Still holding onto its rich heritage, Oman is one of few destinations where visitors can experience the exotic flavors of Arabia without the distorted perspectives of modern-day values. Its embracing community takes pride in having a strong sense of identity and remain loyal to their roots, never forgetting their colorful past and the ancient civilizations that founded this Arabian jewel. As a result, Oman’s gleaming cities are alive with tradition, retaining their historic appeal and Bedouin values. It’s rare to encounter a country that is still rooted in ancient traditions and this, together with abundant natural scenery, makes Oman an exclusive travel option for those seeking a taste of modern-day Arabia while also journeying into its ancient soul. Outside the walls of the more frequently-visited city of Muscat are some enticing destinations, waiting to be discovered, and an extraordinary adventure awaits all who step into this desert kingdom.
Located in Oman’s southern region, the subtropical city of Salalah is a vibrant one, known for its unusual myths and legends that date back to biblical times. In contrast to Muscat, Salalah is surrounded by jaw-dropping natural landscapes and benefits from the annual Indian monsoon, known as the Khareef. The monsoon is a welcome relief from the Omani heat and transforms the region into a misty haven. From mid July to August, Salalah hosts a cultural festival made up of an extravagant mix of sporting events, music and dance performances and sale of traditional Omani handicrafts to celebrate the rainy season. It’s an intriguing exhibition of the local cultures where visitors can catch a rare glimpse of unique performances, including the Zanooj dance with its cast of thousands.
A short drive from the city will take visitors to remarkable verdant plains, filled with springs, rolling hills, crystal-clear streams and superb gardens. The Jebel Samhan plateau is also an impressive sight, where the hanging valley of Wadi Dirbat is located. Elevated at 5,905 feet above sea level, this destination is simply breathtaking, comprising of rocky slopes, waterfalls and exotic vegetation. Venturing further into the Jebels is the equally resplendent Tawi Attir or “the hole of the birds”, a cavernous natural sinkhole, reaching 820 feet in depth and over 300 feet across. Concealed within a hidden valley is the surreal-looking Baobab Forest, where giant bulbous trees dominate the landscape. They create a hazy imaginarium with their magnificent, cylindrical trunks and crimson hue.
Completely separated from the rest of Oman by the UAE and the Strait of Hormuz, the Musandam Peninsula is a particularly distinctive region. Often referred to as the “Norway of Arabia”, wild and windswept landscapes are defined by rocky inlets, isolated villages and windy mountainous roads. A stay in the Six Senses Zighy Bay provides travelers with a real flavor of this remote destination. Set on its own private marina, the retreat boasts rustic, individually-walled rooms and suites, complete with a striking mountainous backdrop and views over the immaculate coastline of Zighy Bay. It offers an Omani experience like none other with its indigenous-style accommodation that is only a few steps from the sparkling turquoise waters of the Musandam fjords. What’s more, the resort participates in a number of eco-friendly and sustainable initiatives so guests can enjoy guilt-free indulgence from this Arabian treasure.
Empty Quarter & Wahiba Sands
The great Wahiba Sands comprises of a vast area of majestic golden dunes, around 120 miles long, 62 miles wide and 328 feet high. A four-wheel drive is required to tackle these flame-colored dunes, which stretch southwards from the Eastern Hajars all the way to the Arabian Sea. Along the way, it is difficult not to feel transported back to the days of Arabian Nights, with numerous Bedouin camps and old fort ruins peppered within these remote sands.
Red, orange and amber hues make up the 250,000-square-mile desert within the legendary Empty Quarter, a jaw-droppingly expansive and remote area comprising of nothing but dunes, reaching up to 1000-feet high. It is one of the world’s largest deserts and a destination to experience sublime tranquility in starkly-beautiful surroundings. The towering dunes and pristine natural environment offer timeless scenes, providing an unforgettable desert experience.
Al Hajar Mountains
The austere Al Hajar mountains rise to an altitude of over 6,500 feetabove the surrounding countryside and are a striking melange of patterns and textures. They form a mountainous wall, concealing a multitude of rustic caves, deep-cutting canyons and hidden 400-year-old mud houses. This otherworldly mountain range is also home to the tallest peak in Oman, which stands proud at a mighty 9875 feet high. The area is a significant ecoregion and is rich in endemic plant species compared with the majority of Arabia with a diverse range of vegetation visible within different altitudinal variations.
Surrounded by warm, crystalline waters, teeming with rich biodiversity, Oman’s Damaniyat islands provide an exceptional diving site. Located around 12 miles from the Oman Batinah coast, this group of nine islands has been a designated nature reserve since 1996, surrounded by some of the best-developed coral reefs throughout Oman. It is an unspoilt underwater jungle, where divers can escape to another world filled with flashes of color that are reflected off shoals of lively fish, exotic-looking seashells and vibrant corals. It’s a popular diving destination made of 17 dive spots with one of the most appealing known as the Aquarium due to the array of effervescent marine life that can be seen here, including nesting green and hawksbill turtles, leopard sharks, butterfly fish, barracudas and the occasional sting ray.