9 reasons to visit Oman: in photos
Sharing my photos of Oman on Instagram, there’s been a common refrain in the comments – I never realised how much there was to do in Oman, I never knew how beautiful if was… and I’d love to see it for myself now.
If you’re not following me or you need a bit more tempting, I managed to take more than 100 photos each day that we were in Oman – from the waves of dunes in the deserts to the stark mountain scenery, the shining whites and muted golds of the buildings against the bluest of cloudless skies, it’s a photographer’s paradise.
And that’s only the beginning. So to start you off, here are my nine reasons to visit Oman with kids.
You won’t find record-beating skyscrapers in Oman – in fact you won’t really find high-rise buildings at all. And the country is all the better for it, the architecture in mostly neutral and white tones, blending in to the landscape.
But that certainly doesn’t make it ordinary – take the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat as one example. Gleaming white minarets glint against the blue sky, the pale stone intricately carved with swirls of calligraphy and geometric designs while the light reflects on courtyards or streams through arches. Fountains dance in the gardens outside, while inside flashes of gold and blue decorate the ceilings of prayer halls and covers of books.
Head towards the Hajar Mountains from Muscat and the coast and you leave behind the sultan’s traditional domain to the rule of the imams. Forts dot the landscape, including at the old capital of Nizwa and nearby Bahla and Jabrin, enduring hundreds of years of conflict and holding the secrets of survival in the pitiless landscape.
Under the crenelated turrets and fortified rooftops lie shady chambers lined with cushions for lounging, while only steps from the public rooms with their painted ceilings hide tiny doors, too small for even a child to walk upright; behind them, the fortress jail.
And in all, storerooms for sacks upon sacks of dates – channels cut into the rock receive the juice squeezed from the fruit to funnel it into jars. In peacetime destined for the kitchen or sickroom, in war boiled up as a weapon against invaders while the fruit itself sustained armies against siege.
Stretching for 500km, the Hajar Mountains form the flinty spine of Oman – a barrier between the interior and the coast, a refuge during times of conflict, a dramatic and bone dry backdrop to a journey through the country.
Heading up to the highest peak of Jebel Shams, a chasm splits the mountains to form Arabia’s Grand Canyon. A defiant handful of trees flourish despite the stony ground while mountain goats wander surefooted on even the highest rocks. Elsewhere, sudden flash floods from the area’s rare rains have left curved gouges in the mountainside.
Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter, is the largest continuous sand desert in the world, a thousand kilometres of dunes as far as the eye can see. Blown into powder soft hills, all shades of golden orange and burnt red, the sands are always shifting. Climb one dune and another rises before you.
This is the land of the Arabian Nights, Scheherazade’s thousand and one fascinating tales. In the emptiness, the silence enveloping you, djinns, magic and myth seem very real – broken only by a camel’s snort or gleeful yell from a sandboarder.
Some of the first peoples of Oman were called the fish eaters; settled along the Gulf of Oman and Arabian sea. Today it’s home to five species of turtles, which come ashore to lay their eggs and valiantly struggle to the waves against all odds after hatching, as well as wild dolphins leaping through the waves.
From a daytime cruise out of the capital’s marina to a sunset dhow ride in one of Oman’s traditional boats, it’s the perfect way to get another sight of the country. And for divers, there’s a whole undersea world to discover around the Musandam peninsula in the north as well as the waters off the coast by Muscat.
Hidden among the seemingly barren landscape lie Oman’s secrets; natural springs in the mountains which create crystal clear pools in the wadis, channeled into ‘falaj’ which serve the villages and irrigate the date palms, a sudden explosion of green among the dusty route.
In an area so apparently inhospitable, its dramatic peaks inspiring awe and terror, suddenly a village appears, turquoise doors brightening the crumbling golden brick. And in the heart of the desert, a Bedouin camp, camel skull displayed above the tent, with dates and qahwa – the country’s cardamom-flavoured coffee – to welcome guests.
For centuries, Sur has been famous for its dhow building, its craftsmen creating the traditional wooden hulled boats for as long as tales are told – according to legend, Sinbad the Sailor chose his own boat from those made in Sur.
Today, it’s Indian craftsmen wielding the tools and lathe in the boat building workshop, while the shell is sent to Dubai to be finished and fitted, but these princely vessels still command a high price. In the city on the coast, its white and blue buildings and small watchtowers set around the water, you can find one ship belonging to the present Sultan’s father, used to transport him across the sea to Africa.
As the sun sets, wander along the waterfront for a scene which feels barely changed for years. In Mutrah, one of the oldest parts of Muscat, the souk still bustles and buzzes after the heat of the day, scented with clouds of frankincense and sandalwood resin. Old brass lamps, the perfect home for a genie, lie alongside piles of scarves in every colour; a row away, children’s clothes and toys for the locals who shop here too.
And on the corniche, the men stroll in their pristine white dishdashas, a masar or kuma – as the turbans and traditional hats are called – on their heads, or sit crosslegged on the wall chatting as the light turns to gold.
What would a family holiday be without a chance to relax by the beach, golden sands stretching along the deep blue of the sea. White buildings reflect in the still waters of the marina, a splash of pink bougainvillea brightening the view, overshadowed by those mountains in the misty distance.
Under the shade of a palm tree, or poolside umbrella, life slows down here. The perfect place to relax and remember all of Oman’s fascinating variety. Mountains, desert, coast and city, the life of the sea and the sand, these nine reasons are really only the beginning.
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