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Trip Report 2 weeks in Oman - Our experience

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Oman is special. Where else on the Arabic Peninsula has some of the “Sinbad the Sailor” feeling survived? Besides this 1001 Nights flair, we were stunned by lush oases, ancient fortresses, sandy beaches, dramatic mountain scenery, rolling desert dunes, picturesque wadis, deep fjords and overly friendly people. All in one country!

Our itinerary?
We spent 2 weeks in Oman over X-mas 2012 & New Year 2013. Our itinerary covered Muscat (the capital), Jebel Shams & Jebel Akhdar (the mountains), Nizwa (oases, fortresses and more), the Wahiba Sands (desert), Ras Al Jinz (turtles) & last but not least Musandam (the lonely peninsula on the Strait of Hormuz). This is roughly the route we covered, with many more places in between.
More information:

Why Oman?
Honestly, when we booked the flight to Muscat, we had no real idea what to expect… Only when we started reading travel blogs in more detail, did we find out that the 2 weeks we had would never be enough to visit all major attractions. The south with its abundance of incense trees around Salalah, we had to save for another trip.

Some unusual politics?
Oman is not only the oldest independent state in the Arab world, but also one of the more traditional countries in the Gulf region and was, until the beginning of the 1970s, one of the most isolated. In its heydays it stretched out along the East African coast and included paradise-like Zanzibar.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said is omnipresent in Oman. His portrait seems to adorn every room, public or private. So do billboards along the perfect roads built under his ruler ship. The respect and admiration he receives from his citizens is equally ever-present. Not surprising considering what he has achieved! Educated in Britain, he overthrew his overly conservative father in 1970. More or less single-handedly he then moved this country from the Middle Age to the 21st Century, turning it into a prosperous, modern state.
A transformation so deep, but nevertheless so smooth that it makes Oman stand out. The result is a unique, peaceful place in an otherwise not so stable region of this world. Maybe it helped that his subjects are only a flock of 2 millions and there is plenty of oil, although in modest quantities compared to its neighbors.
Just to give you an idea where he started off: in 1970 Oman had merely 3 kilometers of tarred road, one hospital with 12 beds, no schools. Sultan Qaboos’ father was so conservative that wearing sunglasses or playing music was forbidden. All this changed under Qaboos’ rule, but he made sure to balance the move forward with a healthy conservation of Oman’s cultural heritage. Today modern cities, excellent roads, state of the art telecommunication, excellent schools and universities (for men and women) equal western European standards. Nevertheless, none of the skyscrapers that dominate Dubai or Abu Dhabi can be found here, only elegant oriental architecture prevails.

Oman is an expensive destination, no matter how you travel and how hard you try to save money.
First, there is no real public transport system, so you have to rely on a car. Although car rentals are cheap and gasoline costs close to nothing, this remains a major part of the budget. What really hurt are the prices for hotels though. Even a modest guesthouse runs between 80 to 100 €. We met people who camped, but not many.
We spent altogether 2.000 € in two weeks per person, which brings expenses to 134 Euros per person per day. If you add the flights from Europe, it means 200€ per person per day. And no, we did not splurge!

Sedan Car or 4WD?
Roads are excellent, so we could have covered everything in a sedan car, except crossing the Hajer Mountains, going to Jebel Shams, which was a highlight. Even Wahiba Sands, the desert, is do-able in a small car, since most agencies offer a pick up from the nearest town for a small fee.

Oman for outdoor people?
Those who like sleeping in tents may also have an amazing time in Oman. Camping is possible on lonely beaches (fishermen shuttle you back and forth), in the mountains, in the desert and probably everywhere else. But be aware! Nights are chilly at this time of the year, especially in the mountains, where we watched the wind fiercely beating the few bushes from our cozy hotel room. But the intrepid camper may find this heavenly.
Also hikers can live up to their passion: countless trails, short and long (up to 8 days) take you through the spectacular scenery of the Hajer Mountains.

When thinking about Oman, the following aspects will always stay on our minds
• Gentle, friendly and open-minded people - the Omani are really special
• Huge contrasts: within a few kilometers, you move from the most modern 21st century city to a village that could be in the Middle Ages
• A stunning capacity to embrace technological changes and to safeguard traditions - how many times did we wonder at young men dressed in the traditional Dishdasha, surfing on their iPhones.
• Indian food, which seemed to be the base of our diet during 2 weeks

The highlights of the trip were
• The Omani people
• Small town Khasab on the peninsula of Musandam - guarding the Strait of Hormuz
• A few days in the Wahiba Desert
• Driving into the heart of the Hajer Mountains on a windy dirt road, that reminded us tremendously of Bolivian “Death Road”
• Hiking Wadi Ghul - Oman’s Grand Canyon
• Gazing at the 5.000 year old tombs of Al Ayn - just us
• Fortress hopping - and we only visited 8 from the nearly 500…
• The haggling at Nizwa’s goat market on Fridays, at least very early morning, before busloads of tourists arrive
• Meeting Khalfan in his very personal museum in Al Kamil
• Egg-laying turtles at Ras Al Jinz
• Walking through the tranquil gardens of a tiny oasis on the fringes of Wahiba Desert

What would we do differently?
• Slightly change the itinerary: fly into Dubai (instead of Muscat), take a taxi (2,5 hours) to Khasab on Musandam and the ferry (5 hours) to Muscat. Then start the loop there and finally fly from Muscat back to Europe, probably via Dubai.
• Skip Scuba diving - visibility was really disappointing
• Spend more time in the Hajer Mountains, Jebel Shams and trekking along Wadi Ghul - And trek Wadi Ghul in the afternoon
• Head south to Salalah - with the time saved on the changed itinerary and scuba diving, it could fit in a two week trip - although the perfect time to visit this region is supposedly September

Oman is the perfect (family) destination for a two to three week trip escaping the European winter. The country is really easy to travel, offers a huge variety of highlights and some of the most gentle people on this planet, but is expensive!

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