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n a m O 2 0 r 1 7 o u t g o u e i d Y


Oman Map Khasab Port

Kumzar Proudly published by Selling Travel magazine ©2016

Musandam

Gulf of Oman Sohar

Editorial Director: Steve Hartridge Writer: Adam Coulter Deputy Editor: Laura Gelder

Barka Oman

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Al-Dimaniyat Islands

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Ghala

Jebel Shams

Bimmah Sinkhole

Al Jabal Al Akhdar

Nizwa

Wadi Shab

Al Sharqiyah Sands

Sur Ras Al Jinz

Badiya

Saudi Arabia

Ghalat

The Empty Quarter

Masirah Island

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Oman

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100 Miles

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Contents

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Introduction The history of Oman and its modern outlook

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The regions North, south and centre - what's the difference?

6

What's new A product update on hotels, flights, tours and cruises

14

Golf Everything you need to know for a sporting escape

7

Fact file The essential details you need to know

16

Honeymoons Romantic locations in the Sultanate

8

Oman Air How and why to sell the national airline

18

Itineraries Ideas for one-day stopovers up to a week-long holiday

10 Muscat & beyond

Read about the capital and its surrounding area

23 Events & festivals

Our pick of the best

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Introduction

t e o r m e al Arabia o c le W T

he Sultanate of Oman lies at one of the most strategically important points in the region. Sitting at the far east of the Arabian peninsula, its northern tip marks the entrance to the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea lies to the east and it is bordered by the well-connected United Arab Emirates to the north. When your clients visit Oman – whether for a short break, a golf holiday or as a honeymoon destination – they'll find a real depth of culture, a genuinely warm welcome and a landscape of breathtaking contrasts.

Rich history Oman has a deep and rich history stretching back hundreds of years. It also claimed an empire of sorts, which stretched along the East African coast as far as Zanzibar. The two key European nations which have played a part in shaping the country are Portugal, which ruled the country from 1507 to 1650, and Great Britain, which played an important role in the country’s development in the early part of the

Oman is a land steeped in culture and tradition, warm and welcoming and bathed in sunshine year-round. It’s a relatively short flight from the UK – just over seven hours – and is perfect for a winter sun break with a difference

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Introduction

Contrasting landscapes Salalah in the south has a different climate to the rest of Oman. From June to December the khareef monsoon winds blow in heavy rains that see the mountains covered in lush green vegetation. Frankincense trees thrive here and the area is dotted with ancient villages and trading posts. By contrast, the enclave of Musandam, situated at the very northern tip of the country, is sparse and rocky. The area is separated from the rest of Oman by the UAE but shares a culture and a language closer in character to its Iranian neighbours. Pearl fisherman ply the narrow gulf between Musandam and Iran and fishing and trading still dominate. It's also a popular diving destination.

20th century and still retains links via the Royal family and a shared love of horses. Oman is a wonderfully diverse country, with wildly varied landscapes: high mountains, rocks and canyons, deserts and an astonishing 3165km of coastline. Wildlife is abundant and the diving exceptional. The coastline has shaped and influenced the country and its people over centuries, helping make it a key trading nation (frankincense grows wild in the mountain and is a mainstay of trade) with a strong maritime tradition. Oman is renowned for its forts, which dot the countryside and hilltops. Many are UNESCO World Heritage sites. You’ll also find castles and fortresses, ancient watch towers perched on rocky peaks and traditional markets in unspoilt villages. Modern outlook Present-day Oman can trace its roots back to 1970 when Sultan Qaboos bin Said changed the name of the country from the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman to simply

the Sultanate of Oman. The Sultan who rules today embarked on a series of farreaching reforms in health, education and welfare, though not in politics (Oman is an absolute monarchy). Tourism has long-been a focus in Oman’s economic strategy. The country has the space to develop – Oman is second only to Saudi in terms of size on the Arabian peninsula (it’s about the size of the UK) – and has vast stretches of undeveloped coastline, as well as a pristine interior. But the government aims for sustainable growth and counts ecological concerns high on its agenda. Capital attraction The capital Muscat is the cultural centre of the country and boasts some stunning sights, incluing the famous Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. The new National Museum of Oman showcases Omani heritage, culture and arts. But for a peek into the past, Mutrah Souq is one of the oldest markets in Oman, dating back about two hundred years. Its winding alleyways sell everything from frankincense to carpets.

