The Sultanate of Oman is home to a diverse set of attractions which, unless you're familiar with the country, come as quite a surprise. Whether you are looking for fun or adrenaline-pumping adventure, there is no dearth of things to do. You can spend a fun day with dolphins or turtles, or opt for retail therapy in the popular souks. The more adventurous can choose from off-roading, camping, diving and Wadi-bashing, among other activities.
Muscat is one of the most interesting and attractive cities of the Arabian Peninsula and was declared Arab City of Culture for 2012. The heart of the old city is ringed by an amphitheatre of jagged bare rocks and is dominated by two imposing 16th century Portuguese fortresses. Museums housed in old mansions and forts tell the history of Oman, while Muttrah's souq is packed with the exotic wares of the orient, and the marble clad Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque presents a magnificent example of modern Islamic architecture. With an afternoon to spare, the chance to take a Dolphin watching cruise is hard to resist.
2. Nizwa Livestock Market
Nizwa's colourful livestock market is a spectacle full of human interest which no visitor to Oman should omit. Every Friday morning the ancient capital of Oman's interior becomes a hive of activity as cattle, sheep, and goats are auctioned amongst scenes of great excitement. Hundreds of local men in their elegant long dishdashas and distinctive kuma hats, along with brightly dressed ladies (some of whom wear traditional Bedouin facemasks), attend the event and unwittingly upstage the livestock in this timeless and fascinating scene.
3. Jebel Akhdar Villages
The mountain villages of Oman's Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) are perched precariously on the edge of sheer cliffs and command some of the most memorable views in the country. Here, at an altitude of over 2,000 metres, the climate is much cooler than the rest of Oman and amongst the desolate rock are pockets of 'mini Edens' where exotic fruits grow on steep terraced fields – a total contrast from much of the country. The Jebel Akhdar is the location of the stunning easy going 'Four Villages' trek (2 hrs).
4. Wahiba Sands
The elegant rippling dunes of the Wahiba Sands are the quintessential image of Arabia for many visitors. Made famous by the explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger in the 1950s, and covering an area the size of Wales, this enormous sand sea with dunes rising up to 150 metres provides a feast of aesthetically satisfying geometrical designs. The opportunity to spend a night or two in the wilderness and experience the peace of the desert and magnificence of the night sky should not be passed up lightly.
5. Wadi Bani Awf
Serpentine Wadi Bani Awf winds dramatically through the Hajar Mountains connecting the coastal Batinah plain with the country's interior and is widely considered to be the best off-road driving experience in Oman. This rugged mountain valley has incredible mountain scenery and presents stunning photo opportunities almost at every turn. A truly unforgettable drive!
6. Wadi Nakhr Gorge
Popularly known as the "Grand Canyon" of Oman, Wadi Nakhr cuts dramatically into the belly of Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in the country (3,005 m), and is one of Oman's great natural wonders. This amphitheatre like chasm plunges down for over a kilometre to the valley floor below and is best viewed either from the observation point high up on Jebel Shams, or from the stunning 'Balcony Walk'.
7. Bahla Fort
One of Oman's four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the pottery centre of Bahla is the site of a hugely impressive, and recently restored, fortress of pre-Islamic origin which attests to the power and ingenuity of the medieval Banu Nebhan tribe. Bahla town is protected by a wall over 8 miles long which was once guarded by a special detachment of slaves.
8. Ras al-Jinz Turtle Beach (Sur)
Ras al-Jinz is the most important nesting site of the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas) on the Indian Ocean. Here, thousands of turtles return annually to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs thereby creating what is arguably the finest natural spectacle in Oman. The best time to see turtles laying their eggs is between June and August. September to November are the best months to see both laying and hatching. Turtles arrive at Ras al-Jinz throughout the year but tend to avoid the beach at full moon.
9. Musandam Fjords - Khasab
One of the most scenic and least developed areas in Oman, the Musandam Peninsula is known for its spectacular rugged mountains and fjord-like sunken valleys which have led the area to be called "The Norway of Arabia". One of the great attractions of visiting Musandam is taking a relaxing dhow cruise into Khor ash Sham to explore the dramatic 'fjord' with its incredibly sheer cliffs and crystal clear water. The combination of amazing scenery, swimming, and possibly spotting dolphins make this excursion truly unforgettable.
10. The Frankincense Coast - Salalah
Located some thousand kilometres to the south of Muscat, the southern Omani province of Dhofar is the home of frankincense. Scenically it comes as a great surprise since it catches the southwest monsoon and is very different from northern Oman. Between July and early September, during a season known as the 'khareef', coastal Dhofar is almost miraculously transformed into a land with lush pastures, flowing rivers, and waterfalls. Quite unlike any other part of Arabia!