Oman Should be on Your Travel List

We spent two weeks in Oman in December and found it to be ruggedly beautiful with a variety of activities for people who enjoy the outdoors. With a mix of sandy beaches, jagged mountain peaks, and hiking trails, it's possible to try something different every day.

We flew into Muscat, the capital city, via Istanbul using Turkish Airlines.  They had a great fare with a decent layover at Istanbul. The downside was that we arrived at 0230, which meant that we couldn't see anything as we made our way to our first destination, Alila at Jabal Akhdar. I booked the room for 4 days directly with the hotel, which I usually recommend because you can get some extra perks and guidance that you can't get when using a third party booking site.  They made the arrangements for a driver who picked us up at the airport. I should mention that we had his phone number in advance.  There is an Omantel shop at the airport where one can get a sim card for a smartphone so local calls can be made, otherwise it's helpful to get a calling plan with a US carrier before leaving the US.

The drive to the hotel was 2 hours of highway/mountain pass driving that requires a 4 wheel drive vehicle, with a check point at the bottom of the mountain to ensure the vehicle meets the standard. We stayed up until breakfast time, and it was a great surprise to see the enormous canyon at sunrise.  The location is picture perfect.  The food was excellent and two meals were provided with the room rate. Hikes can be taken to many local areas for all skill levels, though I recommend hiking boots and maybe even poles for all.  The terrain is very rocky and it would be easy to twist an ankle. We hiked through some dried riverbeds/wadis which would have been impossible in tennis shoes. There are also rock climbing adventures with a guide for those wishing to have an even more advanced day out.   A butterfly trail is on the property, which includes some workout stations and information about local flora & fauna. It takes about 45 minutes to do the circuit. Nearly everyone I spoke with said the descriptions were underrated- an easy hike was really moderate. A moderate hike was advanced, etc. The hotel provided us with a free half day hike/tour of a local village with our room.  There were also free activities planned every day.  We did archery and really enjoyed learning something new.
The hotel sits on an enormous canyon at 2000 meters elevation

An archery lesson on the property

From the mountains, we headed down to the beach at Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort for 3 nights.  This is a luxury property too which included 2 meals, but the temperature was much warmer with free beach activities like camel rides and kayaking. The pool was beautiful (with waiters who brought cooled water and towels as soon as you sat down). This is one of those places where there is no need to leave because they have everything one needs right on the property. The balcony even had a place to hang wet clothing. This is quite far from the city center and airport, so it's definitely a destination on its own, though there was a free shuttle that went into the city. For families, there were plenty of kid friendly activities.
The resort has a long beach and pools throughout. We stayed at the family hotel.
Use a kayak for free and you can see this rock formation up close

Now that we were caught up on jet lag and had enjoyed the properties where most of the guests are tourists, we wanted a feel for the real Oman.  We flew to Salalah, which by car would have been more than 9 hours.  People do drive the coastal route there, and I've seen photos, but it requires time.  The roads are well built, safe, and have little traffic compared to most middle eastern countries we've visited.  We rented a car at the airport and took day trips from Salalah Gardens Hotel, which is connected to the mall where local Omanis shop.  With a garden view room, we could watch people come and go, dressed in dishdashas (white robes that men wear) or abayas (black robes for women). It's a conservative country where skin is covered at all times.  Even as a tourist, you should expect to cover shoulders, cleavage, and knees.  This was a roomy apartment with a kitchenette, though the kitchen was not equipped with any dishes or pots and pans. We were disappointed with that, but the convenience of being right next to the shopping center was great and the outdoor heated pool was pure heaven. We used the pool every day. My husband used the gym, which was a room with treadmills overlooking the gardens. Breakfast was included in the room rate.
The outdoor pool at Salalah Gardens Hotel 
Our last destination was Muscat. Again, we chose an apartment linked to a mall-  Somerset Panorama Muscat. This one had 2 bedrooms and a fully equipped kitchen.  The pool was much smaller and crowded all the time so we didn't use it. It was too far out of the city for any walking so we rented a car through ABC rental car in the lobby.  They had a very late model car with 135K miles on it for $23 per day.  For just around the city driving, it was cheap and worked fine.  I probably wouldn't choose something like this for any real driving. Taxis were 8-15 Omani rial to just about anywhere, so the rental car was a cheaper option. There are two very beautiful mosques which can be seen from this area- Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and Mohmmed Al Ameen Mosque.  The first mosque offeres an open time for tourists in the morning, which is the only way for a non-muslim or women to see the interior. The mosque has a separate prayer room for women which isn't as beautiful. The Al Ameen mosque lights up the night sky and is worth viewing after dark. This blog link provides some beautiful photos which might encourage you to visit. We also saw several of the museums, the opera house, and ate near the fish market. Parking was not difficult to find on a Saturday. The corniche was a great place for a drive.
The Opera House is lovely inside and out


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