Oman is synonymous with a holiday for most UAE residents. The friendly neighbourhood nation is the first destination that we head to over a long weekend or the Eid break — for its luxurious family-friendly resorts, picturesque beaches and of course, the fact that it’s a mere three-four-hour-drive away (depending on which emirate you’re driving from). Perfect if you want to skip check-in queues at airports and the hassles of flights altogether.
But Oman is more than just a pampering getaway in Muscat or an escape to rain-kissed Salalah in the summers or a dolphin-sighting cruise trip in Musandam, says Haitham Al Ghassani, the assistant director general for Events and Tourism Awareness. He was in the UAE recently as part of a roadshow promoting tourism in Oman, with the objective of clocking in 11 million visitors by 2040.
‘Oman is steadily becoming a destination for everyone, whether you’re a child or an elderly person, a solo traveller or an adrenalin junkie or a family looking for a culturally engaging visit,’ he says.
So here’s how you can change up your itinerary and rediscover Oman through brand new vistas, experiences and entertainment when you next visit the country.
Pretty but adventurous
Hidden amidst Oman’s magical wadis and arresting mountains is a whole lot of adventure. ‘The geography of Oman lends itself to trekking and hiking and we now have designated paths with signage. Resorts such as Alila and Anantara organise trekking and climbing for families and amateur adventurers,' says Haitam. More of a water baby than a landlubber? Al Masirah Island is teeming with water sports such as kayaking, wind surfing and kite surfing. Oman also has caves such as the Al Hoota cave and Majlis Al Jinn, one of the biggest caves in the world.
Wildlife gets as much attention as wild landscapes do in Oman. ‘We have so many reserves in Oman – turtle reserves in Ras Al Jinz, we have the The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, which is a Unesco World Heritage site,’ says Haitham. Hotels, both existing and up-and-coming ones, are steering towards sustainability. For example the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa organises turtle watching and has a dedicated turtle ranger.
Culture and history lessons
Jebel Akhdar and Salalah are cool in summer but for a real taste of Oman’s rich, layered history, head to Nizwa, the erstwhile capital of Oman. ‘It’s the real hub of culture in Oman and we have some of the Unesco sites such as the Bahla Fort and the ancient Aflaj irrigation systems,’ says Haitham. After culture, head to Ash Sharqiyah region’s Wadi Bani Khalid – fringed by palm trees, the fresh blue-green water looks like an oasis out of a fairytale.
A destination for all seasons
Oman isn’t just a destination for all people, but one you can escape to at any time of year too, no matter what the season. ‘Everyone thinks Salalah is great to visit only during the Khareef season but this isn’t true,’ says Haitham. ‘Salalah is the city with the best occupancy rates throughout the entire year including winter when the weather is pleasant.’ And it’s not just Salalah that’s a misty monsoon haven: ‘places like the Jebel Akhdar, Jebel Shams, and the coastline of Ash Sharqiyah are all affected by the monsoons but they aren’t windy like Salalah and the weather remains a cool 28 degree Celsius.’
There are a myriad new attractions opening in and around Oman. ‘The Royal Opera House Muscat is a world-class facility that hosts events from operas such as La Traviata, to concerts by popular Arab musicians like Nawal Al Kuwaitia, and ballet performances. They have a full season from December to April,’ Haitham says. There’s also the new Oman Convention and Exhibition facility, a multi-storey performance cinema that’s hosting the IGN convention, the Middle East’s biggest convention featuring video games and e-sports, tech and pop culture next month.
Residents of the UAE who belong to 22 nationalities can get a visa on arrival in Oman with a payment of only Dh47. Visa is issued based on whether the applicant fulfils certain guidelines, which can be found online at omantourism.gov.om. You can also apply for an e-visa on the website. Any Indian national who has a visa from the UK, US, Australia, Japan or a Schengen visa in their passport can apply online and receive their visa to Oman in 24 hours.