I know – it wasn’t on my radar either but I read an article in Wanderlust a few months back and followed up on it. We’d been to Dubai a couple of years ago but this sounded as though it had more character and more to offer (sorry Dubai!).
So from a bit of extra reading I knew:
♦ Its safe and welcomes visitors.
♦ There’s plenty of variety with mountains, desert and sea.
♦ Self driving is easy.
♦ Its straightforward enough to get there.
♦ Its expensive – (but in the same way as Dubai) – leisure activities, hotel restaurants, alcohol….
We wanted to see a bit of the country but also needed a few leisure days to just chill at the pool or beach and read. So we concentrated on the region around Muscat and saved the south for another trip.
Day 1 – Travel and Arrival
Its about 7 hours from Dublin to Abu Dhabi with Ethiad and then a quick sprint through the terminal to make the connection to Muscat. An hour later we arrived into a lovely new airport and, as we already had our E-visas, we just had to queue for passport control. It probably took about an hour between that and baggage collection.
The car rental desks are all in the arrivals hall – we’d booked with Europcar and there was no delay. While 4WD is essential for parts of the country, its much more expensive so we opted for a 2WD and arranged other transport where necessary (more about that elsewhere).
The road from the airport leads directly into town. We were staying at the Park Inn by Radisson for 2 nights (room only) and it was straight to bed!
The Positives: Handy for airport / parking / few minutes walk from shopping mall / restaurants close by / nice rooftop pool / rooftop bar / very good breakfast
The Niggly Bits: Breakfast cost 10.61 OMR (about €24) / easy to miss the turn into the hotel.
Day 2 – Muscat
We don’t often opt for organised tours but I’d emailed Nasser after reading about him on Tripadvisor. He had one free day and could do a city tour with us. Because of our late arrival, he’d granted us a reprieve and collected us at 9.30am from the hotel. It worked out very well because we had a fantastic introduction to the country and its religion and culture before we set off on our own.
The Grand Mosque
The best tour guide!
Mutrah Corniche and Souq
The Sultan’s ‘Yacht’ shares the harbour with cruise ships and traditional dhows.
Bayt al Zubair Museum has a complete miniature village.
Nasser deposited us back to our hotel after 5.5 hours. The famous Lulu hypermarket was just around the corner so we got a few basic supplies for the road.
We finished up in Turkish House restaurant, recommended by Nasser, which was about a half hour walk from the hotel.
If you’d like to know more then have a look at Muscat – Impressions and Favourite Bits
Day 3 – Jebel Akhdar
We set off on our 5 day tour after breakfast. Getting out of the city is straightforward and the roads are great.
We were starting in the mountains and spending the night on Jebel Akhdar. Without a 4WD we could not access the plateau ( there is a police checkpoint at the base) so we’d arranged with our hotel to send a driver to meet us at the checkpoint. The climb isn’t so bad – its coming back down that’s the problem and gear changing is needed rather than braking (hence the 4WD). We were staying at the fabulous Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort (I know – a mouthful – we never really did get the name right!) and we spent the 35 minute trip gorging on the selection of nuts and dried fruits that was awaiting us in the car – nice touch!!.
The hotel is perched right at the edge of the canyon.
The welcome tray – dates, macaroons and juice.
The bedrooms are right at the edge of the canyon!
A pool with a view!
There were reports of rain but of course we didn’t believe them – this was the Middle East after all. But sure enough it started during lunch and continued on and off all afternoon. We’d only one night so we made the most of it and went out between the worst of the showers. Heavy cloud spoiled some of the views but the place is breathtaking. There is a walking route through 3 of the local mountain villages – the last of the pomegranates were falling from the trees and because of the weather, there was no one about apart from a few goats.
There were a few dinner choices but we opted for the buffet. It was fab of course with Omani, International and Indian selections. Not the place to take photos but I managed a few….
Day 4 – Jebel Akhdar » Bahla » Nizwa
Blue skies were promised until 11.00am so we headed off after breakfast for a short walk and a few more photos.
We’d a chance to enjoy the views from the pool before our driver brought us back to our car.
Nice touch at the sun beds – face clothes and water in individual cool boxes.
Runaway ramps on the descent….
Flash flooding the afternoon before had closed the road but all evidence of the heavy rains had disappeared.
Back in our own car we enjoyed the changing landscapes and colours.
Bahla Fort is thought to have been built between the 12th and 15th centuries by local tribesmen. Constructed of mud and straw, it dominates the surrounding oasis. It underwent extensive restoration and was granted Unesco World Heritage Site status in 1987.
Imposing from the outside…
Bigger than you think on the inside!…
Walls of mud and straw…
Fabulous views of the oasis and surrounding hills…
The walls extend for several kilometres.
