Camel treks, desert camping and 4-wheel drive safaris through mighty canyons are just some of the adventures awaiting visitors to Oman. From frankincense plantations and atmospheric souks that speak of vanished centuries to gleaming modern cities and 5-star hotels fronting on to perfect beaches, Oman is everything you would want from Arabia.
What marks this desert kingdom out from its neighbours is a complex history of interaction with the outside world. From the ports of Muscat and Salahat, Omani traders roamed across the Arabian Sea, pushing back the borders of the Portuguese empire in Africa and founding trading outposts as far afield as Zanzibar and Mozambique, before aligning with the British after the abolition of slavery.
The result, thirteen centuries later, is an outwardly conservative, but strikingly open Islamic society, with a firm belief in the importance of its own traditions but a strong acceptance of other cultures. Many regard Oman as the most welcoming of all the Arabic nations; this is a place where foreigners are invited to sit and sip tea and eat dates out of genuine hospitality, rather than as a preamble to selling souvenirs.
The ruling sultans have taken great pains to preserve the traditional crafts and customs of their ancient civilisation, and the cities of Oman feel much more historic and lived-in than the skyscraper cities appearing elsewhere in the Gulf. The borders of Oman are guarded by a staggering 2,000 desert fortresses, most meticulously restored. It’s easy here to feel transported back to the days of Arabian Nights.
Along the coastline, enigmatic dhows still sail from port to port, while rugged wadis (river valleys) snake into the interior, studded with date-palm plantations, dramatic rock formations and hidden pools. Beyond, immaculately tarmacked highways cross the desert to neighbouring Yemen, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, though many chose to fly to avoid endless drives through barren desert scenery.
More than anything though, Oman is a place to feel safe and at ease. The Omanis are gracious hosts, and visitors will find traditional Arabian hospitality and Islamic culture at its very best.