The Sultanate of Oman in the Persian Gulf is still an unusual destination for mass tourism. Meanwhile, this Arab country attracts with its oriental flavor, reminiscent of the fairy tales of “A Thousand and One Nights”, a pleasant combination of kilometer-long beaches and endless dunes with cozy hotels and a variety of sports activities.
All COVID restrictions for tourists have been lifted. To enter the country, Russians will need a passport, the validity of which is at least six months after the end of the trip. For a tourist trip of no more than 14 days, a visa is not required. A tourist visa for 30 days can be issued online, the cost is 20 rials (about 3,200 rubles). The local currency is the Omani rial, 1 OMR is approximately equal to 159 rubles.
How to get there
Oman Air resumed direct flights from Russia to Oman from December 2, 2022: you can fly from Moscow to Muscat on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and from December 26, 2022, on Mondays. Ticket prices start from 83,000 rubles* round-trip. It is cheaper to fly with a transfer, for example, in Sharjah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Istanbul. Emirates has the shortest connections, and FlyDubai, Air Arabia and Etihad Airways also fly regularly. Prices start from 46,000 rubles * in both directions.
Briefly about the country
Half a century ago, the then-ruling Sultan Qaboos bin Said abandoned the policy of isolation, engaged in the modernization of the country and opened it to tourists. At the same time, the sultanate did not turn into a semblance of Dubai or Doha with their skyscrapers made of glass and concrete – they do not build houses higher than 13 floors here. Oman has managed to preserve the national flavor, expressed in numerous forts, mosques, traditional architecture, museums and palaces. Dunes, canyons, beaches, excellent trails in the desert, rare green turtles, the smell of incense and noisy bazaars – this is all exotic and alluring Oman.
Muscat: forts, palace, opera and museums
The capital of Oman stretches along the coast for 60 km, occupying a narrow strip of land between the bay and the mountains. Tourists are interested in the old town and the walking area of Mutrah, half an hour walk from it. The historical center is two imposing forts rising among the rocks on the shore of the bay, and the colorful palace of the Sultan between them. The forts of Al Jalali and Al Mirani, reminiscent of medieval castles, were built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Now these are military facilities, so getting inside will not work. Complements the beautiful views of Alam Palace – the Sultan’s palace with elegant blue and golden mosaic columns of an unusual shape. Near it is a blooming garden with date palms.
A little further from the bay is the Beit el-Zubair Museum of Omani Culture, which gives an idea of the history of these places, the inhabitants and their way of life. A traditional Omani village is recreated in one of the halls, and a hut made of palm branches in the garden. The museum has a gift shop and cafe. You can continue your acquaintance with the history of the city at a small exhibition in the New Gates or, if there is enough time, in a large-scale national museum.
The Mitrah district is famous for the park with another symbol of Oman – a building in the shape of a giant incense burner. The fragrant resin of the Boswellia tree has long been mined in the Sultanate and sent with trade caravans around the world. We recommend walking along the embankment to the old bazaar, where you can buy incense, traditional fez hats, dates, camel figurines and other souvenirs. On the way, climb the Mutrah Fort and admire the view of the bay from above.
In the new part of the city, check out the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, built in 2001. The decorations are striking: intricate frescoes with floral and geometric patterns, the world’s second largest hand-woven Persian carpet of 1.7 million knots with an area of 4200 square meters and an 8-ton chandelier with Swarovski crystals. Its pendants repeat the minarets of the mosque in miniature.
The Royal Opera House of Muscat, with its traditional Arabic architecture, Italian pink marble and mahogany decoration after the mosque, seems rather modest, but still worth a visit. If you can’t get to the performance (tickets sell out quickly), you can take a tour: you will see the interiors, the hall and the organ. The gallery complex also houses restaurants, handmade souvenirs, and jewelery and perfume boutiques.
Where to stay in Muscat:
- Mutrah Hotel tel (rating 8.4) — from $50 per day*.
- Sheraton Oman Hotel (rating 8.5) – from $160 per night *.
- Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel (rating 9.3) — from $470 rubles per night*.
