Impressions Of Oman

Hello from somewhere over Saudi Arabia. I’m writing this on board an Oman Air A330-200 featuring their fantastic Apex Suites.

I’ve just finished up 10 days in Oman. It’s come at the end of a month in the Middle East, so I have a few other countries in the region to compare it to.

I had very high expectations of the country going in, as I’ve never heard a bad word about it, so what was my experience?

It’s safe, peaceful, relaxed and very clean

As expected, it was a very laid back 10 days, which was great after so much chaos in Egypt and Morocco. From the sparkling new airport to the streets of Muscat to the desert highways connecting the cities, the country is very clean and well organised.

Oman is known for having a remarkably peaceful modern history despite being geographically located in a region that has seen a lot of conflict. I felt completely safe the entire time and would have no hesitation walking through a poorly lit area alone at night.

In regards to travelling as a same sex couple, we had absolutely no eyebrows raised and at our first hotel just outside Sur we had booked a twin bed, and were offered a free upgrade to a much larger room with one king size bed.

Every local we interacted with was welcoming, respectful, friendly and very relaxed. It’s worth noting that as in other wealthy Arabic countries, most service staff were not locals, I believe they were mostly from India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

There were fewer tourists than expected

We visited in mid-November which is, I understand, the start of their peak season.

It was extremely hot during the days, but not unbearably so. I thought there would be plenty of tourists everywhere but other than at a couple of the most popular attractions in Oman, like the Kaboos Mosque and Wadi Shab, we rarely saw other tourists.

Wadis, forts, mosques and beaches

These seemed to be the main things to do in Oman.

There are loads of wadis (valleys) that can be explored, and it was fun to hike through the valleys and then swim in the cool water during the hot days. Wadi Shab was my favourite as it has a secret cave with an indoor waterfall that can only be reached by swimming through an extremely narrow gap in the rocks. This certainly wasn’t for anyone claustrophobic.

There are historical forts and castles to explore in towns all around the country. Jibreen Castle just outside Nizwa was our favourite because it was beautifully restored, had a great audio guide and was very affordable to visit.

Like every Muslim country I have visited, there have been impressive mosques open to tourists. We chose Sultan Kaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, which was well worth a visit.

The thing about the wadis, mosques and forts was that they are all quite similar, and once you’ve seen one wadi, for example, there’s not a big huge need to see other wadis, so you may get bored.

As for the beaches, I’ll discuss them below, as that was a big part of why we chose Oman.

It was far less developed for tourism than expected

This was both a positive and negative thing for us personally. It was great that everything felt authentic, and there were no tour buses around, or being herded like cattle through attractions.

Other than when we were deep in the Muscat Souq we were not once hassled to buy anything — Oman is a wealthy country, and it didn’t seem to be in their culture to sell, sell, sell to tourists.

The downside of this is that there aren’t as many facilities for tourists as we expected, or often wanted. Outside of a few five star resorts on the northwest coast, the hotels weren’t great (or cheap).

The buffet breakfast at the (3-star) hotel we stayed at in Muscat was the worst hotel breakfast I have ever had. The only reason I braved it the second morning was to see if anything had been improved from the previous day (it hadn’t).

Outside of the Radisson Blu I would not return to any of the hotels we stayed at.

It was also difficult to find somewhere to grab lunch on the go each day. There were a few western fast food chain restaurants (KFC, McDonalds, Burger King, etc.) in major towns, and while there were plenty of signs advertising photos of lunch type food outside (burgers, shawarmas, falafel), when we would walk inside we were often uncomfortable with the hygiene of the venue, or they would not actually sell what they advertised in photographs outside.

We were hoping to be able to have a meal or a drink at some of the tourist attractions we visited but there would often be absolutely nothing around it at all.

The hats!

Oh my goodness I loved the hats. This was probably my favourite thing about the entire country. Omanis are incredibly proud and patriotic of their country and one of the ways they express this is by most local men wearing traditional kuma hats.

