Abdul Aziz explores the hidden treasures and history that Oman has to offer for a holiday a little less ordinary
It used to be somewhere we went to teach English, but these days Oman has become a popular holiday destination for the Irish. A combination of year-round sunshine, stunning untouched beaches and the fact that Emirates now fly directly from Dublin to Muscat make it an attractive choice for holidaymakers – and especially in winter.
According to Skyscanner’s current ticket prices, flights from Dublin to Muscat are approximately €400 per person during June and July, with the flights roughly the same price in October and November.
“A lot of people are asking about holidays in Oman these days,” says Carla Kitt, a travel consultant for Trailfinders in Dublin. “It’s definitely popular at this time of year when there is little or no sunshine in Europe.
“Oman has become more modernised in recent years. It now offers a number of luxury hotels and has plenty for tourists to do in terms of scenery and attractions. It’s actually a great winter holiday destination.”
Located on the Arabian Peninsula, Oman has a varied terrain consisting of desert, riverbed oases, sand dunes and the long coastline of the Arabian Gulf.
Ruled by a monarchy, the Sultanate of Oman was, in the late 17th Century, a powerful empire, vying with Britain and Portugal for influence in the Gulf region.
Its power peaked in the 19th Century when its influence extended as far as Iran and Pakistan. In the 20th Century it became a British colony, but Muscat remained a principal trading post in the region.
The country was ruled by the Portuguese between 1507 and 1650 and remnants of Colonial architecture from the time can still be seen in ‘Old Muscat’ – the older part of the city located on the Corniche, to this day. Here you will find the palace built by the Sultan of Quboos in the 1970s.
There are few high rise buildings in Muscat, which gives it an authentically Arabian feel, unlike other holiday destinations in the region such as Dubai. Muscat is also home to the Sultan Quboos Grand Mosque. It hosts a national museum which opened last year and a the Royal Opera House built in 2011.
And like most Arab cities, it has a souk. In this case, the Mutrah Souk on the Mutrah Corniche, which is well worth a visit if, for nothing else, the atmosphere – and especially in the cool of the evening. Here you can haggle for Indian jewelry and Persian rugs before lounging in the traditional coffee house at the souk’s entrance. A relic from another era, locals and tourist converge to smoke shisha and linger over cups of dark Arab coffee here.
But there are plenty of other things to do. The two-hour sunset dhow cruise from Marina Bandar Al-Rowdha, near Muscat is a must-do and a great way to get a feel for the surrounding area. You will pass the Old Muscat harbour, once a port for ships from all over the world, sleepy Arab villages and majestic Medieval forts.
If you want to get out of the city, there are lots of water-based activities to be enjoyed. Fishing, diving, dolphin-watching and snorkeling are just a few of the things to do along Oman’s stunning coastline. Chief amongst them and a must-do activity is turtle watching.
Thousands of turtles migrate annually from the shores of the Red Sea, Somalia and the Arabian Gulf to lay their eggs on the Omani coastline. The best time of year to see them is between July and October and the Ras al Jinz beach in the Ras Al Hadd turtle reserve is a prime viewing spot for them.
Stay overnight and book a guided tour for the best turtle viewing experience. You won’t be disappointed!