Immerse yourself in Oman

From the saw-toothed peaks of the Al Hajar mountains, to the untamed beaches where sea turtles nest, Oman’s natural beauty is always striking – and its landscapes and coastline are made for exploring. Whether you’re a hiker or climber, sailor or snorkeller, here are some of the adventures in store – and the unique wildlife to look out for…

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Immerse yourself in Oman

From the saw-toothed peaks of the Al Hajar mountains, to the untamed beaches where sea turtles nest, Oman’s natural beauty is always striking – and its landscapes and coastline are made for exploring. Whether you’re a hiker or climber, sailor or snorkeller, here are some of the adventures in store – and the unique wildlife to look out for…

Oman at a glance

Muscat

The vibrant capital, with its melting pot of cultures and blend of ancient and modern charms is the perfect starting point for an Omani adventure. Traditional architecture sits beside pristine beaches and bustling souks. Visit ancient houses, wander the fishing port, which is home to traditional dhows (boat) or even experience the first Opera House on the Arabian Peninsula – the Royal Opera House of Muscat…

The Coast

Oman is the ideal destination for anyone who loves to spend time by the shore: 3,165 km of coastline; long, quiet beaches; tropical bays in the shade of palm trees and towering cliffs that drop into the ocean. Pure bliss.

The Desert and the Empty Quarter

Witness the daily lives of the exceptionally hospitable Bedouins who still live on the outskirts of the desert. Spend the night under the stars in a desert camp then swim in the wadis – natural pools offering respite from the heat. The landscape is rich and varied, ranging from classic high sand dunes to rocky surfaces. The Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert in the South West corner of Oman is accessible from Salalah via bumpy dirt tracks. It is still one of the largest unexplored parts of the world.

The Mountains

The Al Hajar Mountain range, Oman’s major stretch, is 600km long. Jebal Al Akhdar, with its terraced agricultural land on steep mountain slopes is a highlight and is a must do even on a short trip as it’s easily accessible from Muscat. The mountains offer dramatic canyons, pomegranate fields, rose gardens, fiery sunsets, scenic villages and are great for relaxation as well as spas and wellness.

Salalah

In the South of Oman lies a mountainous region with lush, green vegetation, which is very different in landscape and climate to the rest of the country. The city built its wealth on Frankincense. Visitors will find much endemic flora here as well as oryx and gazelles. This is the best place to access the Empty Quarter.

Musandam

This area is separated from the Sultanate by the UAE and is known as the Fjords of the Middle East with dramatic coastline and relaxing resorts. It offers some of the best scuba diving in the world and pristine coral reefs. Excursions are available via traditional dhow boats.

Muscat

The vibrant capital, with its melting pot of cultures and blend of ancient and modern charms is the perfect starting point for an Omani adventure. Traditional architecture sits beside pristine beaches and bustling souks. Visit ancient houses, wander the fishing port, which is home to traditional dhows (boat) or even experience the first Opera House on the Arabian Peninsula – the Royal Opera House of Muscat…

The Coast

Oman is the ideal destination for anyone who loves to spend time by the shore: 3,165 km of coastline; long, quiet beaches; tropical bays in the shade of palm trees and towering cliffs that drop into the ocean. Pure bliss.

The Desert and the Empty Quarter

Witness the daily lives of the exceptionally hospitable Bedouins who still live on the outskirts of the desert. Spend the night under the stars in a desert camp then swim in the wadis – natural pools offering respite from the heat. The landscape is rich and varied, ranging from classic high sand dunes to rocky surfaces. The Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert in the South West corner of Oman is accessible from Salalah via bumpy dirt tracks. It is still one of the largest unexplored parts of the world.

The Mountains

The Al Hajar Mountain range, Oman’s major stretch, is 600km long. Jebal Al Akhdar, with its terraced agricultural land on steep mountain slopes is a highlight and is a must do even on a short trip as it’s easily accessible from Muscat. The mountains offer dramatic canyons, pomegranate fields, rose gardens, fiery sunsets, scenic villages and are great for relaxation as well as spas and wellness.

Salalah

In the South of Oman lies a mountainous region with lush, green vegetation, which is very different in landscape and climate to the rest of the country. The city built its wealth on Frankincense. Visitors will find much endemic flora here as well as oryx and gazelles. This is the best place to access the Empty Quarter.

Musandam

This area is separated from the Sultanate by the UAE and is known as the Fjords of the Middle East with dramatic coastline and relaxing resorts. It offers some of the best scuba diving in the world and pristine coral reefs. Excursions are available via traditional dhow boats.

Best coastal adventures

Where to go… diving

Oman is scuba’s best-kept secret, with a coastline of teeming reefs, fascinating shipwrecks and remote isles where wildlife thrives undisturbed. You could find yourself finning beside leatherback turtles, bottlenose dolphins, and gigantic sea horses – and even, between September and October, in the company of whale sharks. The coast is dotted with dive centres, offering trips to Musandam, Mirbat, the Ad Daymaniyat Islands, Al Fahal (aka ‘Shark Island’) and the Al Munnassir wreck: all of them excellent sites, with especially good visibility from April to July. Liveaboards can take you further, of course, to little-visited coral reefs and bustling drop-offs – in hot pursuit of leopard sharks, puffer fish, manta rays and more.

Where to go… snorkelling

Divers don’t have all the fun: many of Oman’s marine marvels can be seen on snorkelling trips too. For especially calm water and colourful reefs, look to Musandam – the Omani enclave that is separated from the Sultanate by the UAE. This mountainous peninsula juts into the Strait of Hormuz, with countless coves and khayran (inlets) to explore, and is the focus of many conservation projects too. It’s worth spending a few days here, and exploring from one of the coastal resorts. Or, if time is tighter, head to the Ad Daymaniyat archipelago: it’s surrounded by vibrant coral and soft-sand beaches, and is just an hour’s sail from Muscat. If you’ve always wanted to swim with turtles, you’ll find them all along Oman’s coast – with hawksbills, olive ridleys, greens, loggerheads and leatherbacks spotted year-round.

Where to go…kitesurfing

With its long beaches, wild waves, and – from April to October – strong sea winds, Oman’s kitesurfing credentials are manifold. The scene is up-and-coming, but hotspots include Al Hail (a few minutes’ drive from central Muscat), Ras Al Hadd (near Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve – see below), and the ‘Sugar Dunes’ of Al Khaluf (some 350km further south). Kitesurfing schools tend to operate from Muscat, offering day trips and overnights along the coast. The beautiful island of Masirah, too, offers perfect conditions and totally deserted beaches, where the sand dunes spill into turquoise waters. The waves are so warm, you won’t need a wetsuit.

 Where to go… sailing

Historically, Oman is a nation of fishermen, pearl divers and sea traders – with marine traditions that date back 5,000 years. Unlike many of its Gulf neighbours, it is still wholly connected to the ocean, with fishing villages all along the coastline – though nowadays, their traditional wooden dhow boats are also used for recreation. Whether you’re on a sunset cruise from Muscat, or dolphin spotting in Musandam’s coves, a dhow trip is always glorious – even well into summer (June–August) when the sea breeze calms the heat. At watersports centres and seaside hotels, look out for yachting, windsurfing and parasailing too.

Where to go… Caving

From tiny crevices that only cave-divers can enter, to huge caverns right on the beach, Oman’s rocky coastline is full of spectacular grottoes. In Musandam, ask a local guide to show you the peninsula’s natural tunnels and swim-throughs: they’re best reached on snorkelling and diving trips, or a sea kayaking adventure. In Dhofar, Marneef Cave is a popular spot to visit on beach picnics and walks – while, on the cliffs nearby, the Mughsail blowholes erupt whenever the sea is rough. Close to Muscat, the Bar Al Jissah shoreline is also peppered with dramatic stone archways and coastal caves, and its soft-sand beaches are strewn with exotic shells.

 

5 top wildlife spots on the coast

See nesting turtles in Ras Al Jinz

To watch green turtles nesting on Ras Al Jinz is to witness a spectacle unchanged for around two hundred million years. Every night, these gentle giants haul themselves onto the beach, and lay their eggs by moonlight. Remarkably, they dig their nests on the very coast where they were born, sometimes swimming for thousands of miles to do so. Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve is the best place to see them – and their hatchlings – on a guided walk with conservation rangers. It’s a three-hour drive from Muscat; the peak season is July–August, but most nights bring sightings.

Cruise with dolphins in Musandam

While dolphins can be spotted all along Oman’s coast, Musandam offers the most reliable place to find them. Known as the Fjords of the Middle East, its ruggedly beautiful bays are best explored on dhow boat tours, which are often accompanied by playful bottlenose, Risso’s, and Indian Ocean humpback dolphins. Muscat is also an excellent location, with regular sightings just a short distance from the coast. October–May is prime time, bringing the chance to snorkel, kayak and swim alongside them too. 

Watch humpback whales in Dhofar

In the far south of Oman, the Dhofar coast is home to a resident population of Arabian humpback whales: one of the very few groups in the world that don’t migrate. Thanks to the area’s nutrient-rich waters, they linger on this wild coastline, and can be frequently seen from diving boats and whale watching cruises. January–March is the best time to spot them, on trips from Salalah and Mirbat. Also, look out for killer whales, sperm whales and blue whales – and if you’re especially lucky, pods of orca whales too.

Meet the ‘tiger of the sea’

With their fang-sharp teeth and stripy markings, barracudas flash through the coral, earning their nickname: the ‘tiger of the sea’. They’re fearsome to look at, but are actually timid unless provoked. Similarly to tigers, they’re also keen reef predators, so their presence can make other fish vanish – but they’re a characterful addition to Oman’s rich marine wildlife. You’ll spot them year-round in all of the dive hotspots, especially in Musandam, the Ad Daymaniyat Islands, and the Al Munassir wreck near Muscat.

 

Best adventures on land

Where to go… hiking

If you love your trails wild, your views expansive, and fascinating geology beneath your feet, you’ve come to the right place. In the Al Hajar mountain range, take a breath-stealing hike up Jebel Shams (the tallest peak in the country) which overlooks the mighty Wadi Ghul – known as the ‘Grand Canyon of Arabia’ for its spectacular kilometre-deep chasm. Look closely at the rock, and you’ll see it is dotted with countless small fossils, a reminder that it lay on the seabed over 70 million years ago. Other hiking highlights include Jebel Akhdar, for its lush farms and scenic villages (in March, the area’s famous Damask roses are in bloom); the cool Wadi Shab valley in Ash Sharqiyah, and the frankincense groves near Salalah.

 

Where to go… canyoning

Wadi Bani Awf is Oman’s natural waterpark – packed with fresh plunge pools, smooth rock waterslides and high diving platforms. It’s also known as ‘Snake Gorge’, for the twisting, narrow chasm that surrounds it: ideal for abseiling down, climbing up, or simply enjoying some midday shade. It’s located in the mountainous region of Ad Dakhiliyah, easily reachable on day trips from Muscat – though be sure to visit with an experienced guide. You’ll swim, splash and scramble through the canyon, with the option of braving some daredevil antics on the rocks that surround it. An exhilarating way to experience Oman’s inland beauty, even on hot summer days.

 

Where to go… climbing

From November to March, Oman’s weather is ideal for climbing – and there are routes and rocks for all abilities. Maybe you’ll brave the mighty chasm of Wadi Ghul (a day trip from Muscat), the smaller sea-breezy peaks of Musandam, or the little-visited Dhofar mountains. Jebel Akhdar, known as the ‘Green Mountain’ for its fruit plantations and farms, has a via ferrata trail that can whiten the knuckles of even the most nimble climber, so lofty are its views of the Al Hajar peaks. Meanwhile, look closely at the craggy south face of Jebel Misht, and you’ll likely spot rock-jocks from all over the world: its 1,000-metre cliffs are the stuff of climbing legend.

 

Where to go… caving

Hidden beneath Oman’s mountains and wadis lies an incredible network of caves – including one of the largest chambers in the world, Majlis Al Jinn. Though it’s not open to the public, many of the nation’s other subterranean spectacles are, such as the two-million-year old Al Hoota complex. There are daily tours of its huge grottoes and lakes, including one waterway that’s almost one kilometre long – with sightings of bats, hunter spiders and rare underground fish. While no caving know-how is needed for Al Hoota, experienced explorers should head to Hoti Cave (near Al Hamra) and Muqal Cave (near Sur) – to crawl, climb and spelunk through the caverns and pools. 

 

Where to go… mountain biking

Mountain biking is a growing sport in Oman, but it already has trails to suit every ability – from easy jaunts through the low peaks around Musandam, to expert-level adventures on Jebel Shams and through Wadi Ghul. To find the best tracks, contact a specialist local operator: they’ll set you up with a great guide, trustworthy kit, and the ideal route for your experience level. In the Al Hajar region, many hotels offer day trips and bike hire – but it’s always best to explore with someone who knows the trails well, and can take you to the most exhilarating sections.

 

Where to go… desert camping

The Rub’ al Khali, one of the world’s last unexplored wildernesses, covers the south-west corner of Oman – reaching into Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the UAE too. It’s known as the Empty Quarter, but as every wildlife lover knows, the desert is never empty: these shifting sands are home to Arabian foxes, sand cats, oryx and more. However, you don’t have to venture deep into the desert to find adventure: just south of the Hajar mountains, Al Sharqiya Sands’ rose-coloured dunes are ripe for exploring, either on wild camping trips or a traditional Bedouin-style setup. Oman is home to some of the region’s most luxurious hotels, but nothing beats snoozing beneath its star-studded skies.

 

5 top wildlife spots on land

Arabian Oryx

With their tall antlers and monochrome markings, Arabian oryx are always a stirring sight in the desert – whether they’re strutting through the dunes, enjoying the shade of a ghaf tree, or stooping to drink from a wild watering hole. They’re perilously rare in the Gulf, but the Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve is working to repopulate the region – and has already increased the size of its breeding herd from ten to over 600. Visitors are welcome, but must be accompanied by a guide, and gain permission to visit from the Office for Conservation of the Environment.

Birds

You don’t have to be a birder to appreciate Oman’s avian treasures: it’s always a thrill to see the emerald streak of a green bee-eater, or the aerial pirouettes of a thermalling Steppe eagle. On the south coast, the coastal lagoons and annual khareef (monsoon) attract flamingos and spoonbills in their droves, as well as migrating herons from their European breeding grounds – while the mountains are home to vultures, owls, shrikes and much more. Specialist birdwatching tours depart from Muscat, with a choice of tailor-made and small-group itineraries.

Nubian Ibex

Another elusive wildlife sight, rare Nubian ibex are petite and leggy – with curved horns and light golden fur: all the better to blend in with their rocky and sandy habitats. They range freely in Oman’s wildest corners, but are notably difficult to find: for your best chance of seeing one, head to Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve. As sociable creatures, they live in herds – so if you spot one, there may well be a few more nearby.

Arabian leopard

Just 250 Arabian leopards remain in the wild – and ten percent of them live in the Jebel Samhan Reserve, near Salalah. The chance of encountering one is very slim, but this beautiful mountainous region is a joy to explore nonetheless, with the (much higher) chance of spotting Arabian gazelles, Cape hares and Nubian goats – especially if you’re exploring with an eagle-eyed guide. This is pure Omani wilderness, with frankincense trees and thorny acacias clinging to the craggy escarpments – and nary another hiker in sight.

 

Omani wildcat

Omani wildcats (also known as al senmar) are unique to the nation’s semi-desert areas – and while they’re undeniably cute, they’re also notorious hunters. As solitary creatures, they are tricky to spot in the wild, but don’t let that stop you trying. Al Saleel National Park, an hour’s drive from Sur, provides a safe haven for these elusive felines to flourish, alongside Egyptian eagles and red foxes. Its breeding programme is also working to boost the population of Arabian gazelles.

What are you waiting for?

For more travel inspiration and information, head over to the official website of the Oman Ministry of Heritage and Tourism.

How to spend 24 hours in Muscat, Oman

Before you arrive in Muscat, you need to know…

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman (Dreamstime)

Until the 1970s, Muscat was a shadow of the city you see today. Hemmed in behind high walls, the tiny settlement housed the court from which Said bin Taimur oppressed the nation.

But in July 1970, his son Qaboos bin Said Al Said staged a coup, exiling Taimur to London. When Sultan Qaboos claimed the throne, poverty was rife and the country had only two schools – unthinkable now, in rich, modern, cosmopolitan Muscat.

The regeneration of the city has been big-scale and bigger budget, but hearteningly tasteful. High-rises are forbidden, and all new architecture is heavy on Middle Eastern motifs: think Arabian Nights in Italian marble.

Some original buildings remain – Old Muscat, where Taimur held court, has been preserved as a heritage area.

Wander through the older parts of Muscat, Oman (Shutterstock)

Oman is an absolute monarchy, but the sultan has created one of the region’s most stable countries. You’ll see his name and image on buildings city-wide.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is Muscat’s finest architectural moment: prepare for a barrage of superlatives – biggest, tallest, priciest – as you gaze at its eight-tonne Swarovski chandelier and vast Iranian carpet, which took 400 weavers four years to make.

The city, sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and towering limestone cliffs, is ever-expanding along the coast. Muttrah – with its busy harbour, gleaming buildings and hectic souk – is its heart.

As the walls around Old Muscat slowly crumble to dust, new Muscat strides on.

Getting to and around Muscat

Bar al Jissah beach, east of Muscat, Oman (Shutterstock)

At the airport

The main airport is Muscat International. Oman Air flies UK to Muscat direct (seven to eight hours). There are other direct flights available, depending on when you decide to travel.

A visa-on-arrival can be bought from the Travelex desk before passport control (no prior paperwork needed). Alcohol is sold in duty free, just before Arrivals; if you buy, consume discreetly.

In Arrivals you’ll find ATMs, currency exchange, coffee shops, car hire and a taxi rank.

How to get in to Muscat

There are no train stations or bus stops at the airport. Taxis into town must be pre-paid at the booth outside Arrivals (40 mins to Muttrah; OMR10 [£17.50]). Elsewhere in the city, haggle for taxi fares before you ride.

Other ways to arrive in Muscat

Port Sultan Qaboos is a popular stop for cruise ships; ferries from Musandam (five hours; OMR23 [£40] one-way) run four times a week.

Inter-city (ONTC) buses connect Muscat with Oman’s major cities; they stop at the main bus station in Ruwi. A thrice-daily bus service runs from Dubai (six hours; OMR9 [£16] return) – don’t forget your passport.

Essential travel info for Muscat, Oman

On the road to Old Muscat (Shutterstock)

Population: 1.15 million

Languages: Arabic (official); English, Hindi, Urdu

Timezone: GMT+4

International dialling code:+968

Visas: Required by UK nationals and available on arrival. A 10-day visa costs OMR5 [£9]; 30-day OMR20 [£35].

Currency: Omani rial (OMR), currently OMR0.57 to the UK£. ATMs are widely available.

Best viewpoint: On the road to Old Muscat – stop en route from the Grand Mosque to the Bait Al Zubair Museum for a glimpse of picturebook Arabia: a cluster of whitewash houses and the original port, overlooked by a fortress.

