Oman has achieved a degree of equilibrium between its ancient Arabian culture and modernity. Not only is it one of the region’s most peaceful and prosperous countries, but it is also increasingly popular with travelers in search of dramatic scenery and insight into the region’s traditional way of life. Fifty years ago, Oman was still essentially a medieval kingdom. Today its capital, Muscat, is a relaxed, contemporary metropolis of around 800,000 inhabitants. Old Muscat, home of Sultan Qaboos, is clustered around a bay at the eastern edge of the capital. There, the Mutrah Souq remains atmospheric in spite of an influx of cruise ship passengers. Landmarks of the interior include the imposing castle at Jabrin and the 17th-century fort and souk at Nizwa. The stark and dramatic Al Hajar Mountains run west to east across northern Oman, separating the coastal plain from a high desert plateau and rising to the 9,832-foot summit of Jebel Shams. Musandam is an enclave on the Strait of Hormuz, separated from the rest of Oman by the eastern coastline of the United Arab Emirates.
A Charming Market in Muscat
Despite the influx of cruise ship passengers, Mutrah Souq on the Corniche in Muscat remains a traditional (and very friendly) Arab market. An atmospheric labyrinth of narrow alleyways, it is crammed with stalls selling perfumes, incense, textiles, silver khanjars (antique daggers) and Bedu jewelry. It is said to be one of the few markets in the world where it is possible to buy gold, frankincense and myrrh all under one roof.
Where to Spot Dolphins
Large dolphin shoals visit the shores of Oman, and both Muscat and Musandam are good bases for dolphin-watching excursions. No fewer than 11 species can be encountered, with spinner dolphins, common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins being the most frequently seen. Sperm whales are also sighted regularly, especially in December and January.
Rial (OMR). Fluctuating rate valued at OMR1.00 = US$2.60 as of April 2019.
To phone hotels in Oman, dial 011 (international access) + 968 (Oman code) + city code and local numbers in listings.
Muscat, Tel. (968) 2464-3400.
The weather is warm and sunny from October to April. Coastal areas are humid in summer. Rainfall is low, except in the south, where heavy monsoon rains fall between June and September.