Early History. As far back as 5000 BC, southern Oman was the center of the lucrative frankincense trade trading for spices with India and carried by caravan across all of Arabia. Procured from the aromatic sap of the frankincense tree, it grows best in the monsoon-swept hills of Dhofar are harvested to this day.
The golden-pillared city of Ubar was a fabled city but nothing remains today other than the distinct and ancient language of Jibbali, the “language of the birds”.
In pre-Islamic times, Oman produced copper but then slipped into a long period of isolation until Islam was introduced in the 7th century AD when Oman was quick to embrace the new faith.
Portuguese. By 1507, they controlled the Omani ports of Qalhat, Muscat and Sohar. But they were only interested in Oman as a sentry post and were easily ousted by the Ya’aruba dynasty (1624-1743), leaving little behind.
Unified and Wealthy. By 1650 Oman was settled, unified and wealthy. Many of the great forts were built. Under Sultan Said bin Sultan (r 1804-56), Oman built up a sizable empire controlling parts of the African coast, including Mombasa and Zanzibar and parts of India and Pakistan.
When Sultan Said died, the empire was divided between two of his sons. One became the Sultan of Zanzibar and ruled the African colonies, while the other became the Sultan of Muscat and ruled Oman. The division of the empire cut Muscat off from its most lucrative domains, and by the end of the century, the country had stagnated economically, not helped by British pressure to end its slave and arms trading.
Coastal Versus Interior: Isolation. The new century was marked by a rift between the coastal areas, ruled by the sultan, and the interior, which came to be controlled by a separate line of imams (religious teachers). In 1938 a new sultan, Said bin Taimur, tried to regain control of the interior, sparking off the Jebel Wars of the 1950s. Backed by the British, who had their own agenda, Said successfully reunited the country by 1959.
In all other respects, however, Said reversed Oman’s fortunes with policies that opposed change and isolated Oman from the modern world. Under his rule, a country that a century earlier had rivaled the empire builders of Europe became a political and economic backwater. While neighbours such as Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait were establishing enviable welfare states and sophisticated modern patterns of international trade, Oman slumped into poverty, with high rates of infant mortality and illiteracy. Even the communist insurgency in Dhofar during the 1960s failed to rouse Said from his reclusive palace existence in Salalah, and by the end of the decade his subjects, the most powerful of which had been either imprisoned or exiled, lost patience and rebellion broke out across the country.
The unrest led to a palace coup in July 1970 when Said’s only son, Qaboos, covertly assisted by the British, seized the throne. With a face-saving shot in the foot, Said was spirited off to the Grosvenor Hotel in London, where he spent the remainder of his days. Some suggest that Said was not a greedy or malicious leader, just fiercely protective of his country’s conservative traditions, which he feared would be eroded by the rapid modernization experienced in neighbouring countries. Perhaps the country’s contemporary balance between old and new, so skillfully maintained by his son, owes something to Said’s cautious approach to Western influence.
Oman Today – The Rebirth of Oman. ‘Renaissance’ is a term any visitor to Oman will hear, as it refers to the current period under Sultan Qaboos, a leader held responsible by most of the population for easing the country into modernity. Before he came to the throne in a bloodless coup in 1970, Oman had no secondary and only two primary schools, two hospitals, only 10kms of sealed roads and was in a state of civil war.
But it has caught up with its more affluent neighbors. Females hold high office in the government, there is an enviably low crime rate and a well-trained and highly educated workforce.
The Arab Spring of 2011 took its toll on the country’s stability. Protests focused less on calls for greater democracy than on the lack of opportunities for job seekers and the replacing expatriates with Omani national. Sultan Qaboos remains popular whose reign is celebrated each year. He and his ministers camp in different regions of the country each year, seeking petitions from the leader. He is accessible, has a reputation for delivering on his promises and promotes tolerance and dialogue. Hi is not married and has no children and has now been in power for 45 years.
Education and Diversification. Intensive investment in education makes school free even partially at the tertiary level. There is no gender distinction.