Raining again as we approach the double arched gateway – a familiar sight in Omani towns…
We had a late lunch / early dinner in Al Mandi Al Dhahabi. We each had a mandi dish (rice and meat) for about OMR 2 each (€4.50).
Sun setting as we ate….
Our first date milkshake – yum!
Al Karam Hotel Apartment
The Positives: Apartments basic but clean and spacious with bedroom, sitting room, kitchen and bathroom / parking / good breakfast with omelettes made to order
The Niggly Bits: Bit outside town (15 minute drive)
Day 5 – Nizwa » Wahibi Sands Desert
Nizwa Fort – worth it for the views alone…
This fort has more to offer families than Bahla Fort because of the displays and the demonstrations of traditional crafts.
The souq is next to the fort.
Isn’t this the place we had that date milkshake last night?…
The town is very clean….
And as elsewhere in the country, there is a big investment in tourism…
Back on the road…
Lots of new houses to be seen everywhere….
Wahibi Sands Desert
We were spending the night is the exotically named 1000 Nights Camp. Once again, without a 4WD we had to organise transport and were meeting our driver at the petrol station in Bidiyah – a town which appears to have sprung up as a gateway to the desert and survives on the tourist trade.
We were greeted at the petrol station by touts who descended upon us when then saw our non 4WD but they left us alone when they realised we had our transport sorted.
We shared a rice dish at the cafe before setting off on the 45 minute drive into the desert.
Not far now I think…
Home sweet home!
Once a boy scout……
Goodie pack and loo / showers
We’re not far from reception and amenities….
Our posh neighbours…. we’ll be heading up those dunes in a while..
But first a look around…
And then a swim…
People on the move …time to go…
Its about a 20 minute climb but there’s help if you need it…
The last of the sun on the camp below…
Another buffet – meze, lentil soup, paneer curry, lamb and chicken dishes, veg, deserts, mint tea….
Day 6 – Wadi Bani Khalid – Sur – Ras al Jinz
Sunrise is at 5.45 today….
I don’t know about you but I’m going back to bed!!!…
Its after breakfast and guests have signed up for camel rides or dune bashing before heading off….
We spot several Bedouin settlements on the way back to town.
Wadi Bani Khalid
Once back at our car in Bidiyah, an hour’s drive brought us to the beautiful Wadi Bani Khalid. Its a busy spot and be prepared to get your feet wet on the way in. Swimming is allowed but there is a strict dress code – women must wear a t shirt over their togs.
Parking stretches out along the access road…
Of course there are always those who can’t get close enough!….
There is a restaurant and a few picnic tables at the big pool….
Unfortunately we hadn’t time for a swim….
New roads and settlements on the way to Sur…
Sur would be a nice town in which to spend a night but we were only passing through so just had an hour or so to see the beach, harbour and the famous Dhow Yards.
You can wander in to a yard and watch the boat builders at work… dhows are still built in the traditional way.
Health and Safety isn’t an issue!…
Get your hands away from that pole!!…
Further along the corniche there is a restored dhow and smaller boats.
The harbour was protected by the now familiar round towers…
Looks nice up there – but we haven’t enough time…
Ras al Jinz
Please read Oman – 12 Hours at Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve to find out about our night at Ras al Jinz.
Day 7 – Wadi Shab » Sinkhole Park » Muscat
Sunrise at Ras al Jinz
Barren but beautiful…
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d taken a wrong turn – with the massive motorway above you, this couldn’t possibly be the most popular attraction in Oman!
Ah – that’s better!…
It takes about 45 minutes – most of the path is straightforward!…
You can continue hiking over the cliffs along goat trails….
Our stop at the pools for a swim….
Further along the coast towards Muscat is Sinkhole Park. This limestone hole is probably more interesting if you head down the steps for a swim. There’s a nice park with playground and walks built around the hole.
Day 8 – 10 Muscat
3 days of doing pretty much nothing! We’d our Friday brunch at the Chedi to look forward to, we’d go back to Mutrah souq and pay a quick visit to the Grand Mall but otherwise that was it – just sun, books and food!
Our hotel was at one end of Qurm Beach…
With its own private beach – the water was amazing ….
Lots of space – no sunbed wars here!…
They serve the BEST breakfast we’ve ever had!!
Seafood Dim Sum, French toast or grilled Halloumi …
Exotic fruits, smoothies and milkshakes (date flavour today!) and runny honey!…
Walking the beach – or not!…
An Arabic Wrap for lunch by the pool or fried Kingfish for dinner in Mutrah….
Out and about at night….
Or joining the locals who sit along the corniche and admire the cars that cruise up and down for hours at the weekends.
We had a ball!!