Oman Holiday Planning Guide
Underdeveloped and largely ignored by foreign visitors until the 1970s, Oman now represents one of the region's top vacation destinations, attracting tourists with its pretty beaches, impressive dunes, and friendly mountain villages. A tour of Oman allows travelers to discover a traditional Middle Eastern way of life, authentic cuisine, and thriving urban centers where centuries-old heritage meets every modern amenity under the sun. In a country of well-maintained roads, many visitors choose to drive from one city to the next, where a typical Oman itinerary will include World Heritage Sites, historic forts, modern beaches, and an eclectic dining scene.
Places to Visit in Oman
Regions of OmanMuscat Governorate
: Along with the vibrant capital Muscat, a strategic stronghold where ancient meets modern, this region boasts plenty of natural beauty: mountains, golden dunes, and a beachy coastline.Dhofar Governorate
: Due to seasonal monsoons, this region represents a verdant peculiarity in the midst of an arid terrain. Include Dhofar Governorate on your Oman itinerary and enjoy the best of lavish green mountains, natural diversity, and desert landscapes.Musandam Governorate
: This peninsula dubbed the "Norway of Arabia" features lovely fjords and draws tourists with scuba diving adventures, archeological sites, and mountains reaching over 2,000 m (6,500 ft).Ad-Dakhiliyah Governorate
: Flanked by the slopes of Al Hajar and desert dunes, this region is perfect for historical Oman sightseeing, including numerous forts, castles, and ancient mosques.Ash-Sharqiyah Governorate
: Ash-Sharqiyah Governorate boasts the biggest turtle nesting reserve in the country, as well as sand dunes, archeological sites, and a golden sand coastline.
Cities in OmanMuscat
: A tour of Oman's capital reveals a melting pot of various cultures in many historical and cultural attractions, set against the backdrop of moon-like rocky mountains and beaches.Salalah
: Include the sultanate's second city on your Oman itinerary to enjoy the many lush walking routes lined with papaya and banana trees, and shop at the vibrant traditional market tucked in the historic center.Nizwa
: Sightseeing in this erstwhile capital includes ancient fortifications, an old souq in the historic center, and the nearby canyon.Seeb
: This coastal fishing town serves as a getaway for both locals from nearby Muscat and tourists.Sohar
: Industrial hub and birthplace of mythical Sinbad the Sailor, Sohar also boasts shopping malls, a modern port, and a historic old town. Ibri
: This town's boasts an ancient fortification system, breathtaking canyons, and top Oman tourist attractions--World Heritage Sites Al-Ayn and Bat.
Things to Do in Oman
Popular Oman Tourist AttractionsSultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
: Explore one of the most beautiful mosques in the country, showcasing a huge minaret and intricate architectural ornaments both inside and out.
Old Muttrah Souk: Get lost in the labyrinths of one of the most prominent markets in the Middle East, boasting spices, local dishes, hookahs, souvenirs, ornate jewelry, and more. Qurum Beach
: This long golden sand beach remains one of the most favored places to visit in Oman to cool off and relax on the shores of the gulf. Wadi Shab
: This nature park encompasses dramatic canyons and pristine pools of water inside its dry terrain, offering hikes through the steep ravine and lush palm oasis.Nizwa Fort
: This 17th-century stronghold remains one of the most prominent examples of Omani architecture, featuring a grand drum tower and a beautiful vista over the Al Hajar mountains.Oman Fjords
: Enjoy a boat tour of Oman's dreamlike landscape with arid, red-hued mountains contrasting the deep blue of the Persian Gulf.Bait Al Zubair
: Learn more about Omani culture and history at this museum, which showcases traditional costumes, weaponry, and glimpses of everyday life.Wadi Bani Khalid
: Hike past this area's emerald pools, waterfalls, caverns, and traditional villages nestled in red-shaded mountains.Jebel Akhdar
: The lush verdant terraces and tiny villages hanging off the steep slopes of the Al Hajar mountains will make a memorable part of your Oman holiday. Al Mughsail Beach
: A mesmerizing stretch of coastline, this beach lies backed by limestone cliffs and makes a perfect spot for bird-watching or contemplating the waves crashing in.