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What's new

Hotels

Updates

Oman's impressive portfolio of accommodation continues to expand, sustainably, year-on-year and ranges from large resorts to boutique hotels set in mountains, beaches, desert and cities Dusit International is set to open dusitD2 Palm Mall Muscat (dusit.com) in 2017. The upscale hotel is set to have 150 guest rooms and 100 suites and will form part of the Palm Mall development, which will include Oman’s first snow village and its largest aquarium. The newly-opened Al Baleed Resort Salalah (salalah.anantara.com) is a luxury villa resort from Anantara. Set between a beach and freshwater lagoon, it's the first of its kind in the region, located along the south coast of Dhofar. The resort is set in tropical gardens of palms and trees with lush water features.

Cruise

Tour operators The Private Travel Company has launched a unique seaplane experience which combines three nights in Dubai with two nights at the Six Senses Zighy Bay in a Pool Villa Room. Prices are from £2,145pp including direct flights from Heathrow to Dubai.

There are 30 sea or garden rooms;106 villas, including 88 with private pools; a private beach; luxury spa; and three themed eateries. As part of Shangri-La's (shangri-la.com) 10-year anniversary celebrations, the group has launched a new eco-centre, an educational area dedicated to exploring the essential work that the resort undertakes to protect the endangered hawksbill turtles as part of the Turtle Care project. Alila Jabal Akhdar (alilahotels.com/jabalakhdar) lies 2,500 metres above sea level, perched overlooking a dramatic gorge and surrounded by the spectacular Al Hajar mountain range. Also set in a lofty location, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort’s elegant architecture reflects its mountainous setting and Oman’s artistic culture. Perched on the curving rim of a great canyon near Nizwa, it is the highest five-star resort in the Middle East. The resort boasts a luxury spa, infinity pool and three restaurants, with unbeatable access to hiking and biking (abal-akhdar.anantara.com).

Norwegian Cruise Line embarked on the line's first ever voyage to the Gulf Region in October 2016, and will make three calls in Oman over the course of three voyages. Norwegian Star will first depart to Oman from Istanbul in October, for a 20-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise, before returning in November. Next year she will also call in at Oman on her way back to the West in March 2017. Royal Caribbean has a seven-night cruise on Vision of the Seas sailing round-trip from Dubai on December 19 2016. It includes two stops in Oman – Khasab and Muscat. Excursions include visits to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the Muttrah Souk and the Bait Al Zubair Museum; as well as a Dhow Cruise along the Omani 'fjords'. Prices start at £598pp (based on two sharing an interior stateroom).

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Airlines Oman Air launches a direct flight from Manchester to Muscat in 2017. This will be in addition to its two-daily direct service from London Heathrow.


Fact file

Currency

Information Getting there

The unit of currency is the Oman Rial (made up of 1,000 baizas) and the exchange rate is 0.51 OMR to £1.

Time

Oman is three hours ahead of the UK in summer and four hours ahead during the winter season.

Getting around

Oman is a Muslim country and despite embracing Western culture superficially, it is still deeply traditional. Women should dress appropriately, respecting local customs by covering shoulders, arms and legs when in public places and not wearing clothing that is too tight or sheer. This does not apply at private hotels, where you can swim and sunbathe as you would anywhere in the world.

British nationals do not need a visa for Oman. You can get a visa on arrival at any land, sea or air entry port in the country. A one-month tourist visa costs 20 Omani Rials (OMR) or around £40. You can extend this by 30 days for a further OMR20.

Climate

Oman is a seven-and-a-half-hour Taxis are cheap and plentiful, with set fares for specific destinations, while airport flight from the UK, with flights arriving cabs are metered. Taxis can also be hired for longer distances, such as getting at and departing from Muscat to Salalah or Musandam from Muscat, for a remarkably reasonable price International Airport (MCT). There (although it's important to pre-negotiate this). are twice-daily direct flights Alternatively, hire a car. Locals drive very fast but the roads are into the country with the flag good and petrol – as you might expect – is at one of the cheapest e or For m carrier Oman Air from London rates in the world at 36p per litre. Roundabouts are an art form in t: n visi informatio Heathrow. Starting in 2017, Oman, with most having an elaborate structure in the centre. m.gov.om omantouris Oman Air is also launching There are public buses and it's a growing network. Most direct flights to the Sultanate hotels will offer shuttle services to and from the airport or private from Manchester Airport. transfers can be arranged.