What to see outside the capital
A two-hour drive from Muscat is Wadi Shab, a mountain gorge once carved into the rocks by water. There are many such canyons with lakes and rivers in Oman, this one is one of the most accessible. To get to it, you need to take a boat to the other side. Further, the path passes first along a dry section of the channel, then along large boulders, and then only by swimming among sheer walls and bizarre rocky heaps. In the finale, you literally need to climb through a narrow gap leading to a grotto with a waterfall. The water in the lakes is a stunning emerald color, and banana palms grow around – a real oasis in the desert, full of birds singing.
By the way, about the desert: to be in Oman and not see the dunes and camels with your own eyes is nonsense. In the Wahiba desert, 300 km from Muscat, there are several tent camps, which are often visited by tourists. Agencies offer overnight tours in Bedouin tents or luxury campsites, with romantic dinners, camel or buggy rides.
You can also get to the dunes on your own by renting an all-wheel drive jeep. Staying alone with the dunes and watching the patterns of the wind on the reddish-orange velvet sand is better in Rub Al Khali near the border with Saudi Arabia. The changing forms of huge masses of golden sand, the rays of the sun and the starry sky of the desert will be remembered for a long time.
On your way back from the Arabian desert, stop by tropical Salalah. The contrast of wasteland and greenery is striking: white beaches are decorated with classic palm trees as if from an advertisement of paradise life, and the city itself is surrounded by forested hills. Early in the morning, even pink flamingos can be found near the water. To wait out the heat, go to the archaeological museum with the poetic name “Museum of the Land of Incense”. There are ancient artifacts from excavations, models of settlements, fortresses and Omani boats, as well as various types of incense and a collection of meteorites. The open-air archeopark will be of interest to history buffs, and Wadi Darbat near the city will be of interest to those who like to walk along the canyons. Mini-waterfalls, lakes and a riot of greenery and camels – the many-sided Oman knows how to surprise. Before the walk, do not forget to replenish the supply of fruit:
Another popular place 240 km from Muscat is Wadi Ghul, it is called the Grand Canyon of Oman. The landscapes are truly reminiscent of the American West. This is one of the most beautiful and grandiose valleys of its kind in the Sultanate: the journey begins in a dry riverbed, then the trail gradually rises to a steep balcony and ends after a few kilometers with a lake with clear water. We advise you to spend the night in one of the hotels on the top or in your tent with stunning views of the two-kilometer cliffs. There are many hiking routes, viewing platforms and opportunities for extreme recreation in the Jabal Shams peak area – from canyoning to rock climbing, including in the Snake Canyon. So, ideally, you need to have at least a couple of days to take your time to do everything.
Not far from the Grand Canyon, it is worth looking into the old capital of Oman, Nizwa. A 17th-century fortress rises in the center of the city, where tourists are allowed. The tower, narrow stairs, cannons, an exhibition of weapons, clothes and utensils, along with photographing the mosque with an unusual painted dome, will take a couple of hours. Nearby, visit the colorful souk (bazaar) with a huge selection of pretty earthenware vessels, vases and other pottery, sweets and an authentic animal auction that takes place on Fridays.
Another reason to come to Oman is the Ras Al Jinz area on the country’s easternmost cape, known as turtle paradise. The sandy beaches washed by the Gulf of Oman are a nesting place for green sea turtles. Here you can see both adults and newly hatched baby turtles, which get out of the nest and go towards their first wave. However, you can only watch it at night. We advise you to stay at a hotel or one of the campsites (there is a wild and equipped one). If you go to meet the turtles on your own, remember that bright light scares the animals.
Useful tips for those planning a trip
- The best time to travel is from mid-October to the end of March. From April to September the temperature rarely drops below +50 ºС.
- Public transport is rare. To see more interesting places, rent a car – preferably a jeep, so there is less chance of getting stuck in the desert or a stone riverbed.
- Outside of beaches and resorts, it is not recommended to wear open clothing (above the knee or with bare shoulders).
- Go to the canyons in coral slippers or mesh sneakers with non-slip soles. Don’t forget a waterproof phone case.
- The Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Muscat is open to tourists from 8:30 am to 11:00 am daily except Friday. Women are required to wear a scarf covering their hair.
- If you want to see the birth of turtles, head to the reserve from May to October.
*Prices are current at the time of publication.