Are you tired of the same old paradise? Do you see pictures of Hawaiian beaches or Spanish villas and think, yawn? If so, who are you and how can we be you? Secondly, boy have we got the destination for you.
Packed with all the relaxation of the tropics, the hikes of South East Asia, and a super-sized serving of culture (and great food) to boot, Oman is perfect for those looking to up more than just their ‘Gram game.
Interested? Of course you are. Here are 11 damn good reasons to book that ticket and go (now).
1. Oman Has Its Very Own “Grand Canyon”
We don’t mean to exaggerate but, Oman’s answer to the Grand Canyon, Wadi Ghul, is reason enough to pop on a plane. Okay, maybe there are a few other drawcards, but it takes top billing in our eyes. Located within the Al Hajar Mountains, Wadi Ghul is an eight-kilometre depression dropping up to 1,000 meters. A four-hour round trip, Wadi Ghul’s Balcony Walk is the most popular trek, showcasing overhangs, oases and an ancient, abandoned village (Ghul).
We recommend going for an afternoon stroll (if you could call four hours a stroll) to avoid the heat. Hiking boots well and truly worn in? Take on Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in the Al Hajar range (and the entire country). While some may be wowed by such a feat of nature, we have to admit we’re mad curious about the goats that call the WG home, because there sure are a lot of them.
2. The Khareef Festival Is One Event You And Your Mates Need To Know About
For those not in the know, ‘khareef’ means ‘autumn’ or ‘monsoon’ in Arabic, and translates to ‘holy crap this place is beautiful’ in traveller. During the khareef season, Oman’s epic landscapes are blanketed in green thanks to near-constant rain, but trust us when we say you won’t be complaining. Not with those views. Those looking to get the most out of the season should make a beeline to Salalah, with the area hosting a number of festivals celebrating the change. You can expect music, dance (keep an eye out for Zanooj, which literally involves thousands of dancers), handicrafts (hello trinkets that you damn well need), and ICYMI, Salalah is also known as the perfume capital of the world due to its smorgasbord of Frankincense trees, so trek on down.
3. Permission To Go HAM On The Sand Dunes
To be fair, most of Oman is technically desert, but holy moly is Wahiba Sands a bit spesh. Often referred to as ‘corduroy’ (a quick peek at Google Earth and you’ll see why), Wahiba Sands features dunes of around 100-metres and more than enough sand to fill your socks. Accessible by four-wheel-drive only (and a mere four-hour drive from Muscat), the Sands caters to boarders, quad bikers and camel-friendly trekkers (with a Bedouin guide of course).
4. BYO Stretchy Pants To Stuff Yourself Silly On Traditional Eats
Those with a penchant for trying new things should head to the souks/souqs of Salalah where camel meat kebabs (meshkak) reign supreme. Paired with Omani rice and bread, and seasoned with local spices, the dish is a must-try (at least once ‘kay?). If meshkak doesn’t tempt may we suggest the humbler dish of corn in a cup? In most marketplaces, you’ll be able to spot a vendor (or six) selling Styrofoam cups of corn but don’t be fooled, this isn’t the trimmed cob it appears. Paired with butter, lime juice, salt and spicy red pepper, these cups are just as piquant as anything else going ‘round.
We also recommend shuwa if you can swindle some (it’s often made for special occasions). Expect meat marinated in Omani spices, wrapped in banana or palm leaves, and placed into an underground sand oven for one or two days. A word of advice, you just can’t recreate it in the backyard no matter how hard you try, trust us, we tried.
5. PSA: This Is One of The World’s Most Instagrammable Snorkel Spots
While yes, the term ‘fjord’ is distinctly Norwegian, take heed gentle traveller; ‘Musandam Fjords’ is no typo. A long, narrow inlet with steep cliffs (we’re talking 2,000 meters above sea level) either side, the Musandam sits at the northern end of the country, hemmed in by the United Arab Emirates and the Strait of Hormuz.
