OMAN - or in the long form, the Sultanate of Oman - is a small country in the South West end of the Arab peninsula surround by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. With more than half of its border being a seashore with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, Oman has a long history as a naval empire that extended as far as India, Kenya or Zanzibar.
Let's buckle our seat belts and discover this country's diversified landscapes and culture.
Scenically squeezed between mountains and ocean, with old forts and outstanding museums, an opera house and flower-filled parks, the capital of Oman is a delight to visit. Its name means ‘safe anchorage’, and the sea plays an important role in city life to this day, sustaining the fishing industry and providing opportunities for visitors to swim from sandy beaches or dive with turtles in nearby lagoons.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Quiet imposing from the outside, this glorious piece of modern Islamic architecture was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30th year of reign. This grand iconic structure in the Arab world took six years to build. The mosque features a blend of Islamic, Middle Eastern, and Omani architectural styles. The main prayer hall is breath-taking with a gigantic Persian carpet which alone measures 70m by 60m wide, making it the second-largest hand-loomed Iranian carpet in the world.
It is one of the oldest markets in Oman, dating back about two hundred years. Its antiquity has perhaps increased the extent of its beauty, magic, and allure. Characterized by narrow winding alleys roofed with wood, you find crowded shops selling Omani and Indian artefacts together with a few antiques among more traditional no textile, hardware and jewellery stores. If you are good in bargaining, you will love this place. When passing through this souq, your senses are tantalized by the aromatic smells of frankincense, incense, and Arabian perfumes. It is known as well for its handicrafts like silverware, daggers (known as khanjars - traditional curved knives worn by men), traditional cloth, new apparel, and shoes, in addition to the famous Omani sweets (Halwa), spices and braziers (receptacles in which incense or frankincense is burned).
Royal Opera House Muscat
Some of the most famous names in opera and ballet have performed within this beautiful building since its inauguration in 2011, and the quality of the productions here (the season extends from September to May) regularly wins international acclaim. Built by the same architects as the Grand Mosque, the Royal Opera House Muscat is worth a visit simply to admire the harmonious amalgam of marble, inlaid wood and arabesque design.
It is a small fishing town, 83 km southeast of Muscat. The Portuguese arrived in the 16th century. The village was a strategic point to control the Oman Gulf and access to the Persian Gulf. It was part of a chain of fortresses the Portuguese Empire had in this region.
The city of Sour is one of the most historic boat-building centres in Arabia. Today, artisans still hand-craft dhows of all sizes at the factory in Sur, using centuries-old techniques. Naturally, boats were a vital part of life in Sur, and a thriving ship-building industry developed in the port city. The city became famous as a centre for the construction of dhows, the generic name given to a range of traditional Arabian sailing vessels. Once built, these wooden ships would sail all across the region, to the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the coast of East Africa and across to India and China, trading precious stones, pepper, sandalwood, cloves, cinnamon, ambergris, ivory, and more.
Sur’s role at the centre of these trade routes faded over the years, especially after the construction of the Suez Canal.
It is one of the largest in Oman. Built by the Bani Nebhan tribe who were dominant in the area from the 12th to the 15th centuries, it was granted Unesco World Heritage status in 1987. One of the main attractions of this enormous fort is its scale and the panoramic view from the battlements.
This Castle dates back to 1670. Its design and construction were supervised by the Immam Bil Arab bin Sultan Al Yaribi. This fort was a beautiful palace for the Immam and his family and a bastion during wartime. It was also a beacon of education and contained many study rooms.
MISFAT AL ABRIYEEN
It is an attractive destination due to the agricultural terraces, beautiful wadi, hiking options and old houses. The village rises around 1000 meters above sea level and is named after the original inhabitants, the Al Abri family.
One of the oldest villages in Oman, Al Hamra sits at the foot of the Hajar Mountains and is interesting for its well-preserved row of two- and three-story mud-brick houses built in the Yemeni style. There are many abandoned houses in the upper parts of the village making it attractive for an atmospheric stroll.
Isolated by the Hajar Mountains from the coast and the outside influences brought to the coastal cities through trade and conquest, Nizwa is dominated by its principal form of defence, the massive Nizwa fort. The narrow, winding staircase to the fighting platform is protected at numerous intervals by slots in the roof, through which boiling date syrup could be poured on would-be attackers. All these factors combined to render the fort practically unassailable.
Under the shadow of the fort is Nizwa souq, an ancient market now housed in a modern arcade built exactingly to traditional design. As well as jewellery, muskets and khanjars, this town hosts a wonderful Friday auction. Locals come to parade their livestock for sale to the highest bidder in a lively swirl of elegant white-clothed men and black-coated women with colorful headdresses - and some anxious cows and goats! An event not to be missed!
BIRKAT AL MOOZ
Home to many banana plantations, Birkat Al Mooz is a traditional village in the Nizwa region. Located on the way to Jabel Akhdar, it is an enchanting stop that will transport you back in time. You can find the ruins of the Tribes that lived in those mountains surrounded by plantations. It is home to the traditional Falaj irrigation system which is on the Unesco World heritage list.
The third-largest city in the Sultanate, and the largest city in the Dhofar Province, Salalah is the birthplace of the former sultan Qaboos bin Said. It is known for its unique Khareef (monsoon) season, in which the whole city turns green. Nevertheless, there is more to this mind-blowing gem in terms of natural beauty and architectural wonder. Here are the best things to do, and the most splendid places to visit in Salalah and in its province. .
Al Mughsail Beach
Al Mughsail beach has beautifully white sands, and crystal clear waters. What adds to the beach’s beauty is the green mountain that surrounds it and the natural fountains that burst out of its rocky edges.
