Oman is one of the best kept secrets of avid travelers who are looking for hidden gems and locales that aren't at the top of every bucket list. For some reason, the small country that neighbors the often visited United Arab Emirates, is often overlooked by tourists looking to experience the Middle East culture and charm. However, if you are looking for a truly unique experience, in a safe environment with stunning scenery and the friendliest local population, Oman is the perfect escape.
Spend your days choosing between visiting the pristine beaches that look out to the Persian Gulf, or enjoying a lazy day with one of the local fisherman who are more than happy to take you for a boat ride for an all day fishing adventure. If you are tired of the beach, take a hike through the extensive hiking paths through red mountains, and visit old towns carved into mountains from hundreds of years ago. Of course, you can always head out to the desert to see the stars, or plan your trip accordingly and experience the stunning sight of a pop-up forest in the middle of the desert - a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Check out 22 reasons why you need to add Oman to your bucket list!
22 20. Experience Oman's World Famous Wadis
A 'wadi' is a term used in Arabic for valleys that are normally dry, but will be filled during the rain season. In Oman, between stunning and grand mountains and palm trees lie hundreds of wadis with turquoise and sometimes lime-green water that offer the ultimate in natural beauty. The freshwater lagoons often have accompanying waterfalls and sometimes offer unique caves to swim through. Each wadi is unique and offers a difference experience based on its location and surrounding geography. Almost all provide a refreshing relief from the heat and an entire trip can be planned around mapping out the most popular or hidden wadis across the country. You will often see local children jumping from mountain tops into the wadis- be sure to ask them their favorite spot for a less touristy experience!
21 19. The Hajar Mountains
One of the first things you will notice as you land in Oman is the beautiful landscape and the majestic mountains. As you drive through the country, the mountains change colors from red, to black to sand brown, providing breathtaking views almost everywhere you go. The Hajar Mountains begin from behind the capital of Muscat and continue towards the drive to Dubai. At its highest point at Jebel Shams, the mountains rise more than 3000 meters. If you can handle the windy roads and extreme heights, take a drive to the top of the mountains while passing old villages, sometime still occupied by communities. The view from the top looks out onto Saudi Arabia, but you can mostly see beautiful trees and desert from the top - and of course the beautiful surrounding mountains and wadis.
20 18. Luxurious Resorts
A visit to Oman is truly a vacation of choices. You can choose to keep things simple and camp out in the desert (for the more adventurous folks) or you can choose to lap in luxury and stay in breathtaking mountain top resorts, or beach side resorts that are surrounding with views of valleys and mountains around the Persian Gulf. The options for accommodations are endless. For a luxurious 5-star retreat, consider the Alila resort situated 2000 meters above sea level among the Hajar mountains. The resort offers stunning views from every room of the mountains, and if you feel like splurging you can indulge in a private villa with an infinity pool looking out to the peaks and valleys of the mountainous area. There is no better way to stargaze than from 2000 meters high in the mountains on your own private terrace. Or you can opt to stay on land at the Shangri-la Resort which offers three different hotel properties in one- one for families, one mid-range resort, and an elite property for couples. No need to worry about travelling between the three- a large lazy river connects the properties allowing for easy travel!
19 World's Best Diving
With a coastline that extends 1700 km and covers the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, Oman has become one of the best kept secrets for avid divers looking for exceptional marine life and diving experiences. Muscat, the capital of Oman, is the most easily accessible city and offers several dive sites within a day trips distance. Musandam, which is about a 4 hour drive from Muscat also offers extensive diving areas, with several private islands and unique marine species to explore. Several tour operators offer full day diving experiences, or entire 3-4 day vacations that tour the entire country for the best diving spots. Because Oman is not yet on the of many diver's vacation spots, you will often be able to explore beautiful reefs and come across marine life entirely on your own, viewing unspoiled marine life that has yet to be overrun with tourists.
18 16. Wahiba Sands
The Wahiba Sands are a diverse massive desert covering a span of 12,500 km. While it is about a 4 hour drive from Muscat, the dunes are must see on any visit to Oman. With towering heights of up to 150 meters, the dunes range in shades from bright orange, to red, to a crisp amber. The dunes can be tackled in a 4x4 with the help of a guide, who will deflate their tires to give you the ultimate dune experience. If you want to spend a night in the desert, there is truly no better place to experience the night sky under the tranquility of the desert, and numerous tour operators are available to arrange a campsite. Either way, you will come across many friendly Bedouin communities who still live in the desert - and are often the ones to come save you if you are stuck in the sand and need a lift! Don't be fooled by the woman who have their face covered- they live in the desert and are excellent drivers who are skilled at anything and everything that is the desert life!
