‘You are going to Oman? What is there to see and do there?’
I can’t remember which other country has elicited such a response in recent times.
A whole bunch of friends and family were curious about our Oman itinerary and some were downright shocked when we told them about spending 6 days in Oman in early October. Oman definitely turned out to be an underrated destination. The short direct flight from India, combined with the mix of mountains and wadis, desert, beach and city activities, all covered in this 6-day Oman itinerary made our holiday better than expected. It is easy to make this into a 1 week Oman itinerary or into a 5-day itinerary by cutting a day in Muscat.
Oman 6-day Itinerary Overview
Jebal Akhdar (2 nights) – Wahiba / Sharqiya Sands (1 night) – Muscat (3 nights)
Day 1 of Oman itinerary: Fly to Muscat and drive to Nizwa
Your entry point in Oman would invariably be Muscat, so the capital city can be explored at the beginning or the end of your Oman itinerary. We decided on the latter, mostly because our flight from India was short (below 3 hours from Delhi and 3.5 hours from Bangalore for our friends, who joined us for this trip) and we had no jet lag. Plus the return flight was an early morning one, which meant we would have to spend the night in Muscat before flying out.
Getting our pre-booked Land Cruisers from Avis rental at the airport and grabbing lunch was a breeze (although the food options in the departure area at the Muscat airport were limited) and then we were on our way to the ancient city of Nizwa, at the foothills of the Al Hajjar mountains. Several tourists make Nizwa as their base for a night for excursions to Jebel Akhdar and Jebel Shams, the 2 popular mountain ranges close by. We were headed to a resort at Jebel Akhdar and were taking a quick detour to explore Nizwa Fort, for which the town is famous for.
Nizwa Fort: We were going to Nizwa mainly to see the massive Nizwa Fort, built in 17th century. The round tower from where you get a bird’s eye-view of the town laid out on flat plains and the mountains surrounding it, was fun to explore both for us and the kids. It was engaging for the kids to make up stories as we climbed the dark, cool, narrow steps to the tower.
Do explain the fort protection systems including the (now-glass-covered) murder holes that one has to step over on the way to your kids!
The museum housed in the adjacent Nizwa castle has numerous artefacts and paintings that depict the traditional way of living in Oman. It is certainly worth spending more time than the 20-odd minutes we did. The adjacent Nizwa Souq and the Bahla Fort are other attractions in Nizwa. But we were all keen to get to our resort at Jebel Akhdar, which was a 1.5 hours drive up the mountain roads, so we gave other cultural attractions in Nizwa a miss. Even though it was sunset when we left Nizwa, our apprehensions of driving on unknown mountain area in the dark were unfounded. The Omani driver, who chauffeured our friends from Muscat airport to Nizwa, was setting the pace ahead, streetlights were lit up and the drive to Anantara Al Jebel Al Akhdar was easy.
Pro-tips for Nizwa:
- Nizwa is a fairly conservative town, so make sure everyone is dressed conservatively.
- The stairs to climb the tower are built high, so make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes.
- There is an entrance fee for the Nizwa Fort.
- There are several restaurants around the Nizwa Fort, which make a good stop for a quick snack and a refreshing drink. Our favourite was a lemonade loaded with mint.
Day 2 of Oman itinerary: Exploring Jebel Akhdar
The second day in our 6-day Oman itinerary was devoted to Jebel Akhdar, a large mountain area in the north of Oman that lies at 2000 m above sea level. Even further ahead is Jabal Shams, a part of which is also described as the Grand Canyon of Arabia. Jebal Akhdar has a network of mountain villages, you can visit some of them. For the adventurous, a day more can be added at Jebel Akhdar or Jebel Shams to make this a one week Oman itinerary.
The area is known for growing Damask roses, large pomegranates (trust me, I have never had better pomegranate juice than the one given as a welcome drink at the resort here), apricots, peaches and olives.