Planning an Oman Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Oman with Kids
Mountain ranges, dunes, deserts, and oases of pristine water make Oman holidays enjoyable and adventurous for the whole family. For kid-friendly amenities, visit the cities of Muscat
, the latter known for its well-maintained fortification system. In Musandam Governorate
enjoy boat cruises on traditional ships and the moon-like scenery of the Arab fjords, plus popular scuba diving sites and a sanctuary for dolphins. For a beach vacation head to Ad-Dakhiliyah Governorate
, boasting plenty of golden sands and the largest turtle sanctuary in the country.
Things to Do in Oman with Kids
Adventurous families will enjoy exploring the caves, emerald green pools, and waterfalls of Wadi Shab
, a ravine that generates a good deal of tourism for Oman. Meanwhile, the Al Hajar mountain range offers plenty of hiking for all ages, and kids will have fun exploring the famous abandoned small villages. In Muscat, spend a day at Qurum Beach
, a family-friendly spot with fine golden sand, restaurants, cafes, and a boardwalk. Balance that with a stop in Bait Al-Baranda
, displaying interesting geography artifacts and dinosaur fossils.
Budding naturalists will appreciate one of the most popular things to do in Oman: watching turtles. Observe these creatures hatching and making their way to the ocean at Turtle Beach
, and enjoy the private, serene atmosphere. If you want to take a walk on the wild side, make a trip to Al Fizayah Beach
, featuring gorgeous rock formations and pristine sand. Tour operators also provide camping and glamping trips to the desert, optimized for kids.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Oman
Oman is known for well-developed resorts that offer kid-friendly attractions and activities, so it shouldn't be too hard to organize your days. That said, you'll need to take a few things into account to ensure a smooth trip. Temperatures run very high here, so make sure you and your children hydrate regularly throughout the day and wear sun protection. Likewise, always have some snacks with you while sightseeing in Oman, since shops are scarce in some areas. If you rent a 4x4, resist the urge to drive off into the desert--never go off road without a guide who can help if anything goes wrong. When exploring the deserts and dunes, all family members should have boots or hiking shoes; avoid flip flops, which will not protect you from the hot sand.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Oman
Cuisine of Oman
An Omani dish typically includes rice with some form of meat--fish, lamb, or chicken--and vegetables spiced with marinades and herbs. Take the opportunity to try some of the most popular dishes while on your Oman vacation: mashuai (kingfish served with lemon rice), machboos (a very spicy rice meal), and the ubiquitous kebab (curried grilled meat served with vegetables). End your lunch with a cup of Omani coffee mixed with cardamom powder (kahwa), usually served with dates and halva. If you have a sweet tooth, indulge in the sweet-and-savory albadhinajan mae tawarikh, a tart made from eggplant, onion, and dates.
Shopping in Oman
Probably the most famous souvenir you could get on your Oman holiday is frankincense--an aromatic oil used to relieve pain, inflammation, anxiety, and stress. In Salalah
you can purchase the legendary Dhofari frankincense, but you'll also find the oil at the grand Old Muttrah Souk, alongside khanjars (traditional daggers), pottery, Arab perfumes, aromatics, and Bedu jewelry. In Nizwa look for handicrafts. Most vendors expect you to haggle, so feel free to try for a lower price. If you're looking to pick up some edible gifts, supermarkets sell dates, Yemeni honey, and many other local and regional delicacies.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Oman
Interesting Facts About Oman
* Oman is the oldest independent state in the Arab world.
* Pay attention to the highly ornate doors when sightseeing in Oman--locals like to decorate their entryways.
* In Oman, weekend days are Thursday and Friday, since Friday is the Muslim holy day.
* In order to buy alcohol, Omanis need a special permit issued by the police.
* The crime rate is very low and the Global Terrorism Index notes that terrorist attacks in Oman are nonexistent.
Things You Should NOT Do in Oman
Omanis welcome foreigners warmly, and will often invite you (casually or formally) into their home. In that case, bring a small gift of chocolates or dates, and remember to take off your shoes upon entry. Never refuse food or drink offered to you as a guest, since you risk offending your host.