Customs

Visas

Language

Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken and road signs are in both. Other languages spoken include Swahili, Urdu and some Persian dialects in the north of the country.

The weather is warm and dry year round, making Oman ideal as a winter sun destination. The summer months are very hot, with temperatures averaging 40°C but slightly cooler on the coast and in the mountains. The best times to visit are spring and autumn, where you’ll find plenty of sunshine and temperatures averaging in the mid 20s. Rainfall is negligible, at between 80-100 mm per year (the UK averages 10 times that).

Alcohol Alcohol is available in selected restaurants and hotels, but you can't buy it from a shop without a licence. It's illegal to drink alcohol in non-licensed areas but visitors are free to drink duty free in their hotel room.

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Oman Air

London

Amsterdam

Frankfurt Munich Paris Zurich Milan

Istanbul Tehran

Mashhad

Beirut Cairo

Islamabad

Amman

Kuwait

Lahore

Dammam Medina

Bahrain Doha

Riyadh Jeddah

Khasab

Dubai Abu Dhabi

Muscat

Chittagong

Mumbai

Salalah

Kathmandu New Delhi Jaipur Lucknow Dhaka

Karachi

Goa

Kozhikode

Oman Air flights

Hyderabad Bangalore Chennai

Manila

Bangkok

Kochi Thruvananthapuram

Code Share flights Addis Ababa

Colombo Kuala Lumpur Singapore

Jakarta Zanzibar Dar Es Salaam

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Bali


Oman Air

F

ounded in 1993, Oman Air is the national airline of the Sultanate of Oman. Its growing fleet currently stands at 45 aircraft, which fly to over 40 destinations from its hub in Muscat. The flag carrier operates two daily flights from London Heathrow to Muscat, with great onward connections to destinations across the Middle East, East Africa, Indian Sub Continent and Asia. From April 2017, Oman Air will start a daily service between Manchester and Muscat, providing hassle-free access to the Sultanate for northern travellers, as well as seamless connectivity beyond Oman. The Oman Air vision is to be a world-leading airline offering high-quality service, as well as connecting and promoting Oman and Omani identity, culture and values to the world. The combination of award-winning products and services – including spacious and comfortable aircraft cabins – and the warmest of Omani hospitality ensures

an outstanding passenger experience on every flight. Oman Air’s aircraft interiors include its First Class Mini Suite, which hosts six First Class passengers and converts to the longest lie-flat seat in the skies. The Airbus A330’s outstanding Business Class seats each provide direct aisle access, ample storage space and the latest technological amenities, while Economy Class seats offer adjustable head and leg rests, together with generous leg and elbow room. State of the art in-flight entertainment systems feature individual seatback screens, audio and video on-demand and live satellite TV. In addition, Oman Air has pioneered both inflight mobile and internet connectivity on board its flights and the service is currently available in all three classes. Superb new First and Business Class lounges have opened at Muscat International Airport, featuring elegant and tranquil relaxation areas, complimentary spa treatments and à la carte dining.

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Muscat & beyond

Oman remains largely undiscovered and is an excellent alternative to other destinations in the Middle East region, offering a truly authentic experience Melanie Burton, Assistant Product Manager Middle East, Gold Medal

M

uscat is the cultural, political and administrative heart of Oman, and is also home to more than half the country's population. It was once the pre-eminent trading port in the Gulf and Indian Ocean, and trade still plays a major role in the economy. Today Muscat is a modern, bustling city, home to some 800,000 people, but unlike many of its neighbours, it's not surrounded by skyscrapers, shopping malls and man-made islands. Muscat has retained its heart and its soul. Old Muscat is located along Muttrah Corniche from Port Sultan Qaboos to Al Bustan Beach. On the Muttrah Corniche you'll ďŹ nd Muttrah Souq (the old souq), one of the oldest markets in Oman, dating back around 200 years. The souk comprises myriad winding alleyways with wooden roofs, hence its nickname - the Market of Darkness. Dates, gold, frankincense, pottery, carvings and other Omani specialities are on sale from the hawkers within its lanes. Muscat's other top sights include the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the recently-

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From city to sand & sea


Muscat & beyond

Best bits

If you fancy a taste of authentic Omani cuisine, then head to a traditional restaurant. Bait Al Luban (the house of the Frankincense) is located on the Muttrah Corniche and serves up local dishes like meat roasted in an underground fire pit.

opened National Museum of Oman and the new but traditionally-designed Royal Opera House, with its wind towers, arched windows and fort-like appearance.

many more migratory species which come from as far afield as Siberia. The best spot for bird watching near Muscat is the Dimaniyat Islands.

TO THE COAST Muscat lies on the Indian Ocean and there are a wealth of beach and water options just a few minutes' drive from the capital. Water-based activities include kitesurfing, sailing and parasailing. Scuba diving in Oman is world-renowned and there are a number of sites near the capital, including Al Khayran, Al Fahil Island, Dimaniyat Islands (famous for turtles), Al Makbara Bay and Al Jissah Beach. Muscat boasts spectacular underwater wildlife and many hotels organise sightseeing cruises for turtle-, and dolphin-watching. Turtles migrate annually from the shores of the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea and Somalia to lay their eggs on Oman's shores and the country hosts five species. In Muscat the hawksbill is most prevalent. Oman is a birders paradise with more than 400 recorded species of birds, plus

HEADING IN-LAND Hiking, rock climbing and camel trekking excursions can all be booked through a Muscat-based specialist. You can also spend a night in the desert. The A'Sharqiyah Sands are just two-and-a-half-hours from Muscat and regarded as one of the most beautiful camping areas in the Sultanate, covering around 10,000-square kilometres. A wadi is a dried-up riverbed and the best way to see one is by hiring a 4WD and motoring through it – a pastime also known as wadi bashing. Head north from Muscat to Wadi Bani Awf, where you'll find a valley floor dense with palms, terraced fields and villages of traditional mud-brick clinging to the mountainside. It's a dramatic, unforgiving landscape, well worth exploring. As you head north, drop in at the fishing village of Barka and the dramatic forts of Rustaq and Nakhl.

Don't miss

Oman has been famous for breeding horses since ancient times and horse racing is popular. Watch the Royal Horse Racing, organised by the Royal Stables.

Top tip

Off-road drivers should note that valleys differ dramatically. Some are easy to traverse, while others require superb driving skills. Wadi At Ta'iyeen is the largest in the country at 82km from start to finish. 11


Oman's regions

Lands of plenty

B

eyond the capital you will find a country largely untouched by tourism, where people live as they have for millennia and where deserts give way to lush mountains and miles of unspoilt coastline.

The sandy centre The Empty Quarter, or ‘Al Rub' Al Khali’ in Arabic, is the world’s largest desert (yes, it's bigger than the Sahara), which captured the imagination of legendary British explorers Lawrence of Arabia and Wilfred Thesiger. Oman shares this borderless land with Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the UAE, and journeying here is a way to experience the nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouin, goat and sheep herders who have lived on the land for hundreds of years.

The green south Located in the very south, Salalah stands in complete contrast to the rest of the

For a unique experience I would recommend the new Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort – a retreat that is perched a dizzying 2,000 metres above sea level on the curving rim of a canyon Deborah Wadhams, Senior Product Manager, Indian Ocean, Travel 2

12

Best bits The ruins at Khor Rori near Salalah are the remains of the town of Sumhuram, a coastal enclave dating back to the 4th century BC. It played a key role in the region’s frankincense trade and is a stunning archeological site as well as a glimpse into the past.

country. Empty deserts give way to mountains and lush green vegetation, and many of the country’s endemic fauna live here, such as oryx and gazelles. From June to December the khareef monsoon winds blow in heavy rains that spark plant growth, turning the mountains green. In the lee of the mountains, frankincense trees live off the moisture, producing aromatic gum which has been the main source of wealth for the region for hundreds if not thousands of years. The rocky north The Musandam Peninsula is located in the far north of the country and is separated from the Sultanate by the United Arab Emirates. The mountains rise to above 2,000 metres and face Iran, separated by the Strait of Hormuz. It is accessible by daily flights from Muscat, by sea in fast ferries and by car through the UAE. Highlights include excursions via traditional dhow boats, the regional capital and port Khasab and some of the best scuba diving in the world among pristine coral reefs.

Top tip

To get to the Empty Quarter in Oman one needs to fly to Salalah, then drive north on increasingly bumpy, unkempt roads that eventually give way to an inland ocean of sand.

Don't miss

Whether you’re a seasoned scuba diver or a novice snorkeller, don’t miss the underwater world of Musandam.


Golf

In the club G

olf is relatively new to Oman, but it now boasts three of the most prestigious and challenging courses in the region and there is a fourth currently being built. The 18-hole PGA Harradine signature golf course is being constructed at Jebel Sifah, close to Muscat. ALMOUJ GOLF This PGA-standard course opened in 2012 and was designed by Greg Norman. The course stretches six kilometres along Muscat’s coastline, and is bordered by the Al Hajar mountain range on the other side. Almouj Golf was recently voted the second best golf course in the Middle East in 2016 by the Golf Digest magazine. The course is home to a golf academy with a state of the art swing studio, driving range and private golf lesson area. It plays host to the Mercedes-Benz Members Guest Series and the Mercedes-Benz Matchplay Championship. almoujgolf.com

Combine birding and golf when you tee off in the morning – Almouj Golf Course is a great bird watching spot. It’s a beautiful setting, with the ocean on one side and the Hajar Mountains on the other Suzanne Hall, Product Executive, Kenwood Travel

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Top tip With temperatures ranging from 19ºC to 30ºC, minimal rainfall and up to 12 hours of sunshine per day, the months of September and May are the perfect time for a golfing holiday.

MUSCAT HILLS GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB This complex comprises an 18-hole PGA-certified green golf course and a highquality residential development on the outskirts of Muscat, between the mountains and the sea and a short drive from Muscat International Airport. Practice facilities include two putting greens, a large chipping green and a modern driving range. muscathillsgolf.com GHALA GOLF COURSE Originally created as a sand course in 1971, Ghala opened the first nine holes of its grass course in December 2010 and the back nine were completed in 2012. Ghala Golf Club is unique in the Middle East as it is built into a natural wadi with the course flowing through a beautiful setting with a mountainous backdrop and some spectacular sea views. ghalagolf.com

Best bits

Almouj boasts a daunting par-three island green and a challenging par-five which stretches for more than 600 yards. Stunning views of the sea and Hajar Mountains are visible from all parts of the course.

Don't miss

At night, temperatures cool and playing Almouj Golf’s ninehole flood-lit Academy par-three course is a must-do experience.


EXPERIENCE NEW HEIGHTS OF LUXURY WITH AUTHENTIC OMANI HOSPITALITY. One Bedroom Cliff Pool Villa Lounge

Premier Canyon View Room Balcony

One Bedroom Cliff Pool Villa Bedroom

Dining By Design

ANANTARA AL JABAL AL AKHDAR OPENING OCTOBER 2016. A rare jewel in the rocky contours of the vast Saiq Plateau on Oman’s fabled Green Mountain, the highest five star resort in the Middle East is set to open its doors. In this extraordinary destination, the true source of adventure is revealed through Anantara’s distinctive natural luxury and innovative Arabian hospitality. An exhilarating escape for culture and history enthusiasts, offering 115 guestrooms and pool villas of luxurious authenticity as well as culinary experiences with six dining outlets to choose from. Guests can continue their journey at the Anantara Spa complete with a Hammam as well as a fitness centre, tennis court, kids club and teens club. Bespoke outdoor adventure sports providing cultural, historical, and environmental activities will be widely on offer and available for all of the guests to experience.

LIFE IS A JOURNEY. Visit anantara.com

CAMBODIA

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INDONESIA

MALDIVES

MOZAMBIQUE

QATAR

SRI LANKA

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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

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ZAMBIA

OPENING SOON: OMAN


Honeymoons

True e Romanc

With miles of unspoilt beaches, breathtaking historic sites, towering mountains, luxury hotels and spas, culinary delights, a wide range of activities and the most welcoming people, Oman is the perfect honeymoon destination

O

man has a range of top hotels in beachside, mountain and desert locations, meaning newlyweds can – if they wish – mix up their honeymoon with a couple of days in the cultural capital Muscat, then hire a 4WD to experience the Al Hajar Mountains or simply relax on one of the pristine stretches of beach. The Ritz Carlton, Al Bustan Palace (ritzcarlton.com), features a stunning 38-metrehigh domed lobby, one of the best Asian restaurants in Oman, China Mood, and a 33,000 square feet Six Senses Spa. Coupless can even take high tea at the hotel. The Chedi Muscat (ghmhotels.com) lies on the beach just outside the city and has six restaurants, a 13-suite Balinese spa, three swimming pools (including a 103-metre Long Pool) and a 700-square-metre health club. The newly-opened Al Baleed Resort Salalah (salalah.anantara.com) is situated between a beach and a freshwater lagoon and set in lush tropical gardens, crisscrossed with walkways connecting 30 sea or garden rooms, 106 villas including 88 with private pools, a private beach, luxury spa and three restaurants.

Top tip

Combine several types of honeymoon in one place. Beach relaxation, cultural city breaks and wildnerness adventures are all within a short distance of each other. Mix it up! 16

Best bits The palatial Al Husn in the Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa is perfect for couples. Rooms and suites are amongst the largest in all of Oman and the hotel is designed like an Arabian palace.

The new Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort (jabal-akhdar.anantara.com) is situated in a breathtaking spot on the rim of a canyon, 2,000 metres above sea level and striking distance to the ancient city of Nizwa. It has 82 canyon-view rooms, 33 private pool villas, a luxury spa, an infinity pool and three restaurants. Alilah Jabal Akhdar (alilahotels.com) is also set in a lofty position, overlooking a dramatic gorge in the Al Hajar mountain range. The hotel includes the Spa Alila, which uses ancient Asian healing techniques. The Desert Nights Camp (omanhotels.com/desertnightscamp) is a luxury tented resort set between two 30-metre-high dunes. Each air-conditioned tent has a lounge, bedroom and bathroom and is equipped with all the facilities of a luxury hotel. Activities on offer include quad biking, camel riding and 4WD dune bashing. 1000 Nights Desert Camp (1000nightscamp.com ) is a little more authentic, comprising 10 traditional black wool Bedouin tents, each furnished with a bed with sheets and blankets, rug flooring, a small table and chairs, towels and bottled water.

Don't miss

The Six Senses Spa at Al Bustan Palace measures 33,000 square feet and has 17 treatment rooms as well as a thermal suite.


Two Bedroom Lagoon View Pool Villa Lounge

One Bedroom Beach View Pool Villa

SHROUD YOURSELF IN OMAN’S COASTAL HERITAGE AND BEACHFRONT LUXURY. One Bedroom Beach View Pool Villa Lounge

THE NEWEST BEACHFRONT LUXURY IN OMAN. Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara offers refreshing luxury and a gateway to Oman’s cultural treasures. Experience a beachfront oasis that is the first luxury villa resort in Salalah, offering 136 guest rooms and pool villas, three dining outlets, and Salalah’s first Hamman and Razul facilities. Enjoy active fun with court and water sports or delve into authentic local life with available excursions and activities. LIFE IS A JOURNEY. Visit anantara.com CAMBODIA � CHINA � INDONESIA � MALDIVES � MOZAMBIQUE � QATAR � SRI LANKA � THAILAND � UNITED ARAB EMIRATES �VIETNAM � ZAMBIA � OPENING SOON: OMAN


Itineraries

Journeys near and far One-day city break There is plenty to keep you occupied in Muscat, including a number of iconic, mustsee sights. To get your bearings and feel for the city, start at Old Muscat, which is located along Muttrah Corniche from Port Sultan Qaboos to Al Bustan Beach. Along this stretch, you'll find the Muttrah Souq, which is almost 200 years old – dive in – the souk is like stepping back in time, and will give you a real feel for how the city once was, and in many ways still is. The dark, winding alleyways, covered with wooden roofs to prevent the searing heat, are lined with shops selling everything from frankincense to pottery, to carpets, carvings and gold. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a stunning structure, with a main minaret stretching 90m into the air and a dome which at its highest point reaches 50m. You can venture inside (wear appropriate dress), or marvel at it from outside. It's

18

Take a look at our suggestions on how to fill anything from a one-day stopover up to a week’s holiday. The one-day itinerary is your starter, filled with the must-do sights in the capital. Start with this as your base and you can add more experiences further afield as you increase the length of your itinerary

surrounded by beautiful grounds, full of fountains and trees. The Royal Opera House is another gorgeous structure, designed in a traditional manner with wind towers (the traditional form of air conditioning). It holds 1,100 people at full capacity, and the complex consists of a concert theatre, auditorium, landscaped gardens, a cultural market with shopping and restaurants, and an arts centre for musical, theatrical and operatic productions. The recently-opened National Museum of Oman is a quick way to soak up Omani heritage, culture and arts. Or recommend a look around Bayt al Zubair, a beautifullyrestored old house and privately-owned museum which exhibits Omani heritage in thematic displays of traditional handicrafts, furniture, stamps and coins. There are also numerous forts close to Muscat. Al Jalali Fort and Al Mirani Fort are both found in old Muscat overlooking the Sea of Oman. A dhow cruise, particularly at sunset is a great way to appreciate Muscat's setting. Numerous cruises depart from Muttrah Corniche.


Itineraries

Camping on the beach

The beaches of the nine Al-Dimaniyat Islands, which lie about an hour from Muscat, are a great place to camp. They include 100 hectares of nature reserve, with pristine beaches surrounded by crystal-clear seas. The area is also a magnet for migratory and indigenous birds.

Two days and out to the desert A two-day itinerary allows a bit more flexibility in terms of activities and experiences. You may wish to suggest that your client get out of Muscat to experience the "real" Oman – i.e. the desert. The sandscapes of Oman are very much tied to the Bedouin lifestyle and culture and have informed and shaped Omani culture and customs for hundreds of years. Dune bashing: A very popular pastime both for locals and tourists is dune bashing, which basically means getting into a 4WD (usually a Toyota Land Cruiser), heading to the nearest stretch of desert with some decent-sized dunes, deflating the tyres a bit and driving up and down dunes. It's fun, exhilarating – and pretty hair-raising. Incidentally, you

Scuba diving The nine islands which comprise Al-Daniyat are excellent for diving, with pristine coral reefs and numerous fish and coral species.

do this with an experienced driver, not on your own. It's recommened to do dune bashing in the early evening, this way it can be coupled with a relaxing evening, watching the sun set and the moon rise from the top of a sand dune – then spending the night under a canvas at a Bedouin camp in the desert. Camping in the desert: There are a number of desert campsites a little over two hours away from the capital in the Wahiba Sands, including the luxury Desert Nights Camp, which lies 11 kms into the desert and is spread over 10-acres of sands. It features 30 luxurious Bedouin style tents, which each have a lounge, bedroom and bathroom. Also in Wahiba Sands lies 1000 Nights Desert Camp, which is a little more rustic; you sleep in 10 traditional wool Bedouin tents, which comprise a bed, rug flooring and a small table and chairs.

Turtle hatching

Turtles swim to Oman every year to lay their eggs on the Sultanate’s shores, specifically the Al-Dimaniyat Islands, from July to October. Time a visit right and it's possible to watch the turtles' night dash to the sea. 19


Itineraries

Visit a fort The most famous and one of the oldest is Nizwa Fort. It was built in the 17th century by Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Y'arib – the same man who expelled the Portuguese from Oman – and is unique in that it is round.

Three days is perfect for a hike

Five days and a village stay

The mountains don't lie far from Muscat, but are likely to necessitate an overnight so a three-day stay is perfect for those keen to hike. Little Snake Canyon and Big Snake Canyon are about three hours from Muscat in the Al Hajar Mountain range. It's best to start with Little Snake, which is mostly shady and has spectacular views. Big Snake Canyon (or Wadi Bimmah) is for more experienced hikers, with obstacles like boulders, pools and streams. Wadi Shab is an alternative hiking area, only accessible by foot. The path winds past caves, plantations, cliffs and deep pools. There's even a swimming spot which leads to a secret cavern for those who can hold their breath. En-route to Wadi Shab is Bimmah Sinkhole (located in Hawiyat Najm Park). The 20-metre deep limestone pool is filled with emerald-tinted water and also great for a swim.

