Just an hour flight from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and home to stunning resorts on sparkling beaches, luxury camps in wind-sculpted dunes, and boutique hotels atop dramatic mountain ranges that soar more than 3 kilometres above sea level, Oman is an unexpected gem. This ancient land is sprinkled with remarkable Bronze Age heritage sites and fables of prophets, kings, queens, castles and empires, silver and gold.
Modern Oman is anchored in millennia-old traditions still carried on the sweet smoke of smouldering frankincense. Oman’s reputation for stability and openness, and developing tourism infrastructure have seen it labelled by many as Arabia’s best-kept secret. But as visitation from Australian and New Zealand grows it seems the secret is well and truly out.
Muscat rests comfortably low-rise by the sea, with a sense of place and a pace of life that is unmistakably Omani. This is a place whose welcoming people and natural assets shine more brightly than high-rise glass and steel ever could.
The Mutrah district winds along the waterfront, home to cafes and the famed Mutrah Souq - a tangle of narrow lanes full of Arabian exotica - gold, silver, textiles, pottery and swirling aromas of spices, frankincense and sandalwood.
THE HIGH MOUNTAINS: Hajar and Jebel Akhdar Mountains
Oman’s soaring mountains may look barren from afar, but waterfalls and springs keep the cooler slopes and valleys fertile.
The highest range is called Jebel Akhdar ('Green Mountains') after endemic juniper woodlands. Jebel Shams ('Sun Mountain') - the Arabian Peninsula’s loftiest spot at more than 3000m altitude - occasionally receives a dusting of snow and offers spectacular views of deep canyons. Pack a cardigan.
MUSANDAM: Oman’s Rugged North
Easily accessible from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Musandam is the perfect getaway from big-city bustle. At Oman’s northernmost tip, Musandam’s towering peaks soar dramatically from fjords teeming with life.
A journey into the breathtaking Sharqiah Sands - 190 kilometres from Muscat - wouldn’t be complete without a stay at a desert camp under a sparkling sky. Camps here echo ancient times when the Sultans set up elaborate dwellings on their desert expeditions.
The port city of Sur sits south of Muscat where huge timber dhows once established sea routes to the cities of the ancient world. Historically, traders from the Far East, Egypt, the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia bartered local frankincense for gold, silk, ivory and spice. Today Sur is renowned for its dhow building yards.
Nizwa was once Oman’s capital, controlling trade routes during the 6th and 7th centuries, and was home to writers, poets and scholars. The city’s centerpiece – a towering 400 year old fort - has been wonderfully restored.
Nizwa's bustling souq is a maze of alleyways dotted with tiny stalls selling frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, vanilla, rosewater and superb handcrafted silver.
Every summer the Kareef monsoon rains sweep across Southern Oman carpeting the landscape in lush vegetation, waterfalls and swollen streams. This unique climate also nurtures the country’s finest frankincense trees.