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Oman is the only country in the world whose name starts with the letter O, but most visitors to the country are attracted for reasons other than this distinction. It is probably the most conservative of all the Middle Eastern states, but is also one of the most smartly led. Comparatively low revenue from oil has been put to good use, to build up an excellent social infrastructure. Centuries ago, it was an imperial power strong enough to rival the major European ones.
Muscat's five-star hotels encourage tourists to enjoy the country's great beaches, but we recommend packing up your beach gear for at least a week to see some of the country's fascinating and beautiful sights. Nature has been delicately protected and in return awards some of the nicest scenery in the Middle East. Forts, remnants of the Portugese occupation in the 16th and 17th centuries, can be found all over Oman and add a most distinctive flavour to the country's attractions.
Wattayah, located in the governorate of Muscat, is the oldest known human settlement in the area and dates back to the Stone Age, making it around 5,000 years old. Archaeological remains from different dates have been discovered here, the earliest representing the Stone Age, then the Heliocentric Age and finally, the Bronze Age.
Achaemenid (6th to 4th century B.C.), an Iranian dynasty, controlled and/or influenced the Omani peninsula. This influential control was most likely exerted from a coastal center such as Sohar. From the third century B.C. to the arrival of Islam in the seventh century A.D., Oman was controlled by two other Iranian dynasties, the Parthians and the Sassanids. During this period Oman's administrative name was Mazun. By about 250 B.C., the Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman. Because they needed to control the Persian Gulf trade route, the Parthians established garrisons in Oman.
Oman adopted Islam in the 7th century A.D., during the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad. Ibadism became the dominant religious sect in Oman by the 8th century A.D. Oman is the only country in the Islamic world with a majority Ibadi population. Ibadhism is known for its "moderate conservatism." One distinguishing feature of Ibadism is the choice of ruler by communal consensus and consent. Omanis also carried the message of Islam with them to China and the Asian ports.Oman was ruled by Umayyads between 661-750, Abbasids between 750-931, 932-933 and 934-967, Qarmatians between 931-932 and between 933-934, Buyids between 967-1053, Seljuks of Kirman between 1053-1154.
The Portuguese occupied Muscat for a 140-year period 1508–1648, arriving a decade after Vasco da Gama discovered the seaway to India. In need of an outpost to protect their sea lanes, the Europeans built up and fortified the city, where remnants of their colonial architectural style still remain.
Muscat and Oman was the object of Franco-British rivalry throughout the 18th century. During the 19th century, Muscat and Oman and the United Kingdom concluded several treaties of friendship and commerce. In 1908 the British entered into an agreement of friendship. Their traditional association was confirmed in 1951 through a new treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation by which the United Kingdom recognized the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman as a fully independent state.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the sultan in Muscat faced rebellion by members of the Ibadi sect residing in the interior of Oman, centered around the town of Nizwa, who wanted to be ruled exclusively by their religious leader, the Imam of Oman. This conflict was resolved temporarily by the Treaty of Seeb, which granted the imam autonomous rule in the interior Imamate of Oman, while recognising the nominal sovereignty of the sultan elsewhere.
The Dhofar Rebellion was launched in the province of Dhofar against the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman and Britain from 1962 to 1975. As the radical-leaning rebellion threatened to overthrow the Sultan's rule in Dhofar and produced disorder in other parts of Oman, Sultan Said bin Taimur was deposed by his son Qaboos bin Said, who introduced major social reforms to deprive the rebellion of popular support and modernised the state's administration. The rebellion ended with the intervention of Iranian Imperial ground forces and major offensives by the expanded Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces.
In November 1996, Sultan Qaboos presented his people with the "Basic Statutes of the State," Oman's first written "constitution". In September 2000, about 100,000 Omani men and women elected 83 candidates, including two women, to seats in the Majlis Al-Shura. In December 2000, Sultan Qaboos appointed the 48-member Majlis Al Dowla, or State Council, including five women, which acts as the upper chamber in Oman's bicameral representative body.
Al Said's extensive modernization program has opened the country to the outside world and has preserved a long-standing political and military relationship with the United Kingdom, the United States, and others. Oman's moderate, independent foreign policy has sought to maintain good relations with all Middle Eastern countries.
Oman shares international borders with the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Oman lies between latitudes 16° and 28° N, and longitudes 52° and 60° E. A vast gravel desert plain covers most of central Oman, with mountain ranges along the north (Al Hajar Mountains) and southeast coast, where the country's main cities are also located: the capital city Muscat, Sohar and Sur in the north, and Salalah in the south. Oman's climate is hot and dry in the interior and humid along the coast. During past epochs Oman was covered by ocean, witnessed by the large numbers of fossilized shells existing in areas of the desert away from the modern coastline. The peninsula of Musandam, an exclave, which has a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz, is separated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates. The series of small towns known collectively as Dibba are the gateway to the Musandam peninsula on land and the fishing villages of Musandam by sea, with boats available for hire at Khasab for trips into the Musandam peninsula by sea. Oman's other exclave, inside UAE territory, known as Madha, located halfway between the Musandam Peninsula and the main body of Oman, is part of the Musandam governorate, covering approximately 75 km2 . Madha's boundary was settled in 1969, with the north-east corner of Madha barely 10 metres from the Fujairah road. Within the Madha exclave is a UAE enclave called Nahwa, belonging to the Emirate of Sharjah, situated about 8 kilometres along a dirt track west of the town of New Madha, consisting of about forty houses.
Oman is organised into 4 governorates and 5 regions.
