N ighttime breezes full of frankincense, palm trees blowing in the sea breeze rolling over the Gulf of Oman, twinkling orange lights from traditional Omani buildings, the sunset reflecting off the sheer cliffs of the mountain side.
Oman is truely full of wonder and warmth.
We spent 4 days in Oman in 2018 on our way to Jordan, and it left us in awe. Omani hospitality is incredible and the country just has so much to offer in terms of culture, history and natural sites. Omani culture is considered to be very uniquely Arabian, and thats exactly what we experienced. Undeniably arabic, but beautifully authentic and unique.
We spent the majority of our time in Omans capital, Muscat. The capital is home to over 1.4 million people but it still feels like the magical fishing village it’s been since the early 1st century. And by “fishing village’ I mean one of the most significant trading ports between the West and East, along the historic maritime Silk Road. French archeologist, explorer and writer, Jane Dieulafoy, described Oman perfectly in her memoirs - written while on a sailing ship entering Muscat Bay in 1884: “A tranquil bay opened behind two large ranges of rock. The green water lapped over the feet of the white city….”
We also spent a day road tripping through the country side of Oman, exploring Wadi’s, sink holes and beautiful beaches.
There is still so much more of the beautiful country to see, particularly Salalah, Jebel Sands, Nizwa, Khasab… plus many more. But alas, we had 4 days… so here’s what we did...
You can only travel from Muscat to the city via road. Most people use taxis. Word of warning: Muscat is expensive, and taxi's are no different. Some hotels have free shuttle services to/from the hotel, or there is a public bus service. We took a taxi and it was clean, comfortable... and expensive - around $45 AUD for 15 mins drive.
In terms of getting around the city, there's really only three options. Taxi, hire car or local bus. The taxi's can be flagged from the road and are great, but again, expensive - around AUD $10-$13 per 10kms. There is no uber and the sites are too far apart to walk between.
Driving is so common in Oman that it's quite easy to find parking wherever you go, most hotels even include parking in a standard room tarrif. You can drive with a standard international license, roads are quiet well maintained, and signs are mostly in English and Arabic. However driving is on the right hand side of the road, and Oman is (casually) the 10th most dangerous country in the world to drive in - but you can mostly blame the camels and goats for the high road toll.
But in my opinion, you cannot go past The Chedi, Muscat. It was actually 90% of the reason we even went to Oman - it was a hotel that had been on my bucket list forever... and it DID NOT dissapoint.
Situated along the shores of the Gulf of Oman, The Chedi is the true definition of Middle Eastern luxury and hospitality. Take in the scent of Frankincense as you enter the hotel through the large tented reception area lit up by beautiful traditional lanterns. Find yourself lost in the twenty-one acre landscaped grounds, hopping between one of three grand pools or from the edge of the ocean. Enjoy some of the finest Middle Easten cuisine or Shisha by candlelight, listening to the Gulf of Oman lapping up against the sand a mere 5 metres away. Breath a sigh of relief and relaxation as you settle into one of the 158 modern minalism Omani inspired rooms or villas. This hotel is a holiday destination in itself.
Honestly, nothing else compares. But it is definitely a "splurge" hotel, with rooms starting from AUD $750 a night. So here's a few others we looked at and are well rated:
Don't get me wrong... hospitality in Oman is still very well done.The majority of travellers eat within the hotel and resort restaurants (which are actually incredible); from what I found there are only a handful of very good restaurants and cafes in Muscat outside of hotels.
Muscat nightlife is very conservative... consumption of alcohol is discrete and almost entirely limited to within hotel and resort bars and restaurants. Public intoxication is totally unacceptable, you just don't see it. And there's limited opportunities to do so anyway.
Our accomodation (The Chedi Muscat) had some of the best restaurants in Muscat, so we enjoyed meals within the hotel which we don't usually do. But we were also able to find a few other really great places to eat outside of the hotel:
As our accomodation at The Chedi was that amazing, we wanted to spend lots of time enjoying it. The great thing about Muscat is that it's small enough to be able to explore within a few days, but big enough to not feel too touristy or 'easy'. We were still able to see plenty of the incredible sites that Muscat has to offer even with plenty of time dedicated to enjoying our accomodation.
My top 4 favourites are listed below. In addition to these, you should definitely check out:
Walk along the paved walkway following the coast, as you take in the views of Muscat's oldest commercial area. Look back along the curved walkway to see latticed buildings, minarets popping up above the roofs, enclosed by serrated edges of mountains and the bright blue waters of the Gulf of Oman. Join the many local families walking along the Corniche as the sun sets, and watch the water reflect off the mountains and onto the white Omani buildings.
Considered one of the oldest marketplaces in the world, Muttrah Souq is an incredible labyrinth of aromatic smells, sparkling jewellery and antiques, and yummy spices and sweets. To this day, the air is thick with frankincense, the shops full of precious jewels, and the atmosphere alive, albeit a little touristy due to the cruise port nearby. Make sure you push yourself further into the labyrinth past the initiatal few alleys, as the magic really lies beyond the initial tourist-laden stores
Take to the seas to get the best perspective on this ancient port town. Through Viator, we purchased 2 tickets to sail along Oman’s spectacular coast on a wooden 'dhow,' an Arabian sail boat, as the sun set beyond the Gulf of Oman. The sail took us along the coast, past sharp mountains meeting the Gulf, through gaps in rocky islands, past 15th century Portugese ports, and right into the main Port, to watch the white washed Omani buildings along the Corniche sparkle as the sun goes down. A truely incredible experience
I could easily spend the entire day on the grounds of this incredible Mosque. It is a perfect example of modern Omani architecture, surrounded by lines of date palms and sandy plains. It took almost 7 years and 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone to build, and you can really get a sense of the incredible detail and work that went into building such a magnificent structure while standing within its grand walls. Be sure to visit the main prayer hall, adorned by an incredible 70m by 60m wide Persian Carpet (it took 600 women four years to weave!) and 14 metre tall Italian made chandeleir.
The day tours and private drivers in Oman are very expensive and we liked the idea of a self-guided adventure. So we hired a car (through Thrifty as they had a 'concierge service' where the car was dropped off and picked up from The Chedi on our behalf) and we were off! With one day of easy driving from Muscat, we were able to see Wadi Shab, Bimmah Sinkhole and Pebble Beach. We could have easily visited a few other places we had planned, such as Tiwi Beach and Fins Beach, but I lost my phone in a Wadi and anxiously rushed back to buy a new one - something I regret now!
Wadi Shab and Bimmah Sinkhole were incredible sights, and the drive itself was so much fun.
We drove through Omani villages, over mountain ranges, along sandy white beaches, around goats and camels. We canoed across rivers, climbed over boulders, scaled on the edge of mountaints along goat tracks, waded through rivers, swam under water into hidden caves. We stood on the sharp cliff edges huge sinkholes, and dipped our toes in the turquise blue waters. All from a day trip from Muscat.
I'm releasing a seperate blog post on our entire drive, and instructions on how to hike Wadi Shab, so keep an eye out for that!
I highly recommend Muscat as a destination in itself, particurarly as a stopover on Oman Air from Australia (via Malaysia) en route to Europe. Spend a few days exploring the beautifully historic city of Muscat and if you can, try and explore more of the beautiful country. There is still so much more of Oman for me to visit, and I can feel it pulling me back there already.