The day earlier – flying into Muscat, drive to Nizwa, exploring the Nizwa Fort and finally the drive to Jebel Akhdar – proved to be more tiring than what we had anticipated. Coupled that with the fact that this mountain area was experiencing unseasonal evening rains which restricted all adventure activities to mornings, resulted in us not able to do any of the easy-to-moderately-challenging guided hikes that were offered by the Anantara resort. Anantara also has a vertical wall to try rock climbing, as well as another mountain wall for ‘via ferrata’.
We enjoyed the excellent facilities at Anantara – the infinity pool with breathtaking views of the canyon, tennis court, snookers table, easy cycling around the resort. The superb kids club kept both the 8-year old and the 4-year old busy for the large part of the day.
Pro-tips for Jebel Akhdar: Jebel Akhdar is a haven for the adventurous. So make sure you research into hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing options beforehand, either on with your hotel or separately with a local guide.
Day 3 of Oman itinerary: Fun activity at Jebel Akhdar, Wadi Bani Khalid and Wahibs Sands
The third day was a long, hectic and fun-filled day which started and ended with a new experience for me.
Fun activity at Anantara Jebel Akhdar: The morning started early with a guided activity at the resort that I had pre-booked. I discovered ‘via ferrata’ – an Italian term for a marked route – at the Anantara resort. I had never tried this adventure before. The activity ended with 2 short zip lines.
When the resort staff person described the climbing route, built with a steel cable rail fixed to the rock, metal steps and a ladder, it sounded like a fun thing to try.
Wadi Bani Khalid: No Oman itinerary is complete without a visit to a wadi (Arabic term traditionally referring to a valley). There are several popular ones like Wadi Shab on the way to / from Muscat. But locals told us about the unparalleled beauty of Wadi Bani Khalid and thus we put it on our Oman itinerary. It is difficult to imagine the emerald pools amidst gleaming limestone rocks and lush date palms until you arrive at it. Most people visit this wadi either before or after the trip to Wahiba Sands desert, and with unpredictable heavy rains just a day before, the Omani guide with our group thought it best to do it on the way to the desert camp at Wahiba Sands.
Have I said this enough number of times? Outside of Muscat, Oman is a country made for road trips with its wide open landscape and smooth road network.
The drive itself was beautiful. Despite the road distance, the wadi itself is just a 5-minute walk from the car park making it quite accessible. We did not have enough time to walk to and swim in the Upper Pools. So a quick dip in the large pool at the entrance of the wadi for the kids and a meal at the solo restaurant there was what we did.
I was keen to walk over rocks all the way to the Upper Pools, but the Omani guide warned of imminent rains and slippery rocks, so I reluctantly turned back midway. And, while we were having our lunch, it started raining. Coming back from the subcontinent, I have seen heavy downpour but somehow did not associate it with the dry, desert area of Central Oman. It was crazy to be in the heavy rains lashing around us and we rushed back to the car only when it lightened considerably.
Pro-tip for Wadi Bani Khalid:
- It would be nice to bring your own picnic hamper if you can manage it from Lulu or some other supermarket on the way to this wadi.
- Sensible shoes are a must while climbing the rocks to the Upper pools.
- Women can’t be wearing a bikini at a wadi, so dress modestly in a T-shirt and shorts or leggings. Ditto for the men, shorts and T-shirt would be suitable.
Adventure at Wahiba Sands
So far, our road trip in Oman had proved to be an adventure with a capital A.
Little did we know that the evening had much more in store for us. After the detour to Wadi Bani Khalid, we were on our way to the largest desert in Oman – Wahiba Sands, also known as Sharqiya Sands.
There are 3 things you immediately notice once you get to Wahiba Sands. The first is its vastness. It is an experience to enter the desert. Rolling sand dunes and pristine land everywhere you see. Wow! It gives you the feeling that there is unpopulated, untouched land still on this planet, and not necessarily at the top of a mountain or at the bottom of an ocean. The second point follows from the first, that the GPS system / google maps is pretty much useless in this desert. The third is what a well suited vehicle a Land Cruiser is for the desert. My husband who was quite psyched to follow the cheerful driver of the pilot car ahead with our friends, realised that it is almost impossible for the Land Cruiser to topple on sand dunes. But don’t try toppling it, will you?