With limited oil revenues, Oman cannot sustain costly expatriate labour so locals work in all sections of society. Self sufficiency in food production, export of natural gas, an enormous port project in Duqm, sealed roads go to most towns and a surge in IT infrastructure are all on-going.
PEOPLE AND SOCIETY
The National Psyche. Since the sultan came to power in 1970, Oman has trodden a careful path, limiting outside influence while enjoying some of the benefits that it brings. The result has been a successful adoption of the best parts of the Gulf philosophy, marked by a tolerance of outside ‘customs and manners’, without the sacrifice of national identity that often characterizes rapid modernization. Oman takes pride in its long history, consciously maintaining customs, dress, architecture and rules of hospitality, as well as meticulously restoring historical monuments. With relatively modest oil revenues, Omani people have had to work hard to make their country what it is today, and perhaps that is why the arrogance that may be seen in neighbouring countries is conspicuously absent here. It is refreshing to find Omani nationals in all walks of life, from taxi drviers to university professors.
Lifestyle. It would be hard to imagine any country that has changed so dramatically in such a short space of time. Within the living memory of most middle-aged people outside Muscat travelling to the next village meant hopping on a donkey or bicycle, education meant reciting the Quran under a tree, and medication comprised of a few herbs (very effective ones) from the mountainsides. Modern farmers contemplate genetically modified crop rotations, yet also look at the cloudless sky and realize that their grandmothers and children haven’t been praying loudly enough. Little wonder that some families have buckled under the pressure of such an extraordinary pace of change; alcoholism, divorce, drug abuse and manic driving are all social ills that have increased proportionately.
On the whole, however, Oman is a success story; it has embraced the new world with just enough scepticism to allow people to return to their villages on the weekend, park their Toyotas at the end of the tarmac and walk the rest of the way to see grandfather.
It’s possible to recognize people’s ethnic origins, even the regions from which they hail, by observing women’s clothing. Heads, arms and legs are always covered, but outfits range from a patterned cotton cloth to a transparent abeyya (woman’s full-length black robe), worn with a peaked face mask. In the capital, the silk abeyya, often worn over Western clothing, has become a fashion item. During festivals, sisters and even friends often wear clothes cut from the same cloth with elaborately embroidered trouser cuffs. Men wear a dishdasha (shirt-dress, usually white) and a white hat, traditionally embroidered. On official occasions, they wear a turban (made of pashmina and usually imported from Kashmir) and tuck a silver khanjar (ceremonial dagger) into their belt. For an especially formal occasion, they may wear a silk outer garment with gold trim and carry a short, simple camel stick.
Multiculturalism. Oman’s population is predominantly Arab, although the country’s imperial history has resulted in intermarriage with other groups, particularly from East Africa. As such, some Omanis speak Swahili better than Arabic. An Indian merchant community has existed in Muscat for at least 200 years, and people of Persian “or Baluchi ancestry inhabit the Batinah coast. The Jibbali people form a separate group in Dhofar. Many Jibbali live a mostly nomadic life with their own distinct customs; their language, completely distinct from any other, is dubbed ‘the Language of the Birds’. Kumzari, the compound language spoken in parts of the Musandam Peninsula, is a mixture of Portuguese, Arabic and Farsi. Omani people have a strong sense of tribe and their tribal names (for example, al-Nabhani, al-Wahaybi, al-Balushi) indicate very clearly to which area they belong. Some families, such as Al-Abris from Wadi Sahten, can be pinpointed to specific wadis in the Hajar Mountains.
Attracted by work and modern amenities, many people are moving to the capital, Muscat, which is spreading along the coast towards Seeb. In an effort to stem this flow, graded roads, electricity and water have been supplied to even the smallest willayat (village). It is not unusual in even these far- flung outposts of the country to see expatriates (mostly from India) working in shops and clinics.
About 75% of Omanis follow the Ibadi sect of Islam, an austere form of Islam that eschews decadence of any kind, even in mosque architecture. That said, modern Omanis tend to be pragmatic in their interpretation of religion, are tolerant of other forms of Islamic worship and allow expats to express their own religions in and around Muscat.
