My passion for travel began early in my life and indeed with the Orient. Since then I have traveled to several oriental countries. In each of them I hoped to find “1001 Nights” and sometimes I found glimpses into it. However, some years later I traveled to the Sultanate of Oman. Until then I had no idea how close a country could actually come to my 1001 nights-dream.
Is Oman suitable for individual travelers?
Most Oman travelers choose resort holidays and book organized excursions to see parts of the country. Oman has undoubtedly wonderful resorts and on booked tours you can experience a lot. We also tried such a tour in a minibus with a few other travelers and spent a really nice day. However, these organized trips are quite expensive and we prefer the freedom to travel on our own in the long run. You can also travel to Oman on a smaller budget and book a simple hotel individually. The country offers a great variety and a lot of adventure, which makes it very exciting for individual travelers. By rental car you can go as far as the desert, which we did. However, it should be noted that road traffic in Oman is not without danger, because the locals use to drive fast and rather careless. If you feel this is too unsafe, but you still don’t want to spend a fortune, I recommend a smaller independently booked hotel in combination with one or two group tours. A great advantage for individual travel in Oman is that it is a very safe country in terms of crime. For example, our car rental company told us that we should simply leave the key in the open car after returning it. In Mutrah’s bazaar, too, the traders simply leave their goods unobserved during their lunch break.
A capital for outdoor lovers and romantics
We chose the capital Muscat as a base for most of our trip and stayed overnight at the Qurum Beach Hotel, not far from the busy Al-Shatti Beach. In the immediate vicinity were some shopping facilities and good restaurants. The modern district Qurum is very comfortable with its infrastructure, but the magic of Muscat reveals itself at other places. Muscat is geographically not a coherent city, but consists of many diverse parts. In some cases you have to cover a certain distance to reach one from the other, sometimes also with higher mountains in between. This is what makes Muscat so attractive for hiking enthusiasts. My highlight in this city is a mountain tour that starts just behind the souk of the old town of Mutrah. Before descending at the end of the tour you will be rewarded with wide views over the deep blue Gulf of Oman. The big surprise for me on this tour was that I crossed something like a mini wadi at high altitude. There are also palm trees up there. In spring the tour is especially beautiful, because flowers flourish. We were so enthusiastic about the hike that we did it twice, in each case from the opposite direction. By the way, we hardly met any other people on the tour. I don’t need this when hiking, because I prefer to enjoy the contact with nature and the views in peace.
Independent of the direction in which you do the tour, you should not miss the Mutrah Souk. I have experienced some souks and bazaars in the Orient, but none was as beautiful as this one. This is probably due to the fact that the souk is so labyrinthine that it is easy for you to get lost. And that’s the best experience here. I am not so keen on shopping much for myself, because my motto is “collect moments, not things”. But in the souk of Mutrah I found such a beautiful brass incense burner that I could not resist. Of course, we also had to buy some oriental incense. In the evening it is wonderful to stroll on the Corniche of Mutrah, watch the sunset over the Persian mosque and then have dinner on a roof terrace. Mutrah is really something for romantics.
In love with palm groves and fairytale towns
Even though we loved the capital of Oman, we still had to move out to see the country. First we participated in a tour, visited the wadis Tiwi, Shab and Dayquah Dam, a bathing crater with beautiful emerald water and a white beach. The scenic beauty of the country captivated me everywhere. A crowded school bus passed us every now and then in the narrow alleys around Wadi Tiwi. Oman values education. We found it fascinating to learn that the Sultan is having schoolchildren picked up by helicopter from remote mountain villages in order to take them to school. That also applies to girls. By the way, women often find themselves in management positions in business life. Another aspect we liked about this country. In Wadi Shab, we went on a gently ascending hike, which led us over different levels of the wadi to several water basins. We met a mountain villager who was happy to be photographed with the Lovely Dog, our traveling stuffed animal (also on Instagram and Facebook). Unfortunately we had to turn back early, because rain was expected and the wadis can be flooded then within shortest time and get life-threatening.
