What can I expect from Oman?
September 15, 2008 6:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to Oman for 2 weeks in January (including New Year's Eve). What can I expect?

I'm visiting Oman to go scuba diving with a friend. Our accommodation is already arranged in Muscat, and we have access to a 4x4 car.

I'll not be spending all my time in the water, so what other things would you recommend I do/see? I'm interested in wildlife, the great outdoors, history etc. So anything along those lines would be of interest.

What food/drink should I try?

Also, are there any cultural things I should be aware of so I don't cause offence?

Any other tips specific to Oman/Muscat would also be appreciated.
posted by jonesor to Travel & Transportation around Oman (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Here is the current background notes from the U. S. State Department and the travel advice from your British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Here is one person's travel log of a visit to Muscat.
posted by netbros at 9:55 AM on September 15, 2008

Short answer: see turtles, try dates and tea. As for the cultural stuff: just be polite and smile and you'll get the same back.

I haven't been in Muscat, only on the northern tip at the Hormuz strait.
posted by bering at 12:31 PM on September 15, 2008

Best answer: Definitely go to the souk and fish market in Muttrah (the port of Muscat, and get on a dhow boat while you're there). Nizwa is a nice day trip, and try to do a little off-roading to find secluded beaches along the coast. There are a couple of books out there that will tell you where to go. Go have a look at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, and the forts that are around the city. The Al-Bustan Hotel is something to see, and from what I remember the brunch there is delicious. You may be planning on visiting the dive club as well, which is secluded, lovely and quiet. Have a good time!
posted by nothingsconstant at 7:07 PM on September 15, 2008

If you're intending on leaving Muscat, get a good map before you arrive in-country. Detailed maps are hard to come by (or were in 2005).

I got very, very lost in the desert and had to be rescued by some garbage men, who I think thought I was Britney Spears. God that was a long day.
posted by Lucie at 5:44 AM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would add Sur and the wadis along the new coastal highway if you're travelling outside of Muscat (which you should). Nizwa and the surrounding areas are also nice; skip Sohar unless you're transiting to/from Dubai. You can spend the night at a desert camp in the sand dunes at Wahiba by driving a bit further from either Sur or Nizwa - I recommend doing a loop in either direction starting and ending in Muscat. The "turtle beach" is near Sur at Ras Al Jinz - you can camp out there and see the turtles at 9pm with a permit from an agency, or 5am with patience and a smile. (Both tour times are supposed to be first-come first-served, but agencies monopolize the earlier one.)

Having a 4wd will give you access to some sites of mind-blowing natural beauty, wadis, mountain areas, villages etc. (and dune bashing if your friend is an experienced driver!) There are several publications available with 4wd routes and recommended itineraries for hiking etc. - your friend probably has one, but if not, he/she can take you to a local bookshop or you can pick one up at the airport. The "Explorer" series is decent; there's another 4-wheel guide that came out a few months ago that I haven't checked out yet. As for wildlife, watch out for camels on the highway and lizards on the loo.

The weather will be fantastic that time of year; enjoy the freedom to walk outside sweat-free for hours at a time, and the beaches. Mutrah is the best area to enjoy the winter luxury of being a pedestrian; you can also explore the Ruwi area for a taste of India. Muscat and Sidab are also lovely.

Food: Omani qahwa (coffee), dates, biryani, curry, porridges and stews seasoned with cardamom, paper-thin Omani bread, and halwa are typical of Omani cuisine. It uses many of the same seasonings as Subcontinental and North African cooking, but without the heavy curry sauces. Shuwa (spiced goat meat cooked underground with charcoal for 24 hours), usually served for Eid, is another specialty. Hope you're invited for a home-cooked meal with an Omani family: food is served on the floor and you eat from a communal dish, with your right hand only. Too bad you're missing the culinary spectacle of Ramadan! Levantine mezze (Turkish House restaurant is a local favorite), and copious South Asian cuisine (every streetcorner) are available. Avoid any restaurant that serves "Chinese, Continental and Arabic food" and always try to order the native cuisine of the chef, if you can see who's cooking. There is no good Thai food here; don't waste your time. There is amazing seafood. If you're on a budget, there are thousands of shawarma stands, but meh.

As for customs, a bit of modesty and respect will get you a long way. Show your smile more than your skin: no one will outright condemn you for dressing scantily, but you will notice a difference in the attention you receive and the tone of your interactions based on how you dress, whether you are male or female. Omanis are extremely laid back (and at least superficially open-minded, considering how traditional and conservative most of them are) and very friendly, pleasant people to interact with. They enjoy teaching visitors about their culture, so let them do that job when you arrive. Have some decorum and keep your own mind open and free from prejudices of western superiority, don't criticize cultural aspects that are yet unfamiliar to you, and enjoy the amazing openness and hospitality of the Omani nature.

I've been living here for more than a year; feel free to MeMail me with more questions.
posted by xanthippe at 10:24 PM on September 16, 2008

I forgot to mention that your visit falls in the middle of camel racing season! Contact the Ministry of Camel Affairs when you arrive for a schedule - they're usually on Thursdays or Fridays. Absolutely not to be missed.
posted by xanthippe at 10:26 PM on September 16, 2008

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