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Travel Guide Middle East Oman Muscat

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Introduction

Guarding the country

Guarding the country

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Muscat (مسقط) is the capital and the biggest city in Oman and has about 750,000 inhabitants. It is located in the northern part of the country along the coast roughly where the Indian Ocean meets the Persian Gulf. The city is one of the oldest cities in the entire Middle East and people have been living here for almost 2,000 years. Nowadays it is one of the busiest places in a country with lots of open space, and also the city itself keeps a relatively slow pace, with green parts and few highrise buildings compared to for example Dubai. The people are a welcome mix of Omanis and expats. More and more luxurious hotels are opening, but a few cheaper places are still available for travellers, although accommodation stays relatively expensive. From the capital, good roads (a rental car is recommended) lead in all directions but the city deserves a few days before exploring all the great scenery the country has to offer.

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Neighbourhoods

Wedged between the Arabian Sea and the rugged Western Hajar Mountains, the city referred to as Muscat is in fact several smaller towns which have grown together over time. These include old Muscat (also known as the 'walled city'), site of the royal palace; Mutrah (also spelled Matrah or Matruh), once a fishing village and home to the labyrinthine Mutrah Souq; and Ruwi, which is the commercial and diplomatic quarter of the city.

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Sights and Activities

  • Al Jalali Fort, Qasr Al Alam Sttreet - Built as a prison in the rocky mountains in the 1580s during the Portuguese occupation, now converted into a museum devoted to Omani heritage. Unfortunately the fort is only opened to visiting dignitaries and heads of state and not open to the general public, but it's still possible to climb the steep stairs up to the top and to enjoy the view.
  • Al Mirani Fort, Al Mirani Street - Built at the same time as Al Jalali Fort which it faces across the harbor. This fort has also been converted to a museum which is closed to the general public, but it can be freely appreciated from the outside.
  • Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace - This is the office of Sultan Qaboos, ruler of Oman. This beautiful palace stands on the head of a natural deep water harbour and is guarded on either side by the twin forts of Mirani and Jelali. Visitors are not allowed to visit the palace, but they are allowed to take photographs at the entrance of the palace.
  • Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, As Sultan St (Al Khuwair) - Sa-Th 09:00-11:00 (for non-Muslims). This is the third largest mosque in the world and mostly the entire complex is open to non-Muslim visitors; ladies are however expected to keep their heads, ankles and wrists covered while visiting the mosque. Must-sees in the mosque include the Swarovski crystal chandelier, the second largest hand made Persian carpet in the world, and the marble panelling.

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Events and Festivals

Muscat Festival

The Muscat Festival is one of the biggest events, perhaps the biggest, in the country’s tourism and cultural calendar. Held every January and February, the festival showcases Omani culture and heritage through artistic and cultural activities. There is also a circus and a large concert featuring local and international musical artists.

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Weather

Muscat features a hot, arid climate with long and very hot summers and warm "winters". Annual rainfall in Muscat is about 100mm, falling mostly from December to April. In general precipitation is scarce in Muscat, with several months on average seeing only a trace of rainfall. However, in recent years, heavy precipitation events from tropical systems originating in the Arabian Sea have affected the city. Cyclone Gonu in June 2007 and Cyclone Phet in June 2010 affected the city with damaging winds and rainfall amounts exceeding 100 mm in just a single day. The climate generally is very hot, with temperatures frequently reaching as high as 40 °C in the summer. Humidity in the summer is at 40-60%, which is quite high for such hot temperatures.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max25.1 °C26.4 °C29.5 °C34.7 °C39.6 °C40 °C38 °C35.6 °C35.6 °C34.6 °C30.3 °C26.8 °C
Avg Min16.7 °C17.8 °C20.3 °C24.2 °C28.7 °C30.3 °C30.1 °C28.2 °C26.8 °C24.2 °C20.8 °C18.3 °C
Rainfall13.2 mm14 mm16.4 mm11.3 mm0 mm10.9 mm3.4 mm1.6 mm0 mm0.8 mm1.6 mm16.5 mm
Rain Days3.22.71.91.40.10.10.30.600.20.71.4

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Getting There

By Plane

Muscat International Airport (MCT) (formerly known as Seeb International Airport) is located 15 km from the main residential localities and 30 kilometres from Old Muscat. Oman Air, the national airline of Oman, is based here. It has flights to mainly the Middle East destinations and also to several cities in India, Bangkok and London.

Indian Airlines and Air India Express also fly into Muscat from several cities in India.

By Car

Good tarred roads lead to and from Muscat all the way to the south at Salalah, to the north at the Musandam Peninsula and into the United Arab Emirates. It takes about 10 to 12 hours to the southern tip of the country from Muscat.

You can reach Muscat by road from the United Arab Emirates. The journey takes about 5h by crossing the border in Hatta/Al Ain, some crossing borders are just for GCC citizens.

By Bus

Oman National Transport Company (ONTC), Al-Jaame St (near Sun City Hotel in Ruwi), ☎ +968 24 708522 (reservations), +968 24 510438 (information), e-mail: info@ontcoman.com, runs buses to Muscat from Dubai (duration of journey: 6 hrs). Within Oman there are daily buses to Muscat from Buraimi (via Sohar), Nizwa (2hrs 20min), Salalah (13 hrs, reservation required), Sanaw and Sur (4 hrs 15 min).

