When I first announced that I’d be heading to Oman instead of my planned trip to Montenegro, all the conversations went more or less like this:
“You’re going where?”
“Amman? Isn’t it really dangerous there right now?”
“Not Amman. OH-man.”
“Wait, remind me where that is again”
“It’s in the Middle East. Next to Saudi Arabia and Yemen.”
“Oooo no no no no no no! You can’t go to the Middle East – you’ll be beheaded by ISIS. Wasn’t there somewhere else you were supposed to go? Monte something or other? Negroni? Video? Python?”
“And where is that again?”
“In the Balkans”
“Next to Croatia”
“Oh yes, you’re much better off changing your plans back to Montenegro”
As if the Balkans weren’t locked in their own bloody civil war as recently as the 1990’s.
I guess it’s not entirely the peoples’ fault.
I mean Oman is quite far from the United States and it’s not like you ever hear about it in the news. At least not over here in the US. It would seem peaceful countries aren’t worth discussing in the media these days so its total lack of violence puts it even further off Americans’ radar.
Except for when you tell someone it’s in the Middle East. Then they suddenly have all kinds of opinions on a country they didn’t even remember existed. If I would have avoided the ME word and said it lies along the cerulean waters of the Persian Gulf or described it as on the far-off fringes of ancient Arabia, Americans would have thought nothing of it and sighed in envy about how romantic and exotic it all sounded.
And they would have been right.
So, to the people who asked why on earth I’d choose to visit Oman;
To my dad who responded with “Wow! Ya just don’t ever think about that country. Jeez.” (clearly I get my eloquence from him);
And to the customs agent who asked my best friend upon her arrival back in the US if she had felt unsafe:
Here’s why you should put Oman on your next destination list:
It’s One of the Safest Countries in the World
Okay let’s just get this one out of the way – THERE IS NO ISIS IN OMAN.
I was surprised by the sheer amount of people who expressed their concern to me about terrorism in their forgetfulness as to how vast the Middle Eastern region is. Not every area is defined by violence, strife, and conflict – Oman being a prime example as there is no terrorism here period.
The country has a history of social and religious tolerance dating back to the 4th century thanks in part to their seafaring trade interests. As these interests expanded into a marine empire that once governed ethnicities ranging from Persian to East African, Southeast Asian to Indian – the Omanis have been peacefully coexisting with non-Muslims for centuries.
Their modern infrastructure isn’t conducive to breeding extremists – as evidenced by the fact that there has not been one recorded terrorist defector found fighting in Iraq or Syria; nor any evidence of citizens joining ISIS (if you’re interested in learning more about the lack of radicalism in Oman – this article is an incredible resource and makes for an interesting read).
Oman barely sees petty crime – much less violent acts such as murder or rape. I felt much safer here than I ever have on a solo journey through my own country of America. Which is saying a lot considering my female friend and I found ourselves in the middle of nowhere – and at the mercy of male strangers – several times while in Oman. Not to mention that time we purposefully left our packs (full of iPhones, wallets, and clothes) in a public place for hours so we could swim through rocky canyons.
If that doesn’t convey how comfortable we felt, then I don’t know what will.
Its Variance of Landscapes
Unspoiled is a word too often used in travel writing.
Yet there’s no truer way to chronicle Oman’s variance of landscapes and the natural panoramas that remain unblemished by tourism or development.
Desert sands shift into sweeping coastlines. Canyon waters smooth over serrated rocks as they carve their way through the barren mountains. Traditionally shaped dhows cruise the salty seafront, fishing nets extended as they rake over the day’s catch. Camels graze on patches of desert weeds and the Arabian night sky explodes into stars worthy of a poet’s song.
All of which can be enjoyed while thoroughly isolated and alone – a rarity in this day and age of mass tourism.
Miles of Coastline
Bordering the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Oman – there’s no shortage of coastline to explore. The waters swell in blended shades of green and blue outside the capital of Muscat, ancient wooden shipbuilding practices can still be observed in the old port of Sur, and Musandam runs wild with fjords yielding it the designation of The Norway of Arabia.
Deep Canyons and Wadis
Oman is rich in sandstone cliffs that give way to slender mountain ravines. The rainy season fills these winding basins to the brim, creating an oasis that attracts locals and visitors alike.
These wadis are found throughout the country and afford a pleasant respite from the arid Middle Eastern heat. Families can be found barbecuing in the rocky coves, teenagers tempt gravity as they cliff jump into the waters below, and friends set off to explore the hidden grottoes.
Wadi Bani Khalid hides a vast cave where you can brave the dark, confined spaces and make your way toward the supporting rock that upholds a waterfall. The loud vibrations of it rushing overhead will make you utter silent prayers that the rock is sturdy enough to hold its weight.
Wadi Shab also holds a few surprises. At the end of a not-so-easy 45 minute hike (and a long swim through a twisting stream) lies a cove with a man-made rope dangling over a cascading waterfall. Locals use it to scale the falls; only to disappear behind the rocks – never to be seen again. The burning curiosity is enough to make you follow suit.