17 15. A Jungle in the Desert
The scorching hot temperatures in the summer months in Oman render a lot of the outdoor activities difficult to partake in. Given the vast amount of natural beauty in the country, this accounts for the majority of the things to do in Oman. However, during the summer months, locals and tourists alike flock to the stunning lush landscape of Salalah where a tropical rain forest- like climate provides a cooling retreat. The Salalah Mansoon, which takes place from the end of July to the beginning of September transforms an arid and dry climate into a lush paradise almost overnight, with temperatures dropping to around 20 Celsius. The cooler temperatures bring along wildlife and fauna, as well as the unbelievable sight of camels roaming the greenery. There are beautiful resorts in Salalah as well that capture the truly unique landscape of a hidden city of forests in the desert.
16 16. Friendly Locals
Oman has recently become a more popular destination for tourists, but is largely unknown and unspoiled by throngs of tourists visiting other more popular destinations. You won't find the massive skyscrapers and record beating attractions of its neighbor Dubai, but the simple lifestyle and relaxed atmosphere the locals enjoy is unmatched. In Oman, almost all of the tour operators are operated by local Omanis, who are extremely hospitable and welcoming and are always ready to show you around hidden gems and local hangouts for a customized experience. Oman is safe for women to travel as well, in groups or even on their own as much of the outdoors needs to be enjoyed with a guide.
15 15. Haggle at the Mutrah Souk
What's a vacation without shopping and bargaining? At the Mutrah Souk located on the Corniche in Muscat, tourists and local alike haggle, bargain and deal with local shop owners in a bazaar that has everything from carpets, to scarves to trinkets and souvenirs to bring back to your friends. The souk is not overrun with tourists so you can haggle in peace without the frantic hustle and bustle of other larger souks that cater solely to tourists. The market is located on the waterfront areas of Muscat and has a number of smaller restaurants that offer excellent options for lighter snacks and refreshing juices. After scoring your trinkets take a walk down the corniche to enjoy the sea breeze and views of the Hajar mountains.
14 14. The Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque is relatively new as it was completed in 2001 after a competition ordered by the current ruler Sultan Al Qaboos, for the creating of a Grand Mosque in Muscat. The mosque is made from over 300,000 tons of Indian Sandstone, and while it is not as obviously ornate as the gold encrusted and marble covered mosques of other Middle Eastern countries, the mosque is filled with beautiful details, intricate designs and stunning architecture that provides a calming and tranquil visit. The mosque holds an information center and all tourists are invited to visit the center to ask any questions they may have about the mosque or the religion, while enjoying Omani coffee and dates- further exemplifying the hospitable nature of the locals who volunteer at the mosque.
13 13. The Food
If you are a meat and seafood lover, you will be completely satisfied with Omani cuisine. At its very simplest, you will find platters of rice and spiced meats at almost every restaurant. For a traditional experience, sit on the floor and order a large shared plate of seasoned basmati rice with lamb or beef, topped with spicy yogurt and tomato sauce. For the seafood lovers, Omanis were traditionally seafarers before the discovery of oil and fishing is a favorite pastime of many locals. Enjoy freshly caught fish, grilled meats and tasty seafood at every corner. Of course, no mention of Omani cuisine would be complete without a mention of Omani Khawa (coffee) and dates, which will be offered to you almost everywhere you go. Be sure to try the strong coffee that is sometimes mixed with cardamon and pistachios for a sweet treat.
12 12. The Coastline and Beaches
With a coastline that stretches over 3000 km and covers beaches that border the Sea of Oman, the Arabian Sea the Persian Gulf and the Straights of Hormuz, there are no shortages of pristine beaches and coastline to explore in Oman. In the capital of Muscat you will find Al Qurum Beach, one of the most popular beaches, with cafes, boardwalks, and restaurants all close by. For a quieter experience, head to Al Sawadi Beach, 70 km from Muscat for a view of rock islands that surround the coast, along with migratory birds and other wildlife. Travel even further to the Musandam in the northern area for white sand beaches that border the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf. You don't have to go far to discover a hidden beach of sleepy fishing village that will take your breath away.
11 11. Take your Pick of Hiking Spots
With almost the entire country covered in mountains there is no shortage of natural beauty and challenging hiking trails for the outdoorsy traveler. Choose from scaling the Majlis Al Jinn (Meeting Place of the Spirits), which is one of the world's ten largest caves. Entrance to this cave is limited to three small holes formed by rainwater erosion (or if you believe the myth, formed by a one-eyed spirit who was chasing a woman living in the cave). Once inside, enjoy cool temperatures and a massive cave that measures 340 meters long and 228 meters wide, with an astonishing height of 120 meters. For more traditional hikers, the Wadi Sahtan is a picturesque hike over a smaller mountain that weaves through old villages, date palms and mango trees, as well as refreshing wadis and waterfalls. Take your pick based on your experience level, and adventure preference!