Al Marneef Cave
The Marneef Cave is located near Al Mughsail Beach. The charm of this place starts with the surrounding mountain that has several benches for tourists to enjoy the marvellous view of the beach and the blowholes – Al Marneef Blowholes. These holes in the ground are known to be sea caves, through which sea waters come, creating beautifully high fountains that splash water around them.
Sumhuram is a famous archaeological site located in Salalah. It is a fortified town that dates back to the Hadramawt Empire of the 1st century. Some sources believe it was founded to control the profitable Frankincense trade of Dhofar. This unique site offers an overview of the ancient town, and the crystal waters of the Sea of Oman.
Located at around 50km from Salalah, it is the highest peak in the Governate. Burrowed in the hills and pasture lands of the Dhofar ranges, Jabal Samhan is a protected and enclosed wildlife reserve. This sanctuary plays host to the endangered Arabian leopard and other species of flora and fauna found in the Arabian Peninsula.
Wadi Darbat is the most beautiful and scenic spot for the nature lovers in Dhofar Region. This amazing valley offers everything that is needed for a memorable day. During autumn, the wadi’s water descending from the mountains forms magnificent waterfalls cascading from a height of up to 30 meters.
Between Muscat and Sur, Wadi Shab is a stunning valley with a clear emerald river that runs through it with steep rocky cliffs on both sides. Within the valley, there is a hidden waterfall in a secret cave that you should not be missed when you are there; a truly unique landscape.
BIMMAH SINKHOLE (AKA Hawiyat Najm)
Hawiyat Najm is believed to exist as a result of a meteorite that hit the ground (which translates to falling star). Due to natural limestone erosion, the locals believed that a meteor fell on this spot of land, resulting in the natural depression and forming a small lake, so their name refers to that belief. In reality, sinkholes are often the result of groundwater eating away at rocks like limestone and carbonate. The Bimmah Sinkhole is formed about 600 meters from the sea, resulting in a turquoise mix of fresh and salt water, where you can dive in and enjoy the experience.
JABAL Al AKHDAR
Jabal Akhdar, which means "the Green Mountain" in English, is part of the Al Hajar Mountains range in Oman, which extends about 300 km northwest to southeast. It is one of Oman’s most spectacular areas. The highest point, Jabal Shams (Mountain of the Sun), is around 3,000 metres high. It is the highest point in Oman and the whole of eastern Arabia.
It is famous for its traditional rose water extraction and agricultural products including pomegranate, apricot, peach and walnut. Known as the Omani Grand Canyon, this site is worth visiting and enjoying the agreeable weather and the green landscapes.
WADI BANI HABIB
Wadi Bani Habib is a wonderful place to explore, especially if you are like me: curious and looking for something new. Here, atop Jabal Al Akhdar, you will discover the recently abandoned village of Habib, active walnut plantations, and an unused path all to yourself. At first glance the village looks in pretty good shape. Walls, roofs, doors, and windows are mostly intact, as opposed to other abandoned villages in Oman. However, as you walk across the wadi, past the active plantations and the still active mosque, you notice nobody is home. Roofs collapsed, walls crumpled, and doors completely missing. The village is empty and yours to explore.
In the heart of eastern Oman, the Sharqiyah Sands is an ocean of regular dunes that seem to stretch out endlessly. Pale gold at noon, the towering piles of sand shift between rich yellow and coppery orange when the sun is at lower angles; truly magical moment for photography lovers like me. In this area, the dunes are constantly moving - up to 10 m a year.
OMAN'S BIG FIVE
There are abundant opportunities to observe animals in their natural habitat while visiting Oman. It has an incredible diversity of wildlife hosted by seas, beaches, mountains, valleys, and deserts. I had the chance to meet all of these remarkable animals.
Nesting turtles in the Ras Al Jinz Reserve
Ras Al Jinz resort is a mix of eco-tourism, scientific and family leisure experience. where green turtles reach its shore rest and reproduce. More than 20,000 endangered green turtles nest on this unspoiled Indian Ocean shoreline every year, each heaving themselves up the beach to lay their eggs beneath the sand. May-September is prime hatching season. At dawn and dusk, you can witnessed the different steps of turtles laying their eggs and scores of tiny hatching battle to break free of their eggs and scuttle towards the sea. It is a majestic experience not be to be missed!
Oman's fjords are home to humpback dolphins. They are almost always seen as they playfully follow tour boats, frolicking in the swell beside them. Muscat and Musandam are most famous for their dolphin watching, with pods of several dozen appearing at once. However, so rich are the seas around Oman that dolphin can be seen everywhere from Dhofar to Khasab.
The camel is Oman's most iconic and essential creature. This mammal is used for transportation, sport, meat, milk and leather. Because of the restrictions not to cross the Omani camel with other types, the Omani camel maintained its features and characteristics as a distinct type. Generally it is of medium size, weighs between 350-450 kg and is about 2 m high in front of the hump.
The Arabian Oryx or white Oryx is a medium-sized antelope with a distinct shoulder bump, long, straight horns, and a tufted tail. The Arabian Oryx was extinct in the wild by the early 1970's, but was saved in zoos and private preserves, and was reintroduced into the wild starting in 1980. Clearly, the Arabian Oryx continues to thrive in the sanctuaries of Omani's minds.
There are three major goat breeds in Oman, Jabal Akhdar, Batina and Dhofari with the latter two being the most numerous. The long haired, pendulous-eared Batina goat is larger than the Dhofari which resembles the short haired, prick-eared East African goat. The ones that you can admire in my photos are the ones from Jabal al Akhdar.
I hope you enjoyed your virtual trip to Oman!
See you soon for another exciting destination...
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