On the edge of the Arabian Peninsula, you’ll find the Sultanate of Oman. Often overlooked by travelers, Oman is an exotic destination filled with incredible attractions and cities. The capital of Muscat is by far the most popular destination, but it only contains a small part of what makes Oman great. If you’re thrilled by desert landscapes, incredible mountain ranges, historic forts and warm beaches throughout the year, then make Oman the next destination on your travel bucket list. An overview of the best places to visit in Oman:
While larger cities in Oman can appear very contemporary, smaller villages like Misfat al Abryeen help capture a more traditional atmosphere. This mountain village is made up of stone buildings in shades of orange and brown, and it can look more like an Italian mountain village than something you might expect to find on the Arabian Peninsula. Misfat al Abryeen, however, is a beautiful example of mountain life in Oman. A steep road leads up the mountain, and you can walk among the buildings to admire banana trees and lush greenery. There’s an ancient watchtower above the village that you can climb to see Misfat al Abryeen as well as the surrounding fields and dams filled with water.
Just off the coast of Oman is Masirah Island, a unique destination for travelers in search of sun, beaches, wildlife and history. Masirah Island is home to an Omani air base, but the towns are relatively small. That means few crowds and lots of secluded spots to explore. Regular ferries are available to get you to and from the mainland. On Masirah Island, the top pastimes include swimming, checking out the abundance of shipwrecks just off the coast and watching the more than 30,000 turtles that appear annually in hatching season.
Another incredible destination in Oman is the city of Bahla, located in Northern Oman. Bahla is a kind of oasis in the desert, and it has been a stopping point of travelers for centuries. Bahla is just 40 km (25 miles) from Nizwa, and it also boasts a spectacular and historic fort. The Bahla Fort dates back to the 13th century, when it was widely under the control of the Banu Nebhan tribe. In addition to exploring the fort of Bahla, you can see the walls of the city, which are made from adobe and stretch for nearly seven miles in length. If you’re in the market for souvenirs, Bahla is widely known for its impressive selection of local pottery.
In Southern Oman is Salalah, a destination sometimes known as the second city to Muscat. Salalah is particularly important today because it is the ancestral home to the Sultan Qaboos, the reigning sultan in Oman since 1970. On a visit to Salalah, you can admire the incredible Qaboos Palace, and you can appreciate older architecture in the Old Town, known as the Haffa. Step even further back in time by visiting the Al Baleed Archaeological Site. Salalah is known for its frankincense trade, so be sure to pick some up as a souvenir from the souk in the Haffa. From June to August, monsoon clouds from India bring a constant rain to the area and, as a result, the coastal region around Salalah is transformed into a green oasis with seasonal waterfalls and streams.
Jebel Akhdar can be translated to Green Mountain, and it is a part of the Al Hajar Mountains. Don’t expect a traditional mountain top, and don’t let the green misnomer fool you. The Jebel Akhdar region is a primarily limestone, and contains the highest point in the entire country of Oman. While not covered in lush forests, the elevation makes for cooler temperatures and more agricultural growth than in the desert below. The area is now protected, and you can hike through beautiful terraces and even spot trees laden with fruit. Hiking might not seem like an appealing activity in the deserts of Oman, but it is the perfect pastime in Jebel Akhdar.
On the easternmost tip of Oman is Ras al Jinz, a turtle reserve that helps to populate and protect the sea turtles of the Indian Ocean. If you visit during the summer, or between the months of May and October, you can see turtle nests along the beach and even watch the baby turtles hatch and make their way to the ocean. Visiting the turtle reserve is possible as a day trip to Muscat, but most visitors opt to spend the night at the resort and check out other attractions like the Turtle Visitor Center and Museum.
The Musandam Peninsula is the northernmost portion of Oman, and it is separated from the rest of the country by the United Arab Emirates. Parts of this region are very isolated, and they have long served as the home to residents in mountain villages and coastal communities. The Musandam Fjords stretch north and offer spectacular views. If you visit the Musandam Fjords, the highlights can include things like boat trips to explore the coasts and peaks rising up from the water, spotting dolphins from a Dhow, or traditional Omani boat, and scuba diving out at sea. Population is sparse and wildlife in abundant, making this region one of the best places to visit in Oman for nature lovers.
In the center of Oman, desert dunes stretch for miles and create what is called the Wahiba Sands. This is where the Bedu people live, and it is a popular travel destination for those in search of the true, authentic and traditional Oman. Experience the nomadic way of life in the Wahiba Sands by joining a tour that lets you ride on the back of a camel and camp in the desert under the stars. The city of Ibra serves as the major gateway to the Wahiba Sands, and this is where many guided tours begin.
In the sixth and seventh centuries, the city of Nizwa served as the capital for Oman. Today, the city is best known for its incredible fort, which was built in the 17th century under the direction of Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya’ribi. However, some parts of the fort date all the way back to the ninth century. The highlight of the Nizwa fort is the enormous cylindrical tower. The fort also has some interesting defense mechanisms, including honey traps and unusually shaped windows for shooting approaching enemies. The fort is also a museum, showcasing 17th century life in Oman. While you’re in Nizwa, you can also check out the souk, or outdoor market, as well as the unusual goat market held two days each week in the city center.
If you only visit one place in Oman, it is likely to be Muscat. This city is home to forts, palaces, museums and markets, offering something for everyone. While you can’t visit the interior of the Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace, you can head to the harbor to get a close view of the amazing structure. Standing guard over the palace are the twin forts of Al Jalali and Al Mirani, which have been converted to museums and are open to the public. Non-Muslim travelers can also visit the breathtaking Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque on most mornings, admiring features like an enormous crystal chandelier, marble wall panels and the second largest Persian carpet in the world.