Have you ever thought about visiting Oman?
The Sultanate of Oman is a destination where your dreams of 1001 nights will come true. Only few countries have changed so dramatically in such a short space of time, from travelling on a donkey to the next village to a infrastructure most countries would be proud of nowadays.
The big change came in 1970 when Sultan Qaboos came to the throne in a bloodless coup. Since then Oman is celebrating its “Renaissance”.
But you can still feel the spirit of the Arabian myth as the Omani never lost their affinity to their cultural roots and that’s why you’ll find in Oman what you’ll miss in Dubai.
Here are a few things that you should know when planning on visiting Oman – you can also discover Oman here.
Here is an overview:
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Things to know about visiting Oman
Visiting Oman isn’t necessary at the top of most traveler’s bucket lists. But, it’s a fascinating country to visit, deep in cultural history and traditions. If you’re unsure about whether it’s a destination you’d like to visit, first put some effort into learning more about Oman.
Then, once you’ve decided to put it on your travel list, here are a few things you need to know.
The best time to visit Oman is between November to mid-March
The best time to visit Oman is between November and Mid-March, when the average temperature is around 25° Celsius. In Summer, it’s very hot and hazy in Oman.
In southern Oman, a good time to visit is also in September after the rainy season when everything is beautifully green here.
In more detail, Oman has a subtropical climate, but is also influenced by the Indian monsoon, offering a wide variety of climatic conditions. Temperatures range from freezing in the Hajar mountains to 50 degrees Celsius in the desert interior.
Overall, however, the weather is very warm throughout the year.
The climate is particularly pleasant in winter, when daytime temperatures reach a comfortable 25 degrees. The coastal region in the north around the capital Muscat is characterized by mild winters, while the summer months are extremely hot. From April to October, the thermometer rises to 35 degrees and it is very humid. Rainfall is rare.
In the south of the country, the situation is similar, but here rainfall is abundant due to the monsoon. The rain makes for a green landscape and high humidity, which often leads to dense fog. This mist is unique to the Arabian Peninsula and attracts many wealthy Arabs who come to marvel at the natural phenomenon.
The months of November through March are also an ideal time to travel in the desert interior of the country, as it does not become unbearably hot during this time. Only in the northeastern Hajar Mountains are there very cool winter conditions with occasional snowfall. During the summer, thermometers show an average of 30 degrees during the day, but temperatures drop significantly at night.
The sea along Oman’s coast is great for swimming all year round, with water temperatures ranging from 23 degrees in February to 32 degrees in July.
Tip: If you decide to go to the desert during the winter months (and you should) bring some warmer clothes as it really can get very cold here during the night.
You’ll find frankincense everywhere
The scent of frankincense is everywhere. Whether you go to a typical souq or step in one of the many luxury hotels, you can’t escape the scent of frankincense.
Oman was the centre of the frankincense trade and myth says back then even the Queen of Sheba ordered Omani frankincense as a gift to King Solomon. And I bet you know the “legend” of the three wise men in this book called Bible…
You should know that incense is an important part of Oman’s culture and heritage. It is an aromatic resin extracted from the bark of a tree of the genus Boswellia and is mainly used in the production of incense and perfume.
Frankincense is also known for its healing and restorative properties. Oman is known worldwide for producing the finest frankincense, also known as Luban.
If you are looking for the best quality frankincense, you should travel to the Dhofar region. Here you can buy the resin in the souqs, especially the exclusive Hafa Souq in Salalah. The frankincense trail in the Dhofar region is a historic site visited by Marco Polo and Lawrence of Arabia. The frankincense tree (Boswellia sacra) can still be found in Wadi Dawkah, where it grows in the extreme heat of the region.
You can visit the Museum of the Land of Frankincense in Al Baleed in Salalah and see the ruins of the Al Baleed Archaeological Park. Here you’ll learn all about the frankincense trade and the maritime power that helped the region flourish in the 12th century.
Things to do and see in Oman
Muscat, the capital of Oman
The beautiful city of Muscat, the capital of Oman, is nestled in an enchanting bay surrounded by majestic cliffs. Here, magnificent architectural masterpieces await you to be admired.
Together with its suburbs, including Mutrah, Ruwi and Qurum, it forms the well-known Capital Area, home to approximately 700,000 people. When people talk about Muscat, they usually mean this region.
