Muscat, the capital city of Oman lies sparkling white, topped with golden minarets in the middle of a maze of brown pleated mountains reaching down to the Arabian Sea. Described as “Arabia’s jewel”, this city is a blend of the old and the new. Muscat is green and defies being classified as part of a desert country. The roads are lined with well-manicured green lawns and trees. During winter this is interspersed with a profusion of multicoloured flowers. The city has steadfastly retained its old-world character. Old Muscat has a quaint charm about it with many forts, castles, mosques and towers doting the landscape. The Corniche, with its promenade and souqs (markets) is one of the highlights of the city. The old souq of Muttrah is an ideal spot for tourists to buy keepsakes and treasures. Greater Muscat holds high-rise business properties, world-class highways, upscale suburbs rooted in traditional Islamic Architecture, Elegant Mosques, Large Green Parks, Archaeological Sites, Museums and World-Class Hotels.
Distance : 174 km
Duration : 1 1/2 hrs (Paved Road)
Transports : By Buses / Coaches. By Cars
Nizwa, the verdant oasis city with its blend of the modern and the ancient was the capital of Oman during the 6th and 7th century. One of the oldest cities of the Sultanate, this was once a center of education and art. Nizwa has been an important cross roads at the base of the Western Hajar Mountains connecting Muscat, Buraimi, and the lower reaches of Dhofar. The Falaj Daris of Nizwa is the largest single falaj in Oman and provides the surrounding country side with much needed water for the plantations.
The city, famous for its historical monuments, handicrafts and agricultural products, has an expensive Souq showcasing a wonderful array of handicrafts – coffee pots, swords, leather goods, silverware, antiques, and household utensils. Nizwa Fort, completed in the 1650’s, was the seat of power during the rule of the Al Ya’ruba dynasty and is Oman’s most visited National monument. The reconstructed Sultan Qaboos Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Oman. In the evenings, the call of the muezzin fills the air calling the faithful to prayer.
A few kilometers from Nizwa lies the mysterious town of Bahla. Bahla is the home of myths and legends that have carried through the centuries. This little town is famous for its pottery. The old Bahla Fort with its 12 km wall is the oldest fort in Oman. A short distance beyond Bahla lies the Castle of Jabreen. This massive three-storied was also built during Al Ya’ruba dynasty of the mid 1600’s. It is a fine example of Islamic architecture with beautiful wooden inscriptions and paintings on the ceilings. Other interesting locales are the 400-year-old village of Al Hamra and the mountainside village of Misfah Al Abreen.
Distance : 200 km
Duration : 2.5 hrs (Paved Road)
Transports : By Saloon Cars and 4-Wheel Drives
Beyond Nizwa, the southern flanks of the Western Hajar Mountains can be readily seen rising over 2000 metres above the surrounding countryside. Within these mountains, rugged networks of wadi channels have carved networks of dramatic canyons and caves. The most fertile of these have been cultivated by the Hardy Shuwawis, mountain people, who have adapted to this harsh lifestyle under the tropic sun. At Wadi Tanuf, the ever-flowing springs are tapped to produce a commercially popular brand of drinking water. Out along the nearby wadi at Hasat bin Sult Rock, ancient petroglyphs estimated to be over 3000 years old lie in wait. On the mountainside lies Misfah al Abreen, a garden paradise of humble farmers and herders.
To the west of Al Hamra is the road to Jebel Shams(mountain of the Sun), the tallest peak in Oman at 3010 metres. Here it is where you can find one of Oman’s greatest natural wonders, the Wadi Nakhr Gorge. Inside the canyon, you can haggle with the local rug weavers, trek to the cliff dwellings along the canyon rim and visit remains of towns once occupied ages ago by Persian settlers.
Distance : 1100 km
Duration : 12 1/2 hrs (Road)
Transports : By Buses / Coaches. By Cars and 4-wheel Drives
Jebel Akhdar in Arabic means “Green Mountains” and this region of the most verdant outside of Salalahand the Batinah Coast. To go there requires a 4-wheel drive ( and a road permit because of military installations in the area). One of the most scenic areas in Oman, coupled with the friendly local inhabitants, this region is a natural spot for tourism.
