10 things I fell in love with in Oman
Najma Nurudin is studying English and Arabic at Westminster University. She is spending her year abroad in Oman; here's why she's having such a wonderful time! For more on life in Oman, check out Najma's blog.
Oman is a hidden gem in the Middle East. Silent but special, this lesser-known country located on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula is full of beauty and hidden treasures. Although my trip is almost over, my memories will never disappear. Let me share with you why.
1. The friendliest people on Earth
Oman is home to the friendliest people I have ever met hands down. From shop owners, to taxi drivers, not a day goes by without meeting someone friendly and upbeat. A few of my friends and I were actually invited to our taxi driver's house for a 3-course meal. I know it sounds weird, and you are probably thinking who would go to a taxi driver's house for dinner? Well in Oman you can. It's completely acceptable and very normal to be invited to an Omani house for dinner or traditional dates and coffee. The evening was filled with traditional Omani food and desserts beautifully prepared by the taxi driver (Mohammad's wife). After the meal we engaged in conversation and joked around taking selfies. It was an evening full of laughs, joy and good food. The kindness didn't stop there; before we left, Mohammed's eldest daughter Fatma, who is aged 8, gave each one of us a small gift. The generosity of Omanis simply cannot be compared.
2. The mountains
Oman is a coastal country surrounded by stretches of mountains. Oman prides itself for having the tallest mountains in the gulf. The most well-known mountains are Jabal Akhdhar (meaning the green mountain) and Jabal Shams (meaning mountain of the sun). Jabal Akhdhar is part of the Al-Hajer mountains range in Oman. It is one of Oman's most spectacular areas with no doubt the best pomegranates you can find in the world. The stunning scenery is breath-taking and the only way you can get up is by using a four by four car. The journey itself is exciting as the altitude changes and the weather gets cooler. It's the perfect place to go to get away from the Omani heat and humidity. With no shortage of tiny villages and streams everywhere you walk is a perfect photo opportunity. There's even something for hikers as there's a hike through abandoned villages and beautiful rose gardens. It is definitely a place to visit in Oman.
3. Muttrah souk
Muttrah, a famous area located in Muscat, Oman, is a famous area for many reasons. Before the discovery of oil Muscat was the centre of commerce in Oman which is due to the largest seaport in the region being situated there.
Also in the same area is the magical Muttrah Souk. Labelled as the most popular tourist attraction on Oman, Muttrah Souk is a maze of perfume filled alleyways with tiny colourful stalls with traders promoting jewellery, frankincense, khanjar (traditional sword) and anything else you may desire from this region. One of the only markets in the world where you can purchase Frankincense, gold and myrrh under the same roof, this exotic market is a wonderful place to shop for gifts and an opportunity to practice Arabic by haggling. Muttrah souk is definitely somewhere that hours fly by without realising but it is well worth every minute.
4. The Desert
Oman is definitely a dry country with desert hugging the North East of the country. Home to the Bedouins the beautiful golden sands can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius with minimal rainfall. The Sharqiyah area of Oman is magnificent. With seas of golden sand dunes populating the area, it is impossible to walk around without sand tickling your toes. Perfect weather for Sunglasses and a hat, watching the camels walk past never gets boring.
There are so many camps to stay in at the desert, from a luxury camp like 1000 Nights Camp or a more affordable camp likeThe Oryx Camp. If you are not a fan of glamping just bring your tent and a sleeping bag and sleep directly under the stars; there is something for everyone.
There is so much to do at the desert, from dune bashing to sand surfing. You will even find Bedouins selling their traditional handmade jewellery at affordable prices. The desert day is hot but the nights are cool. If you aren't too tired from your adventures, embark and gaze into the beautiful night sky filled with enchanting stars. The perfect location for gazing at shooting stars, grab your mat and enjoy the magic and try and guess the constellations.
5. Wadi Shab
This Wadi is arguably one of the most beautiful destinations in Oman. From the enchanting entrance that supplies you with a simple boat ride across an aqua pool which drops you off at the start of your hike. The journey from there is up to you. With rocks and boulders above an array of interchanging clear water pools the hike has begun. The beautiful but challenging hike that goes on for about 45 minutes is filled with beauty in each corner. Overlooking the turquoise water you can fully take in the stunning scenery whilst inhaling the pure smell of nature.
Wadi Shab rewards you with a hidden waterfall at the end of an underwater cave. It is so versatile and can be enjoyed by people of all swimming abilities. Wadi Shab is definitely a treasure of the gulf and will definitely leave you with beautiful pictures, beautiful memories and a beautiful tan.
