With its breathtaking scenery, year-round sunshine and tradition-rich past, the Sultanate of Oman is a must-visit country. Nestled amid craggy mountains and volcanic formations, the low-slung city (the tallest building is 14 stories) of 1.5 million has some of the most charming structures. Just outside of the capital’s neighborhoods of white-washed villas, you will find pristine wadis, deserts, and limestone mountains. Below, 10 reasons to start planning a trip to Oman.
1. The Grand Mosque
Built by the same architects who constructed the Royal Opera House, the stunning Sultan Qaboos Grand mosque was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos in celebration of his 30th year of reign. It is built from marble and sandstone and houses the second-largest hand-loomed Persian carpet in the world, which is said to have taken 600 women four years to weave. The impressive mosque, which can accommodate 200 000 worshippers, is open every day from 8-10am and provides abayas and headscarves in case you forget yours.
2. The Royal Opera House
One of the most impressive structures in the Sultanate, Muscat’s Royal Opera House is worth taking in even if you’re not attending a show. Commissioned by Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman, the venue has hosted performances by Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli. The Season runs from September until May, but visitors are welcome year round.
3. Bait al Zubair Museum
This private museum is spread across three buildings, and opened its doors in 1998 to showcase the collection of Sheikh Al Zubair bin Ali, minister and advisor to three former Sultans. Featuring historic photographs of the city, antique maps and stamps, old Islamic coins, furniture, and clothing that defined Oman, the museum offers a rare insight into the rich heritage of the country.
4. Shangri-La (Al Husn)
Only 33km away from Muscat, you will find the newly-opened Shangri-La Al Husn, a luxury hotel for adults located on a 100-meter coastline that sits atop a gently rising promontory, overlooking the turquoise waters of Oman’s sea. Inspired by the historic architecture of centuries-old Omani forts, the kids-free resort features décor inspired by royal Arabian palaces and is accented by authentic Omani artworks.
5. Souq Muttrah
Traditional textiles, antiques, spices, gold, and frankincense essential oils and burners are only some of the things you can find at the bustling Souq Muttrah, which retains some of the charm and chaos of old Arab marketplaces. Packets of fragrant resin and bukhoor will make covetable souvenirs. Don’t forget to stop by the Al Ahli coffee shop for a cup of soothing Karak or fresh pomegranate juice on your way out.
6. Wadi Shab
When making the 1.5 hour drive from Muscat to the Wadi Shab, make sure you’re well-equipped with hiking boots, sunglasses, and sunscreen. The idyllic hike begins with a two-minute boat ride followed by a trek across the clear water until you reach a hidden cave, where you’ll find a picturesque waterfall and a turquoise pool.
7. Bimmah Sinkhole
Ask any local Omani about the Bimmah Sinkhole (or Hawaiyat Najm, “falling star”) and they’ll tell you that it’s the result of a meteorite that crashed into the earth centuries ago. A 40m wide cavernous hole filled with 20m of clear, emerald water and surrounded by limestone cliffs, the sinkhole is just as mystifying as the legend that accompanies it (locals believe it was caused by a meteorite).
8. Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve
Witness the nesting process of endangered green turtles at the Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve. Each year, thousands of sea turtles from four different species migrate from nearby shores to lay an estimated 50 000 eggs on the Sultanate’s beaches. Peak season is July to October.
9. Wahiba Sands
A diversion between Muscat and Sur, Wahiba Sands refers to mountains of golden sand dunes up to 100m high that can keep visitors occupied for days. Go quad biking, camel riding, or dune bashing. Those who choose to spend the night can camp out in luxurious Bedouin-inspired tents.
10. Six Senses Zighy Bay
Nestled atop barren, rugged mountains overlooking Musandam beach, this hideaway (a five-hour drive from Muscat airport, or you can get there by speedboat or paraglide,) is luxury at its finest. All the rooms are beachfront stone villas with private pools, outdoor showers, and your very own butler. The secluded award-winning resort also has a spa, and offers a range of wellness activities including watersports, archery, yoga, and hiking.