I have been to desert camps innumerable time when I used to live in Dubai more than a decade ago. Yet, this Omani desert camp – 1000 Nights camp – was a refreshing change. It felt a bit less commercial and touristy than the ones in Dubai. Also, it was 40 km inside the desert and the drive itself to the camp was thrilling. The plan was to do dune bashing before it becomes dark. Every desert camp would feature this activity and so did ours, but we quickly checked in and loaded all in one 4WD with our experienced Omani guide driving it on the dunes. He had predicted a sand storm and was keen to get to the top of the dunes quickly, from where we could enjoy the perfect sunset. We reached just in time because within 10 minutes, a sandstorm started that lasted for more than 2 hours. Dune bashing in a sand storm, now that’s a new experience even for me!
The evening was guided by the sandstorm. A late dinner arranged for the desert camp guests in a closed room capped our adventure and fun-filled day.
Day 4 of Oman itinerary: Sur town and drive to Muscat
The evening earlier had been cloudy. While that meant a lot less stars than what we had expected to see in the sky, the morning itself was quite pleasant. We were ready for more dune bashing after our breakfast and check-out from the desert camp. Day 4 in our Oman itinerary was kept aside for a drive to Sur, a pleasing fishing town on the east coastline of Oman, before heading to Muscat.
Sur is on most travellers’ Oman itinerary because of its proximity to the turtle reserve at Ras Al Jinz. We had left Wahiba Sands late in the morning and were inclined to give the historical and cultural attractions of Sur – its 2 forts and the souq – a miss. But the town has a very relaxed vibe and makes for a pleasant detour even without the cultural immersion. You could easily turn this trip into a one-week Oman itinerary by adding a night stay at Sur.
We had one of the most enjoyable meals at a local restaurant suggested by our Omani driver here. Omani pulao, fried fish and views of the Arabian Sea, the kids were happy playing on the beach and so were we.
Then a quick visit to the dhow-building yard and the pleasing corniche, and then we were on our way to Muscat.
Day 5 & 6 of Oman itinerary: R & R in Muscat
Muscat may not have the skyline and jazz of Dubai, but it certainly has an old world charm and beauty. Well laid-out with low rise buildings and broad roads, the capital city of Oman is good to spend a day or two. It was the finale of our Oman itinerary and gave us a much-needed R & R break after a hectic road tripping for the past 4 days. It also was hotter in early October than other parts we had been to, so required some planning for stepping out of the hotel for sightseeing.
My friends searched for a fun activity to do for kids and hit upon the Museum of Illusions. Housed in the Muscat Grand Mall, it proved to a short but exciting, visual and educational experience for both kids and adults. We then went to the main cultural attraction in Muscat, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. This was a gift to the country from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30 years of reign. Alas, we hadn’t done our research properly for this attraction! Being an active place of worship, visitors are allowed only until 11 am to the mosque, so we were turned back. My friends did visit the mosque the next morning, and it was well worth the double effort. This place of worship requires both men and women to be dressed in full-length loose clothes. An abaya (full length dress) and head cover can be rented from the mosque gift shop.
Lunch was an elaborate affair with us indulging in a traditional Omani meal at the excellent Kargeen restaurant. We lazed around by the pool that evening at the W hotel. Our hotel was located right opposite the Royal Opera house – one of the cultural and heritage attractions in Muscat – and on the Qurum beach.
Amidst the relaxing 2 days, I also managed to get in 2 dives at the pristine Dimaiyat islands, an hour’s worth of boat ride from Muscat. It was turtle hatching season and no visitors are allowed to step on the protected islands. Some of the biggest moray eels, turtles, a sting ray and a plethoras of fish, the dives were magical.
We capped our last evening in Oman with a walk at the Muttrah corniche, ambling into the narrow alleyways of the Muttrah souq and an excellent dinner at Bait-al-luban.
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Have you visited Oman? Which is your favourite area? Share with us in the comments below.
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