By Boat

National Ferry Company, Call Center & Passenger Boarding Office (Sultan Qaboos Port, Mutrah), ☎ +968 2449 5453 (office), toll-free: +968 800 72 000 (reservations), fax: +968 2449 3910, e-mail: reservation@nfc.om. Su-Th 07:30-15:30 (office). Ferries arrive weekly from Khasab to the main port in Mutrah, departing every Saturday at 11:30 and arriving five hours later. Ferries departing from Mutrah leave every Thursday at noon. All ferries have free Wi-Fi, with lunch, snacks and beverages included in the ticket price. You should get your ferry ticket in advance to ensure your place on the boat. One way: 45/23 OMR (business/tourist class), return: 85/44 OMR (business/tourist class).

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Getting Around

By Car

For visitors staying in Muscat for longer than a day, renting a car provides the most flexibility and is far more economical than using taxis, as one taxi ride from Ghubrah to Muscat and back will cost about the same as hiring a car for one day. A 2WD is fine to see the sights within and around Muscat, but if you're planning to explore wadis and mountains you'll need a 4WD.

Road signs in Muscat can be confusing, and motorway exits are not always clearly marked. Compared with elsewhere in the Gulf (e.g. Dubai and Doha) Muscat drivers are reasonably disciplined, but visitors from outside the region may find the local driving style erratic. For a gentler introduction into Muscat traffic it may be easier to take a taxi (or hotel-provided shuttle) from the airport, and arrange for a rental car through your accommodation – rates are usually the same as if not better than at the airport.

Most local and international rental agencies have offices at the airport. An international driver's permit is theoretically required to rent a car, but usually agents will request only your national licence. All car hires include mandatory insurance. The cheapest car hire is about OMR15 per day for a 2WD economy car with manual transmission and sometimes no air-conditioning; for a 4WD, expect to pay double that amount.

By Public Transport

Maxi taxis (minibuses, known throughout the expat community as baisa buses) ply the highway from Seeb to the Corniche area. The charge is OMR0.100 (100 Bzs) from the Corniche area to the church roundabout and another 100 Bzs from the church round about to Wadi Adai.

On arrival at the airport, situated approximately 40km from the main Muscat CBD, you can get a baisa bus down the main highway in either direction.

The (mostly orange and white) taxis are a bit pricier, and they hang around the hotels where they get juicy fares from unwary travellers. They will charge OMR8 for an airport trip if you don't haggle, but you should be able to agree OMR5. They always say they will give you "good price", but it's best to figure out what you want to spend then agree before you get in.

The Maxi Taxis ply the main routes through town, and they go where they want so you might have to find one going your direction. Once you are on one, they will make sure you get there. The place to wait for them is on the on-ramps of most of the main highway junctions, when you'll usually see a few people waiting around for one. A journey within the Muscat area should not cost more than OMR0.300 each, but if you look like an experienced traveller and hand them OMR0.200 then you can usually get away with that.

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Eat

Food is relatively cheap in Muscat, a meal can cost just a couple of rials. For inexpensive Indian food, there are many restaurants catering to Indian guest workers in Al Khuwayr. In Mutrah you can walk down the waterfront in the Corniche area to catch a cool sea breeze, and treat yourself to some sandwiches and Halib (tea with milk) or Sulaimani (black tea) at one of the wayside restaurants.

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Drink

Every road, street corner or little collection houses, huts or businesses has a 'Coffee-Shop' – basic but worth a go. Fresh fruit juices are delicious and available from a number of stalls and cafes in Muscat. Expect to pay between RO 0.500 and 1.500 for these juices depending on type and size.

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Sleep

Budget

PropertyAddressTypePopularity
Al BhajahSultanate of OmanHotel-
Coral Hotel MuscatHay Asaruj, Shati Al Qurum Governorate of Muscat 112Hotel-
Ramee Guestline Hotel QurumP.C. 114, MuttrahHotel-
Ramee Dream ResortMuscat Oman,Hotel-
Lanavilla OmanAl Gubrah 37 streetGUESTHOUSE-
Green Oasis Hotel MuscatMuwaileh Street Opposite Oman Medical CollegeHOTEL-

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Keep Connected

Internet

You can find internet cafes in some places, but they are not very common in Oman, mainly also because there's no free press. To use the Internet, individuals, companies, and institutions are asked to sign an agreement not to publish anything that destabilizes the state.
Wifi is on the rise including free wifi spots provided by Omantel, mainly in Muscat and a few other places.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country code for Oman is 968. The general emergency number is 999.

Dialling out from Oman you will need to dial 00 + International Code + Number. Dialling into Oman callers use +968 followed by an 8-digit number.
These 8-digit numbers generally start with a 9 if it is mobile number, and with 2 for land line.

Telecommunication services in Oman are provided by Omantel. The company has a monopoly on the land-line telephone and Internet markets.
To avoid high costs when using your cellphone in Oman, buy a local SIM card, which are readily available in the country. Make sure you have an unlocked cell phone.

Post

Oman Post provides postal services in the country. Post offices generally open from 8:00am to 1:30pm Saturday to Wednesday and 8:00am to 11:00am Thursday. Services are reliable and relatively fast, though if you like to send a package internationally, you could also try and use international companies like TNT, DHL, UPS or FedEx.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 23.6086
  • Longitude: 58.5922

Accommodation in Muscat

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Muscat searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Muscat and areas nearby.

Contributors

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This is version 15. Last edited at 14:15 on Dec 7, 16 by Utrecht. 40 articles link to this page.

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