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A Glimpse of Oman: Forts, Castles, Wadis, & Deserts

Our decision to go to Oman started out like many travel decisions we’ve made in the past.  The country was geographically close to an area we were already exploring (the UAE) and we’ve never been… nor do we know anyone else who’s been.  So, in short, why not go to Oman?

Not knowing much about the country, we decided the easiest way to see it would be with a private tour.  We signed up for a five day tour that started and ended and Muscat, which was just a short hour’s flight from Dubai.

You know all that culture I was craving (and subsequently let down by) in Dubai?  Well, thankfully, I got it in Oman.

Visiting Oman on the heels of Dubai is like going back in time.  With the exception of Muscat, the other cities we saw were probably better described as towns and villages with dirt roads, the occasional goat herds staggering through, and scarcely an Omani in sight.

(Goats roaming this tiny town with no herder in sight.)

(Goats roaming this tiny town with no herder in sight.)

The main attractions in Oman are its plentiful forts, castles, red sand desert, and beautiful emerald wadis, which are natural pools of freshwater found at the base of a canyon.

(Wadi Bani Khalid)

(Wadi Bani Khalid)

Oman, it seemed, is blessed with better weather and more abundant sources of water than its UAE neighbor.

(This room inside Nizwa Fort, is typical of a lot of rooms inside Oman

(This room inside Nizwa Fort, is typical of a lot of rooms inside Oman’s forts and castles.)

We also stopped by Nizwa, the country’s old capital, to visit its market, which is recognized as one of the best organized souqs in Oman.   I love visiting local markets since it offers a glimpse into how the locals live and the Nizwa souq didn’t disappoint.  There, one can buy fresh fish, birds, vegetables, clay pots and daggers.

(Men at the Nizwa Souq selling vegetables - incidentally, men do all the selling in Oman.)

(Men at the Nizwa Souq selling vegetables – incidentally, men do all the selling in Oman.)

But, the coolest part was the livestock– goats, sheep, cows, and camels – for sale.

(Goats for sale!)

(Goats for sale!)

While we made our way through the country, we were pleasantly surprised to not only find a simpler way of life but also learn that the Omanis are a friendly and hospitable bunch.  As our tour guide put it, you could ask an Omani for directions and he’ll likely walk you to where you need to go all the while never expecting anything in return.

The most puzzling thing, however, is that Oman is supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world but there was nothing to indicate wealth.  Unpaved roads make up the parking spots at storefronts, all the restaurants we stopped at had super low menu prices (you could eat for just a few dollars), the accommodations were pretty basic in the areas we visited, and there’s the prevalence of squat toilets – these are all the signs of an underdeveloped country.  I often turned to Mr. T with quizzical eyes and whispered, “Is this supposed to be a rich country or a poor country?”  I was too embarrassed to ask the tour guide.

Overall, however, Oman provided a nice contrast to ritzy Dubai and given that we went with no expectations, we were pleasantly surprised with its natural beauty and the friendly Omanis.

Here are some more photos from our trip:

(The origin of Bimmah Sinkhole, on the eastern coast of the country, is still a mystery today.)

(The origin of Bimmah Sinkhole, on the eastern coast of the country, is still a mystery today.)

(This is one of the oldest towns in Oman and reminded us of the kasbahs in Morocco.  The farmers who live here refuse to move despite the lack of running water or electricity in the houses.)

(This is one of the oldest towns in Oman and reminded us of the kasbahs in Morocco. The farmers who live here refuse to move despite the lack of running water or electricity in the houses.)

(Omani men chatting at the entrance of Bahla Fort.)

(Omani men chatting at the entrance of Bahla Fort.)

(Bahla Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was recently restored and just opened to tourists again.)

(Bahla Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was recently restored and just opened to tourists again.)

(Jebal Shams is known as the "Grand Canyon of Oman".)

(Jebal Shams is known as the “Grand Canyon of Oman”.)

(Sunset at Wahiba Sands Desert)

(Sunset at Wahiba Sands Desert)

(A peaceful camel we found as we left the Wahiba Sands Desert.)

(A lone peaceful camel on the side of the road at the Wahiba Sands Desert.)

(You can get free fish foot massages by dipping your feet in the wadis!  This one was taken at Wadi Bani Khalid.)

(You can get free fish foot massages by dipping your feet in the wadis! This one was taken at Wadi Bani Khalid.)

(The village of Sur, on the coast of Oman, was once a fishing village and is now famous for making dhows.)

(The village of Sur, on the coast of Oman, was once a fishing village and is now famous for making dhows.)

(Entrance to the famous Wadi Shab)

(Entrance to the famous Wadi Shab.)

(Clay pots are one of the big items sold at Nizwa Fort.)

(Clay pots are one of the big items sold at Nizwa Fort.)

(Muscat

(Muscat’s corniche makes up one of the most attractive parts of the big city.)

(Muttrah Souq, Muscat)

(Muttrah Souq, Muscat)

If you’re planning to go:

  • The sites are far from each other and there are limited public transportation options.  As a result, you should consider taking a tour or a renting a car.
  • You can try to bargain in the souks but the vendors aren’t as willing to reduce their prices as in other countries.
  • Once you’ve seen a couple of forts and castles, they’ll all start looking the same – they have date storage rooms, libraries, living rooms, entertaining rooms, etc.  This is especially true since Oman’s recently restored a lot of the forts and castles so they now have a similar look and feel.
  • You do not need much time in Muscat to see its sites.  After a half-day tour that covered the mosque, Muttrah souk, fishing souk, government buildings, and cornich, we didn’t see anything worth revisiting despite having extra time left over before we had to catch our flight.
  • Omanis are conservative so make sure you’re dressed conservatively – even when you’re tempted to strip into your skivvies at the wadis.
  • Bring toilet paper (I can’t emphasize this enough) with you.
  • Food options are kind of scarce around the country.  Restaurants generally serve Arabic and Indian food.

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