OMAN (سلطنة عُمان)
Oman isn't a place that really featured on my mental list of places to visit, isolated for many years under the previous Sultan, it's still a place to be discovered by tourism. I was planning to visit countries to the north, and figured it would be rude not to drop in. The more I read about it, the more I became intrigued and keen to go, so I extended my holiday to the region to give it more time. And I'm so glad I did. Oman is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered and explored. It has beautiful mountain scenery in the Hajar mountains south of Muscat, endless wild desert scenery in the interior, small picturesque coastal towns, and lush greenery in the South around Salalah. The capital Muscat is modern, but is very patchy, made up of small villages as it is. Anyone planning time in Dubai, would be well worth thinking about hiring a car and heading a 100 miles to the North East, to visit the Omani enclave in the Straits of Hormuz, for a more authentic Arabic experience.
I arrived by land via Dubai, and travelled along through coastal towns to Muscat. The odd hotel and apartment building being the only tall building, most of the others were mostly single storey. The traffic congealed in towns here and there, but mostly flowed well. I was dropped off the bus at the airport, and grabbed my pre-booked hire car. A quick trip to the picturesque old part of Muscat where the Sultan's Palace can be found, and then I headed off across to the Wadi's outside Sur, and then into Sur itself. I stayed with a couchsurfer, and bought him diner in return in the Souk. It was then down the coast to Duqm, which I imagined to be a sizeable town, but is mainly just a port that's out of bounds to tourists. Disappointed I headed a bit further south to Madrakah. A small town with gorgeous coastal rocky scenery. I drove down to the beach where the fishing vessels rest for the night, and camped on the beach. The following day I hummed and harred about roaring down to Selalah, but my better judgement prevailed, and I headed to the Hajar mountains. I was so glad I did, as the vistas up there were beautiful. I wasn't so sure about the roads in my regular non-4x4 hire car, but it made it all through the mountains. The pic below was taken near Jabal Shams. A word of warning on driving back to Muscat on the motorway, it's loaded with speed cameras, as is Muscat.
Currency: Omani Rial
Visa: Most Western nations can acquire a Visa on arrival for 20OR for 30 days, or 5OR for 10 days. Those arriving by land who landed at Dubai will find their Visa fee waved.
Plug: British 3 flat prongs, 2 horizontal and a vertical longer one above them in a triangle fashion, 220v
GMT: GMT +4
GDP Ranking (IMF): #34 £17,230 (similar to New Zealand or Cyprus)
Communications: Country code is +968
Health: No vaccinations are needed for Oman, and mosquito carried diseases are not an issue. The sun is the biggest problem in Oman, especially during the hot summers. Drink plenty of water and use sunscreen.
When to Visit: Oman has Northern hemisphere seasons, with summer being particularly hot and humid. It's sea is warm year round, so visiting during Winter is fine, and temperatures are a reasonable mid 20's celsius.
Personal Safety: Oman is generally very safe, F&CO advice is here. The biggest problem is likely to be on the roads where drivers falling asleep at the wheel and travelling too fast can see serious accidents.
Getting Around: Domestic flights go between the only two civilian airports, Muscat and Salalah. As with the rest of the region, there are no rail routes in the country. Buses from Muscat go to Salalah, Sohar, Sur and Nizwa. I personally recommend hiring a car, although long journeys can be tiring and with sometimes monotonous scenery, particularly in the interior. Oman is best in a 4x4 and opens up more areas. Ensure you are fully prepared for off-road travel and bear in mind mobile reception is patchy and likely non-existent in isolated areas.
What to see/do: The hajar mountains are a definite highlight for those with their own car. Most mountain roads can be covered in a decent engined car, but better in a 4x4. The enclave area in the straits of hormuz are also full of beautiful scenery if you have a car.
Food & Drink: Omani food is similar to most Arabic meals, although a bit less spicy. Omani based dishes like Maqbous (spicy meat and saffron flavoured rice) and Muqalab (tripe and chest innards cooked with spices), are mostly made at home, and rare in restaurants. Due to it's long coastline and varied seas, seafood is the one to aim for here. Shark is not uncommon and apparently very tasty. Mashuai is an Omani dish that might be found in restaurants, it's made of Kingfish and rice. Oman is an islamic country, although alcohol can be found in restaurants, Oman doesn't produce any.
Other notes: Don't drink anything in outside during Ramadan, and be aware that driving a dirty car is a fineable offence.