The historic center of Muscat, also known as Old Muscat, is picturesquely situated in a bay surrounded by imposing cliffs and is home to about 30,000 inhabitants. The old town is relatively compact and well laid out, and is best explored on foot. It can be a bit tricky to get around by car due to the one-way streets, so it is advisable to explore the city on foot. You could also take this tour here.
Muscat Half-Day City Tour
Explore Muscat on an exciting half-day city tour and discover the fascinating mix of ancient and modern architecture. Learn how the city has developed dramatically over the last 30 years, yet still retains its ancient culture and heritage. Your driver will show you how to use the audio guide system to benefit from GPS-based commentary throughout the tour.
Begin your tour with a visit to the impressive Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and continue your journey through the Ministry Quarter. Here you will discover a series of modern buildings decorated with touches of ancient Islamic architecture. Immerse yourself in the bustle of the fish market and explore the narrow alleys of Muttrah Souk to inhale the tantalizing aroma of exotic spices, coffee beans and traditional remedies.
Delve deeper into Oman’s fascinating history at the Bait Al Zubair Museum. And don’t forget to take a memorable photo in front of the magnificent Al Alam Palace, flanked by the imposing Portuguese twin forts of Mirani and Jalali.
Duration: 4 hours
Cancelation: Free up to 24 hours in advance
- Transportation by luxury vehicle
- Group tour
- GPS-enabled multilingual audio guide in five languages
- Entrance fees
- Pick-up from your hotel or cruise port
There are loads of outdoor activities in Oman
Oman is a great destination for every outdoor fan. Besides hiking, climbing, snorkeling and diving, there’s one thing which will make your heart skip a beat: Offroad driving.
Although Oman has an excellent infrastructure there are still vast tracts of land without a road where you have the chance to find literally hidden treasures like an unknown wadi. Bashing the dunes in the desert is a thing you’ll never forget. Besides the fun it’s important to be careful as Oman is a big country and if you have a car crash or even just a flat tire it can take some time until help arrives.
Sidenote: Road signs are written in English and Arabic and there are even some special brown tourist signs which highlight sites of interest.
The locals are really friendly
The Omani people are very friendly and open. It will often happen that they start a conversation with you and if you visit a town or area where not so many tourists go to it can even happen that they will invite you for dinner. See below for more information, when that happens.
Like in most Arabic countries you shouldn’t take pictures especially of women without asking. It happened to me that I had a nice conversation with an Omani woman but when I asked to take her picture she denied it but introduced me to her husband and kids who were happy to have their picture taken.
Like traveling anywhere, it’s always important to be respectful to the locals and their customs.
Appropriate clothing in Oman
Another way to be respectful to local customs is to wear appropriate clothing.
When choosing clothing, be sure to respect the Muslim traditions of the country. Women should cover their shoulders, upper arms and knees, and men should not wear tight or loose clothing. It is not necessary to wear a head veil in Oman, as is recommended for travel to Iran.
In Oman you can wear light summer clothes all year round. However, during the winter months (November to February) it can get a bit chilly in the evenings. Pack a light sweater or jacket and a scarf.
If you are invited to a private home, it is customary to take off your shoes in front of the house – at the latest in front of the carpet.
You should know that Omanis take great pride in their appearance. Their dishdashas are always spotless and neatly creased, while they are surrounded by a pleasant scent of perfume – even in temperatures of 45 degrees in the shade.
So when packing your travel wardrobe, make sure you are well groomed and dressed appropriately when you come into contact with the locals. Otherwise, a well-worn trekking shirt can quickly make you feel underdressed.
The right clothing when visiting a mosque in Oman
When visiting a mosque, you must cover yourself completely (except for hands, feet, and face).
For women this means to cover their knees, shoulders and cleavage and when visiting mosques also to cover their hair and ankles. Men should actually consider the same, except covering the hair.
It happened to a friend who was wearing normal (even covering the knees) shorts when we wanted to enter Muscat Festival that security refused to let him in like this (carrying a Sarong in your bag can be very helpful in such situations).
It is convenient to wear shoes that are easy to slip out of, as you must take them off before entering a mosque.
What to wear at the beach in Oman
For men and women, functional shirts and leggings are appropriate swimwear for the natural pools of mountain wadis and public beaches. On private beaches and in the pool areas of beach resorts, of course, normal swimwear is sufficient – but “topless” is an absolute no-go.
It may be tempting to walk the beaches outside the hotel resorts in a bikini, as is often the case in Salalah. But for the locals, it’s about the same as someone walking down a pedestrian street completely naked – totally inappropriate! You should always try to dress respectfully and appropriately to make a positive impression.
