Magical Muscat and beyond

By Harriet Cooper for High Life magazine

Bandar Khayran, a coastal town in northeastern Oman

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September 2016

With laid-back locals, a rich heritage and captivating landscapes, Oman might be less glitzy than its Middle Eastern neighbours Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but it is awash with exotic delights and sights waiting to be discovered.

Whether you’re exploring wind-blown deserts or soaking up the atmosphere of an ancient souk, you’ll be struck by the ease and willingness with which Omanis welcome you into their country.

The sparkling emerald waters of the Bimmah sinkhole in Hawiyat Najm Park provide welcome relief on a hot day

  • Muttrah Beach, Oman © Saleh AlRashaid / Getty

    Tip top

    Tipping is very uncommon in Oman and not part of the culture. Restaurants and taxi drivers will often find it strange if you tip, but will appreciate a heartfelt thank you.

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  • Mutrah Souk, Muscat © photo muguette / Getty

    Bargain hunt

    Souks and markets stalls are part of Muscat life. If you order coffee from a local café, don’t be surprised if it comes with a side of sweet date palms, it’s tradition.

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  • Wahiba Sands, Oman © Matteo Colombo / Getty

    Starry nights

    Try to visit the Wahiba Sands during sun down and watch the burned sands disappear into darkness while the stars create a twinkling carpet overhead. Book return flights from London to Muscat from:£349 return

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But Oman is known for its low-key, laid-back charm. Even its new buildings are whitewashed like their predecessors and can’t be more than seven stories high. The result is a city that blends seamlessly into its volcanic and limestone surroundings, as well as its centuries-old history. No wonder that it was recently voted the number one ‘big, soul-satisfying place to visit’ by travel website Skift.

Do as the locals do and take life at a leisurely pace. Who needs retail therapy in shopping malls when you’ve got the beautiful Mutrah Corniche road to stroll along? (Bicycles are available to borrow for free.) Or you can while away the hours wandering the frankincense-scented alleyways of the Mutrah Souk – just remember to look up at the traditional roof of woven palm leaves and wood.

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If you crave wide-open spaces, rent a four-wheel drive to explore Wahiba Sands, a 7,767-mile expanse in Oman’s interior, home to sand dunes, salt flats and Bedouin desert dwellers, who greet you warmly along the way. Or explore one of the largest canyons in the world, Wadi Ghul, known locally as the ‘Grand Canyon of Arabia’.

With the mercury rising to 27°C from December to February, the sparkling emerald waters of the Bimmah sinkhole – in Hawiyat Najm Park, between Muscat and Sur – provide welcome relief on a hot day. So too do the beaches along the country’s pristine 1,000-mile coastline. Snorkel in clear-blue waters, sharing the Arabian Sea with turtles, porpoises and dolphins – magical Oman at its best.

  • Jabal Shams, Wadi Ghul © Oman Tourist Board

    Grand canyon

    Head to the Oman’s highest peak, Jabal Shams, to look down into the awe-inspiring Wadi Ghul ravine. Book return flights from London to Muscat, plus a 7-night hotel stay from:£727 pp

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Overlooking the Gulf of Oman, the luxurious Chedi Muscat is the very picture of serenity, home to the city’s largest spa.

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Indians make up the largest expatriate community in Oman, so there are superb Indian restaurants in Muscat. Mumtaz Mahal – near the impressive Muscat City Amphitheatre – is the place to go.

Don’t miss

The Nizwa Fort makes a perfect Muscat day trip – especially on Fridays, when its morning market is in full swing. Climb the tower for views of the Hajar Mountains.