Amazing Oman: From snorkelling with turtles to stunning mountain hikes

Amazing Oman! From snorkelling with turtles in crystal clear waters to stunning mountain hikes, luxurious hotels and bustling street markets – this is a Middle Eastern rough diamond

  • Oman is a country full of rich culture and traditions – with a range of different activities and regions to explore 
  • Snorkelling trips are a must for travellers to Oman, with the opportunity to swim with turtles and dolphins  
  • The capital Muscat features busy markets and incredible local cuisine – as well as beautiful architecture
  • Venture into the mountains for a hike with stunning views or even take a trip into the desert  

Not many people know what to expect before flying to Oman. This holiday destination is not as popular as nearby Dubai and it certainly doesn’t have the same publicity. A quick Google shows it’s surrounded by mountains and deserts, but what about the people, the experiences and the culture?

Pretty quickly after landing in the capital of Muscat, the first thing that was made perfectly clear was that you’ll be welcomed in like a close relative. Shortly after our arrival into the capital of Muscat, our tour guide joked to us: ‘If we discovered an intruder in our kitchen, we would probably offer them a cup of tea.’

The warm hospitality of the locals is immediately felt in Oman. The hallmark of comfort in a holiday is feeling like you are right at home and the Omanis make sure that’s exactly how you feel – as well as giving you a sense of serenity by providing one of the cleanest and most spacious cities you’re likely to see.

You notice that attention to detail as soon as you touch down at Muscat International Airport – the shiny marble floors and the fact there is not a single piece of litter in sight speaks to that. Funnily enough, there wasn’t a cleaner to be seen – and the city’s streets are the same. Tidiness is an expectation in Oman and that’s respected throughout the country. 

Oman’s capital city of Muscat, above, is packed full of beautiful buildings and architecture

The country is home to vibrant and bustling street markets known as souks, where tourists can buy a range of souvenirs 

Holidaymakers and visitors can get their hands on traditional Omani ornaments and jewellery – with prices often discounted

Oman is not likely the first name on your travel bucket list and for years it has been seen as more of a ‘hidden gem’ than a must-visit travel destination, but after a week-long stay I can understand why so many people leave this country writing rave reviews. 

Whether it’s the stunning landscapes and mountainous terrain to explore, the turquoise, see-through water and deserted coves filled with marine life – or the bustling streets and markets that radiate aromas of frankincense and cardamom – you will rarely endure a dull moment.

Speaking of culture, Oman honours plenty of historical traditions and rituals that are fascinating to learn about – whereas nearby Dubai is more of an international melting pot that has been somewhat deprived of its customs. On our first day in Oman, we were taken to a beautiful castle that had been converted into a restaurant called Rozna serving delicious local food. 

We feasted on local favourites like chicken sambosha – as well as enjoying the rich and nourishing Omani coffee flavoured with spices to give it a kick and its own unique taste. If you’re heading to Oman, grabbing a fresh brew should be your first port of call.

Next up was a trip to the country’s National Museum. Here we learned all about Oman’s military history – with exhibitions featuring old swords, spears, shields and armour. You’ll also discover all about how Omanis built their naval fleet and their official dress. If you take a glance around the city you’ll notice some men wearing head-dresses with a buckle and dagger – the most prestigious outfit for a local in Oman and often worn at weddings and other ceremonies.

Anyone heading to Oman should get out to the marinas and book a snorkelling trip – the country is famous for them. Pictured above is the town of Sur

You will be blown away by Oman’s crystal-clear, turquoise waters as you snorkel around turtles and other fish 

Turtles have a huge presence in and around the bays of Oman and snorkelling trips will allow you to explore secluded beaches

We also visited Oman’s palace – home of the Sultan Haitham bin Tarik – with its eye-catching modern design and blue and pink colours – found at the bottom of a huge walkway not too dissimilar to that of the road approaching Buckingham Palace. The area makes for a joyous scene of national pride as families gather outside with their children holding up the national flag. 

Then it was off to a traditional Souk that sells all kinds of shawls, trinkets and other souvenirs you can bring back to your loved ones as you make your way through streets that seemingly go on forever and are filled with scents of frankincense and spices. Although the vendors can be a little pushy and determined and it’s all a little chaotic, there are some bargains to be had and you will be able to haggle on a few prices.

We even had a chance to see the country come together for a huge football match as former world champions Germany came to town to play Oman in a friendly before their World Cup campaign. It was a way for the country to sell itself to German fans who had come to see the match and put itself on the map. Seeing Omanis unite for a huge occasion like this was fantastic to see – and it came on the same week as Omani’s National Day of celebration. 

A trip to Oman simply isn’t complete without getting out on the water and snorkelling in its beautiful crystal-clear waters, where you will certainly find a bale of turtles to swim alongside – and dolphins if you’re lucky. We headed out to the Dalmaniyat Islands on a speedboat – which was a lengthy two-hour journey – but it was well worth the wait. Our captain stopped off several times to show us some points of interest – including ruins, castles and beautiful old architecture of the Omani empire – and a group of dolphins swimming past our boat.

When we arrived at the islands – which were almost deserted with private beaches empty and clean – the water was incredibly inviting – I could nearly see the bottom of the ocean from the boat. The clearness and tranquillity of the water made this a snorkelling trip like no other as we glided past a plethora of different fish and a family of turtles. 

It was surreal to hover above the turtles and watch them in their natural habitat as other fish circled around them and nibbled plankton off their shells. This was one of the highlights of the trip with the ability to relax surrounded by Oman’s marine life – and to cap it off, the captain let me drive the boat home for a short while.

A hiking trip up towards the Al Jabal Akhdar mountains offers travellers a stunning view from the peaks  

Oman is covered in beaches and white sand with a tropical breeze and warm temperatures between October and April 

There are plenty of luxury hotels to choose from – including the Jumeirah hotel in Muscat Bay, boasting amazing sea views 

Though food is not cheap in Oman, there are some fantastic eating spots – including fine dining options – and anyone with cash to burn should definitely try the Char grillhouse at the prestigious W hotel, which serves juicy and tender steaks as well as other meat including grilled chicken, short ribs.

There are a lot of eateries with spectacular views – such as at The Edge restaurant at the Crowne Plaza hotel. Oman is not a cheap destination, so doing it on a shoestring will be challenging, but if you’re coming in on a sizeable budget then you will certainly enjoy yourself. 

Day three of our adventures was a chance to explore a different region of Oman as we drove up into Al Jabal Akhdar mountains. This is home to a small crop of local Omani farmers who have scattered themselves across the cliff-face. We made our way down the mountain on an easy-to-navigate hiking trail, taking in the stunning views and walking across rivers, greeted by some of the locals before reaching the bottom. 

It was then time to make our ascent to the top – where our efforts were rewarded with a gorgeous lunch at the Anantara Bella Vista resort, complete with breath-taking views from the clifftop as we were treated to wagyu beef, lamb ragu and incredible giant prawns. If you’re a fan of the great outdoors and like going on treks – and love great food with a picturesque view too – then this is the perfect combo for you.

VisitOman is offering a free trip to Oman during the halftime period of every 2022 World Cup game this winter through the hashtag #HalfTimeForOman

TRAVEL FACTS 

Oli Gamp travelled to Oman with VisitOman, which is giving away a free trip to the country during the halftime period of every 2022 World Cup game through the hashtag #HalfTimeForOman.

The best time to visit is between October and April, when the weather is much milder – whereas the summer months can feature scorching temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius.  

Throughout our time in Oman, we were lucky enough to stay at the five-star Jumeirah Muscat Bay resort, one of the best hotels in the country, with its huge array of facilities. You can go for a hit on its tennis courts, take a relaxing massage, blow off steam in the fitness room, go for a swim or chill out on the beach – located just yards away from the pool. 

There’s a giant floating sunbed out by the deck if you fancy swimming out to it, and if not then you’ll be waited on hand and foot by the friendly and attentive waiters who will bring you fresh fruit, smoothies and other snacks while you soak in the rays by the sand. We were even spoiled with lamb kofta bites and an ice cream sandwich one day.

Nearly every room in the complex comes with an ocean view, giving each one its own feeling of luxury, and it’s also kitted out with an electronic panel on your bedroom wall with a variety of different light settings and the option to play around with your air conditioning. 

As for the breakfast, its impressive array of choices at the buffet will absolutely please any foodie.

We travelled with Oman Air, where flights can cost around £800 for a return trip – while a stay at the Jumeirah Muscat Bay will set you back £380 a night for a Deluxe Ocean Room.

Oman has been gaining a lot of traction across the years among the crop of travellers heading to the Gulf State region – and it’s also becoming popular among World Cup-bound football supporters as an alternate place for accommodation, with Qatar just a 90-minute plane ride away.

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