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10 Reasons to Visit Oman Right Now

AFAR logo AFAR 24/02/2017 Danae Mercer

The sultanate of Oman is steeped in history, rich in culture, and blessed with natural beauty that includes mountain, desert, and ocean. Set on the east of the Arabian peninsula, bordering the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, Oman is stable and safe to visit. Here are 10 reasons to go right now.

The tourism industry is developing quickly

Oman’s tourism board is investing $35 billion over the next 25 years and aiming to increase the number of hotel rooms by 40 percent, which means the country’s vast, nearly traveler-free mountains and beaches are likely to become a whole lot busier. Now’s the time to go for anyone who wants to see the country relatively untouched.

Tropical Salalah is like another world

Tropical and lush, southern Salalah is a world apart from the rest of Oman. This relatively undiscovered area only opened its international airport in late 2015. Yet with beaches lined with palm trees, misty banana plantations, and stunning natural scenery—all fueled by a large summer monsoon (the khareef)—the secret won’t keep for long. Rent a car to get about—taxis are notoriously expensive for tourists. 

10 Reasons to Visit Oman Right Now © Photo by Nanak26/Flickr 10 Reasons to Visit Oman Right Now

The traditional souqs are amazing

There’s nothing quite like wandering through a Middle Eastern souq. The air is rich and fragrant with perfumes and oils as vendors offer silk, spices, colorful scarves, and simple handicrafts amid the hustle and bustle. Head to the historic town of Nizwa to buy honey, dates, curved silver daggers, and even goats, all in the shadow of a nearby fort.

Baby sea turtles hatch here

Thousands of sea turtles migrate annually from the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf to Oman, laying their eggs on the country’s shores. In fact, Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, on the very eastern tip of Oman, is one of the most important nesting sites in the world for the endangered green sea turtle. Peak nesting season is during summer and fall, and visitors can experience this moving event via an evening tour or overnight package at Ras Al Jinz. Be sure to leave the camera at home—flash photography hurts the turtles’ eyes and isn’t allowed.

Capital Muscat is a cultural dream

The capital of Oman, Muscat is elegant and increasingly cultural. History buffs can discover jewelry and other artifacts throughout the 14 galleries of the recently opened National Museum of Oman. Then there’s the unmissable Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a stunning city highlight that’s best visited early in the day. Just be sure to dress conservatively. For something a little different, the Royal Opera House hosts classic Western performances like West Side Story and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as well as regional productions and Omani music. 

Try 24-hour meat

Shuwaa, a traditional Omani dish, involves taking a hunk of meat (often lamb), marinating it in spices, wrapping it in banana or palm leaves, and slow-cooking it in an underground oven for 24 hours. The result is succulent and hearty, with the meat falling from the bone. Six Senses Zighy Bay, a five-star beachfront resort on the northern Musandam Peninsula, does a luxury version for its guests. For a cheaper option, stop by Bait Al Luban Omani Restaurant in Muscat.

Adventure awaits in the mountains 

Home to Oman’s highest mountain, Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun), the Al Hajar range offers rugged scenery and panoramic views. Uninhabited villages and historic towns are dotted throughout. Tackle the steep gorges via ferrata style, which involves a harness and a metal rope, or hike through a wadi (dry river bed) with a local guide to see ancient stone houses amid pristine surroundings. 

See the desert like a Bedouin

Historically, Oman’s nomadic Bedouin people would roam through the sultanate’s expansive desert, camping under the stars. Today, it’s possible to enjoy a more luxurious version of that experience on any number of overnight desert trips. Desert Nights Camp is a reliable high-end group that offers 30 luxurious Bedouin-style tents 11 kilometers into the desert. Camel rides, dune bashing, and an Omani feast are all included.

The frankincense trade is alive and well

Frankincense is deeply linked to Oman’s history, with a famous overland trade route linking Oman to Egypt possibly dating back to pharaonic times. This rich and pungent scent is made from the sap of the Boswellia genus of trees, which grow abundantly in the Dhofar governorate of Oman. Today’s travelers can head to the ancient ruins of Sumhuram, where cargoes of frankincense were stored and exchanged. Or stop by rainy, tropical Salalah to see the Boswellia trees growing on the lush green mountains. It’s here, in the exotic frankincense souq, that visitors can buy some of this iconic substance to take home. 

Detox just two hours from Dubai

While Dubai is all glitz, glamour, and over the top, Oman is a different story—even if it is only a two-hour drive away. Head to the Six Senses Zighy Bay for a full-on beach detox. This all-villa property is hidden behind a private mountain pass on the Musandam Peninsula. Wellness is a huge focus here, with a high-end “East meets West” spa and restaurant menus that include detox juices and decadently healthy avocado-chocolate dishes.

 >>Next: 7 Reasons You Should Visit Doha Right Now

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