Clothes for the Oman Mountains and for hiking
At the turn of the year, temperatures in the high mountains (Jebel Shams, Jebel Akhdar) can drop to 0 degrees. It can also get cold at night in the desert. We recommend that you bring a warm sweater, fleece jacket or light down jacket when traveling to these areas. But don’t worry, the sun will still warm you up during the day!
Sturdy, ankle-high footwear is essential for hiking in the mountains. If you want to explore the wadis, you should wear waterproof shoes or trekking sandals. Good bathing shoes will also do the trick. Sturdy sandals or light sneakers or trekking shoes are a good choice as most forts, monuments and markets have uneven steps and stony alleyways.
If you are hiking in the desert or mountains, we strongly recommend that you wear a hat or cap to protect your head from the sun. The sun’s rays are intense even in winter, so be sure to protect yourself well.
Behavior rules in Oman
Throughout the Arab world, the right hand is considered pure. Therefore, it is important to use only the right hand to pass objects and eat. Since the left hand is used for toilet hygiene, it is considered unclean. Are you left-handed? Then discreetly inform a trusted person so that you can avoid the faux pas and act differently than usual.
Shoe soles are considered dirty in Oman. Never point them at someone, even if you are sitting at a table with locals, and cross your legs under the table. This will be considered a gross insult and you will be resented.
If you sneeze, react quickly and tilt your head to the left for the final expulsion.
When you get invited to a private home
If you are invited to dinner by an Omani, you are welcome to bring a small gift. Traditional souvenirs from your home country, home accessories or chocolates are very welcome. Remember, however, that for religious reasons your gift should not contain alcohol.
It is important to wash your hands before and after eating – this is an important part of ritual purity.
After the meal, you should leave the table in a timely manner. Even if you are asked to stay several times, remember that it is only a gesture of hospitality.
Tipping in Oman
In Oman, tipping is very important to many people as part of their income. Nevertheless, it should not be distributed without consideration, but given as an appreciation for services rendered – at your own discretion and depending on your satisfaction. When eating out, a service charge of 15-20% is usually already included.
Generally, in Oman, the guide is tipped somewhat more than the drivers.
Local currency: Rial Omani
The currency of Oman is the Rial Omani (RO), which is divided into 1000 baiza. Since the exchange rate is fixed to the US dollar, it is subject to the same fluctuations. One Omani Rial (OMR= 1,000 Baizas) is equivalent to approximately 2.30 EUR (as of December 2018), which offers good value for money.
Banks are usually open from Saturday to Wednesday from 8:00 am to 12:00 noon and on Thursdays from 8:00 am to 11:00 am. If you find yourself outside of regular hours, you can find ATMs available at most major supermarkets, hotels and other locations throughout the country. AMEXCO, VISA, Diner’s Club and MasterCard are accepted by all international hotels and banks, while MAESTRO (EC) can be used at all Oman National Bank ATMs.
Overall, Oman offers a safe and convenient way to change or withdraw money during your stay in the country.
Visiting the popular Souks and markets in Oman
In these markets you can still find traditional craftsmanship. Masterfully crafted silverware sold by the kilo, intricate carvings, precious Omani incense or detailed weavings: the souks are treasure troves.
All you have to do is rummage around.
In Salalah, in addition to the fish and vegetable market, there is an incense souk and a gold souk. The Souq al Husn in the old town of Salalah is very traditional, not only in its architecture but also in its range of goods. The Souq Al Hirafiyyin, near the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, is not quite as old, but you will find all the goods offered in the other souks – especially incense.
Muscat’s souk, on the Corniche of Matrah, has the largest selection of goods on the Arabian Peninsula.
Every Friday in Nizwa, you can visit a quaint farmers’ market where camels and horses are sold. If you get up early enough, you can watch the Bedouins haggle.
Take your time and visit the souks to find the right souvenir. You are sure to find what you are looking for.
Haggle and bargain in Oman
The experience of watching the colorful hustle and bustle of Oman’s souks is absolutely unique. But it becomes even more captivating when you try to bargain yourself. Go ahead and try it, it’s really fun.
Basic phrases and common expressions in Oman
As you explore Oman, you will quickly discover that the majority of locals have a solid command of English. Especially in cities like Mascate, Sour or Sohar, you will find it easier to communicate if you know some basic English. Just get used to the local accent and don’t be afraid to ask for repetition from time to time. Gestures can also be helpful in some situations.
