Located on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula, the ancient Sultanate of Oman is the jewel of the Arabian Peninsula. You have wisely chosen a place with a wide a selection of rich heritage sites and divergent terrains. Oman is paradise for the inquisitive explorer.
Since the Stone Age man has lived amid the raw rustic beauty of this peaceful country and enjoyed its exquisite natural beauty. Muscat, Oman’s picturesque capital, sits regally along the shores of the Gulf of Oman. It is surrounded on one side by the dinosaur scale-liked Hajar Mountains while the other side listens to the Gulf of Oman’s waves rippling on its beaches; a perfect place to start your adventure. Explore the old and the new – the oldest souq in the world, discover the most valuable perfume in the world, shop at the Omani Craftsmen House, experience the local fish souq, tour museums that encase the rich heritage of Oman and visit the new additions – the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Omani Opera House. Your timing is great as The Muscat Festival will still be running through February. This festival offers a variety of events that reflect the true Arab culture. Outside of Muscat, Oman is best explored by 4X4 which you can rent or hire a driver and within two hours of Muscat explore the natural beauty of Oman, including its mountains, wadis and beaches as well as the interesting village of Nizwa with a souq known for its silver jewelry or even a boat trip to Musandam to see the “Fjords of Arabian” complete with frolicking dolphins. Your two night stay at the desert resort will introduce you to the beauty of the desert and most certainly camels. The best part of your trip will be getting to know the people of Oman. They are justly proud of their heritage, gracious hosts to all visitors and delight in showing you their country.
Arrive mid day at Seeb International Airport in Muscat. Carrying an Australian passport, you can obtain a tourist Visa when you land. Take hotel shuttle or taxi to Shangri-La Hotel. Check-in, unpack, explore this magnificent hotel grab a bite to eat, and relax. After 5pm, using the complimentary hotel shuttle, visit the Muttrah Souq. This market claims to be the oldest in the world and the best in the Arab world. Here there is a discovery around every corner . . . . good antique shops with Indian and Omani artifacts, spice shops, gold shops, textiles, eateries and much more. Bargaining is expected – final price can be around 10-15% of the asking price. Experience the local fare by asking any shopkeeper to recommend a place for dinner. Taxi back to the Shangri-La and enjoy a nightcap at Al Bandar’s piano bar.
Cost: OMR 60 (AUD $180)
Today, experience the blend of traditional Omani culture and some of its more modern sites. Meet your driver at your hotel at 9 am. First stop is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a stunning structure. Must sees are the Swarovski crystal chandelier, the second largest hand-made Persian carpet in the world and the beautiful gardens. A guide will greatly enhance your understanding of the mosque and Islam; ask at the entrance although sometimes they are not available. Modest dress is a must. Next enjoy a drive along the quaint Cornish to the Fish Market where you will experience the time-honored ritual of buying and selling the daily catch. Make certain you walk to the shore area on the right where the boats come in – great photo opp. Take a stroll through the historic streets around Al Alam Palace, residence of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, flanked by the 18th Century Portuguese forts of Jalali and Mirani. Visit to the Bait Al Zubair Museum for a brief introduction of ancient and modern Muscat. In the evening, enjoy a 7:30 pm performance at the magnificent Royal Opera House Muscat by world-renowned pianist Maurizio Pollini and the Orchestra Mozart that is anticipated to be a highlight of the Omani musical season.
Cost: OMR 101 (AUD $265)
9am travel from Muscat to Nizwa in private car (apprx. 2 hours) through the mountain filled countryside which includes a whistle stop at Fanjah, an ancient village. Nizwa is enchanting with its forts, the most famous being the Round Tower Fort, built in 1668 and laying claim to being the biggest fort in the Arabian Peninsula. Enjoy the bustling souq known for its intricately carved Khanjars and ornamental silver Bedouin jewelry. If you still have the energy, go to the Bahla Fort, a UNESCO ‘World Heritage Site’ overlooking the village of Bahla, considered to be the pottery capital of Oman.