An absolutely rewarding yet undeniably stupid and dangerous idea.
I won’t spoil the rest but I will say this – what goes up, must come down.
Plains of sand drift in continual movement as they canvas over large portions of Oman’s circumference, creating a desolate playground of knolls and dunes.
At Wahiba Sands, you can ride your 4-WD Toyota up and over the desert slopes for hours before seeing the first sign of life – normally the occasional goat or camel. Several Bedouin tribes still permeate the area and their transitory encampments lie scattered throughout the expanses. If you happen across a Bedu, it’s customary to accept their invitation for strong Omani coffee, shaking the cup slightly to signal you have finished before heading back off into the dunes.
Hell, sometimes you don’t even need the tent at all.
Camping is a deep part of the Omani culture whether it’s on the shore, the desert dunes or atop rugged cliffs.
Ask any resident what their weekend plans are and nine times out of ten they’re taking their 4-wheel drive vehicle to the terrain of their choice and cooking chicken, rice, and red tea over an open fire before rolling out the sleeping mats.
How could they not when the nights are mild and there are no laws or permits restricting the boundaries of your camp ground?
I can attest firsthand there’s nothing like falling asleep beneath the twinkling of a thousand stars.
Its Dazzling Architecture
The signature of Oman’s architecture is its understated elegance.
Simple, clean lines and neutral-toned exteriors are the norm in the low-lying (you won’t find any skyscrapers here) concrete buildings. Homes stand all shiny and white against the rocky background of the mountains. Often they’re adorned with arched windows and doorways, many of which are further ornamented with intricate carvings.
Without doubt, the shining star of Omani architectural style lies in its some 500+ mosques. Each mosque carries its own unique twist showing influences from a range of cultures. Some reflect the style of the Ottomans while others embrace Moroccan or other North African elements. In keeping in line with Islamic law, what they all have in common is a simplicity that is as aesthetically pleasing at it is spiritually important.
Its Historical Ruins
As with any country that has a long and detailed history, remnants of days gone by are bound to be plentiful.
Oman is no exception.
Vestiges of its once great marine empire that stretched all the way to Zanzibar can be found in the old towns of Qalhat and Quriyat while one of Oman’s oldest towns, Nizwa, holds one of the country’s greatest 17th century castles.
Many other ruins – like those in the bustling town of Ibra – have modern structures being built around them, creating a beautiful juxtaposition of old and new.
Its Open and Friendly People
The Omanis are a prideful people who love sharing the beauty of their country with tourists.
It’s one of the most welcoming countries I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit and I found the hospitality unmatched. It’s not uncommon to be invited over for coffee and dates; you’re cab driver in Muscat will converse with you the entire way to your destination; and everyone greets you with a smile.
Westerners (especially Americans) are somewhat of a rarity in Oman which brings out the curious nature of the locals. Couple that with the fact that I was traveling with only one other female companion (remember this is still a conservative and traditional Muslim country where a male escort is the norm) and the questions came out in full force.
Everyone wanted to know about American life and culture. You really date for years before marrying? What is the wedding like? Show me an American dance. It was exhilarating as in turn we were able to ask our own questions and grasp a better understanding of Omani culture which is what traveling is all about.
Oman’s a country where camels cross the road, desert goats interrupt your breakfast, and turtle reserves are set up to protect hatch-lings.
At Ras al Jinz, female green turtles – approx 20,000 per year – return here (the exact same beach where they hatched!) to lay their eggs. The Omani government has taken it upon themselves to protect this endangered species and their nesting sites. You can join a regulated tourism group to witness these turtles laying and hiding their eggs.
If you’re lucky (as I was), you may even get to see a group of eggs hatch.
Its Luxurious Resorts
If roughing it in the desert and camping on the coast isn’t your scene, don’t fret – Oman is dripping with luxurious accommodation.
You can relax and enjoy the emerald waters in style by staying at one of Oman’s many beachside resorts.
The undisputed gem of them all is the Al Bustan Palace in the capital city of Muscat. Belonging to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel family, this seaside retreat offers 1st class service with stunning views of the Hajar Mountains on one side and the Gulf of Oman on the other. Wafts of frankincense pleasantly assault your senses as you enter the ornate lobby where you’re greeted with coffee and fresh dates – an Omani staple.
Guests can laze at the spa, participate in waterfront activities such as paddle boarding or sailing, go for a dip in the immense infinity pool, or unwind with a cocktail beneath a private cabana.
Oman has something for everyone. Yet unlike other destinations, tourism has barely begun to touch the surface.
Visit now before everyone finds out paradise has existed all along.
For a comprehensive (10,000 word!) guide and logistical information about visiting Oman, check out this full 7-Day itinerary.
For a tale about the Omani people and their culture read Riding in Cars with Omanis.
Have you ever been to Oman or were surprised by a country you visited? Let me know in the comments below!
Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?
Taking on the classic “round-the-world” route, the next Travel Dispatch journey kicks off Nov 15 as I travel east to west, looping the globe over a period of 12 months with $25,000. Now’s your chance to get in on it from the very beginning!