The Sultanate of Oman is a fascinating country rich in historical, cultural and natural treasures.
It offers beautiful architecture, rich history and culture and intrepid 4×4 adventures through dunes, over mountain passes and down spectacular coastal beaches.
Nestled between the ocean and very high mountains, the capital city Muscat is very attractive and spotlessly clean. It is purely a government town but very well designed and apart from the modern presidential palace built early last century by the Sultan’s father, all other buildings are of a traditional Arab style and have been kept very small due to lack of space.
Most of the population of the capital in fact lives a few kilometres from Muscat in Mutrah. It is here that we also find the commercial harbour, markets and souks. Oman has always had a maritime tradition and old wooden dhows can be seen in the harbour here.
Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a sight not to be missed. This superb building was designed and built by Moroccan architects and builders, with chandeliers from Italy, stained-glass windows from France and a 13 tonne, one piece, hand woven and knotted carpet made in Iran.
Salalah is a city within coconut plantations. Travelling from one part of the city to another, roads pass huge plantations of palm, banana, and pomegranate trees. This very pleasant seaside city is an excellent base for exploring the east coast of Salalah and the mountains of Dhofar, with its cattle farms and baobabs. Westward along the coast from Salalah towards Yemen, mountains fall directly into the sea leaving no space for plantations or even natural vegetation. The sea here can be reached by spectacular roads and tracks that lead to wild coves and beaches of unexpected beauty where swimming is possible. Evenings in Salalah are when its streets come to life and the Frankincense Souk bustles with Omanis shopping for their household perfumes.
Sur is a very pretty town, all white with most buildings and houses of a very traditional Arab design. Fishing is a major activity in Sur and amazing scenes of tuna fishing in the bay and fish auctions on shore are to be enjoyed most days.
Only fifty kilometres away from Sur we find a large stretch of coast now protected as a sea turtle marine reserve. Here in the evening it is possible to follow specialised guides across the beach to observe turtles laying eggs. These female turtles have returned to this beach, the beach where they themselves were born, to lay their eggs after having spent their first 20 years of life in oceans as far away as Australia. Under carefully controlled conditions we marvel as the massive turtles labour in the sand to dig both decoy holes and true nests before filling them in and returning once again to the Gulf of Oman.
The Empty Quarter
The Empty Quarter as it is known by the Arabs, is the largest sand mass in the world. It covers most of Saudi Arabia, part of Yemen as well as a fair part of South Oman. The Bedouin keep large herds of very dark-coated camels here and the herds stand in stunning contrast to the Quarter’s towering yellow sand dunes. Expert Bedouin guides escort us through this very remote area characterised by high dunes, deep sand and challenging driving conditions. Wild camping atop these dunes makes the effort well worth it.
The Wahiba Sands is a small desert occupied by many Bedouin whose life is centred on camel and goat breeding. It is a very gentle and charming desert, and it is relatively easy to navigate its corridors of low dunes running from North to South.