Points of interest include the towns of Wadi Bani Habib, Saiq and Al Ayn, where local farmers raise grapes, pomegranates, apricots and walnuts. The climate is moderate year round as the mean altitude is about 1800 metres. Also of interest is the lookout over the canyon recently named Diana’s Point, for the late Princess of Wales who spent time here in the late 80s.
Distance : 75 km
Duration : 45 mins (Paved Road)
Transports : By Saloon Cars
The only natural pass through the northern jebels traces the trail of the old Silk Route caravans as they carried their goods from the Far East to communities of the interior. Follow the paths taken by Marco Poloand Ibn Battuta to Fanja, the traders’ crossroads, and the towns of Bid Bid, Sumail and Al Khobar, replete with castles and fortifications. Stop by the roadside fruit markets of Ad Dasir to sample pomegranates, pumpkin and sweet lemons.
On the far end of the Gap just past Izki is the verdant plantation town of Birkat Al Mawz (which translates “pool of bananas”). Indeed, from the ridge above the town the spreading forest of dates and banana trees give the impression of a deep pool. From this ridge you will see why Birkat Al Mawz is known as the “rainbow city”, due to the anticlinal structure of rocks at the base of the ridge behind the town. The rocks frame the old quarter like a rainbow.
Distance : 150 km
Duration : 1 1/2 hrs (Highway)
Transports : By Buses / Coaches. By Cars
The Gateway to the Eastern region of Oman, Ibra, in the past, was famous for its fine horses and horsemen. A unique feature of Ibra is the “Wednesday Souq”run entirely by women.
On the far side of Ibra lies Al Mansfah village, a community of mansions once owned by prosperous merchants of the 19th century during the reign of Said the Great. With the decline of Said’s commercial empire these once stately mansions fell into ruin.
Distance : 190 km
Duration : 2 hrs (Road)
Transports : By Saloon Cars and 4-wheel Drives
The great Wahiba Sands are longitudinal dunes 200 km long and 100 km wide running south from the Eastern Hajars to the Arabian Sea. The dunes are 100-150 metres high in shades of colour from orange to hues of amber. Bedouin camps can be found along the tracks and trails in this isolated desert. In sporadic areas can be found stands of single-species woodlands. Where the sands meet the ocean, outcrops of aolianite can be found displaying unusual and attractive abstract shapes.
To the west of the Wahiba of the small towns of Rawdah, Samad Ash Shan, Al Akdar and Lizq. Rawdahand Samad Ash Shan contain ruins and reconstructions of old forts while Al Akdar is the home of Omanis pit weavers who design elegant textiles from their looms dug into the ground. At Lizq can be found remains of structures that date back to Bronze Age. South of Lizq are the prosperous towns of Al Mudaybi and Sinaw where you can find almost every day the bustling Bedouin souq at the centre of town.
Distance : 335 km (Paved Road) / 240 km (Coastal Track)
Duration : 4 hrs (Paved Road) / 3.5 hrs (Coastal Track)
Transports : By Buses / Coaches. By Saloon Cars / 4-Wheel Drives
Sur, a placid sea coast town with its striking traditional dwellings is a pleasant getaway and one of the most important towns in the Eastern Region. The drive from Muscat via the interior cuts through wadis and passes through the Hajar Mountains. An alternate route down the coast through the village of Quriyat is adventurous and offers fabulous views of sparkling white beaches covered with multi coloured shells, deep ravines, cliffs that fall dangerously into azure seas, rocks sculpted by wind and waves and lush green wadis (river beds). The journey ends in the city famous for its dhow shipyards (and presumed home of the legendary Sinbad the Sailor).
On the way to Sur one can stop over the fishing village of Quriyat, which was a major port centuries ago. Wadi Shab is another of the must-see wadis of this region – one of several wadis with running water throughout the year. Beyond Sur about 40 kms away lie the beaches of R’as Al Hadd and R’as Al Junayz where every year about 30,000 turtlescome to lay their eggs.
Distance : 210 Km
Duration : 2 1/2 hrs (Road)
Transports : By Saloon Cars and 4-wheel Drives
Masirah is an island in the Indian Ocean, 20 kms off central Oman coast just South of the Wahiba Sands. The stark rocky landscape is rimmed with isolated beaches whose only visitors are the logger head turtles that come to nest there. Beach combers may come across a variety of shell fish and other speciments of marine life.
Distance : 230 km
Duration : 2 hrs (Highway)
Transports : By Buses / Coaches. By Cars
Sohar, a seaside city, was the capital of Oman many centuries ago and legend has it that it was named after the great grandson of Noah (of the Bibical flood). Originally known as Majan (Persian-Mazoun), the city’s name alludes from early ship building activity. The word “ma-gan” means ship’s skeleton or chassis stemmed from its copper deposits in the mountains of Majan.
Sohar belongs to the fertile Batinah coast region, and is arguably the most verdant city in Oman and the drive to Sohar from Muscat along the coastal highway passes through thick plantations of dates, mangoes, limes, bananas, vegetables and fodder crops. The Sohar Fort built around the 1st century AD is one of the major landmarks of this city. Built on a hilltop this fort has Five Impressive Towers and is the only Omani fort that is Whitewashed.
Wadi Heebi, lying 63 km away from the city is a good destination for picnickers. The village of Heebi is a collection of ancient dwellings with an untouched rustic look. Before Heebi village there lies the village of Al Ghudafary, which is fed by an old falaj supplying gardens yielding dates and papayas.
Distance : 1030 km
Duration : 12 hrs (Road) / 1 hr (Flight)
Transports : By Buses / Coaches. By Cars. By Oman Airlines
Situated in the southern region of Oman, Salalah has the benifit of the annual Indian Monsoon: locally known as the Khareef. This monsoon, which extends from early June to mid September, transforms the countryside into a flourish garden with tumbling waterfalls and meandering streams. The Khareef season is a good time to visit Salalah. In July and August the government plays host for the annual Khareef Festival, a cultural highlight of the season.
Salalah is steeped in myths and legends that date back to biblical times. In the Jebel Qara can be found the tomb of the Prophet Ayoub (A.S), better known as Job of the Old Testament. In Khawr Rhori lie the ruins of the palace reputed to be that of the Queen of Sheba. In the surrounding countryside on the flanks of the jebels grows the Boswellia Sacra better known for the sap it produces: Frankincense. Frankincense, of course, is best known to Christians as one of the gifts of the Magi in Nativity story.
For most of the year, the unspoiled beaches of Salalah are ideal for scuba diving, canoeing, sailing, jet skiing and diving. The marshy Khawrs along the coast line are sanctuaries to a broad variety of migrating birds turning the region into a bird watchers paradise. But during the summer Salalah is easily Oman’s coolest destination to visit during the Khareef with its crisp unpolluted air, cool misty clime, high rolling seas and leafy ambiance.
Less than half an hour’s drive from Salalah is Ain Razat, a picnic spot with springs, hills, gardens and streams. Nearby is the equally resplendent Ain Sahanawt. Seventy Kilometers east of Salalah lies Mirbat, famous for Bin Ali’s tomb. Taqah, 36kms from Salalah is a picturesque, quaint village. The fort at Taqah goes back several hundred years and is well stocked with authentic decorations and appointments.
Distance : 500 km
Duration : 6 hrs (Road) / 45 mins (Flight)
Transports : By Cars. By Oman Airlines
The journey by air to the Musandam, dubbed as the “Norway of the Middle East” because of the inlets likened to Norway’s Fjords, provides a spectacular bird’s eye view. The stark mountains of this region rise 2000 meters out of the Arabian Gulf. The patterns and textures of the mountains are altogether striking. From November to March is particularly an ideal time to visit the Musandam.
Upon your arrival you will want to sail on a Dhow Cruise to visit Khawr Ash Shamm. Here you will find placid waters, marine life, secluded beaches and isolated outposts. Dhow trips can also be arranged to visit the cliff side village of Kumzar. By land you can rent a 4-wheel drive to see Khawr Najd, Jebel Harim (the highest point in Musandam) and the Acacia Forest near Sal Al Ala.