Magic plays a tangible role in the spiritual life of many Omanis. The ‘evil eye’ is not mere superstition; it is regarded as a hazard of everyday life. Amulets containing verses from the Quran, or hung around the necks of infants, are considered an effective way of warding off such problems. An expat member of the Magic Circle (an exclusive and international society of professional magicians which vows never to reveal to the public the tricks of its trade) was once invited to do a magic show in a village: when he conjured a white rabbit from his hat, his entire audience ran away.
There is barely a village without a fort. The country has mercifully largely escaped the skyscraping obsession of its neighbours, settling for more restrained public buildings in keeping with a more modest budget. However, what the buildings lack in multiple floors, they make up for in imaginative design. Muscat, in particular, abounds with serene and elegant examples, such as the ministry buildings and embassy buildings in Al-Khuwair. The Grand Mosque in Al-Ghubrah, completed in 2001, is the ultimate expression of restraint, with the simplicity of its exterior masking an exuberantly rich interior.
Not all of Muscat’s buildings are grave, however; take the whimsical Grand Hyatt Muscat, with its confection of arabesques and crenulations, or the venerable but distinctly quirky Al-Bustan Palace Hotel – harmonious affairs of whitewashed or sand-coloured buildings that illustrate a respect for traditional architectural values.
Barasti (palm-leaf) and other palm-constructed housing is still common along the coast from Duqm to Shwaymiyah. In the Sharqiya Sands, Bedu use goat-hair tents, and many people on the mountains live in caves with an improvised front door. The round houses made from constructed, interlocking sticks that cling to the hills of Dhofar are interesting. They were once thatched but these days are more likely to be covered in bright plastic.
Oman is blessed with a remarkable environment of spectacular landscapes and a wealth of flora and fauna. However, a 4WD is required to visit many of the places of natural beauty and interest. Accommodation near these places is often restricted to ad-hoc camping,
If hiring a vehicle is not an appealing option, there are plenty of tours available from Muscat and Salalah that will reveal the country to the visitor.
The Land. Geographically, Oman is large and diverse, with an untrammelled coastline over 3000km in length, rugged mountains, a share of the Empty Quarter and a unique monsoon catchment. It extends from the fjords of the Musandam Peninsula to the intermittently green Dhofar region.
Most of the country’s population is concentrated on the Batinah coast, a semifertile plain that runs from the border with the UAE to Muscat, and is separated from the rest of Arabia by the Hajar Mountains with its candy-striped rocks. The highest peak is Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun) at 3075m, alongside which runs Wadi Ghul, dubbed the Grand Canyon of Arabia. On the slopes of nearby Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain), temperate fruits are grown.
Much of the country between the Hajar Mountains and Dhofar is flat and rocky desert, but there are also areas of sand dunes. Most notable are the Sharqiya Sands, and the less-accessible sands of the Rub al-Khali (Empty Quarter). Oman is not as rich in oil as its neighbours, but it does have some extensive fields in the gravel plains around Marmul and Fahood.
Thriving and diverse marine life exists off Oman’s long coastline and there are many islands, the chief of which is the desert island of Masirah.
Wildlife. Oman’s isolated mountains and wadis provide a haven for a variety of animals. These include over 50 types of mammals, such as wolves, foxes, hedgehogs, jerboas and hares. The largest land mammal that a visitor is likely to see is the gazelle, a herd of which lives in a protected area along the Qurayat–Sur coast highway.
There are 13 different species of whale and dolphin in Omani waters, including the world’s biggest living creature, the blue whale. Oman also has an important biodiversity of molluscs.
The Oman Bird List has over 400 recorded species. Spoonbills and flamingos frequent salt lagoons, even in Muscat, but the country is internationally renowned for its migrating raptors.
There is a wide diversity of insects in Oman – from the mighty minotaur beetle to the fig tree blue, orange pansy and other butterflies – attracted to Oman’s fertile wadis or desert acacias.
Endangered Species. Oman is of global importance to the survival of the endangered green turtle and has one of the largest nesting sites in the world at Ras al Jinz. There are five endangered species of turtle supported by the coasts of Oman, all protected by royal decree.
