After many times visiting Dubai, subconsciously I have formed similar expectations of Oman. I have always known that Oman has an amazing mountain range called Hajjar, a grand canyon called Jebel Shams, and many wadis (bodies of fresh water). Apart from that, I was expecting glittering cities in the vast desert and the high life as well. I could not be more wrong. Oman has totally surprised me! Every activity that I did, places that I visited, and people that I met have left deep impressions in me and I was only in Oman for four and a half days.
Here are the list of 10 things/places that I love in Oman:
1. Sand bashing, sunset, sunrise, and Bedouin visit in Wahiba Sands
This was not my first experience in the desert or playing around on the sand dunes. Being in Wahiba Sands (how the desert is called) was amazing, nonetheless. It was tons of fun. We rode the 4×4 bashing the sand dunes (we went up and down the different sand dunes at various angle and speed). We managed to catch two wild camels feeding and running towards us. The difficult climb over the humongous sand dunes was worth it to get a 360 degree view of the desert, and it allowed us to watch the sunset at various heights/angles.
And if you have followed my Instagram and blog long enough, you’d probably notice by now I am obsessed with sunrises and sunsets. In the morning, I braved the 250m steep sand dune behind our camp, Sama Al Wasil. Fortunately, they were kind enough to install a rope from the top to the bottom to help us climb. It also helped that it rained the night before, so the sand was more compact (translates: easier to walk on). I am glad I did it. The view was amazing, and the fact that I was only one of the few up there, it allowed for some ‘me’ time and of course amazing photos.
A visit to the desert also allows travelers to get closer to the Bedouin culture. We visited one enterprising Bedouin familly who opens their homes to teach us about the coffee and dates culture and showcase their traditional wares. I also managed to ride a camel during this visit. Most camels in Oman are one-humped. It was a weird sensation to ride a camel, especially when the camel gets up and gets down. The highlight of the Bedouin visit though was coming across the head of the community, a filmmaker, and a couple local singers filming. We were told it was for a documentary about the Bedouin culture. I will post the video (I was encouraged to record the proceeding – lucky me!) when the documentary is officially out. Please check back on the blog often.
2. Turtle watching in Raz Al Jinz
Green turtles are the most common species that return to this stretch of Omani coasts on the Arabian peninsula to lay eggs. It was an amazing experience. We saw a turtle laying eggs, and another one packing up the sand around the eggs to complete the nests. We are not allowed to visit until the turtles have finished digging their nest and start laying eggs, to not scare them off. I find the team at Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve is very professional. Our visit is very well organized, and they really care for the well-being of the turtles and making sure our activities are environmentally sustainable. And as a bonus, we saw a couple of baby turtles popping out from under the sands heading to the water guided by the lights generated by the planktons and moonlight, safely (safe from the nearby crabs!)
3. Hike and swim in Wadi Al Shab
The 45-minute hike to the cave and waterfall in Wadi Al Shab is very worthwhile. If walking on uneven terrain under the heat is tolerable for you, please do not miss this. You will be richly rewarded at the end. The waterfall inside the cave is quite amazing. Unfortunately, I did not have my gopro camera yet and I decided not to risk my iphone swimming into the cave. You will just have to got here and see for yourself. Please bring sufficient water and water-sport shoes to walk on the rocky sections. I do not usually get burn and I forego the sunscreen to reduce contamination of the water. I went in February.
4. Swim in Bimmah Sinkhole (Hawiyat Najm Park)
From Wadi Al Shab, I decided to change the scene and swim in a salt water sinkhole this time (Wadis are fresh water). Bimmah sinkhole occured naturally. If you are keen, you can climb on a rope to a ledge and jump in. Despite the strong sun, the water remains naturally cool. It was exhilarating!
5. Goat Market in Nizwa Souq
You may not find gold and precious stones in the old Nizwa Souq, but you can find one priceless experience into the Omani way of life in its Goat market. Visiting the goat market is the best cultural thing you can do in Oman. Here you are immersed in the language, the excitement of the participants (two-legged kind), prospect of dinner (four-legged kind), and the interaction of the local people with one another. If you are lucky, you can also see Bedouin women dressed in their colorful abayas and masks. The Goat market is best on Friday mornings. For the best experience, stay overnight in Nizwa on Thursday and start early the following morning. The Goat market dies down at about 9.30am.
After the Goat market visit, walk through the souq to check out the Dates souq and other products until you reach the Nizwa fort.
6. Old Villages: Misfat Al Abreyeen and Al Hamra, near Nizwa
One of the most charming thing to do in Oman is to visit an ancient village of the past that has blended with the new civilization. We walked around Mifat El Abaryeen, observing the more ancient buildings. It was interesting to see how the buildings were built into or on top of the rocks, utilizing the rocks as their foundations. We also walked along an aflaj (little canal for water to flow from the mountain to the village).
Al Hamra is also an ancient village. I saw it from a far. I can observe the blending of the old buildings with the new, nestled near an oasis. Charming!
7. Abandoned village Al Hajr
On the way to Jebel Shams (the Grand Canyon of Oman), we passed an amazing abandoned village (photos taken from the modern road). The remains of the buildings blend seamlessly into the rocky surface of the hill, upon which the village was built. One can still see a protective wall built all the way up the hill and around it. It was eerie and yet beautiful at the same time.
8. Swimming in Wadi Beni Khalid
Wadi Beni Khalid is another popular Wadi for many visitors (local and foreign). The water is blue and refreshing. A walk towards the canyon among the boulders was amazing. The final objective is to swim and enjoy or walk to the Mukhal cave and see the secret it hides (I did not see it! I regretted so much! This is a story for another day).
9. Experiencing a bar in Nizwa
Oman is actually an open country to a certain extent. Drinking and other entertainments are personal choices, so long they are respectful of others. For an experience, we went to a bar in Nizwa. I was the only girl patron. After a few curious looks, the men there was quite happy to mind their own business and continue drinking or playing pool. There was a male musician singing many Iraqis old, melancholic songs. I found the men in Oman quite respectful (not the boys who still need more training LOL). I had to concentrate hard to have a conversation with my companions, as the Indian movie on the big screen was quite captivating, although the subtitle was in arabic 🙂 I find it interesting that there are big interests in Indian culture in Oman, such as in music and food. (Note: out of respect of the privacy of the patrons, I would not post any photos).
10. Visiting Grand Mosque of Muscat
I am not a Muslim, and yet I find the Grand Mosque of Muscat (Sultan Qaboos Muscat) is a very tranquile place. I came before the crowd arrived and I had the chance to enjoy the place is relative quietness. The interior is incredible. What I love from Islamic patterns are its focus on geometric shapes and symmetries. As a self-proclaimed OCD, there is something comforting about the patterns. The carpet was created in one large piece by Iranian women, and it took them years to complete. The chandeliers are humongous and beautiful! The main feature though is the Hijaz mosaic panel inside the Mosque, where the males pray. The intricacy of this panel is captivating. I also love the outside walkways where they feature mosaics from various styles, such as the Samarkand, Central Asia style and the classic blue and gold early Islam style.
I cannot imagine how many things I had done in four and a half days and they are very different things, too! The city of Muscat is nothing like Dubai. And the Omanis are so warm and friendly. I have fallen in love with Oman, and I hope to return soon.
For more images, please visit instagram @roaminjuliet