I love the Middle East. Like, a lot. Sometime in 2017, somehow, Muscat, Oman, fell across my radar as a place to visit. A bit off the beaten trail, perhaps — but as I talked with people about it, especially while in Lebanon, Oman began creeping up to the top of my bucket list. Thus, I found myself in a flight to Muscat in April 2019.
Traditional culture? Check. Interesting history? Check. Developed and clean? Check. Marine activities? Check. Striking landscape? Check.
Muscat in particular is especially eye catching, with its traditional, squat, white, blocky houses and buildings nestled between the blue Gulf of Oman and nearby brown, rocky mountains.The neighborhood on the east of the city is called Mutrah. It’s by the harbor where the Sultan and Royal Family anchor their ships.Of course, every good city in the Middle East has a souk! First, the main entrance….… And then the labyrinthine tunnels and channels, weaving between shops selling fabric, gold, toys, perfume, and almost anything else you could desire.Towering over Mutrah is the historic Mutrah Fort. Built for defense in the 1580s by the Portuguese, it offers stunning vistas of the area. I managed to climb to the top after spending the morning going scuba diving, and just barely made it before it closed for the day!Containing along, there’s a nice drive along the Corniche that takes you past a few curious monuments and statues, including one called the Incense Burner that’s perched above a small amusement park.Beyond Mutrah and the Corniche is a small fishing village that I found very picturesque!Oman has got some incredible architecture! Here is the Royal Opera House.And the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque…. Which, by the way, is apparently only open to non-Muslims for a few short hours in the morning, and if you miss that brief window, you will be denied entry. (*cough* not that I speak from experience or anything, no…)Then there’s the Royal Al Alam Palace (no entry allowed)….Even the National Museum looks pretty cool!I rented a car for my entire time in Oman. GREAT idea as there really isn’t much in the way of public transportation, and gas (petrol) is dirt cheap! Omani drivers, however, left something to be desired, as they typically raced up behind me if I’m in the left lane, flashed their lights while tailgating me until I moved over (note: I’d already be going slightly above the speed limit), then zoom past and speed ahead as soon as they had enough room.
Still, despite the stress of other drivers, I spent an afternoon driving to an old city outside of Muscat, called Nizwa. It’s home to an ancient fort and castle, and some more unique markets selling ceramics, a local specialty.
Gate when nearing Nizwa:Aforementioned ceramics:The ubiquitous spices invariably sold in souks:Outside the fort:View from the top….On my last day there, I hired a guide who took me to Wadi Shab, a stunning natural water hole in a canyon. The tour almost didn’t happen: we had planned on going towards the start of my visit, but he had car problems that just got worse, never better, over the following days. Finally we decided to go with my rental car, so I left my hotel to pick him up, making a stop at a mosque along the way… and then got caught in standstill traffic. It was a few hours drive from Muscat to Wadi Shab, so time was limited: if traffic hadn’t cleared, it would have gotten to be too late to go.
But we made it! When we first arrived, we had to pay a man to take us in a tiny boat across some brackish water…… before hiking 30-40 minutes through the canyon……to the main pools.It’s very unfortunate that I did not have a Go-Pro camera or waterproof bag, because the pools of Wadi Shab were one of the highlights of my time in Oman. They extend back maybe 200 meters and into a cave, from which waterfalls tumble over rocks and people can climb up to jump off of ledges. If I can somehow find pictures of the the inner areas of Wadi Shab from somewhere, I’ll add them. Until then, Google is your friend.
There’s much that I wasn’t able to see in Oman. The government building Majlis Oman, the seaside town of Sur, the UNESCO heritage site and mountain village of Bahla, the Musandam peninsula, the southern area of Salalah…. Oman has got SO much to offer, and I really can’t recommend it enough!!!