We recently spent a week in the Sultanate of OMAN! and oh man it was fine. From the fresh humid cold of a harsh Lebanese winter we found ourselves basking in the warmth of the Gulf of Oman after a short 3hr direct flight with omanair.com, (5hrs for the return flight to Beirut that stops in Amman).
Happily we happened upon one of the nicest resorts close to the capital Muttrah recommended by friends. Not a hotel resort so without the package tourists, the Oman Dive Centre (ODC) www.omandivecenter.com caters mainly to dive tourists but has a very sweet private beach, sheltered from the winds that cross the Arabian Sea with very well-appointed beach bungalows. I swear whoever designed these, especially the capacious bathrooms, had spent time more time than me on southern Thai islands or Bali and brought back design features to make the bungalows pleasantly furnished and well considered in terms of lay-out, proximity to others, families, etc. Of course the absence of orchid petals on the pillows is noted but it Oman is mostly desert after all! From the dive centre we headed out to sea for a morning of dolphin watching and taxi-ed into Muttrah to check out the port and the old souk but spent most time on the family-friendly beach, drawing pictures in the sand, soaking up the rays, kayaking the shallow (excellent for young swimmers) bay, scrambling on the rocks that border the bay, hiking the hillsides and chowing on camel burgers. The accommodation price (around $200/night) includes the breakfast and dinner buffet's which were pretty good and perfect for hungry kids.
|Oman Dive Center|
Oman is not cheap...except for gasoline that cost 3.8cents/litre making renting a car totally affordable! Otherwise though it was comparable to Lebanon for accommodation and food in tourist locations but cheaper in local eaterys. If possible though don't let the cost deter you, it is well worth the expense for the experience.
The boys and I arrived in Oman on our own and stayed at the ODC until we were joined by Cecile and took off in a rented car to discover a short strip of Omani coast traveling south from Muscat and its old capital of Muttrah http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscat,_Oman to the town of Sur and on to Ras Al Jinz a distance of 350km but mostly serviced by a super modern highway that winds along the coast. En route we checked out the geomorphologically impressive sites including the Bimmah sinkhole and Wadi Shab where you can hike up the impressive canyon and swim in the pools at the top....high adventure for our little boys!
|Bimmah Sink hole|
We stayed at the Turtle Beach Resort http://www.hotels-oman.com/Turtle_Beach_Resort which is a weirdly comfortable place, perhaps better suited for the weekend warriors of families of migrant workers who are employed by the state of the art gas plants nearby but still functional for us with clean rooms and a clean beach. The main attraction was the turtles who nest nearby on a 35km long coastal reserve at Ras al Jinz http://www.rasaljinz-turtlereserve.com/. It was a definite highlight when we went at night to see a humongous (1m long, 350kg) mother turtle digging the nest to lay her eggs. Watching 2 wee newborn turtles scrabbling their way to the sea was amazing....no pictures allowed at the reserve so none to post, only highly valued memories.
|Turtle Beach Resort|
There are options galore in terms of how to discover Oman, as I said we discovered a short strip of it, but there are many places to go in what you come to realise is a pretty empty country of expansive desert but a beautiful coastline and craggy mountains. Salala in the south is sub-tropical and experiences the monsoon and the Hajar mountains, the fabled city of Nizwa and the sand-dunes of Wahiba are other highlights. You can go on tailor-made tours with this reportedly well-organized company http://www.omantrekkingguides.com or as some Quebecois friends of ours did just rent a car and camp along the way which they said was remarkably safe, fun and definitely the cheapest accommodation option!
Another cool thing about Oman is that for a country with a rich gulf state history it has modernized rapidly but not lost its cultural charm. The Sultan has not gone the way of Dubai or Doha succumbing to steel and glass highrises, they have maintained local architecture and local dress. Omanis are friendly and many speak English well (mandatory learning in schools) so you can have good chats with local people making the culture all the more accessible. Women are equal to men in Oman unlike in other Gulf states and so the jarring perception of their repression exemplified for example by the burka is not very evident and women are seen on the streets and about the place. What goes on behind the closed door of the household is not known. As expected though alcohol is only available from those places accessible to foreigners. From a country with 2 schools and 50km of roads in 1972 it has come an amazingly long way in an astoundingly short period of time and its been done well.
|On the rocks above the ODC|
For Beirutis looking for a holiday alternative to Jordan, Egypt or Cyprus we strongly recommend Oman as a great travel experience. And it is very family friendly. We were lucky to hit the end of the annual Muscat Festival and saw this extravagant show-casing of the country on our last evening which was a stunning spectacular held in a lovely park in downtown Muscat. Comment below if you've been, are going or just want to add!