With all the attention on the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon right now, there is one Middle Eastern country which is both overlooked and underrated – Oman. A mere five hours’ drive from Dubai, Oman combines breathtaking natural beauty, fascinating architecture, well-preserved traditions, welcoming people, a huge choice of outdoor activities and tasty Kahwa (traditional coffee served with dates). With a checklist like this, along with warm weather year round, this gem of a destination should be the number one choice of those in search of a unique getaway in the Middle East. Here is exactly why you should visit Oman!
1) THE SAFEST ARAB COUNTRY FOR FEMALE TOURISTS
According to Expat Insider, Oman was voted “The Safest Arab Country for Female Tourists” in 2018 (and was second internationally after Luxembourg). This annual survey is one of the most comprehensive reports in the world.
It is one of the most peaceful and politically stable countries in the region. Despite the fact that more than 40 percent of Oman’s population is expats, everywhere there is the rule of law and all nationalities abide by it. Top of the list of crimes committed in the country in 2017 were cases of bounced cheques, labour law violations and traffic-related offenses. Not only will you not be hassled by Omani men, but you will also find yourself being treated with the utmost respect.
2) BREATHTAKING VARIETY OF NATURE
Oman has it all – mountains (Jebel Akhdar – the Green Mountain, Jebel Shams – the Sun mountain, Jebel Samhan, Jebel Misht, and Jebel Ghawil), sand dunes (Wahiba sands), wadis (in Arabic ‘valley’), natural paradises such as Salalah, Bimmah sinkhole, and magnificent beaches. This natural diversity appeals to visitors who love active getaways where they can get off the beaten track and explore – every day you can visit what looks like a totally new country.
There are at least ten accessible wadis alone, and each is breathtakingly beautiful. If you prefer green landscapes to the mountains and sand dunes, Salalah during Khareef season (a monsoon which lasts from July to September in that area of Oman) is a subtropical oasis to visit. Salalah is also famous for being the “Land of Frankincense”. A plane journey to the south of Oman to see the “dessert tears”, or frankincense trees, is totally worth it!
Oman’s coastline is somewhere around 3000 km in length, and the choice of sandy, pristine and environmentally diverse beaches is huge. In Muscat alone, the list of the best beaches runs to more than five. Kayaking, diving, snorkelling, sailing, jet skiing, and SUP (stand-up paddle-boarding) – you could do one of each of these water sports activities on a different beach, and still have a list of deserted beaches for a camping trip (Bimmah beach is the best location for camping adventures).
If all of the natural wonders mentioned above still have not convinced you to visit, try Musandam. Oman’s Musandam Peninsula is called the ‘Norway of Arabia’ thanks to its fjord-like landscapes where rocky mountains and crystal-clear turquoise waters combine mesmerizingly. What is unique about the Musandam Peninsula is that it is separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates and is best accessed by sea.
3) THE MOST HOSPITABLE AND WELCOMING NATION
To date, I have visited more than thirty countries, and have lived in four, but if there were an award for the most hospitable and welcoming nation, the Omani people would be the hands-down winners. The country’s year-round sun is reflected in the genuine warmth of Omani hospitality, and its citizens’ desire to help anyone in their community.
I remember reading a sign in one of the museums which explained the story of Omani hospitality. When a stranger from another land used to pass by a local family, they would always invite him in for coffee and dates and ask about world news. This tradition certainly lives on today in a modern version – you will most probably be invited into an Omani home and treated as an important guest. I swear that if you are facing any difficulty during your time in Oman, you can always count on the citizens of this country. This welcoming atmosphere of kindness also rubs off on all the expats living and working here, which is even more fascinating to see.
4) UNIQUE CULTURAL HERITAGE
Compared to the skyscrapers and burgeoning shopping malls of the neighbouring Gulf countries, Oman has managed to preserve its cultural heritage well. Omani rural crafts, folk dances, beautiful costumes, maritime traditions and vernacular architectural styles are well-respected.
The majority of newly-opened Omani museums even have a social mission to not only preserve these traditions but ensure that they are passed onto the next generation. Even if you are not particularly keen on museums, it is well worth checking out what is on offer here.
What makes museums unique in Oman is the way that they take a real pride in showing the visitor an intimate picture of domestic and village life. Instead of a mundane glass-case display, you get vivid room reconstructions of say, the bridal chamber, with jewellery and silks heaped in disarray, giving the uncanny feeling that the bride has only just stepped out of the room. My personal favourites are Bait Al Zubair and Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art.
5) A CULTURE YOU CAN TOUCH…TASTE…FEEL…
As soon as you step off the plane, you will catch the warm and spicy aroma of frankincense wafting through the air. It is burnt as a purifying incense literally everywhere and is the life essence of the Omani people, revered for its calming and healing properties. It is sold widely and makes an incredible gift to bring back in your suitcase.
A great keepsake for yourself is a henna tattoo. These swirling designs are an essential adornment for every Omani bride and are popular at Eid celebrations too. To get under the skin of Omani culture, you should definitely take a trip to a henna parlour.
Henna tattoos last up to two weeks, but one thing that will linger much longer is the delicious taste of Kahwa (Omani coffee), which is flavoured with cardamom. Traditionally served in small cups alongside dates, it is a sensation for your taste buds that you will never forget. You might not want to just take my word for it, so come and check it out for yourself.
I hope this article has inspired you to visit the beautiful country of Oman! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below.
Have you been to Oman? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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Our Top Places To Stay In Oman
- Alila Jabal Akhdar
- Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort
- Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa
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