Desert camel treks, luxury camping under the stars and 4-wheel drive wadi safaris through mighty canyons are some of the adventures awaiting the visitor to Oman. From quiet mountain villages where time has stood still, to magnificent UNESCO forts, swaying date-palm plantations, tempestuous blow holes and beautiful beaches, these are the kinds of images afforded by the fascinating country of Oman.
Rich in frankincense and myrrh (and once upon a time copper) Sultan Qaboos’ four-decade rule has seen Oman transformed from a conservative, isolated country into one of the Middle East’s most progressive and prosperous. Modernisation is key to this country and great sensitivity has been shown towards maintaining traditional values and sustainable development. Ancient crafts such as weaving are actively supported and historic buildings have been restored.
You will find a few high-rise buildings in the capital, Muscat, but generally development is low-key. Unfortunately, some of the new hotels have been built in deserted areas almost an hour’s drive outside the capital so there is little to do other than relax on the beaches and make a welcome excursion into Muscat.
The country's heritage of forts is impressive. Numbering more than 2,000 (and several of them given UNESCO World Heritage status), they are meticulously restored, although some of them are not yet open to tourists.
Distances between the main tourist sites in Oman are huge, some requiring an internal flight. Even around Muscat, it is not uncommon to spend over an hour travelling to the wadis and historic forts on the efficient motorway network.
Driving in Oman is safe, even for women, and the roads and motorways in the main towns are well maintained and fast. However, distances are vast so it is essential to plan your journey carefully. Adventurous tourists may prefer to hire a 4-wheel drive vehicle or take a guided tour to explore the wadis with their impressive craggy golden rock formations and extensive date plantations. Hold on tight as the vehicle bumps over the rocky canyon floor, speeding through towering mountains carved into the most wonderful shapes and splashing at speed through streams criss-crossing the terrain.
If time allows, it is worth flying to either Dhofar Province in the far south or Musandam in the north. Dhofar’s long sandy beaches are fringed with palms and the bird life is prolific. Inland, the Empty Quarter’s vast desert is an enchanting backdrop for a camel trek or a night under the starry sky in one of several camps. In the far north, the fjords in Musandam, which borders the entrance to the Gulf, are a delight for a trip on a traditional dhow to Khor Shim.
From the hustle and bustle of local souks to the tranquillity of 21st-century hotels and resorts, the tourist will find the traditional and modern co-existing peacefully. A ‘Renaissance’ towards an age of prosperity and progression it may be, but wherever you go in Oman, you will still find traditional Arabian hospitality and Islamic culture at its best.