for leaving this paradise-like oasis city. However, I still think that most of the cities and towns in Oman that we saw, were not so special as the abovementioned two. Built without an idea and without a separate center. So, If you expect the magic of small-old towns or colorful villages you may be severely disappointed. The only such place is old Muscat, especially by the fort, which actually looks like on a postcard. Speaking of forts, we met a bunch of them on our way throughout the country. So, despite there are not many of them, at least a couple of towns are worth seeing and you should visit Oman for its’ cities as well.
Landscapes and nature
But you don’t travel all this way to Oman for cities, right? Just for landscapes, nature and space — yes.
We saw eagles. Two up close — they were walking a few meters from us (an amazing experience!), and countless numbers of them in the air. Dozens of bird species can be found in the Wadi Valleys.
And you don’t even have to travel too far. On the edge of Salalah there is a pond on the beach, a great place is also Wadi Darbat or around Khor Ruri. Dolphins can also be admired in the waters of the Arabian Sea. Sometimes even far from the beach, you could see the madness of these unusual mammals — we saw it, although at first we quickly (very quickly) evacuated from the water thinking that they were sharks. Watching sea turtles laying their eggs on Ras al Jinz beach was also an interesting experience. Now add to it a caravan of camels in Wadi Darbat and peeping on flamingos in Bar al Hikman.
Landscapes were like taken straight from ‘One Thousand and One Nights’! Stone burial mounds in Al Ayn — older than the pyramids in Giza. Sharqiya Desert, and its’ sand dunes. An endless Salt Bar of Al Hikman. White, hard to reach Bantawt dunes and Empty Quarter dunes — the world’s largest sandy desert. An incense plantation in the southern Dhofar region. Stately fortresses in Bahla, Nizwa, Jabrin, Rustaq, Nakhal. Overnight at the top of the Grand Canyon of Arabia (one of the most amazing nights in my life!). Mountain villages: Bilad Sayt, Misfah Al Abriyeen, Ghul, Al Hamra. Camping on the ideal beaches of Al Fazayah and Mughsayl. Baobabs in Wadi Hinna. Plus the road North of Mirbat is carved out of the rock and every turn, over several dozen kilometers (I don’t know exactly how many because instead of counting I was busy admiring) reveals ever new and more beautiful views.
Food in Oman
Typical Arabic cuisine — and here we were in a true heaven. Full sets of vitamins and proteins in: hummus, moutabal, fresh fruit juices, as well as delicious cocktails with ice cream, fruit and nuts. Everything fresh and cheap. On each corner you could find a small bakery that served local pastries and fried snacks. Donuts with white cheese, falafel, samosas, potatoes or eggs baked in dough … Everything delicious and cheaper than in markets. In coffee shops, you could take a break for a cup of coffee (only 0,25 $) or fresh fruit juice and a sandwich. Unsophisticated dinner dishes are also served there, but you can stop at one of the many restaurants for dinner, too. Depending on the city, the restaurant in Oman may consist of a 2-burner stove, a fridge with drinks and several tables, or resemble European ones. In Salalah, there was also a restaurant serving Lebanese, Indian or Turkish cuisine. The trick itself was a small Indian eatery that we discovered in Salalah. Anyway, food is another reason why Oman is a great holiday destination.
Tourists and tourism
In my opinion, Oman is just getting ready to welcome more and more tourists. There is still a lack of infrastructure, inexpensive hotels and tourist information points. We found the first map of the region after almost two weeks and completely by accident in a small fort in Mirbat. In Salalah nobody knew about any map or any tourist information — maybe we tried too little and searched too short? It is good, however, that we took our own map and a traveling guide book. Tourists who come to Oman stop and usually limit themselves to Muscat and the surrounding area. I have the impression that many of those arriving by cruisers are not quite aware of where they are — but this is a topic for a separate story. We were alone in Salalah. That means alone in the city center and on the beaches. Few people sneaked along the beach near the Crown Plaza and crowded into one of the shopping malls. Huge one by the way. With cinemas, a hotel, and the Carrefour market. According to the opinion of Ibrahim, a local we befriended on the beach, they (locals) do not go beyond their ghettos… it made me feel pretty sad.
From our perspective, it was yet another advantage of spending a holiday in Oman. No crowds, no yells, no stress, just relax. Perfect.
Those looking for peace and beautiful beaches will be delighted in Oman. At least right now, before too many tourists will start to occupy them. The beaches of Salalah were empty in January so we really had an impression of renting the whole beach for ourselves only. Oman, however, is a fairly conservative country and just in case, when approaching locals, women should put on a shirt and cover their legs.
Throughout the whole stay, we have not felt any danger. Oman is an extremely safe and friendly country in which nothing bad should happen to tourists. Be careful only when dealing with taxi drivers who, like everywhere in the world, may try to rip you off or be too pushy (maybe only in the vicinity of large cities like Muscat). That’s why I suggest you rent a car or a minivan — in case of a larger group, like ours. There’s a passenger car/ VAN rental (7-9-12 passenger) on Muscat Airport. Anyway, we only have read about an attack on tourists on one of the beaches in the capital city. Still, another one in favor of visiting Oman.
So, is it worth going to Oman?
Is it worth to go to Oman? Totally! Just because local people are not as nice as in Iran and most cities do not impress, it does not mean that Oman is not worth visiting. Breathtaking landscapes and unique nature are worth coming here and witness it with your own eyes. Personally, Oman knocked me down on my knees a few times, and I am glad that I could visit this exotic country right now. Just before all of the luxury hotels are finished on the site of a demolished estate in Salalah, and wild and beautiful beaches will be filled with tourists. All those who are looking for peace, beautiful beaches, secluded places, landscapes and those who like to commune with nature should also feel satisfied in Oman.
Oman is definitely more than the only country starting with the letter ‘O’!