Oman’s is home to the endangered houbara bustard, ibex, tahr (an Omani species of a goatlike animal) and Arabian leopard. The latter frequents Jebel Samhan in Dhofar and has even been known to stroll onto the runway at Salalah. There are also declining numbers of sand cat, caracal, honey badger and mongoose. The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Jiddat al-Harasis protects a herd of wild oryx.
Plants. Oman built an empire on the frankincense trees that grow in Dhofar. The trees are still bled for the aromatic sap, but dates, covering 49% of cultivated land, have overtaken them in economic importance. Oman has a very rich plant life thanks to its fertile wadis, many irrigated year-round by spring water. It is common to see tall stands of pink oleander flowering in the wadis throughout the year.
A national collection of plants is being assembled as part of the world-class Oman Botanic Garden (www.oman-botanic-garden.org) , the first of its kind in Arabia.
National Parks. While there are several reserves, such as the Qurm Nature Reserve in Muscat, set up to protect the endangered man “grove, and the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, there are no formal national parks. The Damanayat Islands are designated as a national nature reserve and access to this pristine marine environment is controlled.
Environmental Issues. Oman has an enviable record with regard to its protection of the environment. One of the environmental problems that visitors will notice is the amount of oil washed up on Oman’s beaches, dumped illegally from container ships. It’s almost impossible for Oman’s military services to police such a long and exposed coastline.
Until recently, Oman’s shores were pristine. Unfortunately, tourism has led to dirty beaches where people insist on leaving their litter behind.
By far the most upsetting issue, however, has been the insensitivity of tourists towards the turtle population at Ras al-Jinz. The government has put the protected area under strict management and this is beginning to help minimise the disruption of the celebrated nesting sites.
FOOD AND DRINK
While local cuisine outside the Omani home tends to be of Lebanese origin, home cooking is nutritious and varied, reflecting Oman’s ethnic diversity. Cardamom, saffron and turmeric are essential ingredients, but Omani cooking is not exceptionally spicy.
With access to a long coastline, Omanis are particularly fond of fish, sardines and shellfish, including the local lobster (actually a large, clawless crayfish), were not considered fit for eating.
Perhaps the most typical Omani dish is harees, made of steamed wheat and boiled meat to form a glutinous concoction. It is often garnished ma owaal (with dried shark) and laced with lime, chilli and onions, and is a popular dish used to break the fast during Ramadan.
Visitors should try shuwa (marinated meat cooked in an earth oven) if given the chance. It is the dish of parties and festivals, and comprises goat, mutton, calf or camel meat, prepared with date juice and spices, and wrapped in banana leaves. The result, at least 12 hours later, is a mouth-wateringly tenderised piece of meat, aromatically flavoured with wood smoke and spices. It is served with rukhal (wafer-thin Omani bread) and rice on a fadhl (giant, communal eating tray), and eaten, of course, with the right hand only. Guests traditionally eat first, followed by men, who are expected to reserve the best pieces for women.
A delicious traditional dish from southern Oman is rabees . It is made from boiled baby shark, stripped and washed of the gritty skin, and then fried with the liver.
Fruit is an important part of an Omani meal, usually served before the meat course. Oman grows its own prize pomegranates, bananas, apricots and citrus fruit on the terraced gardens of Jebel Akhdar.
Camel milk is available fresh and warm from the udder in Bedouin encampments. Like mare milk, it’s an experience many prefer to miss! Alcohol cannot be purchased ‘over the counter’ in Oman without a resident permit. It is available, however, in most of the more expensive hotels and restaurants.
Sweets. Omanis have a decidedly sweet tooth, which they indulge during every important social occasion. Little surprise then that Oman has a particularly high incidence of diabetes. What is more surprising is that most Omanis have a fine set of teeth. If offered, you’ll be expected to sample the traditional treats so don’t forget to use only your right hand in receiving or offering the following sweetmeats.
Halwa is a sweetmeat made of sugar or dates, saffron, cardamom, almonds, nutmeg and rosewater in huge copper vats heated over the fire and stirred for many hours by men wielding long, wooden pestles. Lumps of the sticky, glutinous confection are pinched out of a communal dish between the right finger and thumb, much to the chagrin of those who forgot to bring a hanky.