They are bright, colourful, beautifully made and I think they look terrific.

I’m not sure when (or if) I would ever wear it, but I may have bought one from a souq in Muscat…

It was both expensive, and affordable

Accommodation, for what we got, was expensive. Car hire was also fairly expensive. Oman is not what I would consider to be a cheap destination.

There are a few five star resorts that are ideal to arrive at and not leave for a week. We spent 48 hours at the Radisson Blu Sohar and did not leave the property the entire time because it had everything we needed in the one place. But everything there was quite expensive.

If you did want to go somewhere to just relax and unwind for a week in a luxury resort you can certainly do that, but your money will go much further in, say, Southeast Asia. I have been spoilt growing up in Australia with Asia at my doorstep, which has everything I want in a holiday at a very affordable price.

But Oman was unexpectedly affordable in that we didn’t have much opportunity to actually spend money. Outside of resorts there wasn’t alcohol for sale in many places (it was reasonably expensive at resorts though), so even though we would have liked to have a few drinks at the beach there was no opportunity to do so.

Our big hotels in both Muscat and Nizwa did not sell alcohol at all.

Local restaurants, while they had great food, were mostly deserted and we would be served very quickly so would be in and out within 30 minutes. It didn’t seem to be a thing to linger over a long dinner so we never spent much time or money on meals. We found one of the best restaurants in Muscat for our last night and were in and out in 40 minutes.

We found the food to be a mix of Arabic and Indian flavours, though most tourists we saw seemed to be South Asian so this may have influenced the cuisine.

Outside of Muscat and Nizwa there also were not many souvenirs. Driving from attraction to attraction there would often be no shops along the way outside of coffee shops, barber shops and the occasional supermarket.

Petrol, by the way, is incredibly cheap in Oman.

The beaches… weren’t amazing

Being Australian I’m used to some of the best beaches in the world, and I am obsessed with a good beach. Many of my trips have centred around finding amazing beaches. While the beaches in Oman were usually completely deserted and a few did have white sand, they weren’t otherwise somewhere we spent a huge amount of time.

Though the country is very clean, there was rubbish floating in the water in most of the beaches we went to. The water also was so hot that it was like taking a bath, and we could only stay in the water for short amounts of time. The water was pretty cloudy and the ocean floor was rocky, so not particularly pleasant to walk on.

They were often located just off a major highway so we didn’t feel comfortable lying in just swimwear with lorries hurtling past constantly. We noticed the locals only seemed to visit the beaches in the evenings when it was cooler.

You can drive your car right onto the beach, which is great if the beach is deserted, but can lead to people racing their 4WDs down the beach past you at any time of the day or night, which is not remotely relaxing. Also, be aware that there were absolutely no facilities at any of the beaches we went to — no cafes, shops, vendors, bathrooms, etc.

Oddly there are bins everywhere in the country (even in the middle of nowhere) which helps keep the country so clean.

Radisson Blu Sohar – great pool, average beach

You need a car, but it was very easy to get around

We hired a four wheel drive, which was nice to have, but we could have also managed fine with a two wheel drive/compact. This was because we didn’t go much off road driving as we had spent time doing that in both Morocco and Jordan, so didn’t feel the need to do it again in Oman.

We could have also done a night in a traditional desert camp but we had done this in both Morocco and Jordan, and it was much more expensive to also do in Oman, so we skipped it.

The roads are very well maintained and well signed. There was quite a bit of traffic in the main towns, especially around prayer time, but otherwise it was very easy to get around. I would highly recommend either a GPS, or local sim card to navigate.

By the way there are fixed speed cameras absolutely everywhere in Oman on the main highways — I had never seen so many in my life.

Bottom line

Overall, I would say I really liked Oman, but I didn’t love it.

I had very high expectations (perhaps unreasonably so) and unfortunately I don’t think they were quite met. Perhaps I just had some ‘Middle East fatigue’ after spending so much time in the region.

There were several days there when we struggling to find something to do (especially in Muscat), and we could not revert to our standard relaxation, like going to the beach for the day, because the beaches weren’t quite what we were looking for.

It’s a big county, and each attraction was quite spread out, so we spent many hours driving each day, but some attractions we arrived at and were underwhelmed. I guess as such a wealthy country they don’t really need tourists so haven’t invested that much into what tourists want?

Even though this is harsh to say, as its a beautiful country with beautiful people, but we found it a little… boring perhaps?

Oman is certainly an easy and relaxing place to visit, but if that is all you are looking for there are other countries that are easier to get to, provide better value and have better facilities for international tourists.

I would say I slightly preferred Jordan of all the places I’ve been in the Middle East, as it is a relatively small country with easily accessible, impressive attractions and facilities.

Have you visited Oman? What was your impression?

Comments

  1. James, wish you had been a little less like lucky and gone out and explored cheaper options to stay, eat, move about.

    We know Oman is expensive. We would like to know how to do it on the cheap.

  2. Boring is not necessarily a bad thing in the Middle East. Loved Oman when we visited in 2016 and also have enjoyed Jordan a few times. Found the people very friendly. Would not hesitate to return to either country.

  3. @ Debit – only two of the 9 nights were spent in a luxury hotel (Radisson Blu Sohar).

    The other 7 were spent at less expensive 3 star hotels that were still expensive and I would not return to – I.e. see comment about hotel breakfast in Muscat.

    It’s a difficult destination to do on the cheap without skipping meals (as we did) because accomodation and car hire is expensive and unavoidable.

  4. Agree with almost everything except that Oman is clean. There is rubbish everywhere.
    A pity you didn’t go off road, because some of the better sights can only be visited with a 4×4 (for example Wadi Bani Awf, Jebel Shams and Wadi Ghul). Also I think Wahiba Sands is a far better desert experience than Erg Chebbi in Morocco.

  5. I cannot agree about the beaches, one of the best, most peaceful and clean beaches I have ever been to was in Oman – the famous Al Bustan Palace near Muscat, now a Ritz property.
    It’s also surrounded by mountains, so the atmosphere is incredible. Pity you missed it.

  6. I was in Oman for two days last weekend when the country was celebrating the National Day. The Crown Plaza is nice, high tech and one year old. Most of the guests there were on business trip and not many tourists around. The country is clean as I did not see trash. I visited the mosque as pictured above, the old souk, and main attractions. We hired a private driver from Dubai to Muscat. It is quite expensive and has many rocks and mountains that make construction more costly. The airport lounge serves all foreign airlines, except Oman Air, that only offered salads and deserts when I was there for three hours. A glitch that should not have happened. We planned to spend time outside Muscat but everyone was celebrating the National Day and it did not pan out.

  7. I have different impressions of Oman. I stayed in cheap and expensive hotels and all of them were ok. 3* one bed apartment for around 20 OMR per night (£40, $50), is not expensive. Shangri-la at 80 OMR (£162, $200) was more expensive and Ritz was starting from 100 OMR (£200, $260) depending on the day.

    I had no problem finding cheap, local food, starting from 1 OMR per person. I would never think of getting chain fast food in Oman. Lack of any shops or coffee places near attraction is great thing. You can enjoy it quietly.

    I enjoyed my time driving around the country and would certainly go back to Muscat and Shangri-la or Ritz for relaxing break and go to Salah during wet season.

    BTW, I was travelling as single woman on both occasions and had no issues at all. Locals talked to me, ask me what I’m doing in Oman, etc.

  8. Wondering if you went to Musandam in the north, with its otherworldly fjords, or Salalah beaches in the south. Oman is a large country and the people are very nice. I lived in Dubai for several years and had the pleasure of visiting Oman, and only regret that we did not return.

    Comparatively with their Emirati and Saudi neighbors, the Omanis are not at all wealthy. However, I agree that they have the best hats anywhere.