Get them right off the tourist trail and sell a village stay in a traditional dwelling deep in the interior. These villages have been unchanged for centuries, and will give your client a real insight into Omani culture and traditions. Wakan is a popular one which sits around 2,000 metres above sea level in Wadi Mastal, around 150 kilometres from Muscat. The area enjoys moderate temperatures in summer and low temperatures in winter and supports many fruits including grapes, figs and pomegranates. Villages are also found on Jebel Shams, the highest peak in the Arabian Peninsula, rising to some 3,000 metres, and Al Jabal Al Akhdar, or Green Mountain (home to the highest five-star resort in the Middle East, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar).

A beach escape

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Kumzar is located in the far north of the Musandam peninsula and accessible only by speed boat. The village is spectacularly situated, surrounded by vertiginous mountains and steep cliffs.

Desert nights Badiya village is a natural oasis and lies on the edge of A'Sharqiyah sands, an area which consists of 15 towns and villages.


Itineraries

Top tip July to October is the peak time for turtle watching in Oman. Approximately 20,000 turtles from three different breeds lay an estimated 50,000-60,000 eggs each year in the Sultanate.

South to north in one week A week in the Sultanate will give your client the opportunity to explore well beyond Muscat and experience completely different parts of Oman. Salalah is the second largest city in Oman and located south, in Dhofar Province. Here, from June to December the khareef monsoon winds blow in heavy rains and a welcome relief from the heat which remains in the rest of the country. The harsh mountains get covered in a soft blanket of green, the wadis fill and the frankincense trees grow wild The Empty Quarter, or 'Rub Al Khali' in Arabic, is a true 'no man’s land' and the world's largest sand desert located in the south-western corner of Oman. It is accessible from Salalah via bumpy dirt tracks that eventually give way to desert. Coming here is a way to experience the majesty and mesmerizing quality of the

desert, as well as an opportunity to experience the nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouin people. It is still one of the largest unexplored parts of the world, with no fixed landmarks or oases. There are no campsites but specialised companies organise tours of the Empty Quarter, led by experienced guides. The Musandam Peninsula is located in the far north of the Sultanate, and is separated from the rest of the country by the United Arab Emirates. It is accessible by plane from Muscat, or driving up through Oman and across the UAE or by speedboat. Musandam is characterised by high mountains, which rise more than two thousand metres above sea level, dropping sharply to spectacular unspoilt coastline. It's landscape is often compared to fjords. The diving here is regarded here as some of the best in the world, with caves, spectacular reefs and swim throughs. It is most famous for the large marine species, which sail through the Strait of Hormuz, including whale sharks, mola molas, barracudas and turtles.

best bits

Watching the sunset from a dhow as you sail along Oman’s spectacular coast. The light adds drama to the cliffs, bays and fishing villages, ending with Old Muscat Harbour and Muttrah Bay. 22

Don't miss

Watching green turtles make their gentle path to the sea is a must. Do it at ras Al Jinz Turtle reserve, before retiring to a luxury eco tent for the evening.


Events

Events & festivals

Top tip

Running throughout the year are cultural programmes at The Royal Opera House and various plays and shows at the Al Flayj Castle Theatre, both in Muscat. The Al Morooj Theatre in Salalah also puts on a similar cultural programme.

Cultural festivals, religious celebrations, art and music shows and sporting events are just some of the calendar dates which can make a trip extra special. Here’s a round-up of some key events in Oman

WIN!

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Muscat Festival (January/February)

Salalah Festival (July/August)

Oman Desert Marathon (November)

Tour of Oman (February)

This is the most important festival of the year and is a celebration of every facet of the country, from the depths of its heritage and history to its culture and customs. Cultural, artistic and traditional events and activities await.

This is held during the monsoon season and celebrates the wind and rains that turn the slopes of the mountains a lush green. The festival is very family-friendly, and visitors can expect a mix of cultural art events, sports, contests and shopping.

The annual Oman Desert Marathon comprises a range of stages stretching for some 150 kilometres across the desert. Runners tackle a variety of landscapes and the race includes a night stage illuminated only by starlight.

The Tour of Oman is part of the ongoing attempt to globalise cycling. It visits several areas of the country and typically covers around 850 kilometres across five stages and one time trial. It draws spectators from around the country. 23


Oman Guide 2017  

Oman is a land steeped in culture and tradition, warm and welcoming and bathed in sunshine year-round. It’s a relatively short flight from t...

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