When I told my family and friends I was going to Oman, the first question I would be asked was “Why Oman of all places?” followed by a brief pause, some skepticism, and a “That’s not such a safe place for a girl to be travelling to.” I am sure a lot of you reading this right now are probably having the same thoughts. I don’t blame you! However, allow me to indulge you, if just a little.
As an avid traveler, I keep up with numerous travel bloggers. Oman has been receiving an overwhelming amount of attention in the last year, and I just needed to see it for myself. After a flight booking and a little bit of research, and I was ready to go on my exotic Middle Eastern adventure.
When I arrived at Muscat International Airport, I immediately went into panic mode. The airport was somber and rundown, aching for a renovation. I started seriously consider the question, “Why Oman of all places?” As I looked around, it dawned on me that that there is no technology in sight. No computers or display screens, just some old T.V. sets right out of the 1900s. I thanked my lucky stars for having landed safely, brushed off my doubts, and headed over to the Rent-A-Car counter to retrieve my 4-wheel drive.
Tip #1: It is essential to have a car in Oman to get around, and better yet, a 4-wheel drive.
Oman is a huge country with a lot of land to spare, and public transportation between cities and villages are scarce to non-existent. With a 4WD you have the opportunity to off-road on beaten down paths, drive up rocky mountains, and cruise through the desert; luxuries not available with a regular car. So don’t think twice, and spend the additional few bucks. It’s worth it! Once I got my 4WD, I headed straight to my first destination, Nizwa, 180km outside of Muscat. The drive was an immense struggle. There were barely any road signs, the roads itself were rather confusing, and needless to say, I got lost a few times. I had to leverage my sense of direction, coupled with a bit of instinct and luck. It made me rethink my decision on why I chose to purchase a giant map instead of ensuring my 4WD was equipped with a navigation system. I made it safely to Nizwa though, and felt quite accomplished.
Tip #2: Make sure your car rental comes with a navigation system, unless you love road rage. Then by all means, get a map.
I stayed at the Golden Tulip, a beautiful hotel, with a panoramic view of the Al Hajar Mountains. In Nizwa itself, there is not much to see except for the Nizwa Fort and the Souk. A Souk is an open-air marketplace, where you can find all kinds of things, from meat and vegetables to beautiful artifacts and collectibles. This is where the heart of the city lies, where all the hustle and bustle happens, especially on Fridays, as it’s the first weekend day in Oman.
Tip #3: Visit a souk on Friday or Saturday, as these days are the Omani weekends. Sunday is the first working day of the week.
“People watching” is considered a pass time in Oman, so I decided to partake in this activity and do a bit of people watching of my own while at the Souk. I noticed the way men greet each other. There is a lot of physical contact during these greetings; a hearty hug and a kiss on the cheek. It was a refreshing sight.
My second day in Nizwa was a bit more adventurous. I organized a road-trip to Misfat al Abreyeen and Jabel Shams, about a 50km drive from Nizwa. Misfat al Abreyeen is a sight for sore eyes, especially after having driven through flat and dry landscapes. The view looking down into the depths of a palm-laden gorge is breathtaking. For a moment, I felt that I was teleported out of the Middle East and right into a Caribbean plantation.
Tip #4: Misfat al Abreyeen is a must-see mud village, situated high up on the edge of the Al Hajar Mountains.
To top it off, the labyrinthine walkways through the village make it a beautiful hiking trail. If I had more time, I would definitely spend an entire day hiking through these magical trails, and perhaps even setup camp here for a night.
My next stop was Jabel Shams, in other words, Mountain of the Sun. Do not let the name fool you, as it is anything but warm up in these mountains. The temperatures may easily drop to 15 degrees, even on the hottest of days, which I was not prepared for at all. Oops! At 3000 meters, Jabel Shams is highest point of the Hajar mountain range, providing an exquisite view of the canyon.
Tip #5: Take some warm clothes with you if you plan to go to up the Al Hajar Mountains, and especially if you plan to visit Jabel Shams.
The next day I drove to the desert, Wahabi Sands, about 180km from Nizwa. I’ve never been to a desert before at this point, so being overly excited I decided to splurge on a luxury camping experience. Desert Night Camps is worth every penny. The quality of service, food, and spacious Moroccan style tents are undeniably top-notch. This is a great location for romantic honeymooners. Unfortunately for me, I was not on my honeymoon.