6. The beaches
Oman is a coastal country so of course there are several beautiful beaches across the country. As Oman is surrounded by the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean no beach will ever look the same in Oman. The sand varies in colour from pure white sand in the south by Salalah, to brown sand in Muscat. Nonetheless, they are all relaxing with beautiful water and palm trees bordering the beaches.
Qurum is a popular destination for sunset watching as most people gather around on weekends or after a long day of work to enjoy the indescribable sunset. Also found in Qurum beach at evenings is mini food vans and stalls which sell meat or fish on sticks known as mashakeek. These flavour filled delights are perfect to end a beautiful evening with a taste of Oman.
7. Daymaniyat Islands
The Daymaniyat Islands comprise of nine tiny uninhabited islands. These islands are the jewel in the crown for diving in Oman. Although I only snorkelled, my friends dived and they both absolutely loved it. Coral reefs cover up to 70% of the dive sites with more than a hundred different species of soft and hard coral. Snorkelling was as adventurous as I went, as I do not have a diver’s certificate and have never dived before.
The aqua blue warm water was spectacular. Floating required no effort as the salt content in the sea was so high. We were lucky enough to see many vibrant and beautiful groups of fish swimming peacefully together. The amount of fish that exist there surprised me as I thought there were less, but there is no shortage of colourful reef fish, stingrays, leopard sharks, turtles and - if you are lucky - even a whale shark or a dolphin.
The islands are stunning and it’s great to know that local volunteers help clean the beaches every month which helps maintain a safe environment and a beautiful experience. These islands are definitely a unique part of Oman and can be a change from the beaches in Muscat.
8. Love Street (shaaria al hobb)
Despite its name, Love Street is not the place where loved up Omanis go for romantic walks along the beach displaying PDA. It is conversely almost the opposite. Love Street is a street along Qurum in Muscat close to the Opera house and Qurum beach. This one of a kind street is in the centre of true beauty. It features benches and stairs that lead to the beach where the sound of the ocean and the smell of fish can be enjoyed. There are also a variety of restaurants and coffee shops that feature stunning views.
The perfect location of this street sums up Muscat, with large mountains and a green area one side, to the glittering beach on the opposite side. Wherever you turn you see something different, something amazing - the contrast is absolutely insane. Perhaps Love Street got its name because everyone who walks or drives down that street instantly falls in love with it.
9. Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House Muscat is Oman’s hot spot for premiering musical arts and cultural performances. It is relatively new being completed in 2011 on the orders of Sultan Qaboos. This is definitely a must see for anyone who is in the Gulf region as it is the only opera house in the Gulf and the second one in the Middle East after the Opera House in Cairo, Egypt.
I was privileged to catch Omar Khairat with last minute tickets. Khairat, an Egyptian pianist and composer, was playing with the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra. It was an unforgettable evening with Omar’s music containing a mixture of western and Arabic tones. He is well known for introducing western instruments with Arabic tones and traditional Arabic songs.
The Opera house itself is an elegant combination of traditional Omani architecture with a modern Arabic twist to it. The entire building is gorgeous and driving past it at night is a sight when it is illuminated against the dark night. Tours are held at the Royal Opera house so watching a show isn’t a must, you can still enjoy the beauty without the price tag.
Since arriving in Oman, Salalah was always an area I wanted to visit; perhaps it is because it was Sultan Qaboos’ birthplace or because it is simply just stunning. Despite locals telling me that there is nothing there at the moment and the best time to go is in June, July or August (the green season), I knew that I would be back in the UK then, so I grabbed some friends we hopped on a twelve hour bus and off we went to Salalah.
Although flying to Salalah was an option being students, we decided to go with the most cost effective option which was the bus (which surprisingly went really quickly). The cool thing about it was we drove past the Empty Quarter and as you can imagine it was evident pretty quickly why it had adopted that name (needless to say it was empty).
Arriving in Salalah we were greeted by a breeze that was non-existent in Muscat. The weather was definitely cooler and there was a bit of green despite the season, but what took my breath away the most was the Ocean. The clear water was like looking through glass, the clean white sand between my toes was rewarding.
Although the beaches are out of this world, there is a lot to see in Salalah. For anyone interested in religion, the prophet Ayyub/Job is buried on top of a mountain there. Also for history lovers there are ruins of old villages from battles with the British that display how old houses used to look like in Salalah. Neighbouring Salalah to the South is Yemen. Don’t be afraid though; you are still in Oman. The Yemeni borders are two hours away and even if you do decide to drive to the border (which I DON’T recommend) you will not be in the war stricken areas. My trip to Salalah was one of the most incredible trips I have ever been on and I cannot wait to come back when it is green.
Things that didn’t make the list but are still awesome:
- The Food
- The Language
- Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque