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Updated: Jan 10

Let's talk about making first impressions in a country you don't know much about, when this is the first thing I see on arrival, at the airport:

Name a country that surprised you.

I'll go first:


Though it's been on my bucket list to visit Oman (specifically Salalah) for years, it's only recently that I made the effort to go. Guess what? Oman also turned out to be one of my favorite destinations to date!

I have always heard a lot of positive things about Omani people and I was also excited to try the food. But what I hadn't expected was the cleanliness of the country. From the moment I stepped foot in the airport, I knew that we'd have a memorable week. The first thing that struck me about Oman was the quote I came across in the airport. I read, If you had come to the people of Oman, so would they neither have insulted nor beaten you."

We landed quite late and decided to get a hotel near the airport before getting our car rental. We booked a night at the Swiss-Belinn Muscat, located 5 minutes from the airport. We went for dinner across the Fish Market, at Bait Al Luban, where we tried local cuisine. The restaurant also has a great view of the Corniche, the perfect place for a walk after dinner.

The next day, after getting our car, we explored a little bit of Muscat before proceeding to our next stop. The majority of our stops included the Mosques, the Royal Opera House, Mutrah Souq, Qurum Beach and Al Alam Palace. I would have loved to do a day trip to Ad Daymaniyat Islands from Muscat as well, however we did not have enough time for it.

Renting a car was the best way of seeing Oman, given the country is small and most attractions are easily accessible as a day trip from Muscat. However, we decided to plan a spontaneous road trip and booked our hotel based on where we were.

We didn't spend too much time in the city, as we knew we would have to come back before flying home.

We drove to many places and stopped at many towns and villages, most of which were unplanned. We stopped to pray at a beautiful masjid in a small village, and while I was waiting for my father to finish prayer, I was taking pictures of the place. An elderly man noticed and quickly realized that we were not from the area.

After prayer, he invited us over to his place, where he treated us to tea, coffee, fruits and dates. He introduced us to the family, as he didn't speak any English (just Arabic), and ensured we have a handful of snacks for the remainder of our journey. This unexpected moment on our journey reminded me right away of the quote I read in the airport when I had landed.

Instead, we set off to Nizwa, Oman's second largest city and stopped at Jebel Akhdar (the Grand Canyon of the Middle East) on the way. Do note that you need a good car to visit, as the roads aren't great near the mountains (a 4WD is preferred). Misfat al Abriyeen is a small 500-year old village we also explored. This breathtaking mountainous village is known for its traditional mud houses, representing Omani culture and traditions.

Nizwa was once the nation's capital and was the center of trade, religion, education and art. This ancient city is only a 1.5 hour drive away from Muscat. It is worth the drive and was one of my favorites.

Though it can easily be visited within a day, we decided to spend the night at Antique Inn, a charming property with traditional décor, steps away from the Souq and the Fort. The main landmark is the historic 17th-century Nizwa Fort. I enjoyed exploring the many courtyards, towers, the garden and captured in the views of the town. For stunning views of the Fort, I recommend going to Athar Café.

We spent quite a bit of time exploring the Nizwa Souq, where we sampled traditional Omani Halwa. The Souq is very well organized, and separated in different categories. For the best experience, I recommend visiting on a Friday, as they have a traditional goat market. This unique opportunity allows you to see locals auctioning for goats, sheep and other animals. It is set in a lively atmosphere and is popular among tourists. Get there early.

A short drive away, you will find Tanuf Ruins, Jabreen Castle and Bahla Fort, a UNESCO site. Given our time constraint, we opted out of visiting these places and instead continued our road trip towards Sur, stopping at whatever pique our interest along the way. We did not have time to stop at Wahiba Sands, but I would have loved to spend a night in the desert.

Instead, we got to visit Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, known for the endangered green turtle's nesting grounds. Tours occur at night. It was more crowded than I expected. I found the tour to be a bit challenging, as we had to walk far in the sand, in the darkness (there was minimal flash light use). It was a great experience regardless, as we got to see many turtles and it is the only place in the world, where turtles lay eggs 365 days a year. We spent the night at the Turtle Guest House, and headed out early the next morning.

The town of Sur was a notable stop on our journey. Located in the eastern region, Sur is best known for its shipyards, where you can see traditional dhow boats being built at the Dhow Factory.

We stopped by and saw the workers hard at work. The most fascinating part was to see how massive some of the vessels can be. Be sure to have some fresh seafood before leaving! We had lunch at Al-Hawash Restaurant, which offered great views.

As we made our way back to Muscat, we ensured to stop at the natural sites along the way. I mean, did you even go to Oman, if you didn't visit at least one wadi? We decided to skip Wadi Bani Khalid given the time. However, about 45 minutes drive away from Sur is the spectacular Wadi Shab, a must-see in Oman. You need to pay for the boat ride and you can also expect to hike a bit before you get to your destination, but it is worth it.

On our way, we stopped at several picturesque spots, including the Hidden Beach. We continued our journey to Muscat, with a stop along the way, at the magical Bimmah Sinkhole, the perfect place to cool down from the heat. Our final stop before getting back to the city was the Bandar Al Khairan Viewpoint.

The night ended with a feast at a restaurant I could not miss. The country's specialty is camel meat, so what better way to try than go to a restaurant that serves only camel meat? The restaurant was a little hard to find, as it is only visited by locals (mostly men), and the name on Google appears differently (Mandi Restaurant - HCGC+5F4, شارع, Muscat, Oman) than the name on the sign when you get there. Do note that there are no tables, but this added to the dining experience. The camel meat was so tender and packed with flavor. We also enjoyed the local bakeries in the area on the streets nearby.

The next morning, we visited the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (a sight not to be missed) very early as we were staying nearby at Citadines Al-Ghubrah. It was the best way to beat the crowds and we got to pray in peace right before sunrise. The Mosque is massive, clean and beautiful. I loved it more than the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Before heading to the airport for our flight home, we had breakfast Dukanah Cafe, a place that takes you back in time the moment you step foot in. We enjoyed the variety of options on the menu, but the ambiance made it most memorable.

We were very sad to leave Oman, as we had a wonderful time and it was one of the best vacations we took.

We were fortunate enough to be there around Oman's National Day (November 18), since it allowed us to delve deeper into Omani culture and experience the celebrations around the city that day. I would say that Oman is an underrated destination, but could potentially be the next hotspot in the years to come. Visit it now and take in all its beauty.

Have you been to Oman? Let me know!


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