Six of the best ways to experience Oman
From turtle spotting to camping under the stars, A&K’s Tom Bowring showcases some of our favourite ways to explore Oman.
When you think of modern Middle Eastern cities, you probably think of the sky-scraping metropolises of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha – the new world eclipsing the old. But Oman paints a different picture, one rooted in authentic Arabian tradition, albeit with the same high level of service and comfort you’d expect in this wealthy region. Here you’ll find exquisite Islamic architecture, mountain-top citadels and abundant natural wonders.
From camping under the stars to exploring ancient city quarters, there are plenty of things to do on a luxury Oman holiday beyond your hotel suite, as my fiancée and I discovered first-hand. Read on for our favourite ways to experience Oman.
Explore the Jebel Akhdar mountains on foot
Cutting through central Oman are the Jebel Akhdar mountains, a majestic setting for lovers of the outdoors. The best way to experience this region is with a walking tour. Amble by rocky outcrops, pass old aflaj irrigation channels and over grassy plateaus to reach charming mountain-top villages. These ancient citadels sit proudly atop Jebel Akhdar’s limestone peaks, and the small communities living here are centred around cliff-top farms of fruit and flowers.
We stayed at the Alila Jabal Akhdar, a unique hotel boasting incredible views of the valleys. The five-star property blends beautifully into the rugged surrounds, and its leisure concierge service organised our wonderful walking tour around the mountain range.
Camp under the stars in Sharqiya Sands
A night in the desert is a brilliant addition to any Oman holiday, and Sharqiya Sands – formerly Wahiba Sands – showcases this dramatic landscape at its finest.
Here, we spent an evening at the Desert Nights Camp. Despite its remote location, the standard of accommodation is remarkable – luxury Bedouin-style tents boasting a bedroom, sitting room, en-suite bathroom and air conditioning. After the sun dipped down behind the undulating sand dunes, the stars came out to set the scene for us. Thanks to minimal light pollution, the night sky was remarkably clear, and we spent hours gazing up at the twinkling star-scape. It was the perfect time and place to ask my girlfriend to marry me (she said yes).
Discover magical Muscat with a city tour
Oman’s capital of Muscat is a fascinating city. It sits on the beautifully blue Arabian Sea, surrounded by the Al Hajar mountains – reminding me a little of Rio de Janeiro. Since Sultan Qaboos took charge of the country in the 1970s, the historic port has transformed into a modern, bustling place, without sacrificing its old-world charm. To gain a real insight into the culture and history of Muscat, take a guided tour. The Grand Mosque, the Royal Opera House and Old Town are must-sees, especially for first-time visitors.
My favourite hotel here is The Chedi, a beautiful, centrally located property. After a day exploring the city, retiring amidst its three palm-fringed swimming pools, water garden and private beach is just the thing.
Celebrate the monsoon in Salalah
Oman has one of the lowest average rates of rainfall in the world. Between July and September, when much of the country is scorching and bone-dry, cool fog and drizzle shrouds the lush green valleys, tumbling waterfalls and sandy coast of Salalah. More than half-a-million tourists flock to this southern city from across the Middle East for a break from the heat. Join in the celebration of the khareef (monsoon season) by heading here between August and September, when Salalah’s annual cultural festival takes place. This is when you can enjoy traditional Omani music, dance, crafts and more – amidst much more comfortable temperatures.
There are several excellent accommodation options in Salalah, but we especially recommend the Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara. Drawing inspiration from the fortresses dotting the coast, this luxury resort boasts a private beach, perfect for a scenic yoga session, beach buggy ride, water sports lesson or fishing trip. A&K guests can even enjoy a complimentary tour of the Al Baleed Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Watch turtle nesting in Ras al Jinz
Ras al Jinz overlooks where the Gulf of Oman spills into the Arabian Sea. This picturesque, rugged headland on the east coast is a world-famous nesting site for the endangered green turtle, as well as olive ridley, loggerhead and endangered hawksbill turtles. Tens of thousands of tourists travel to the Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve each year to witness this natural spectacle, best seen between May and September. For a deeper insight into these ancient animals, the sanctuary’s museum hosts interactive exhibitions about each of the species nesting here.
If you’re seeking a family-friendly, eco-tourism experience, stay on-site at the Ras al Jinz Scientific & Visitor Centre. Here you’ll enjoy nightly guided excursions to see the turtle nesting along the sandy shoreline.
Hike to the top of Wadi Ghul
This country isn’t short of natural wonders. Known as the Omani grand canyon, Wadi Ghul lies around 200 kilometres from Muscat, a short drive away from Oman’s tallest mountain – Jebel Shams. Plunging fissures and towering massifs of jagged rock provide photo opportunities at every turn, and it’s a spectacular place for a guided hike.