Oman: a snapshot

The term ‘crown jewel’ has been well used, but never again is it more apt to describe the Kingdom of Oman, the jewel in the crown comprising the Arab states. Oman is simply the “essence of Arabia”.

Dominated by a hinterland of rugged mountains (jebels), vast deserts and plains, Oman is a scenic delight occupying the eastern bulge of the Arabian Peninsula and, until recently, ranked among the backwaters of world tourism. The vast and varied landscape of the country has an almost childish innocence: intact, immaculate and uncorrupted.

Geographically, the country stretches from the arid, fjord-like majesty of the Musandam Peninsula that plunges into the Strait of Hormaz in the north, to the lush, tropical, monsoon-laden Salalah in the south. In between is the vast sandy desert (Rub al Khali, the famous “Empty Quarter”) and the fertile Batinah plain.

Populated since 6,000 years BC, few countries can boast of having suffered so little oppression. Only in the 17th century was Oman partially occupied by the Portuguese and, once expelled, the country maintained its self-rule through the royal family of the Sultan of Bin Said. Held back by years of overly conservative and introverted rule, Sultan Qaboos bin Said came to the throne in 1970 after ditching his father, sparking a renaissance that took Oman from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. Today the country is highly prosperous through its oil, copper, gold, marble and granite, and more recently tourism. With this wealth, Oman has gently modernized the country without displaying the conspicuous excesses of its neighbor, the United Arab Emirates.

Oman is made up of 6 regions and 2 governorates. From north to south, they are: Musandam Governorate, Al Batinah Region, Muscat Governorate, Dhahrah Region, A’Dakhiliyag Region, Al Wusta Region, Al Sharqiyah Region and Dohfar Region

Musandam Governorate

Remote and rugged, it is little explored and yet for divers, nature lovers and explorers who make the effort, they will be rewarded with an unrivaled opportunity to immerse themselves in the impressive diversity of fjords, hidden coves, coral reefs and an abundance of bird life. For history buffs, there are many ancient watchtowers and mosques worth exploring and in Madha there is evidence of human settlement dating back to 3500 BC. Rock paintings and other ruins also date back to the Iron Age. Musandam is just waking up and a number of impressive eco-resorts are being developed.

Al Batinah Region

Wedge between the Gulf of Oman and the Northern Hajar Mountains, the Batinah coastal plain is the most fertile in the country and also the most densely populated. It is in this plain where most of the crops for the country’s demand are developed. Dating back 5 millennia, Sohar is the main city on the coast and worth a visit for its famous fort dating back to the 13th century. Nearby is Rustaq, once the capital of Oman and known for its plethora of old watchtowers and forts, the most notable being Rustaq Fort. Being mainly a plain, there are numerous wadis that offer lush date plantations.

Muscatel Governorate

The gateway to Oman is generally through Muscat, the capital. In general, Muscat presents a relatively homogeneous appearance of low-rise buildings (rarely more than five stories), usually white, with residential, government, and commercial architecture often reminiscent of historic regional styles. Although this city is on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula with extreme weather, it is remarkably green and the main streets lined with trees, lush grass, flowers and shrubs link the districts and public areas.

Muttrah, the old port exudes a delightful old world charm, with a bustling souq of historical importance, set back from the famous Al Bahri Street (Muttrah Corniche). Here one can easily stroll along the waterfront and watch the old-style dhows loading and unloading cargo while shark fins cut across the surface of the sea in pursuit of fish. The best time to visit here is in the late afternoon when the sunlight softens the majestic tapestry of color.

Before leaving Muscat to explore the rest of Oman, time should be spent visiting the number of museums, art galleries, beaches, and in particular the Grand Mosque and Sultan Qaboos Palace, two visually stunning architectural masterpieces.

Dhahirah Region

This inland region that borders the United Arab Emirates is mostly a strip of arid desert interspersed with vast mountainous landscapes. There are few reasons to visit this place, except to see one of Oman’s most precious archaeological treasures: the Beehive Tombs at Bat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several ancient forts and citadels can be found in the region that were used to protect the water resources of the wadis from invaders.

A’Dakhiliyah Region

Better known as the ‘Inland’, the Dakhiliyah region is the center of Islam in former Oman. With such a history it is not surprising its abundance of fortifications and historical buildings. With rugged mountain ranges, rugged gorges, and vibrant traditional handicrafts, this region is a very popular tourist destination within Oman. In particular, the ancient city of Nizwa stands out as a must-see place to visit, with its formidable old fort completely restored. Nizwa was once a walled city and the ancient capital of Oman. Today, visitors can walk the small streets and souks that make up the old town inside the walled interior. Surrounding the town were date palm orchards and farms making the area visually lush. Another poplar site is the rose gardens of Al Jabal, where in April thousands upon thousands of blooming rose bushes cascade down terraces cut into a mountain to the gorge below.

Al Wusta Region

Rich in oil, Al Wusta stretches from the Arabian Sea in the east to the Empty Quarter in the west. For tourism, the region is best known for its flora and fauna, a haven for specialized study groups. Here, the world famous Arabian Oryx Sanctuary occupies 25,000 square kilometers of desert expanse. Stunning sandy beaches with spectacular headlands are rarely visited on the east coast of Duqm.

Al Sharqiyah Region

Spread across the northeastern part of Oman, this region encompasses the vast Sharqiyah sands, better known as the Wahiba sands. The ancient city of Sur is the region’s highlight, famous for its centuries of trading and dhow building. Nearby are the Majlis al Jinn caves, one of the largest cave systems in the world. A single cave can hold the equivalent of 6 jumbo jets! Another big draw is the green turtles that come to lay their eggs during the summer, the area of ​​which is now being converted into a conservation site. Perhaps the biggest attraction, however, is the Wahiba Sands, a splendid region of extremely fine reddish-brown sand dunes and desert life.

Dhofar Governorate

Dhofar, in the far south of the Sultanate, with its unique monsoon season, is climatically far removed from the rest of the country. With mist-shrouded mountains, lush landscapes, stunning beaches, historical treasures and a wealth of flora and fauna, many tourists flock here to immerse themselves in what is arguably the showcase of Oman. In ancient times, Dohfar was known for its frankincense and today this has not changed as it supplies almost 90% of this aromatic gum not only to Oman but to the world. Salalah is the regional capital and the gateway to Dhofar. This quaint, historic city, famous for its ancient sanctuaries, is the ideal place to base yourself from exploring all the treasures of this region. Unlike other countries where the monsoon is a season to be avoided, the monsoon in Dhofar represents the peak tourist season where thousands of visitors (mainly from nearby Arab countries) travel to the region for its spectacular mist-shrouded mountains, rushing streams, lush vegetation and rich heritage. And while the interior is visually stunning, the coast is a destination unto itself with mile after mile of barren, unpopulated, pristine white beaches and turquoise sea.

Final note

With Oman’s new oil and tourism wealth, the Sultanate is taking rapid steps to become the next “new frontier” in soft adventure and cultural tourism. Many beautiful but tasteful ‘Moorish’ style resorts are in the planning that will bring all the tourists mansions to Oman. There is also the development of wetlands for migratory bird sanctuaries, as well as the expansion and improvement of the Jiddat al Harasis Oryx Sanctuary. However, the time to see Oman at its simplest and purest is now, before tourism forever changes the face of this country.

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