  9. Thank you for the report, planning a trip to Oman, possibly visiting as early as January. Do you recommend it as a fly/drive destination hiring our own car, or better to do with a professional driver?

  10. Happy to see an article like this after a deluge of miles and points, Black Friday and Cyber Monday articles since the AA survey article on Thanksgiving that are of little or no use to many readers. Thank you, James!

  11. Great to hear about your experience.

    Not to make you too jealous, but gas isn’t actually that much cheaper in Oman than the US. I suppose compared to European standards, it’s “incredibly cheap,” but keep in mind that in the UK ~65% of what you pay at the pump is tax.

  12. No need to hire a driver. Just keep an eye on: taxi drivers, crossing pedestrians, crossing camels and speed bumps. Not sure what’s the worst 😉 Probably taxi drivers, as they tend do stop anywhere and often suddenly. Some speed bumps are not signed posted and not visible after dark, so you may go a bit too fast through them.

    I never had so many near misses in my life than during 1 week of driving around Muscat. There are some 3-4 lanes roads in Muscat which can get very busy. It’s ok outside of the city.

  13. 10 days in Oman? Omg! I couldn’t even imagine. That’s part of the problem there.

    We stayed 3 nights in Oman from Dubai, and that was the perfect amount of time. You should have stayed in the Crowne Plaza. It has it’s own private beach, and is a resort. They had a DJ on Friday night, plenty of booze, and fantastic options.

    You never got harassed once to buy in the souq? Every 5 feet we had multiple people telling us to touch their items and to come look! Honestly, it was the reason we left. Super annoying.

    The Wadi Shab hike was 100% worth the trip to Muscat, Oman. I would do it again in a heart beat!

    Did you tour the Oman museum? That was worth 2-3 hours of our time. Definitely worth checking out.

    We had paid for a car rental. I would say this is a must. Taxis and hiring drivers is way too expensive.

  14. i visited Oman several times and it has some of my favorite hotels like the Chedi and the RC Al Bustan Palace, but i agree 10 days is likely to long. i think 4-5 days is the sweet spot

  15. I stayed at Al Bustan when it was a Shangri La property. Booked 2nd hugest room category Sea View……they gave me a room overlooking the mountains and the hotel next door. When I protested they said it was the best they had. I returned to the front desk, told them I was moving to the Chedi and by a miracle, they “found” a sea view room.

    But they do have a very nice beach.

  16. @James — I too am obsessed with amazing beaches. Can you do a post sometime about some of the good ones you’ve found?

  17. Thanks for the promised review. I must say it has dampened my enthusiasm to visit! I suspect 3-4 days will do the job. There are a few landmark places I would like to visit, and also soak up the ambience of the place, together with indulging in the local food. Living in Australia with miles of great beaches literally at my doorstep, the beach scene in Oman (such as it is, or isn’t!) is of no interest.
    Think I will revise my planned visit from a stand-alone destination to being a stopover to or from Europe.

  18. We went a few years ago and stayed at the Hilton Salalah, back when it was 5,000 points a night. Amazing property for that price – like $1250 worth of accommodation for 20,000 points, fifth night free. We had great breakfasts everywhere, in Salalah and Muscat (Intercontinental and Grand Hyatt).

    Long drive back from Salalah to Muscat, did it in one day. I wouldn’t worry too much about the speed cameras on the highways as we drove 160-180km/hour and never had an issue.

    Oman should be tolerant of same sex couples as the Sultan prefers men, and has never been married without an heir. Not widely advertised, but true.

  19. @AJ~ might be a case of “do what I say, not do what I do”. Hypocrisy is rife in the upper echelons of these Arabic emirates, as in most of the world I suppose.

  20. Visited Jorda and it was one of my best visits so far! The Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, Dead Sea etc.
    Drove all around w/o any issues. Wonderful country and people and food! Pretty cheap as well..
    Will go back again in future..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *