I read with sorrow this weekend of the death of Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of Oman, May Peace Be Upon Him. The ruler had modernised the Sultanate during his fifty years of rule and Muscat, the capital of Oman, is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places to visit!
Muscat was first mentioned in history as an important trading port during the First Century of the Common Era. The historians Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder both listed Muscat as a vibrant and important port for trading with India and China. No doubt the strategic natural port was coveted by many powers as it was successively captured by the Sassanid Persians, the Arabs, the Abbasid rulers of Baghdad, the Seljuk rulers of Egypt, the Portuguese, the Ottomans and finally, the British. At one time, an Arab-Swahili kingdom included Muscat and stretched from Iran to Zanzibar and Tanzania. All of these conquerors sought to control the lucrative trade that passed through this exotic port.
Muscat is very welcoming and the city is beautiful!
Here’s a pro-tip: The weather is warm all year but, being on the cooler Gulf of Oman, the heat is less oppressive than in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. There are mountains that even have snow every few years so if you are visiting during the Northern Hemisphere winter, ensure that you pack for cool and warm weather.
Outdoor activities are exciting in Oman:
- Whale watching – there is a permanent non-migratory population of humpback whales that are frequently spotted close to Muscat.
- Dune-bashing – the Wahiba Sands, a desert plateau beyond the coastal mountains, is the perfect terrain to challenge your four-wheel driving skills.
- Hiking – the volcanic mountains around Muscat offer bracing hiking with stunning ocean and desert views at the top.
- Diving and snorkelling – Muscat has gorgeous coral reefs right offshore that are full of colourful fish and sea life.
- Beach sports – volleyball, beach soccer, beach cricket and other sports are regularly played on the pristine sands around the city.
The Wahiba Sands are often used in films to represent Mars!!
Here’s another pro-tip: In March 2016, archaeologists working off Al Hallaniyah Island, close to Muscat, found the wreck of the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama’s ship Esmeralda. Artefacts from that shipwreck are being recovered every year!
The Portuguese Fort holds a commanding perch
Reaching Oman is remarkably easy for an exotic locale. The Muscat International Airport is a modern facility that lacks the size and complexity of the region’s other airports. There are also taxis but they are not metered. The taxi drivers are generally very honest but you may wish to take a hotel car upon first arrival until you learn the average fares to the places you wish to visit. Your hotel will tell you the customary prices to anywhere you wish to visit.
Here’s another pro-tip: negotiating a taxi-fare when you first enter a car will mark you as a visitor and you are liable to pay more. Simply jump in a taxi confidently and negotiate your price at the destination. You might pay a little more the first time but it will be less than if you try to negotiate a price at the origin of your trip.
Hotels in Muscat are modern, luxurious and a good value. The hospitality is excellent and the clientele is cosmopolitan. One of my favourite hotels in the entire world is The Chedi close to the airport in Muscat. This ultra-luxurious property is perfect for enjoying the sun and beach and relaxing in welcoming opulence. The Shangri-La Resort, right outside of Muscat, offers three different hotels that are all tremendous. One property is for family, another is reasonably priced and the third is an ultra-luxurious option. You’ll be tempted to never leave the resort because it is so relaxing! Another great hotel is the Al Bustan Palace, now managed by Ritz-Carlton. The floor in the foyer is encrusted in semi-precious gems! This was the first landmark resort in Muscat and it is still one of the very best.
Fresh Omani Lobsters are a tasty treat!
There is a nightlife in Muscat, but I prefer relaxing evenings outside on the patio smoking the Shisha and drinking cocktails or cold Prosecco while chatting with friends. This can be enjoyed at literally any hotel in Muscat. I love the local Kahwa, a hot drink made from lightly roasted coffee beans and cloves; it is a regional sign of hospitality to offer small cups.
Al Hajar Mountains: watch out for Arabian Leopards!
I hope you visit Muscat and enjoy the home of the late Sultan Qaboos. He will be remembered for turning Muscat and all of Oman into a wonderful place to visit!