10 10. Explore the land of Frankincense
Oman is home to the Land of Frankincense, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. The Land of Frankincense can be found on the Incense trade route, which comprised of major ancient land and sea trading routes. They were established for the trade of perfume and frankincense with the Europeans who became enchanted with the aromas of the Arabian scent - once more valuable than gold itself. Dhofar, in Southern Oman, is one of the very few places in the world where Frankincense trees are grown and harvested, creating some of the most unique perfumes and scents in the region. The history of the trade is actually quite fascinating and can all be taken in at the Museum of Frankincense Land in Southern Oman.
9 9. Ancient Mountain Villages
A visit to Oman is almost like going back in time. While you can enjoy luxury and modern amenities at various resorts and hotels in the main cities, the remnants of a simple, untouched life of a long gone era are visible almost everywhere you go outside of the capital of Muscat. Several walking tours are available that will take you to mountain side villages that are hundreds of years old. The tours will take you to abandoned villages with mud homes made with palm roofs carved into the sides of mountains, complete with traditional irrigation systems. Some villages have 'modernized' with electrical wiring found throughout, however the lifestyle remains simple and untouched and provides a welcome break from the stress of our busy modern lives.
8 8. Visit an Ancient City and Fort in Nizwa
Nizwa is on the of the oldest cities in Oman and was previously the center for trade, religion and education due to its prime location at the base of the Western Hajar mountains. The Nizwa Fort is a main tourist attraction due to its traditional architecture going back to the 9th century. The Fort has maintained some of the interesting defense features of the past, including honey traps and pitfalls, as well as ancient artifacts from the time when Nizwa was the capital of Oman. The Nizwa Fort and the town itself is a 1.5 hour drive Muscat, with several day tour operator options available. You can also visit the Nizwa Souk for traditional souvenirs or attend the cattle market on Fridays.
7 7. Visit a Cave Over 2 Million Years Old
The Al Hoota Cave is estimated to be over 2 million years old. It is located at the foot of Jabal Shams, and is the only cave in the country that offers guided tours. The cave was recently opened to tourists with guided walkways and tour guides with special lighting that is used to ensure that the animals are not disturbed. There are natural lakes within the cave that are home to blind fishes, along with bats and other marine life unique to the cave. There is a small museum and information center that outlines the history of the cave, and English tours are available. For those hoping to get an Instragram worthy shot, you will likely be disappointed. Cameras are not allowed on the tours so you will actually have to live in the moment and take in the sights and sounds to pass on to your friends when you get home!
6 6. Swim in a Large Sinkhole
The Bimmah Sinkhole is located in Eastern Muscat and is filled with turquoise water that is 20 meters deep. While local legend is that a meteorite hit the earth and created this stunning natural swimming pool, it most likely occurred through the collapse of limestones. Either way, the beautiful water is cornered by the sea on one side, and impressive mountains on the other side. The sinkhole is accessible to the public and there is no fee for the entrance - making this a perfect budget friendly way to spend an afternoon. A nearby park offers picnic tables and shaded areas with palm trees and greenery so you can plan an entire afternoon lounging by one of the world's most beautiful sinkholes.
5 5. Go Dolphin Watching
Take in Oman's beautiful coastline and mountain scenery via boat with one of the many tour operators offering whale and dolphin watching experiences. Relax on a yacht or a smaller boat while wild spinner dolphins and bottlenose dolphins spin through the air and put on a show for you. Most tours include breaks for snorkeling in the crystal clear waters, for opportunities to examine marine life up close. Watching dolphins in their natural environment, on a beautiful boat surrounding by the breathtaking natural scenery that Oman is famous for, is a beautiful experience for anyone to enjoy.
4 4. Go Camping on the Beach
If you are visiting Oman in the summer, you probably will want to opt out on the camping life due to the scorching temperatures, but the winter months are perfect for a spontaneous camping adventure right on the beach. Oman's coastline provides endless opportunities for you to pitch a tent and enjoy the sounds of the sea literally at your feet. Sifa beach, which is a beautiful and scenic hour drive from Muscat, is just one example of a secluded beach that is perfect for camping. The drive to the beach is stunning, and with the help of a tour guide (or on your own with extensive planning from the numerous tips online), you can easily set yourself up for a peaceful camp site directly on the sandy beaches and next to the shore. Nothing like waking up to the sounds of the sea!
3 3. Or Opt for Comfort and go Glamping in the Desert
While there is truly nothing like sleeping under the stars in a tent pitched in a vast desert, who says that tent can't be air conditioned? If setting up a simplistic tent with sleeping bags isn't exactly your style, resorts such as Desert Nights Camp offer Bedouin style tents on a completely private location in the famous Wahiba Sands desert. The tents come equipped with beds and operating washrooms (plus amenities) so you can look and feel your freshest as you step out of your tent into the beautiful desert. The resort is the definition of 'glamping' and offers the inexperienced camper an opportunity to enjoy the serenity of the desert, without compromising on comfort. Or washroom facilities.