Arabic may be complex when it comes to writing and reading, but when it comes to speaking, all you have to do is listen.
If you want to practice before you leave, pay attention to how Arabic is pronounced in the Middle East. The accents are very different between the Maghreb and the Middle East, and sometimes words change.
While in Oman, in addition to speaking Arabic, you can ask the following question: “Do you speak English? Many people know this language, even if only a few words. This will get you into conversation with the locals and maybe someone will even speak English.
Even if you don’t speak the same language, most Omanis will try to make contact with you. Smiles, looks and gestures are universal languages. If you learn a few words, you will encounter a lot of goodwill from the Omanis.
Useful travel phrases for Oman
Hello or Welcome – Márhaba, ahlan
(reply) – áhlayn
Greetings – As-salám aláykum (peace be with you)
(reply) – Waláykum as-salám (and to you peace)
Good morning – Sabáh al-kháyr
(reply) – Sabáh an-núr (a morning of light)
Good evening – Misá al-kháyr
(reply) – Misá an núr
Goodnight – Tisbáh al-kháyr (wake up well)
(reply) – Wa ínta min áhlu (and you are from His people)
Goodbye – Máa Saláma
How are you? – Káyf hálak? (to a man)/Káyf hálik? (to a woman)
Fine, thank you – Zayn, al-hámdu, li-la
Please – Min fádlak (to a man) – Min fádlik (to a woman)
Thank you – Shúkran
Thanks be to God – Al-hámdu li-llá
God willing (hopefully) – Inshá allá
Yes – Náam or áiwa
No – La
What is your name? – Shú ismak? (to a man) – Shú ismik? (to a woman)
My name is… – Ismi…
Where are you from? – Min wáyn inta? (for a man) – Min wáyn inti? (for a woman)
I am from: … – ána min …
May I take your photo? – Mumkin sura, min fádlak? (to a female: Mumkin sura, min fádlik?)
How do you say . . . in Arabic? – Chayf tegool . . . bil’arabi?
Do you speak English? – Btíhki inglízi? – Teh ki ingleezi?
I speak English – Bíhki inglízi
I do not speak Arabic – Ma bíhki árabi
I do not understand – Ma báfham
Repeat, once more – Kamán márra
Do you have…? – ándkum…?
What is this? – Shú hádha?
I like – ana bhib
I don’t like – Ana ma bhib
Slow down – Shwáyya
Go away! – Imshi!
How long, how many hours? – Kam sáa?
You’re welcome – Afwan
OK – Tayib – N’zain – Kwayyis
Excuse me – Afwan – lau samaht
Sorry – Afwan – Muta’assif
I don’t know – Mabaraf
No problem – Ma fi mushkila
How much? – Bikaim?
How many? – Cham?
I’m ill – Ana mareed
Useful travel phrases when visiting a restaurant in Oman
Hello: Marhaba (pronounced mar-ha-ba)
Excuse me: Afwan (pronounced ah-fah-wan)
Please: Min fadlik (to a man) or Min fadlik (to a woman)
Thank you: Shukran (pronounced shoo-kran)
You’re welcome: Afwan (same as above)
I don’t understand: Ma afham (pronounced ma ahf-ham)
Do you speak English?: Bitakallam Inglizi? (pronounced bee-ta-kal-lam ing-glee-zee)
Do you have a menu?: Ahadkum menu? (pronounced ah-had-kum men-oo)
I would like to order: Ahiba tilaweez (pronounced ah-hee-ba te-la-weez)
What is this?: Shu hadha? (pronounced shoo had-ha)
How much is it?: Beekheir kam? (pronounced bee-kheir kahm)
Can I have a glass of water?: Ahiba igsara may? (pronounced ah-hee-ba i-gsara may)
I am vegetarian: Ana nabati (pronounced ah-na na-ba-tee)
I am allergic to seafood: Ana marid bi l-bahr (pronounced ah-na ma-reed bee l-bahr)
I would like to try something traditional Omani food: Ahiba abduq al-akl al-Omani (pronounced ah-hee-ba ab-dook al-akl al-oh-ma-nee)
Can I take a picture of you?: Mumkin asuwartak? (pronounced moom-kin as-oo-war-tak)
Can I have the bill please?: Ahiba l-hisab min fadlik? (pronounced ah-hee-ba l-hee-sab min fad-lik)