Spend the night at the Golden Tulip Nizwa Hotel.
Cost: Private car & guide from Muscat to Nizwa (Shangri-La Hotel) OMR 175 (AUD $522) . . or take the ONTC Bus from Muscat to Nizwa; leaves 8am (2hr 20 min) from Ruwi bus station; phone 24 701 294 to make reservation and check times. Enage guide in Nizwa.
Golden Tulip 1 night OMR 75 (AUD $224)
Desert Night Camp
Travel in private car arranged through Desert Night Camp for travel from Nizwa to the Camp (appr. 2.5 hours). Enjoy your days exploring the beauty of the desert and its surrounding golden red dunes as you get a taste of real Arab culture. Make your selection from the list of camp’s activities – sunset camel safari ride, dune bashing or perhaps a trip to Wadi Bani Khalid.
Cost:Travel from Nizwa to Desert Nights Camp and back to Muscat OMR 275 + 17% tax (AUD $821)
Road Trip up the Coast
By 12 Noon, leave in private car for Muscat via Sur up the coastal road. Stops along the way include the ruins of Bibi Mirima’s Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the village of Qalhat. The tomb’s once regal aura today has a mystical air about it as some visitor still leave candles and offerings at the tomb; Bimah Sinkhole, spectacular limestone crater with blue green water; and if you haven’t had enough of wadis, stop at the serene rather untouched Wadi Arbayeen with its deep pools of water set among the date palms. Take it easy tonight and dine-in at the hotel.
Cost: Included in transportation of Day 5
Sleep in – you deserve it! Enjoy the amenities at your luxurious hotel. Perhaps try a spa session or a kayak tour. Lounge on the private beach or at the pool. Savor complimentary afternoon tea or in the evening enjoy complimentary cocktails and canapes. The day is yours. Enjoy dinner at the hotel or if you want to splurge – a special treat is dinner at the Chedi Muscat Beach House serving superb seafood right on the beach. The best Omani lobster ever! Make certain you make reservations as soon as possible. End the evening in their piano bar.
Transportation As you will be two females traveling in an Arab country, it would be best to have a local driver/guide. You can take advantage of the hotel’s tours, ask the concierge to recommend a driver or negotiate a fare from your Omani taxi driver. Whenever taking a taxi, agree on fare before leaving as most taxis are not metered. The concierge at hotel should be able to give you an idea of the approximate fare.
Money Best to have cash available as the smaller shops/souqs may not take credit card. Larger establishments will. Most expenses will have a 17% tax.
Dress modestly Important that you dress modestly at all time. Good rule is to be covered from neck to wrist to ankles. A pashmina scarf is precious because it can be used to quickly cover your upper body and head when needed. Opportunities exist to swim in the Wadis so bring a bathing suit (but there are no changing rooms)
Timings Don’t forget you are now on Arab time. Many shops and sites will close between approximately 2 – 4pm. Also, schedules are sometimes only a “suggestion,” be flexible.
Safety Since you are going to hire a driver it is strongly suggested that you get an Omani SIM card for your phone so you can communicate with him and your hotels and if needed for emergencies.
Option The Muscat Festival, a celebratory, cultural and artistic event involving multilingual activities, is running while you are in town. You may want to check the schedule for the evenings you are in Muscat and see if anything tickles your fancy. Very affordable.
Extra note: Just spoke with my good friend who just returned from Oman trip … Highly recommends Opera House Omani restaurant … Angham. Also, related that one of the women who was traveling with them from Dubai to Muscat – a married woman traveling without her husband whose passport listed occupation as “housewife” (it’s an Arab-thing) was not allowed in because she needed a “no objection letter from her husband stating it was all right for her to travel on her own ( another Arab-thing). While I do not know if the Australian girls are married or employed it might be best if they could get their visa before they come if there is time … Or at least if they are married – no matter what occupation says on passport – they bring a no objection letter from their husbands just in case.