Tip #6: Desert Night Camps is the ultimate choice for a luxury camping experience.
Desert Night Camps offers an array of desert adventures including dune bashing, sand boarding, and camel rides amongst others. I opted for the camel ride during sunset, and my own makeshift activity, dune jumping. Dune jumping consists of climbing up the sand dunes, finding the right dune, angling your jump with the wind, and jumping off the dune. The winds will carry you the extra 1 to 2 meters along your jump. Simple, free, and tons of fun! As for the camel ride, if you have ever ridden a mechanical bull, then you have received the perfect practice to survive this ride. Aside from it being a bumpy ride, the camels get hungry and keep bending over to eat plants, or get lazy and decide to sit down for a casual rest; so hold on tight.
Unfortunately I could only afford one night at the desert. I packed my bags and was off again. I took the road less traveled back to Muscat. Instead of driving 210km inland, I chose to take the coastal road, a 315km journey. I made stops at Sur, Wadi Shab, Wadi Tiwi, Bimmah Sinkhole, and Quriyat.
Tip #7: Take a day-trip along the coast through Sur Road and visit the Wadis and Bimmah Sinkhole.
A Wadi is a valley or channel that is dry, except during rainy season. However, in Oman, the wadis do not completely dry out, leaving lush greenery and water streams stranded in the dried up valleys. The contrasts are exceptionally scenic, and make for some serene hiking trail. At Wadi Shab, I drove up the mountains to get a beautiful view of the ravine and explore another cozy village at the hill-tops. At Wadi Tiwi, I crossed over the channel in a small rowboat, which took me straight to some hiking trails in the deep end of the gorge. Each twist and turn provided a unique and picturesque landscape.
Tip #8: Arrive early at Wadi Tiwi and complete the hiking trail. I hear there is a fresh water cave you can dive into at the end of the trail!
The hike can take up to 3 hours round-trip. I only managed a partial hike, since I ran out of time and had to rush back, at the risk of the last rowboat departing without me. After the hike, I went to the Bimmah Sinkhole, a man-made water enclosure, about 500 meters deep into the earth. I went for a dip in the crystal clear water at the pit of the sinkhole. I might have gone into temporary paralysis as the water was freezing. After an exhausting 10-hour journey, I finally arrived at Muscat and was happy to call it a night.
The following day, I took a domestic flight from Muscat to the Musandam Peninsula, also known as the “Norway of Arabia”. Indeed, the name did not disappoint. Khasab, a city in the Musandam Peninsula, has one of the most spectacular views of the fjords I’ve ever witnessed.
Tip #9: Visit the Musandam Peninsula, also known as “Norway of Arabia”.
Upon arrival at the Khasab Airport, I hopped on the infamous Dhow Cruise. These full-day cruises incorporate snorkeling, observing the way of life of the Omani fishermen, sailing along the fjords, and wild-dolphin watching. I was thrilled for the dolphin watching, but I only expected to see one or two dolphins at best. To my pleasant surprise, I witnessed schools of dolphins jumping synchronously for several minutes. That alone makes the Dhow Cruise completely worth it.
Tip #10: Embark on a full-day Dhow Cruise, and make sure wild dolphin watching is on the agenda.
I arrived at my campgrounds by evening time. We were a small group of 11 people. The campsite was situated in the middle of the mountains, with the mouth of the mountain opening up to a secluded 200m long beach. The winds at night time felt like a mild hurricane. I was in the middle of the ferocious fjords after all. There is not much to see in the small town of Khasab itself, but the drive along the coastal road is sensational.
Due to some adventurous misadventures, my trip back to Muscat was delayed, and I never got a chance to explore the city. However, I hear, the Grand Mosque, fish market, and souks are crowd favourites.
As I was sitting on the flight back home, I knew I had been part of something life changing. To have witnessed mountains, canyons, deserts, river banks, caves, coasts, fjords, and beaches within the span of 8 days is incredible. An enriching and down-to-earth culture, Oman took me back to a time of simplicity, and stole a piece of my heart in the process.