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Muscat

Muscat, the capital city of Oman lies sparkling white, topped with golden minarets in the middle of a maze of brown pleated mountains reaching down to the Arabian Sea. Described as "Arabia's jewel”, this city is a blend of the old and the new. Muscat is green as green can be, and defies being classified as part of a desert country. The roads are lined with well-manicured green lawns and trees. During winter this is interspersed with a profusion of multicolored flowers. The city has steadfastly retained its old-world character. Muscat has a quaint charm about it with many forts, castles, mosques and towers dotting the landscape. Of particular note are Jalali and Mirani forts flanking Al Alam Palace. The Corniche, with its promenade and souqs (markets) is one of the highlights of the city. The old souq of Muttrah is an ideal spot for tourists to buy keepsakes and treasures. Greater Muscat boasts high-rise business properties (but not too high), world-class highways, upscale suburbs rooted in traditional Islamic architecture, elegant mosques, large green parks, archaeological sites, museums and world-class hotels.

It is no wonder that Muscat is increasingly becoming an attractive tourist destination among the world's travel going public. In the year 2006 Muscat was voted the Arab Cultural City.

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Old Muscat from the hillside

Muscat: The capital of Oman is a fascinating blend of old and new.


 

Sur

Distance from Muscat: 335 km (interior paved road): 240 km (coastal track Road).
Average drive time: 4 hrs by paved road: 3.5 hrs by coastal track road.

Sur, a placid sea coast town with its striking traditional dwellings is a pleasant getaway and one of the most important towns in the Eastern region. The drive from Muscat via the interior cuts through wadis and passes through the Hajar Mountains. An alternate route down the coast through the village of Quriyat is adventurous and offers fabulous views of sparkling white beaches covered with multi colored shells, deep ravines, cliffs that fall dangerously into azure seas, rocks sculpted by wind and waves and lush green wadis (river beds).

The journey ends in the city famous for its dhow shipyards. A trip through Sur's labyrinth of streets reveals many fine old houses with carved doors and arabesque windows. From the corniche, the dhows in the harbour can be seen against the scenic backdrop of the Gulf of Oman.On the way to Sur one can stop over the fishing village of Quriyat, which was a major port centuries ago. Wadi Shab is another of the must-see wadis of this region - one of several wadis with running water throughout the year. Beyond Sur about 40 kms away lie the beaches of R'as Al Hadd and R'as Al Junayz where every year green back turtles come to lay their eggs.

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Old Muscat from the hillside

The main city and administrative centre of A'Sharqiyah Region

 

 

Nizwa
 

Distance from Muscat - 174 km
Average drive time - 1 1/2 hours by paved road

How to get there
- By buses / coaches belonging to the Oman National tourist Corporation (ONTC). Cars can be hired from Xpress Rent a Car.

Nizwa, the verdant oasis city with its blend of the modern and the ancient was the capital of Oman during the 6th and 7th century. One of the oldest cities of the Sultanate, this was once a center of education and art. Nizwa has been an important cross-road at the base of the Western Hajar Mountains connecting Muscat, Buraimi, and the lower reaches of Dhofar. The Falaj Daris of Nizwa is the largest single Falaj in Oman and provides the surrounding country-side with much needed water for the plantations.

The city, famous for its historical monuments, handicrafts and agricultural products, has an expansive Souq showcasing displaying a wonderful array of handicrafts - coffee pots, swords, leather goods, silverware, antiques, and household utensils. Nizwa fort, completed in the 1650's, was the seat of power during the rule of the Al Ya'ruba dynasty and is Oman's most visited National monument. The reconstructed Sultan Qaboos Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Oman. In the evenings, call Ad’Dhan of muezzin at prayer time fills the air calling the faithful to prayer.

A few kilometers from Nizwa lies are the mysterious town of Bahla. Bahla is the home of myths and legends that have carried through the centuries. Some people today still believe that magic is afoot in Bahla and many Omanis are superstitious when it comes to talking about Bahla. This little town is famous for its pottery. The old Bahla fort with its 12 km wall is the oldest fort in Oman. The fort is believed to have been built in pre-Islamic times and is now undergoing reconstruction sponsored by UNESCO and the site is included on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Monuments. A short distance beyond Bahla lies is the Castle of Jabreen. This massive three-storied structured was also built during Al Ya'ruba dynasty of the mid 1600's. It is a fine example of Islamic architecture with beautiful wooden inscriptions and paintings on the ceilings. Other interesting locales between Nizwa and Bahla are the 400-year-old village of Al Hamra and the mountainside village of Misfah Misafat Al Abreen.

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Old Muscat from the hillside

 

 

 

Western Hajar Mountains

Distance from Muscat - 200 km (to Al Hamra)
Average drive time - 2.5 hours

How to get there – Four-wheel drives are required for off road into the mountains and wadis.

Beyond Nizwa, the southern flanks of the Western Hajar Mountains can be readily seen rising over 2000 meters above the surrounding countryside. Within these mountains, rugged networks of wadi channels have carved dramatic canyons and caves. The most fertile of these have been cultivated by the hardy shuwawis, mountain people, who have adapted to this harsh lifestyle under the tropic sun. At Wadi Tanuf, the ever-flowing springs are tapped to produce a commercially popular brand of drinking water. In Al Hamra, 400 year-old mud houses are still standing and occupied to this day. Out along the nearby wadi at Hasat bin Sult rock, ancient petroglyphs (rock carving) estimated to be over 3000 years old lie in wait.The dark reaches of the Falahi/Hoti cave system await intrepid spelunkers. Hidden neatly in a crevasse on the mountainside lies Misfah al Abreen, a garden paradise of humble farmers and herders.

To the west of Al Hamra is the road to Jebel Shams (mountain of the Sun), the tallest peak in Oman at 3010 meters. Here it is where you can find one of Oman's greatest natural wonders, the Wadi Nakhr Gorge. Inside the canyon, you can haggle with the local rug weavers, trek to the cliff dwellings along the canyon rim and visit remains of towns once occupied ages ago by Persian settlers. Rock climbers will want to test their mettle on the stony crags of Jebel Misht while antiquarians will want to visit the mysterious Beehive Tombs of Bat Baat.

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Old Muscat from the hillside

The Hajar Mountains have many rugged back roads to explore

 

 

Sumail Gap

Distance from Muscat - 75 km
Average drive time - 45 minutes

How to get there – The only natural pass through the northern Jebels traces the trail of the old Silk Route caravans as they carried their goods from the Far East to communities of the interior. Follow the paths taken by Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta to Fanja, the traders' crossroads, and the towns of Bid Bid, Sumail and Al Khobar, replete with castles and fortifications. Stop by the roadside fruit markets of Ad Dasir to sample pomegranates, pumpkin and sweet lemons.

On the far end of the Gap just past Izki is the verdant plantation town of Birkat Al Mauz (which translates "pool of bananas"). Indeed, from the ridge above the town the spreading forest of dates and banana trees give the impression of a deep pool. From this ridge you will see why Birkat Al Mauz is known as the "rainbow city," due to the anticlinal structure of rocks at the base of the ridge behind the town. The rocks frame the old quarter like a rainbow.

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Sohar

Distance from Muscat - 230 km (by highway)
Average drive time - 2 hours

How to get there - Cars can be hired from Xpress Rent a Car.

Sohar, a seaside city, was the capital of Oman many centuries ago and legend has it that it was named after the great grandson of Noah (of the Bibical flood). Originally known as Majan (Persian-Mazoun), the city's name alludes from early ship building activity. The word "ma-gan" means ship's skeleton or chassis stemmed from its copper deposits in the mountains of Majan.

Sohar belongs to the fertile Batinah coast region, and is arguably the most verdant city in Oman and the drive to Sohar from Muscat along the coastal highway passes through thick plantations of dates, mangoes, limes, bananas, vegetables and fodder crops.

The Sohar Fort built around the 1st century AD is one of the major landmarks of this city. Built on a hilltop this fort has five impressive towers and is the only Omani fort that is whitewashed.

Wadi Heebi, lying 63 km away from the city is a good destination for picnickers. The village of Heebi is a collection of ancient dwellings with an untouched rustic look. On a 15-minute detour before Heebi village lies the village of Al Ghudafary, which is fed by an old falaj supplying gardens yielding dates and papayas.

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Old Muscat from the hillside

Sohar was the main city of trade centuries ago.

 

 

Ibra

Distance from Muscat - 150 km
Average drive time- 1 1/2 hours

How to get there – Cars can be hired from Xpress Rent a Car. The Gateway to the Eastern region of Oman, Ibra, in the past, was famous for its fine horses and horsemen. A unique feature of Ibra is the "Wednesday Souq" run entirely by women. On the far side of Ibra lies Al Mansfah village, a community of mansions once owned by prosperous merchants of the 19th century during the reign of Said the Great. With the decline of Said's commercial empire these once stately mansions fell into ruin.

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Old Muscat from the hillside


 

Nakhl- Rustaq Loop

Distance from Muscat - 120 km
Time taken to reach - 1 1/4 hours

How to get there - By car, which can be hired from Xpress Rent a Car.From the Batinah Coast to the west of Muscat along the base of the jebels are several key towns of special interest. Along the coast is the town of Barkha with an impressive fort and Bait Al Naman Castle, an early home for the Al Bu Said dynasty.

Further along the coast is the Jazir Sawaidi, a small chain of islands near the shore where beach combing, fishing and exploring are the prime activities. Closer to the mountains lie the majestic fortresses of Nakhl, Rustaq and Al Hazm, restored by the government and preserved as national treasures.

For those bent on trekking, there are many wadis running through the foothills and mountains, many of them with running water. Wadi Abyadh is ideal for picnicking, while Wadi Bani Awf, Wadi Hajir, Wadi Haylayn and Wadi Bani Kharus offer challenging trails for those keen onWadi bashing. Wadi Sahtan and the Ghubrah Bowl extend into the upper reaches of the Western Hajars, while Wadi Hoquein and Wadi Ghafir offer challenging drives through lush low-lying valleys.

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Old Muscat from the hillside

Nakhal Fort: One of the most spectucular forts in Arabia.

 

 

Salalah

Distance from Muscat - 1030 km
Average drive time - 12 hours by road, (1 hour by flight).

How to get there - Cars can be hired from Xpress Rent a Car. Oman Air operates regular flights from Muscat to Salalah.

Nestled in the southern region of Oman; Salalah has the benefit of the annual Indian monsoon: locally known as the Khareef. This monsoon, which extends from early June to mid September, transforms the countryside into a veritable garden with tumbling waterfalls and meandering streams. The Khareef season is a good time to visit Salalah. In July and August the government plays host for the annual Khareef Festival, a cultural highlight of the season.

Salalah is steeped in myths and legends that date back to biblical times. The tomb of the Prophet Ayoub, better lmpwm as job of the Old Testament can be found in the Jebel Qara In Khawr Rhori lie the ruins of the palace reputed to be that of the Queen of Sheba. In the surrounding countryside on the flanks of the jebels grows the Boswellia sacra better known for the sap it produces: Frankincense. Frankincense, of course, is best known to Christians as one of the gifts of the Magi in Nativity story. In all probability the Frankincense that was a gift to the baby Infant Jesus came from Oman as the Boswellia sacra tree grows nowhere else.

For most of the year, the unspoiled beaches of Salalah are ideal for scuba diving, canoeing, sailing, jet skiing and diving. The marshy khawrs along the coastline are sanctuaries to a broad variety of migrating birds turning the region into a bird watchers paradise, But during the summer Salalah is easily Oman's coolest destination to visit during the Khareef with its crisp unpolluted air, cool misty clime, high rolling seas and leafy ambiance.

Less than half an hour's drive from Salalah is Ain Razat, a picnic spot with springs, hills, gardens and streams. Nearby is the equally resplendent Ain Sahanawt. Seventy kilo- meters east of Salalah lies Mirbat, famous for Bin Ali's tomb (Bin Ali was revered in the early days of Islam as a sage and holy man.). Taqah, 36kms from Salalah is a picturesque, quaint village. The fort at Taqah goes back several hundred years and is well stocked with authentic decorations and appointments.

Rising high above the coast is the Jebel Samhan plateau, the highest point in Dhofar at 1800 meters. Here you can find the hanging valley of Wadi Dirbat, which is impressive in full flood. Further into the jebels is Tawi Attir (the hole of the birds), a natural sink hole over 100 meters wide and 250 meters deep. Nestled in a hidden valley is the Baobab Forest with huge bulbous trees, one tree over 2000 years old and 30 feet in diameter at its base.

To the west of Salalah are many stretches of beautiful beaches. One of the most popular of these is Mughsayl where you can find unusual blowholes in the rocky shelf close to the shore. These holes display dramatic bursts of water and foam sometimes reaching 50 feet in the air. Further to the west close to the Yemen border lies the town of Rakhyut and is a pleasant spot for picnic and swim in the ocean.

To the north of Salalah is the region known as the Nejd. This is a barren desolate area that is actually the southern fringe of the R'ub Al Khali. Here you find sweeping sand dunes and parched wadis. Lying 175 km north of Salalah is the remote village of Shisr. Here in the early nineties, with the help of satellite imagery from the space shuttle, explorers found what they believe to be the lost city of Ubar. Called by T. E. Lawrance (of Arabia) as the "Atlantis of the sands", Ubar was once considered to be the trading centre for frankincense before it was buried in the rising dunes.

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Old Muscat from the hillside

The city of Salalah, the administrative capital of Dhofar Governorate, lies on the Arabian Sea, around 1,040 Km from Muscat

 

 

Wahiba Sands

Distance from Muscat: 190kms
Average drive time: 2hrs

How to get there:
Saloon cars and 4-wheel drives can be hired from Car rental agencies. You can reach the Wahiba Sands by saloon car but to drive into the sands requires a 4-wheel drive.

The great Wahiba sands are longitudinal dunes 200 km long and 100 km wide running south from the Eastern Hajars to the Arabian Sea. The dunes are 100-150 metres high in shades of colour from orange to hues of amber. Bedouin camps can be found along the tracks and trails in this isolated desert. In sporadic areas can be found stands of single-species woodlands. Where the sands meet the ocean, outcrops of aolianite (sand compressed into rock) can be found displaying unusual and attractive abstract shapes. Here the beaches mellow into soft shades of yellows and whites.

To the west of the Wahiba of the small towns of Rawdah, Samad Ash Shan, Al Akdar and Lizq. Rawdah and Samad Ash Shan contain ruins and reconstructions of old forts while Al Akdar is the home of Omanis pit weavers who design elegant textiles from their looms dug into the ground. At Lizq can be found remains of structures that date back to Bronze Age. South of Lizq are the prosperous towns of Al Mudaybi and Sinaw where you can find almost every day the bustling Bedouin souq at the centre of town.

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Old Muscat from the hillside

 

 

 

Musandam Peninsula

Distance from Muscat: 500 km
Average drive time: 6 hrs by road, 45minutes by flight

How to get there:
To reach Khasab, the primary town in the region, travel by car up the Batinah coast for a six-hour ride. To complete the drive to Khasab requires passing through the United Arab Emirates for which a road permit from the Oman ROP (Police) and visas (for some nationalities). Daily flights from Muscat are operated by Oman Air. No visas required.

The journey by air to the Musandam, dubbed as the "Norway of the Middle East" because of the inlets likened to Norway's fjords, provides a spectacular bird's eye view. The stark mountains of this region rise 2000 meters out of the Arabian Gulf. The patterns and textures of the mountains are altogether striking. From November to March is particularly an ideal time to visit the Musandam.

Upon your arrival you will want to book a dhow to visit Khawr Ash Shamm. Here you will find placid waters, marine life, secluded beaches and isolated outposts. A stop over at Telegraph Island is a highlight of this trip. Dhow trips can also be arranged to visit the cliff side village of Kumzar. By land you can rent a 4 wheel drive to see Khawr Najd, Jebel Harim (the highest point in Musandam) and the Acacia forest near Sal Al Ala.

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Old Muscat from the hillside
 
 

 

Masirah Island

Masirah is idyllic for those who really want to get away from it all. It is an island in the Indian Ocean, 20 kms off central Oman coast just South of the Wahiba Sands. The stark rocky landscape is rimmed with isolated beaches whose only visitors are the logger head turtles that come to nest there. Beachcombers may come across a variety of shell fish and other speciments of marine life. There is also evidence of early settlements.

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Old Muscat from the hillside

 

Jebel Akhdar

Jebel Akhdar in Arabic means "Green Mountains" and this region of the most verdant outside of Salalah and the Batinah Coast. To go there requires a 4-wheel drive ( and a road permit because of military installations in the area). One of the most scenic areas in Oman, coupled with the friendly local inhabitants, this region is a natural spot for tourism. Points of interest include the towns of Wadi Bani Habib, Saiq and Al Ayn, where local farmers raise grapes, pomegranates, apricots and walnuts. The climate is moderate year round as the mean altitude is about 1800 metres. Also of interest is the lookout over the canyon recently named Diana's Point, for the late Princess of Wales who spent time here in the late 80s.

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Old Muscat from the hillside

At about 10,000 feet above sea level, Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar (The Green Mountain) is the highest peak in the Eastern Hajar mountains and one of the highest points in the Sultanate

 
 
 
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