It was incredible how much we experienced on one single road trip day and we knew that we wanted to go out by car on our own for the next few days. After exploring beautiful wild beaches near Muscat, we visited the oasis town of Nizwa, where Sinbad the Sailor is said to have been born. Here we found the a dreamlike mosque, which reminded me of the computer game “Prince of Persia”, which I liked to play as a child. From Nizwa Fort, which looks like a sand castle, you have a wonderful view of the city and the palm trees of the oasis. But the souk is also worth a visit. Things are still very authentic here. Afterwards we drove to the enchanting mountain village Misfat El-Abriyeen in the high mountains of Oman. This was certainly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen: Donkeys walking through narrow alleys, exotic fruits such as mangos growing next to a palm trees in abundance. Just paradise. The irrigation systems of oases in Oman are a UNESCO World Heritage Site… From Misfat El-Abriyeen you can go on mountain tours with donkeys. That’s still on my bucket list. You see, I’d like to go back to Oman.
After our stay in Misfat El-Abriyeen we drove south towards the desert. Here it became adventurous, because we already made a stop in the dark for dinner in a place, which was completely free of tourists and there we were well noticed as strangers. We continued through a stone desert. Here we no longer received radio with Arabic pop music, which I like very much, but only one religious radio station. It got dark and suddenly we were almost scared to death when we slipped through the water with the car. It felt like we lost the ground. Somehow we came to a stop and understood that we were drifting through some kind of small river. At the edge of this river some people were standing and cars were parked next to the road. We learned that the water is a wadi (river) that has flowed down into the valley with force due to rainfall and that this is generally a great danger for cars in Oman. Due to the wadi the road was not passable at first and we could not continue our way to the desert. In such cases, the Omanis communicate via Whatsapp in order to control the danger and to be able to foresee when they can continue. On this adventurous night we got to know the great hospitality of the Omanis and were invited to a private house. There we sat on a carpet and were generously provided with coffee and goodies. Only late at night we could drive on and reached our motel in Ibra, a town near the sandy desert, at about 3 o’clock. These are the travel experiences you will always remember…
The magic of the desert
In the morning after, we started our next adventure. Our plan was to spend the night in a desert camp. First we drove to a small village near the desert, where we should be picked up. Unfortunately nobody came and we could not reach anyone from the desert camp by phone. Since we didn’t want to miss the desert and didn’t have much time left in Oman, we set off on our own towards the sand dunes, because I had found another camp in the travel guide. It was amazing how far we could drive into the desert with our normal rental car, because the tarred road reached into the sand dunes. We were pleased about an “Attention camels” sign that looked exotic to us non-desert dwellers. We found it very funny when shortly after passing the sign a camel actually trotted along the roadside. We had really made it to the desert…
Soon we had to park our car and could only continue on foot in the direction of the desert camp and that unfortunately went uphill in the glowing midday heat. A little exhausted we arrived at the desert camp. They were surprised because we had no booking. But they invited us in and soon provided us with sandboards, with which we could ride down the big dune. I wasn’t prepared for that, but I like trying something new and sandboarding was a lot of fun. Later we walked over sand dunes for a while. The next day we were driven by jeep over sand dunes and visited a small village with a market. Here some market saleswomen wore golden masks and the men daggers, which is an old tradition in Oman. Later we were led to a Bedouin camp in the desert, drank coffee with the inhabitants and talked. We were positively surprised that the women here were not shy at all and even shook hands with Chris, which is rather unusual in the Orient. The Bedouin family showed us their camel babies. As animal friends we of course admired them. We learned some interesting things, for example that the Bedouin family breeds camels for racing. On the one hand the Bedouins are traditional in terms of camel breeding, on the other hand they are very modern. Mobile phones are omnipresent… The visit in the desert and the trip to Oman was a fantastic adventure and gave us fascinating insights into the realities of this fairyland…
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