A beach holiday in Muscat tops the wish list of a sophisticated traveller, but Oman is also the go-to place for scuba diving, fossil hunting, desert camps, frankincense, ancient forts and turtle hatching. Spectacular diversity in landscape translates into myriad possible adventures.
Here are 10 reasons to visit a country that combines mystique with modernity.
1. Authentic Arabia
Oman’s rich heritage as a key trading post creates a sense of pride in ancient culture and a soulful eye towards development (there are no high-rises).
Towns retain traditional charms and Bedouin values. Discover the warmth of the people over a customary kahwa – strong coffee flavoured with cardamom and served with dates.
Local cuisine serves history on a plate: spices from the sea trade with India add piquancy to grilled meats and preserved fruit from the Arabian Peninsula.
2. A land of diversity
From the desert-scape of the Empty Quarter to the lush green south with its fruit plantations and wildlife such as oryx and gazelles, Oman glories in a uniquely diverse topography for nature lovers.
It has the highest mountain on the peninsula as well as enchanting cities, sparkling sea, canyons and fjords.
3. Amazing adventures
Engage with the beauty of the desert at Wahiba Sands: dune-bashing (surfing sand hillocks in a 4x4), camel trekking and camping under the starry night sky.
In the mountains, hike along donkey paths, walk wadis upstream and spot fossils; rock climbers will find cliffs galore. Oman’s pristine waters offer some of the world’s best scuba diving.
4. Fall in love
Romantic retreats come in luxurious forms. The Chedi Muscat is a stylish beach-front sanctuary; Al Baleed Resort in Salalah has tropical gardens, beach and lagoon; the spectacular Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort looks as if it has bubbled up out of the rock.
Spa rituals induce bliss at Six Senses Zighy Bay. Also in Musandam, the luxuriant hammam at Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort perches atop the fabled Green Mountain.
For the ultimate boutique adventure, stay in Bedouin-style tents at Desert Nights Camp and Dunes by Al Nahda.
5. Spotlight on Salalah
The lush green capital city of the southern Dhofar province is wraithed in the aroma of frankincense, produced since antiquity from the resin of Boswellia sacra trees.
Salalah abounds in archaeological sites, fruit plantations and wildlife, such as oryx, gazelles and migratory birds.
The gateway to the Empty Quarter, it is an incredible area to view humpback and blue whales.
Separated from the sultanate by the UAE, this hidden enclave of craggy fjords, hilltop villages and deserted beaches is perfect for a 1,001 Arabian Nights-style escape.
Cruise in a dhow, watch dolphins and dive to coral reefs. Explore the Khasab Fort, admire prehistoric rock paintings and indulge in spa relaxation.
With a no-skyscraper policy and a trading history stretching back millennia, the capital of Oman retains heart and soul as a port city noted for its dates, mother-of-pearl and fish. Don’t miss the celebrated Muttrah Souq and pomegranate juice bars.
Other recommended sites include the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the Royal Opera House. For a fascinating time capsule of Omani history, the National Museum showcases 12,500 artefacts dating back to the prehistoric era.
Oman’s dramatic mountain scenery features pomegranate fields, rose gardens, scenic villages and mesmerising landforms such as the Bimmah sinkhole. It is a must-see, even on a short stay.
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar resort promises relaxation overlooking dramatic canyon views. At Wadi Shab, mountain meets sea; Jebel Shams Resort is located on top of the highest peak of the Al Hajar mountains.
Oman is a heaven for eco-tourists, and its diverse landscapes are home to the oryx and an incredible variety of flora, fauna and birds.
Unspoilt coastlines brim with marine life in coral reefs, spinner dolphins, humpback and blue whales. Visit the Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve in Dhofar to see wild Arabian leopards.
10. Turtle hatching
Nature lovers make a pilgrimage between July and October to witness Oman’s incredible turtle hatching season.
Approximately 20,000 sea turtles – five of the world’s seven species – lumber up on to beaches to bury up to an estimated 60,000 eggs.
Green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles hatch 55 days later – a wonder to witness at Al Dimaniyat Islands.