Oman holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
Although Arabic is the national language of Oman, most Omani citizens speak some English, and many speak it fluently. Swahili and Malayalam are commonly spoken too, depending on the area of Oman. In the tourist industry, English is widely spoken so unless tourists stray off the beaten track, they won’t encounter any language problems.
The official currency is the Omani rial (OMR) and there is 1,000 baisa to OMR 1. Foreign currency can be exchanged at any airport, but the money exchange offices found throughout the country tend to have the best exchange rates. There are ATMs in all cities and towns, although not all of them accept foreign cards. Credit cards are accepted for large purchases, but not all restaurants and shops have credit card facilities so it is best to carry cash as well.
For visitors from the EU and the UK a single-entry visa can be obtained at any airport or land or sea terminal on entry. This allows for a one-month stay and the fee is OMR 20. The fee can be paid in rial, pounds sterling, euro or US dollars. It is also possible to obtain a 10-day visa, which costs OMR 5. A valid passport with at least six months until expiry is required.
The peak tourist season in Oman is from November to March, as cool air brings some relief from the heat at this time, with temperatures hovering around 25ºC. Throughout the rest of the year, Oman is extremely hot, with temperatures peaking at 40ºC between May and August. June to August is rainy season in the south of the country.
The main airport in Oman is Seeb International Airport (MCT) in the capital of Muscat. This is where virtually all international flights arrive, although a small number land in Salalah Airport (SLL). It’s easier to fly to Seeb International Airport however, as there are a lot more flights scheduled here, meaning more options and cheaper fares. Obtaining a visa tends to be significantly quicker here, too.
A lot of carries serve Oman. Oman Air and Emirates both fly to Muscat’s airport from London-Heathrow, while British Airways and Qatar Airways fly from Manchester. Most of the flights to Oman have a layover in Dubai and for those flights with connections, this is the most common place to change over. Flight time from London to Muscat, with no stop over, is 7 hours, 30 minutes.
Direct flights can be more expensive, where as having a change over in Dubai can make the fare significantly cheaper, as can flying to Seeb International Airport as opposed to Salalah Airport. Fares tend to rise during the peak season, from November to March, but travelling outside of this time isn’t advisable as it can be uncomfortably hot. Booking early can help to reduce fares, as can flying from London as opposed to other UK cities.
Although there is a port in Muscat, cruise ships primarily use it and there is no regular passenger service as yet. However, it is possible to enter Oman by land from the United Arab Emirates. There are a number of crossings, such as Wadi Hatta or Ras al Khaimah to Bukha. Border crossings are easy, but anyone wanting to bring a car into Oman will have to provide proof of ownership and insurance.
Domestic flights run daily and there is also a bus service across the country. However, the bus service only extends to the main cities. By far the most popular way to get around is by car, with rentals being cheap and easy to arrange. The road network is extensive although some rural routes are not as well maintained as those in the city centres.
Although flights aren’t the most common way to get around, Oman Air is the main carrier and has daily flights between the country’s two airports, Seeb International Airport and Salalah Airport. Air Arabia also offers domestic flights in Oman along with flights from the United Arab Emirates. Flights are more expensive than other forms of transport, but prices are fairly reasonable.
The Oman National Transport Company runs the bus service across Oman. There are daily services connecting the biggest cities of Muscat, Salalah, Sohal, Sur and Nizwa. However, buses tend to stick to the main routes so it’s difficult to reach off-the-beaten-track places this way. Buses all have air-conditioning and toilets onboard, and some even have Wi-Fi. Prices are reasonably cheap and service is generally reliable.
There’s a number of international car hire chains in Oman, including Avis, Budget and Europcar, but there are also many local agencies which often have the best deals. Rental is cheap and although insurance is included, always double check. It’s best to hire a four-wheel drive as although many of the main roads are in a good condition, some rural roads are nothing more than dirt tracks. Most roads signs are written in English and petrol is cheap, with fuel stations available even on small roads. Driving is on the right.
Muscat, surrounded by walls on the south and the west, is a metropolitan city that has much to offer visitors. Built in 1625, it is nestled in the Gulf of Oman, providing stunning views of the mountains to the north and the east. Old Muscat is a great place to visit for a real taste of Oman, running from Port Sultan Quaboos to Al Bustan Beach.
Oman’s landscape is extremely diverse, from the miles of uninhabited coastline to the rugged mountains and out to the Wahabi Sands Desert where huge sand dunes roll across the landscape. Here, there are seven pools that are suitable for swimming, all with emerald green waters.
Oman’s beaches are both great places to relax and for wildlife spotting. Many of the beaches are breeding sites for a number of species of sea turtle, with Masirah Island being the main turtle breeding ground.
Mutrah Souk is a lively market in Muscat that is the perfect blend of modern life and ancient history. It is possible to buy pretty much anything here, from frankincense, antiques and silverware to toys and spices. Haggling is expected, so visitors are sure to come away with a few bargains.
The second largest town in Oman is Salalah. With a temperate climate, it is a popular place for those seeking an escape from the sweltering heat found elsewhere in the country from June to September. The climate has made this place into a green, lush area that is ideal for walking. Frankincense trees grow across this area and are used in many traditional medicines.
The Wadi Bani Awf, found in Al Rostaq Wilayat, is an ancient wadi (gorge) that offers mountain streams and calm pools that are perfect for an afternoon dip.
The Grand Mosque in Muscat is an amazing example of modern Islamic architecture. The imposing prayer hall is breathtaking, with a carpet that took four years for 600 workers to complete.
Nizwa Fort, built in 1668, has been astoundingly well preserved. The large circular tower was built to protect Nizwa and gives stunning views across the valley.
Nakal Fort is another amazing historical site. This 17th century fort in the foothills of western Hajar is well known for its mineral-rich hot springs and gives an amazing 360 degrees view of the countryside.
Abrin Castle in the mountains of Jabal Akdhar, commonly known as the Green Mountains, is a must-see. Built in 1675 as a sultan’s summer residence, it is known for its stunning rose gardens and the production of some of the purest rose water around. The architecture is breathtaking, with painted ceilings and inscriptions of Koran verses carefully carved into the walls.
The Beehive Tombs can be found at Al Ayn. A set of 21 tombs that were built in the Bronze Age have been excavated, and archaeological digs continue in this fascinating site. Together with Bat and Al-khutm, they form the most complete collection of settlements from the Bronze Age in the world and have been named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Al-Jalali Fort was originally built during the Portuguese occupation of the 1580s.
But as access to the fort is up a steep flight of steps, it was eventually made into a prison. Now it serves as a museum of Omani heritage. Although the interior is strictly for visiting dignitaries’ eyes, during military events visitors can expect to see bagpipers and fireworks, which when reflected in the water make for some stunning photos.
Although there is plenty of nightlife in Oman, it is a Muslim country and as a result, alcohol is only available in certain restaurants and westernised hotels. It tends to be quite expensive, with drinking alcohol in public strictly prohibited. However, there are still plenty of pubs and clubs to be enjoyed. Muscat has the best selection, with a number of English pubs tucked away inside the big hotels.
The Hyatt Regency Hotel is one of the best places to visit on a night out. Here, visitors will find an English pub, a number of Arabic bars and a nightclub, all under one roof. Copacabana nightclub is also renowned for its western music and all-night dancing. Another great spot at night is the Marina Hotel, near to the corniche in Muscat. The roof top bar offers the chance to sip a cold drink and admire the view across Old Muscat. The food here also comes highly recommended.
For those visitors seeking some culture of an evening, the Royal Opera House Muscat is the number one venue in Oman for musical arts. Built by royal orders, the opera house itself was only completed in 2011 and is a great example of contemporary Omani architecture. The Royal Opera House puts on a number of different operatic shows throughout the year and is comprised of a concert theatre, an auditorium, a cultural market and even a restaurant. With a musical art centre and many events on throughout the year, it’s certainly a place to visit for an evening of entertainment.
There are cinemas in all of the big cities and most show new Hollywood blockbusters. Although some films are dubbed, most are shown in English with subtitles.
Most of the local food in Oman is typically Arabic, with spices often used. There’s a real fusion of Arabic, Turkish and Indian in many restaurants, and standard portions tend to be substantial.
Oman has a stunning coastline, but it’s not just about the scenery. Seafood is very popular and shark is commonly found on the menu along with whole seasoned fish that can be shared between groups.
Omani khubz, traditional Omani bread, is a must-try. It can be hard to find, but some restaurants serve it. It’s nothing like the standard white loaf; paper-thin and very crispy, it is cooked over a fire and eaten with most Omani meals.
Although truly traditional Oman food is difficult to find, the country has adopted and adapted other cuisines to make a number of dishes that are must-trys for any visitor. Pakistani cuisine is very common, especially porotta. Similar to poppadom but twice the size, porotta are slightly thinner and a good snack or side dish.
Curry is a popular dish, and for those willing to take the challenge, there are some exceptionally spicy curries on offer. However, there are also many mild dishes available for those not keen on too much heat.
For desserts, the most popular Omani sweet is halwa. Often served with kahwa, Omani coffee mixed with cardamom powder and dates, halwa is a hot dish that looks similar to a bowl full of honey. It may not sound appetizing, but the taste is similar to Turkish delight and it is well worth a try.
Although English cuisine isn’t popular in Oman, many popular fast-food chains can be found in the big cities, with chicken restaurants also common. Restaurants here tend to be very reasonably priced, so eating out is something visitors can enjoy well within budget.
With a massive expanse of coastline, Oman has many amazing beaches. A handful of the best beaches have been claimed by private resorts, but most are open to the general public. Aviation Beach in Al Azaiba is not the easiest to access, but it is a quiet spot and a great place to get away from it all. Qurum Beach is far more popular with the crowds and has many amenities along with a number of water sports such as jet-skiing.
A romantic break is all about getting away from the crowds, and there is nowhere better to do this than in the desert. There are a number of resorts in Wahabi Sands desert where couples can really escape into seclusion. Here, visitors can sip a cool drink and then lie back to watch the heavens put on a spectacular show as light pollution is not an issue.
Many of the beaches in Oman are child-friendly. Bandar Jissah, near Qantab, has tide pools to be explored and calm waters which are perfect for paddling in. There are many amenities and even a children’s playground right on the beach. Muscat is also an ideal sport, as there are many child-friendly tours to enjoy and hotels with daily children’s activities. There’s also a wide range of western cuisine for young ones who are not ready to try the local dishes.
Visiting Snake Gorge, found in Wadi Bani Awf, is a must for thrill-seekers. The sheer sided canyon has a number of natural flumes that slide down into plunge pools. Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in Oman, is the perfect place for hiking or mountain biking. It can be a tough ride, but the views make it worthwhile.