The Sultanate of Oman is a country that many who live across the Atlantic know very little about. So they ask: Is it a primitive land like its sister, Yemen, to the west? Or is it ultra-modern and glitzy like Dubai, its neighbor to the north? Can you travel safely through the country? Most important, is there anything to see and do in Oman ?
The answer to these questions is “no” “no,” ” yes,” and “plenty!” In fact, after our recent tour of Oman from Muscat, the capital, in the north to Salalah in the south, we decided this country should be on every traveler’s short list.
Why? For close to four decades, Oman has been ruled by an enlightened, world-embracing sultan, who has worked to preserve Oman’s unique Arabic culture while bringing it into the modern age. That means Oman offers tourists a unique opportunity to experience the unique beauty and culture of the Arabian peninsula in a country that doesn’t lack for creature comforts.
In Oman, new blends with old. Consider the architecture. Recently built homes and commercial buildings retain the same low profile and Arabic motifs as their predecessors. Painted white or cream, they blend right in with Oman’s tawny landscape. In Muscat, there are no shiny glass skyscrapers. Buildings, by law, can be no taller than twelve stories. (Most, we observed, are lower.)
Thankfully, Oman’s focus on preserving the old doesn’t rule out modern conveniences. Citizens and tourists have access to the internet, cellular service and well-maintained dual-carriageways. High-end hotels have amenities that would appeal to the most demanding luxury travelers. After experiencing Muscat’s new airport, we dubbed it the best in the world (for its modern design; comfortable, tech-enabled waiting areas; and excellent shopping and restaurants). Apparently, the World Travel Awards heard us. They pronounced it “the world’s leading new airport” at the end of 2018.
In Oman, you can plan an adventure as challenging or as easy as you like—from hiking in some of the tallest mountains in Arabia to relaxing on a wide empty beach. Looking for an authentic Omani experience? Spend a morning in Nizwa photographing the raucous goat market. Or sniff your way through the historic frankincense souks in Salalah. Visit the oceanfront ruins of Samharam, center of the ancient frankincense trade, or camp under the stars among the enormous dunes of the Empty Quarter. Horseback riding, camel riding, snorkeling, scuba diving, and birdwatching are other things to enjoy in Oman.
Of course, there’s one last question: In a Muslim country, can I enjoy a beer or wine at the end of the day? Yes, hotels serve alcoholic beverages to their guests. In fact, you might see a few local men standing at the bar in the country’s official dress, the dishdasha.