Dress is also important: avoid wearing tight, revealing, or ripped clothing during your tour of Oman. This is particularly true for women travelers, who should always have shoulders, arms, and knees covered.
Beyond that, you'll need to bear a few other things in mind when on vacation in Oman, since the country's strict codes of behavior may be unfamiliar to many travelers. Before reserving accommodations, check if hotels allow unmarried mixed couples to stay. If you are married, bring proof. Homosexuality is illegal in Oman. Drinking alcohol and being drunk in public are forbidden. Interestingly, the law also prohibits any show of anger, including gestures, shouting, and facial expressions. Naturally, the sultan's private life is off the table: you might not only offend locals but also draw the attention of the Omani police.
Holidays & Festivals in Oman
The greatest holiday in Oman is of course Ramadan, a month when Muslims fast and abstain from earthly pleasures during day. After sunset, people gather to enjoy dinner and reconnect. A tour of Oman during this period can be quite revealing, as long as you can adhere to the strict ban on public eating during the day (plan to eat in your hotel). At night, public spaces come alive and children often play until midnight as the grown-ups chit-chat. Ramadan concludes with another religious holiday, Eid al-Adha, celebrating the sacrifice of Abraham. On a different note, the Muscat Festival draws tourists with its showcase of Omani history, traditions, and culture, while the Sultan Camel Race Cup involves ungulates competing in the desert.
Useful Oman Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Oman
When on your Oman holiday, you'll find Omanis very formal and polite, adhering to certain social etiquette. Before entering a conversation, you must first exchange greetings. Try to learn some basic Arabic phrases for these purposes: "marhaban" (hello), "sarort be ma'refatek" (pleased to meet you), and "wa ‘anta kayf al-Haal?" (how are you?). Although women and men are allowed to talk to each other, women mostly come chaperoned by a male relative. Bear in mind that Omanis tend to stand very close to you while speaking.
If you're male, greet other male strangers with a handshake, but do not offer your hand to a stranger of the opposite sex (let them initiate it if they wish). Close friends greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks.
Climate of Oman
Oman has a subtropical dry, hot desert climate, with a few peculiarities mixed in. The period from October to April is probably the most pleasant time to take your Oman vacation. Temperatures range from 25-35 C (77-95 F) during the day, and from 17-19 C (63-66 F) at night. Coastal areas tend to get rather hot and humid from May until August, while the interior is dry and hot. Rainfall remains pretty low in general; in the interior and coastal areas precipitation doesn't top 20-100 mm (0.8-4 in), most of which falls in winter. That said, the mountain areas have more precipitation and even some snowfall. The southern Dhofar region has its own microclimate between May and September due to monsoons from the Indian Ocean--temperatures are 10-15°C (18-27°F) lower during that period than the rest of the country.
Transportation in Oman
Buses run daily service between the major cities in Oman, while the domestic airline offers flights between Muscat and Salalah. If planning to venture past the major metropolises in your Oman itinerary, consider renting a car. Four-lane highways run between big cities, but you'll need four-wheel drive to navigate roads to more tucked-away destinations. Fuel prices are low, just make sure you abide by law and keep your vehicle clean.
The network of taxi drivers is well established in Oman, but, again, you'll need to follow the local etiquette. If you want to avoid sharing a taxi, ask for an "engaged taxi"--meaning you'll pay for all seats and avoid picking up more people. Women are allowed to sit only in the back of cabs. Oman's cities also have mini-buses, where you share expenses with other people. Women should sit only next to other women. If a seat is occupied by a man, just stand at the door and stare for a while--this is considered a normal hint in Oman.
Tipping in Oman
Vacationers in Oman should be aware that tipping is not part of Omani culture. Some more expensive restaurants might charge you a service fee, usually indicated on the bill. When it comes to taxis, a tip is not expected unless the driver helps you with bags--in that case, 1-2 rials will do. Do leave tips for hotel staff, as they depend on this for their income: consider leaving 1 rial per day for housekeeping, and tipping porters 1-2 rials.