Health issues: No specific health concerns. Laws regarding alcohol, dress and conduct are strict – learn them.

Recommended guidebook: Oman (Bradt, 2013)

Climate: October to May sees 20-35°C temperatures and low humidity; there’s very occasional rainfall December- February. June to September sees highs of 45°C and high humidity.

Top tip: There is no formal public transport system in Muscat, so getting around can be tricky. Zahara Tours offers informative half-day city tours from OMR52 [£91] per car.

How to spend your first day in Muscat

Muttrah Corniche (Shutterstock)

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (Sat to Thurs, 8am to 11am, free) is the only place where you’ll find tourist crowds, so arrive before 9am. Gawp at this feast of sacrosanct opulence and stroll through its immaculate gardens. Do cover up; women must wear headscarves.

Ditch the tourists and head to Muttrah fish market – and go soon, before it moves to glossier purpose-built digs. It’s a busy, blood-spattered working butchery/ market with friendly traders and photo opportunities aplenty.

Nearby, Bait al Zubair Museum (Sat to Thurs, 9.30am to 6.30pm; OMR1 [£1.75]) documents Oman’s national identity. Lunch Omani-style at Bait al Luban, one of few Muscat restaurants to serve traditional food.

The eye-catching Al Alam Palace in Muscat, Oman (Shutterstock)

The gold-trimmed Al Alam Palace – one of Sultan Qaboos’s many residences – is flanked by government buildings, but don’t be deterred: you can wander around. A ten-minute walk away, the old harbour bears historical graffiti by crews who’ve visited over the past 500 years.

Muttrah Corniche adjoins busy Port Sultan Qaboos, where the sultan’s superyacht, Al Said, might be spotted amid traditional dhows.

Across the road in Muttrah Souk (9am to 1pm, 4pm to 9pm; afternoon only on Fridays) you’ll find silver curios, coffee pots and khanjars (ceremonial knives). Haggle hard. For dinner, Bait al Bahr serves locally-caught seafood in a peaceful beach-side spot.

Where to stay in Muscat

Top end

Al Husn Hotel (Al Husn Hotel)

The opulent Al Husn Hotel is a spectacular 15-minute coastal drive from Muttrah.

It’s popular with Omanis, and a welcome retreat after a day exploring. It has frankincense-scented rooms, a tranquil pool and great restaurants.

Don’t miss talks by the turtle ranger: the beach is a nesting site. Doubles from OMR157 [£275].

Mid-range

Crowne Plaza Muscat (Shutterstock)

Crowne Plaza Muscat makes up for its business-like ambience with a great location: handy for Muttrah, and with a private beach too. Doubles from around OMR70 [£122].

On a tighter budget? Beach Hotel has clean, spacious rooms.

The outdoor majlis-style seating area is a nice authentic touch, and the location (halfway between the airport and Muttrah) is quiet and convenient. Doubles from OMR38 [£66].

Stay or go? How long should you stay in Muscat?

Turtle watching, Ras Al Jinz, Oman (Shutterstock)

Muscat’s main sights can be absorbed in a day, so move on. Ras al-Jinz, a turtle nesting site of global importance, is a three-and-a-half hour drive south of the city along a quiet coastal highway.

Stop halfway, on the cliffs near Bimmah, to see turtles swimming offshore. Stay at the reserve’s comfy hotel, which offers daily guided turtle-watching tours (4.30am and 9pm). There’s an informative on-site museum, too.

Hajar mountains, Oman (Shutterstock)

To the west of Muscat lie the Hajar mountains – take Highway 15 to Nizwa, a two-hour drive that skirts the range.

Overnight in Nizwa, a well-preserved historical city with a souk to rival Muttrah’s, then depart early to explore the mountains and cavernous wadis (riverbeds) of Jebel Shams – ‘Oman’s Grand Canyon’.

The mountain-side cabins of The View Oman teeter on a Western Hajar outcrop, offering thrilling vertiginous vistas.

Continue your journey…