Dates. If no one quite got round to making the halwa for a party, then dates will suffice. Dates are not only an indispensable part of a meal, but also of Omani hospitality. Dates are always served with one or two cups of strong qahwa (Arabic coffee laced with cardamom) and it is impolite to refuse to share at least one date with at least two cups with a host (but not too many more).
Honey. Dubbed by some as the ‘liquid gold’ of the region, honey costs OR10 to OR70 a kilo. As such, it’s easy to see why apiculture is on the increase. It’s not a new trend, however: boiling honey was used in Oman as a weapon against enemies – just look for the holes above fort doors.
In general, accommodation is limited and expensive. Discounts can often be negotiated in the low season. In many places there’s no alternative to the single midrange to top-end hotel, and smaller towns often have no hotels at all. Prices include the mandatory 17% tax and include breakfast unless otherwise stated.
The only official campsites in Oman are at Ras al-Jinz, and some expensive ‘camping experience’ resorts in Ras al-Hadd and Sharqiya Sands.
Wild camping is one of the highlights of Oman, providing you are discreet, outside urban areas and don’t require creature comforts. Finding somewhere suitable to camp can be difficult without a 4WD vehicle.
Oman is a large country with a sparse population. There are still vast tracts of land without a road that are virtually unmapped.
Off-Road Exploration. One of the highlights of visiting Oman is off-road exploration of its mountains, wadis, sand dunes and coastline, particularly in a 4WD with some camping equipment. Hiring a 4WD can be expensive, but tour companies offer all the main off-road destinations as day trips or on overnight tours.
Hiking, Rock Climbing & Caving. With a pair of stout boots, a map, water and Adventure “Trekking in Oman, by Anne Dale and Jerry Hadwin, you can access superb walking territory all over the country. Unless you are an accustomed outbacker, however, it is advisable to take a tour that can help tailor a trip to suit your interests.
Rock climbing and caving are increasingly popular activities in Oman, but they tend to be conducted on a ‘go-it-alone’ basis. Oman has some rich cave systems, many of which have never been explored. Caves of Oman, by Samir Hanna and Mohamed al-Belushi, gives an excellent account of speleology in Oman and points out some local safety advice.
Fishing. Muscat Game Fishing Club organizes deep-sea outings. Game fish is tag and release but tuna you can take home for supper. The competitive angler might like to try a line in the three-day Sinbad Classic, held in Muscat each winter.
Dolphin-watching. Oman is a great country for naturalists, with both in large numbers off the coast: early morning trips from Marina Bandar al-Rowdha are the best way to spot them.
Turtle watching. Important sites are found near Sur with tours arranged through Ras al-Jinz Turtle Reserve.
Water Sports. Excellent opportunities available in Muscat, Al-Sawadi Beach Resort and Salalah.
Westerners are often seen wandering around supermarkets or hotel foyers in shorts, dressed in bikinis on public beaches and skinny-dipping in wadis. These practices are highly resented, though Omanis are too polite to say as much. In order to respect local customs, knees, cleavage and shoulders should be covered in public.
It’s tempting when exploring off-road destinations to drive straight through the middle of villages. This is about as sensitive as taking a lorry through a neighbour’s garden back home. If you want to see the village, it’s better to park outside and walk in, preferably with permission from a village elder.
In addition, Oman’s wild environment requires special consideration. Tire tracks leave marks on the desert floor, often forever, and litter does not biodegrade in the hot, dry climate.
Oman is a great centre for handicrafts, with expertise in silversmithing. Exquisitely crafted khanjars can cost up to OR500 but tourist versions are available from OR30. Genuine Bedouin silver is becoming scarce. Silver Maria Theresa dollars, used as Oman’s unit of currency for many years, are a good buy at OR3. Wooden mandoos (chests) studded with brass tacks cost from OR10 for a new one and start at OR100 for an antique.
Other items commonly for sale include coffeepots (not always made in Oman), baskets woven with leather, camel bags, rice mats and cushion covers. Many items are imported, as per centuries of tradition, from India and Iran.
