Less affluent than many of its oil-rich and decidedly showy neighbours, Oman’s modern development has been comparatively slow-paced with a laidback affability the country’s pay-off. Crumbling Portuguese forts and tranquil fishing villages line the coast’s secluded shorelines, magnificent desert dunes and oases mottle the interior and traditionally garbed Bedouins can be spied drifting through the spice-filled souqs. Best of all, with their chunk of the Arabian Gulf having long served as a stopover point to centuries of merchant traders and explorers, the Omanis make for consummate hosts, ever keen to show off their country’s wares.
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At a glance
|Capital city:||Muscat (population 350,000)|
|Time zone:||(GMT+04:00) Abu Dhabi, Muscat|
|Electricity:||Type C (European 2-pin) Type G (Irish/British 3-pin)|
Best time to visit Oman
When it comes to the country’s weather, Oman is often divided into two regions – north and south – to account for two very different climates. Mid October to mid-March, when the weather is pleasantly warm, the mountain scenery clear and the rains light, is the best time to visit the more crowd-drawing north. Throughout the remainder of the year, the heat and humidity can be really quite oppressive – particularly along the coast. This being said, southern Oman receives some respite during the khareef (the monsoon that lasts from mid-May to mid-August) that transforms Dhofar (the local name for the south) into a stunning plot of greenery.
History and government
Oman’s colossal history (archaeological evidence suggests that parts of the country have been inhabited since the Stone Age) tracks from eras of remarkable prosperity and regional influence to self-imposed isolation, civil strife, foreign occupation and pretty much everything in between.
From as far back as 5000 BC, the land amassed great wealth due to its trade in frankincense, myrrh and, later on, copper. With this wealth, however, came foreign interest, and between the 6th century BC and the 7th century AD the country fell under the control of three Persian dynasties – the Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids – before becoming totally enamoured with Islam. Introduced by Amr ibn al-As, a disciple of the Prophet Mohammed, the faith flourished under the Bani Nabhan dynasty for 500 years.
At the beginning of the 16th century, keen to exploit the disunity that had spread through the country and expand their own trade routes, the Portuguese arrived. Largely content with commanding coastal sentry points and building forts (many of which still stand), they made few ventures into the interior and, as a result, were eventually ousted by conspiring inland tribes. Oman then challenged the Portuguese in East Africa and West Asia and gained numerous coastal forts and a foothold in the lucrative slave and spice trades. This allowed Oman to rebuild its wealth to great success. The Al Said dynasty assumed power in 1749 and, despite centuries of interfamilial squabbling, still holds it today.
In July 1970, having ousted his father from power in a bloodless coup, Qaboos bin Said al Said dismissed the conservative isolationist policies that had characterised his father’s rule and set the country on course for modernisation and economic reform. Oman’s society has since found a balance of having a deep respect for tradition, a practical regard for technological progress and enviable health care and education systems.
Top 5 Omani Souvenirs
Like the rest of the Arabian Gulf, coffee drinking is an integral part of everyday life in Oman. Notably thicker and spicier than the typical western blend, this refreshment is always offered to guests upon arrival and customarily served in graceful, long-bodied pots called dallahs. Traditionally fashioned from silver in Nizwa, bronze models are more standard these days, though no less elegant. Some really old dallahs also contain small pebbles inside the lid, which both announce the boiling of water and alert company to anyone lifting the lid to add poison! Bring back one of these as the perfect kitchen addition for those who regularly suspect their friends of plotting to kill them.
Ever had dinner guests who have stayed on long after you want to go to bed? If so, you may also like to acquire yourself an Omani incense burner – or majmar. Ornately carved silver orbs used primarily for burning frankincense, a majmar is produced when the final round of coffee has been served and – rather unsubtly – wafted around a guest’s body to signal that their departure is desired. Think of it as the equivalent of yawning loudly and saying: ‘so, should I call you a cab then?’
In times past, when it was forbidden for Omani men to wear jewellery, the shrewd among them got around this by taking to having their weaponry decorated. The result is khanjar, the curved silver daggers that now stand as the nation’s most iconic emblem. Featured on both the national flag and the one rial note, khanjars are these days mostly worn at symbolic occasions. Unsheathing it does still signify that you are seeking revenge or would like to assassinate somebody however - so don’t just whip it out to spread the garlic sauce more evenly across your kebab.
4. Henna tattoo
Henna tattooing is common among Omani women and can make for some very beautiful – and temporary – bodily decoration. The designs generally fade after five days or so, though make sure you go to a reputable artist who uses a traditional henna recipe. Some modern hennas have had chemicals and dyes added to hasten the drying process, which can result in stinging, scarring and even health risks. Be particularly wary of black henna.
If it was a good enough gift for baby Jesus, it should be good enough for Aunt Mildred.
FAQs on Oman
Cappuccino = USD 3.50
Meal at an inexpensive restaurant = USD 4
Meal for two at a mid-range restaurant = USD 23
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
13 Jan Milad un Nabi (Birth of the Prophet Muhammad)
27 May Lailat al Miraj (Night of Ascension)
23 Jul Renaissance Day
28 Jul Eid al-Fitr (End or Ramadan)
04 Oct Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice)
25 Oct Islamic New Year
5 Nov Birthday of HM Sultan Qaboos
22 Nov National Day
Please note these dates are for 2014. For a current list of public holidays go to: www.worldtravelguide.net/oman/public-holidays
Health and Safety
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
The World Health Organisation
also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/
Oman Travel Tips
Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.
Top responsible travel tips for Oman
1. Be considerate of Omani customs, traditions, religion and culture.
2. Dress modestly and respectfully. Shoulders to knees should be covered and shoes removed when entering places of worship.
3. Be conservative in engagements with members of the opposite sex. Even fleeting glances or interactions can be interpreted as bearing flirtatious overtones. Needless to say, public displays of affection are very much frowned upon.
4. Always use the right hand in passing, giving and receiving objects. The left hand is used for bathroom tasks.
5. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water.
6. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.
7. When bargaining at markets, stay calm, be reasonable and keep a smile on your face. It's meant to be fun!
8. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it - simple greetings will help break the ice.
9. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive and supports the local community.
10. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.
11. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.
12. When on community visits or homestays, refrain from giving gifts or money to locals.
|Sultan in Oman||Jan Morris|
|The Sultan’s Shadow||Christian Bird|
|Atlantis of the Sands: The Search for the Lost City of Ubar||Ranulph Fiennes|
|Arabian Sands||Wilfred Thesiger|