Our plane touches down at Seeb International Airport in Muscat, capital city of Oman, just before 10am. Strictly speaking it’s still winter, as it was when we left Vienna yesterday, but here on the Arabian peninsula (and at the same latitude as tropical south-east asia) the temperatures aren’t expected to drop below 22ºC (72ºF) all week.We have a two day Oman Air holiday package starting tomorrow, which means today is all ours – and there are things to do in Muscat, this vibrant city. To make the most of it, we’ve hired a car at the airport – why not, in a city where petrol is regularly less than 40 cents per litre. Drive about Oman on the right hand side of the road!
As would be expected of this predominately Muslim nation, Muscat’s skyline is dotted with Mosques. Grandest among these, and one of the few that is open to (respectful) tourists, is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, located on the main road between the airport and the city.
Being careful to avoid prayer times, we remove our shoes and step inside the square prayer hall, which can fit 6,500 worshippers. Modern Islam holds itself to be a religion of peace, and the serenity of this holy place is obvious. Inside, the orderly and spacious nature of the design means we can feel the space much faster than taking in all of the detail. Though there are a small number of individuals praying, it’s clear that they are having their experience and we don’t feel we are intruding. If you’re unfamiliar with Islam, though, it’s hard not to wonder whether you might inadvertently offend somebody just by being here. The Sultanate of Oman, like many middle eastern countries, is working on the balance of cultures.
Back in the car, and we’re heading from the Mosque the Sultan to the Sultan’s official residence, the Al Alam Royal Palace. Not open to the public, we still decide to drive out to the its location on a point of land jutting out into the Gulf of Oman.
A number of Forts mark important points throughout Oman, and though some are recent most are remnants of a colonial past when the country was under Portuguese control. Most famous are the twin forts of Al Mirani and Al Jalali, which stand to attention close by the Al Alam Palace. We walk up the nearby Corniche, to the base of the Mutrah Fort, taking in the view of the twins before ending with an expansive view back over the city.
So far, we haven’t really felt the desert country, and standing by the water as the afternoon progresses we can associate more about Oman’s maritime history than the Bedouin lifestyle further inland. As the nation emerges further as a global destination, diving off its broad coastline is one of the prominent attractions available.
Westerners are advised to understand the local customs, particularly in relation to religion and gender. We’ve found nothing to concern us from having a great experience here. One Australian film-maker created the page Side Trip of a Lifetime about Oman, and has even taken to the streets here to ask other tourists about Oman for Western Women?
Want to Go? Need to Know…
- While some middle-eastern countries are more relaxed than others in regards to western cultural norms, always be respectful of locals
- This is particularly important when visiting Mosques – modest clothing and definitely no shoes
- English can be called Oman’s second language, and particularly in Muscat street signs are translated and English speakers can be found in more tourist locations
- A single entry, one month visa can be purchased for 20 OMR (about $USD50) at the airport
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Have you been to Muscat or driven about Oman? Share your experience – and what we’ve missed – in the comments below.