Frankincense is a ‘must buy’ from Salalah, together with a pottery incense burner (both available in Muscat). Amouage (from OR50), currently the most valuable perfume in the world, is made in Muscat partially from frankincense and comes in different fragrances and preparations. A visit to one of the outlets (at city centre, Qurm or the airport) is a treat in itself. Omani dates make another excellent gift.
Travelling beyond Muscat and the main towns of Nizwa, Sohar, Sur and Salalah can be a lonely experience. The interior is sparsely populated and, with no established circuit of travellers’ meeting places, bumping into other foreigners is rare outside the holiday period. While Omani people are very friendly and hospitable, they are also private and you are unlikely to be invited to stay for longer than the customary bread and salt. If you hitchhike to somewhere remote, you may have a very long wait before you find a ride out again.
TELEPHONE & FAX
Each area of Oman has its own code (for example, 24 is the prefix for Muscat). Note that you need to use this code even if calling from within the same area. Phonecards are available from grocery stores and petrol stations. International phone calls can be made with a phonecard by dialling direct from most public phone booths throughout Oman. The cost of a two-minute call to Europe and the USA is approximately 200 baisas. Temporary local GSM connections can be made through the purchase of an Omanmobile (www.omanmobile.om) Hayyak SIM card (OR3), Nawras (www.nawras.com.om) and Friendi Mobile (www.friendimobile.om).
Tours in Oman are generally tailor-made for the customer in private vehicles with an English-speaking driver-guide. This is great for your itinerary, but painful on the pocket unless you can muster a group of three or four to share.
The following are average prices per vehicle for a full-day tour from Muscat: dhow cruise 25 (per person), dolphin-watching 20 (per person), Jebel Shams 130, Nakhal & Rustaq 90, Nizwa, Bahla & Jabrin 100, Sharqiya Sands 130, Wadi Shab & Wadi Tiwi 110.
Tour companies abound in Muscat, Salalah and Khasab; they offer camel safaris, 4WD touring, camping, city tours, caving, rock climbing, dhow rides, dolphin-watching and combinations thereof. Some recommended agencies are as follows:
Alive Oman (alive-oman.com).
Bike & Hike Oman (www.bikeandhikeoman.com) Offers a number of spectacular cycling and hiking tours in the Hajar Mountains.
Desert Discovery (www.desert-discovery.com) For trips to the Sharqiya Sands. Explore Oman (www.exploreoman.com) An experienced UK-based company.
Mark Tours (www.marktoursoman.com) A popular and experienced company that can tailor-make study tours and adventure trips.
Muscat Diving & Adventure Centre (www.holiday-in-oman.com) The best company through which to organize activities such as caving, hiking and other outward-bound activities.
National Travel & Tourism (www.nttoman.com) Offers an excellent, friendly and comprehensive tour service, including trips to the Oryx Sanctuary at Jaaluni National Reserve.
Sea Tours Oman (www.seatoursoman.com) Specialises in boat trips.
A visit visa, required by all nationalities except for citizens of Gulf countries, can be obtained (including those from the EU, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand) at Muscat International Airport. For a visit of 10 days or less it costs OR5 and for 10 days up to one month it costs OR20. You may be refused admission if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport.
It is also possible to obtain a visa at those border crossings that are open to foreigners. Currently those with a UAE tourist visa may visit Oman overland without paying for an Omani visa (you must travel with your passport though).
Visa regulations change freqently so check the official Royal Omani Police (ROP) website (www.rop.gov.om).
Visa Extensions. A one-month extension (OR20) is available for those on a one-month visit visa from the ROP Visa Information counter at Muscat International Airport between 7.30am and 1pm Saturday to Wednesday. Overstaying a visa will incur charges on departure (OR10 per day).
Women travelling alone are a novelty in Oman and you may feel uncomfortable, particularly on public transport, eating in restaurants and when visiting public beaches. Omani men mostly ignore women (out of respect) and it’s hard to meet Omani women. Many of the country’s attractions lie off-road where travelling solo (for either sex) is inadvisable unless you are highly resourceful and, if driving, strong enough to change a tyre.