Don’t worry about a Norwegian-style dip either, temps average a warm 23 degrees Celsius. Water is a beautiful, calm aqua, contrasting nicely off red-brown rocks/your sunburn. We recommend visiting the townships of Khasab and Dibba, going for a snorkel, exploring the fjord on a dhow (Arabic boat), or both.
6. Oman Is Home To 5 Types Of Sea Turtles, ‘Nuff Said
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the many sea turtles of Oman, because guys, there are so many. In fact, roughly 20,000 turtles migrate annually to the Eastern Peninsula to lay eggs (we’re talking 50-60,000) between April and August every year. Those looking for a spot of turtle-watchin’ should head to Ras Al Hadd, Ras Al Jinz (both in Al Sharqiyah), Masirah Island, Ad Daymaniyat Islands and the shores of the Dhofar region. You won’t be getting just any ol’ turtles to squiz at either. Five different species visit the beaches including the Olive Ridley Turtle and Leatherback Turtle. No disturbing nature though, as tear-jerking as it can sometimes be (those pesky gulls).
7. Three Words: The Green Mountain
Ever seen something that simply begs to be photographed? The undeniable crème of this crop is Jebel Akhdar. Almost as high as Jebel Shams (near Wadi Ghul), Jebel Akhbar is known by one key feature, its colour.
The mountainous hulk stands out like a sore, green thumb (and aren’t we glad) in a world of rock thanks to its many pomegranate trees, figs, roses, almonds and barley grass. And it has a simple, yet powerful, draining system called falaj to thank for it. These ancient water channels trickle through five nearby villages, giving Jebel Akhbar a little love along the way.
8. Get Ready To Journey Through Abandoned Villages
Remember the abandoned village we mentioned in Wadi Ghul? Well, release your inner marauder, we’ve found the biggest of them all. Birkat al Mawz is not only one of the largest when it comes to Al Hajar’s former townships, but it’s also one of the easiest to explore. A great place to check off on the way to Jebel Akhdar, Birkat al Mawz features the ancient housing of Omani tribes, a reconstructed fort (Bay tar Ridaydah) and the UNESCO-listed irrigation system (Falaj Al Khatmeen).
PSA: part of this village still functions so, be cool to residents.
9. If You Love Istanbul’s Bazaar, You’ll Love Oman’s Souks
We know what you’re thinking and no, we didn’t mean soup (although we’re sure you could get some at the below souqs).
Souqs or souks are traditional open markets selling local Omani products and crafts like clothes, silver products, pottery and food. One of the best is Muttrah Souk in Muscat, with teeny alleyways bursting with wares and importantly, Omani Halwa (desserts). Al Husn Souk is another well-known market in Salalah, famous for Frankincense and Bahla’s Souk, located near the Bahla fort, is well known for its silver and copper handicrafts (and once again, sweets).
10. Not To Brag But We Found A Magic City, Yes We’re Serious
We’ve hit the ‘magical oasis’ on the list folks! And that isn’t hyperbole, Bahla is literally called ‘Madinat al-Sehr’ or ‘The City of Magic’. One of the oldest oases in Oman, and the spot where many a Sultan would put down their roots, Bahla is literally a magical place and not just because of its World Heritage Site status. The fortified town is known as the birthplace of black magic or ‘jinn’, with stories of people turning into cows or goats backing up this assertion.
If you’re not keen on the Charmed life, Bahla also boasts some pretty top-notch historical architecture. The city itself is fortified and surrounded by a 12-kilometre wall built in the pre-Islamic era.
11. And Finally, There's A New Road Trip To Add To Your Bucket List
Just a two-hour drive from Muscat, the many wadis (troughs within a valley) of Al Rustaq simply scream ‘road trip worthy’. That being said, if you only have time to hit one, Wadi al Hoqain is one of the more beautiful with pools for swimming, waterfalls, villages, sinkholes (from a distance ya’ll) and hot springs.
Driving through the region and stopping at each wadi is a day (or several) well spent. Loop maps are available online and via tourism agencies. Most start at the Rustaq fort—one of the largest in the country—and dip past the Al Hazam Castle.
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Design credit: Sarah Law