Oman doesn’t make the headlines like many of its neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula. Those who choose to venture to the far eastern tip of the peninsula will be met with diverse landscapes, encompassing magnificent mountains, striking sand dunes, and rugged coastlines. The Omani people are incredibly welcoming to foreign visitors, too -- demonstrated by their significant tourism investment and the fact that a whopping 40 percent of the population are expatriates. It’s only a matter of time before more travelers catch wind of Oman’s rich offerings, so check out our breakdown of the best places to visit in Oman and see why the country continues to top lists for the world’s best travel destinations.
This spectacular canyon (wadi in Arabic) is reason enough to visit Oman. These days, its entrance is easily reached by a paved road. From the parking lot, a 30- to 40-minute walk along the twisting canyon leads to the first swimmable section of the wadi. Along the route, you’ll pass numerous turquoise pools, but they’re strictly off limits for swimming as they provide drinking water to the nearby villages. The hike also traverses along strips of terraced gardens, providing a rare splash of vegetation -- oleander and palms -- in an otherwise striking rocky landscape.
The first swimmable pool has ample shade and space to lay out and tuck away any belongings before plunging into the refreshingly cool water. Keep in mind that Oman is a Muslim country, so it’s advisable to avoid bikinis and speedos, unless you’re willing to wear a t-shirt or shorts over them. From here, it’s about a half-hour swim, crawl, and walk to the cave entrance leading to a hidden waterfall. The trip up the canyon navigates a variety of water depths, so weak swimmers shouldn’t attempt the journey without a flotation device. That being said, the water is tranquil, and there are numerous places to rest along the way on dry ground. The cave entrance is a small gap in the rocks -- approximately a meter high and wide -- stretching about 40 feet through the rock face. This is a very deep part of the canyon, but fortunately, there are several handholds along the passage and throughout the cave to provide some respite from treading water. The cave is partially open, allowing for plenty of light to assist during the climb up the waterfall (there’s a rope). It’s possible to scale the waterfall to the top where another series of inviting pools await, or one can jump back into the water below.
This swimming hole is a mere two-hour drive from Muscat, making Wadi Shab a doable day trip from Oman’s capital. Check the forecast beforehand, as any rain in the area will make its way into the wadi, with potential for a flash flood.
2. Jebel Shams & Jebel Akhdar
Jebel is the Arabic word for mountain, and these neighboring peaks in the Hajar Mountains are well worth the over 9,000-foot climb. Don’t worry -- a four-wheel-drive vehicle will get you most of the way up, allowing you to save your energy for reaching stunning vistas and abandoned stone villages by foot. Though Jebel Shams is Oman’s highest mountain, it’s better known for the adjacent canyon, Wadi Ghul. Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of Arabia,” the deep chasm creates kilometer-high cliff faces. Some of the best views can be had from the balcony trail, an old donkey trail that traces the inside of canyon’s rim. The trail is adequately wide for safe passage, and leads to an abandoned stone village nestled in the cliffside. The villagers created a sophisticated aqueduct system through the rock face for drinking water and terrace farming. Though life has left the village, several of the pools still receive a trickle of water, creating lush pockets of vegetation in the harsh mountainous landscape.
Jebel Akhdar, which translates to green mountain, earns its name for the local orchards and vegetation supported by 12 inches of annual rainfall (a lot for Oman). Jebel Akhdar isn’t just a singular mountain, but also an area covering the sizable Saiq Plateau. We recommend hiring a local guide or getting some expert advice on navigating Akhdar’s hidden wadis and local pomegranate orchards. Unlike Jebel Shams, there are some remaining small villages here.
Accommodation here is limited, but the Jebel Shams Resort provides all the creature comforts via chalets and Arabic tents. Camping is also quite doable as long as you steer clear of military-owned land, but be sure to pack layers for the high elevation chill.
3. Musandam Peninsula
The rugged Musandam Peninsula is located on the northeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, cut off from the rest of Oman by the UAE. Its location actually lends it as an easier trip from Dubai than the rest of Oman. However, this should not deter visitors from making the journey to Oman’s most untouched coastline. Dubbed by some as the “Norway of Arabia,” Musandam’s natural landscape is dominated by the craggy Hajar Mountains, which descend right into the deep, blue Arabian Gulf. The result is a network of dramatic fjords and islands, which, for the most part, can only be accessed by boat. Dolphins and the occasional whale can be spotted along the rocky coast, so the boat ride is well worth it. The main town on the peninsula is Khasab, which is home to a lively souq (market) and harbor. Khasab can be reached by the scenic coastal road from Dubai and by ferry or flight from Muscat.
Oman’s capital city is the main entry point for most travelers, as well as the country’s cultural and economic hub with a population of 4.4 million. It boasts numerous fortresses, a palace, mosques, museums, and an opera house. Unfortunately, Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace, and the surrounding forts -- Al Jalali and Al Mirani -- are off limits to visitors, though they provide an impressive backdrop to the otherwise low-lying buildings. Mutrah Fort, which is perched on a cliff above the harbor and corniche, grants one of the best views of the city. The corniche is ideal for walking and people-watching from the outdoor cafes. The adjacent Mutrah Souq adds to the bustle, with hundreds of vendors selling traditional handicrafts, local cuisine, spices, and more.
Nizwa is steeped in history. The inland city served as Oman’s capital through the sixth and seventh centuries. Then, in the 17th century, Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya’rubi built the massive Nizwa Fort, which served as the administrative seat for the ruling imams. In the 1950s, Nizwa was bombed by the British Air Force during the revolution, destroying part of the Nizwa Fort. Today, Nizwa is a mainstay on the tourist trail in Oman, but is still far from overrun. The Nizwa Fort is one of the main draws to the historic city, as is the bustling souq. The souq vendors are known for their spices, dates, and teas. Swing by on a Thursday or Friday morning to witness the haggling and commotion. The compact city is very walkable, with plenty of shaded cafes to escape the midday heat. Plus, it makes for a convenient base for exploring the western Hajar Mountains.
Located over 600 miles southwest of Muscat, Salalah feels far away from the other destinations on this list. The annual Khareef Festival, which means autumn in Arabic, celebrates the coming monsoon rains and is the primary reason foreign travelers make their way down to Salalah. The festival is celebrated in July, with traditional performances and vendors selling Omani delicacies, such as camel meat and coconut juice, plus various handicrafts. The timing usually coincides with the arrival of consistent light rain, which will last through September and transform the surrounding landscape into swaths of lush greenery. It’s also worth exploring the area outside Salalah proper. Head to Al Mughsail Beach or Al Fazayeh Beach to explore the picturesque rugged coastline. Away from the coast, Wadi Darbat is ideal for a leisurely dip surrounded by forested mountains and waterfalls.
7. Wahiba Sands
This stretch of desert occupies the inland area of northeastern Oman. The name Wahiba is derived from the local Bani Wahiba tribe, a nomadic Bedouin group that inhabits the region alongside a few other tribes. Several camps operated by the local tribes -- including traditional tents and glamping-style accommodations -- welcome visitors to spend the night. This is a great way to soak in the beauty of the starry night sky and sunrise above massive sand dunes, some of which tower over 300 feet. The area is home to a variety of flora and fauna as well, though the domesticated camels are likely to steal much of the attention. Though Wahiba Sands can be visited on your own (make sure you have ample supplies and a proper vehicle), hiring a local guide provides insight into the nomadic lifestyle here.
8. Masirah Island
Oman’s largest island, Masirah, lies off the mainland’s central eastern coast. The island is ideal for spotting sea turtles and kitesurfing. Several turtle species, including the largest number of loggerheads in the world, make their annual voyage to the island to lay their eggs. Though the waters here are notorious for shipwrecks, the shallow section offshore offers the chance to snorkel with these gentle creatures. Adrenaline seekers will want to plan their visit during the summer, when the monsoon winds create ideal kitesurfing conditions. Due to its popularity, a handful of kitesurfing camps and operations have started to pop up for all skill levels. Masirah is also home to a dozen small villages, but it’s still easy to find your very own stretch of beach. The island can be reached by daily ferries from Shannah. Tip: Bring your own set of wheels.
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