Harassment is not a big problem, except near hotels where attitudes are, rightly or wrongly, influenced by the sight of women in bikinis. Outside hotels, it helps (in addition to being more culturally sensitive) to be discreetly dressed in loose-fitting clothing, and to wear shorts and a T-shirt for swimming.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Entering Oman at Muscat International Airport is straightforward. Most visitors require a visa upon arrival. This is easily expedited by filling in a form (in the immigration hall) and taking it to the clearly marked visa-collection counter before queuing up to have your passport stamped.
Air. There are direct flights to each of the destinations below daily, except for Sana‘a which is serviced by a weekly flight. Frequent single-stop flights connect all these destinations. Abu Dhabi (UAE), Doha (Qatar), Kuwait City (Kuwait), Manama (Bahrain), Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Sana‘a (Yemen – suspended).
Land. Oman borders the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Current practicalities mean, however, that you can only enter UAE. Visas are obtainable at all Oman border posts. Border Crossings. UAE There were four border posts open 24 hours to foreigners at the time of writing: these are at Wajaja; Khatmat Milahah; Tibat; and Buraimi.
Bus. UAE The Oman National Transport Company (www.ontcoman.com) has buses on the Oman–Dubai express service.
Car. It’s possible to drive through any of the borders in your own vehicle if you obtain insurance to cover both countries.
Air. Besides Muscat International Airport in Muscat, the only functioning airports in Oman are at opposite ends of the country in Salalah and Khasab. Four new airports are being built at Ras al-Hadd, Sohar, Adam and Duqm, which will help open up the country for visitors.
The national carrier is Oman Air. It services the domestic airports, as well as a selection of Middle Eastern and subcontinental destinations. Tickets can be booked through any travel agent or online.
The only domestic flights available in the country at the time of writing are on Oman Air as follows: Between Muscat and Salalah and between Muscat and Khasab.
Bus. The intercity buses are operated by ONTC, which has daily services to/from most of the main provincial towns for less than OR8. Buses are usually on time, comfortable and safe. It is worth making reservations for longer journeys.
Road Conditions. Travellers comment that some roads indicated in this book as ‘4WD only’ are passable in a 2WD. Often they are right, until something goes wrong; 2WDs are not built to withstand potholes, washboard surfaces and steep, loose-gravel inclines, let alone long distances to the next petrol station.
Road Hazards. Watch out for the following potential problems on the road: Aggressive tailgating and fast, inappropriate driving particularly in the capital area. Camels and goats wandering onto the road, with disastrous consequences in Dhofar during the khareef (rainy season) when locals continue to drive at the same speed regardless of the fog.
Road Rules. The following traffic laws are strictly enforced, especially in Muscat:
Seatbelt use is mandatory for passengers and there is a fine of OR10 for not wearing one. You are not permitted to drive while using a hand-held mobile phone. Drink-driving is completely forbidden. Most vehicles are fitted with radar detectors. Oman’s maximum speed limit of 120km/h and there are many speed cameras to encourage drivers to comply. Note that it’s illegal to drive a dirty car – the fine is OR5!
Hitching. Hitching is possible but inadvisable as most roads outside the capital area have low volumes of traffic. Bear in mind that you may often get left between towns while the driver turns off-piste to his or her village. You therefore need to be self-sufficient enough to survive the hottest part of a day – even a night or more in some parts of the interior – without any prospect of an onward or return ride.
Always carry water and avoiding hitching off-road. It is the custom to offer the driver some remuneration. If you’re driving, you will often be asked to give a ride to locals but do this with caution.
Local Transport. Oman has a comprehensive system of cheap but rather slow long-distance shared taxis (painted orange and white) and microbuses. Oman’s shared taxis and microbuses do not wait until they are full to leave. Instead, drivers pick up and drop off extra passengers along the way. To visit certain places of interest, you’ll often have to take an ‘engaged’ taxi (ie private, not shared) – generally four times the price of a shared taxi as you have to pay for all the seats. Bargain hard before you get in and try to avoid hailing a taxi from a hotel.
Beware that public transport isn’t networked, so a bus or taxi may go from A to B and B to C but not from C to A. This means it’s easy to get stranded in a town with no onward connections.”