For traveller's purpose, the following division can be made:
The Musandam Peninsula is located in the northern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and is seperated from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates. It even includes the small enclave Madha which lies between the Peninsula and the rest of Oman and is totally surrounded by the UAE. Inside this enclave there even is smaller UAE enclave again. Pretty interesting and confusing if you want to visit all these places. Still the drive up the northern tip from Oman is pretty impressive with dry and rugged peaks and mountainous areas, dry wadis and some fine beaches to explore as well. In the north is Kasab, the main city here which has some accommodations and restaurants. It takes most of the day to get here from Muscat, with several border crossings to kill more time.
Dhofar is the counterpart of the Musandam Peninsula as it is located in the extreme south of the country. It is a increasingly popular region and it includes green and lush coastal lowlands and frankincense-producing highlands. When most of the country is baking like in an oven during the hot and dry June to September season, this area actually has much lower temperatures and a rainy season, which make this place very popular with Omani and foreign tourists during this time to escape the heat and explore the only really green areas in the country. The main city here is Salalah, which can be reached either by plane or by a very long (10-12 hours) drive from the capital Muscat.
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The northern parts of Oman are part of the world's largest expanse of unbroken sand, encompassing the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, namely the Empty Quarter. Although most of it is in Saudi Arabia, it is becoming increasingly popular to visit the remotest areas of Oman on a multiple daytrip, sleeping in tents and driving in a 4wd car yourself across the dunes. If you don't want to go off the beaten track you can visit the Wahiba sands. The Wahiba sand dunes are just off the Muscat-Sur highway and are isolated sand dunes in the eastern corner of Oman near the Hikman Pennisula. Daytrips from Muscat are available.
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.
Also happening early in the year are boat races and sailing competitions to celebrate Oman’s seafaring traditions. A Dubai–Muscat Regatta is held every January which see boats sailing from Dubai through the Straits of Hormuz toward Muscat. Boat races are also held in February wherein traditional boats such as dhows compete for a prize.
A much awaited event organized by the International Game Fish Association is the Sindbad Classic. This event sees game fishing enthusiasts from all over the globe battle it out in a deep sea fishing contest in the waters of Oman.
While July and August may be too hot for a visit in northern Oman, these months are great for Salalah and the surrounding areas. During this time of the year, the region experiences Khareef season, a time when monsoon rains bring in life to the land, making for stunning tropical landscapes. This high tourist season is the time when cultural celebrations and parades are held in and around town to entertain both locals and tourists.
The Cultural Theater Program is an arts and culture festival organized by the Ministry of Tourism. Various performances such as folkloric music and dancing are held from December through to March at the Al Flayj Castle Theater and the Al Morooj Theater, both in Salalah.
Weather in Oman generally is warm to hot and dry. The hottest months are between June and September when temperatures can rise up to 45 °C or even more. This time is the rainy season in the southern Dhofar season, which makes this area a green and lush one to visit. Humidity can be extremely high, even in the drier northern parts so a visit during these months is not recommended. The best times to visit are from October to April with warm and dry conditions, although some rainshowers are possible during the wintermonths.
Oman Air is the national airline of Oman and is based at Muscat International Airport (MCT) near the capital. It has flights mainly in the region of the Middle East and to India, but further away Bangkok and London are served as well. Indian Airlines and Air India Express serve a number of cities in India. Both KLM and Martinair have flights to Amsterdam. KLM flies to Kuwait as well, while Martinair flies to and from Brussels, Colombo and Sharjah. Lufthans, Swiss and British Airways fly to European cities as well. Most other airlines are mainly within the region and a few other Asian cities.
There are no international rail links with Oman.
Excellent roads connect Oman with the United Arab Emirates and most rental car agencies provide the opportunity to combine both countries. Some fees might apply, including the ones at the border. Currently there are three border posts open 24 hours to foreigners: Wajaja (for Dubai), Khatmat Milahah (for Dibba), and Al-Darah–Tibat (for Musandam Peninsula). The Buraimi border (for Abu Dhabi) will open again shortly.
Borders with Yemen are open too (see below) but those with Saudi Arabia are closed (and the route across the Rub al Khali desert isn't recommended or easy to travel anyway).
Buses operated by yhe Oman National Transport Company connect Muscat with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, taking around 5 to 6 hours in both cases. There are two border crossings (see above) to and Yemen, both of which are possible to cross by public transport. You can enter Yemen by bus from the Dhofar region in the southwest of Oman. Buses leaves Salalah on a regular basis to the border and onwards to Sayun (16 hours), or to Al-Ghayda (9 hours), in both cases twice a week. Though it’s possible to make the same journey in a series of shorter hops it costs more time and money and there really isn't that much to see and do en route. In both directions, visas are available at the border for most nationalities. Direct buses go from Salalah to Mukallah, taking 6 hours.
There are no international passenger services to and from Oman, though Muscat is a major port for cruiseships and the like.
There are no domestic train services in Oman.
Most of the country has excellent roads and driving signs are both in Arabic and English. There is no need to rent a 4wd vehicle unless you want to do some serious off the beaten track driving in the sand dunes for example. You can rent one from international and local firms at the international airport in Muscat or the airport at Salalah, as well as downtow in both places. Either bring a national driver's licence or international driving permit.
The Oman National Transport Company has buses between all major cities and towns.
There are daily departures from the capital Muscat to Nizwa, Bahla, Ibri, Sohar, Buraimi, Sur and Salalah and several other domestic destinations.
Other than going out on the open sea to go diving, there are no regular passenger services within Oman.
A single entry, one month visa can be obtained upon arrival at any air, land or sea terminal by citizens of the following countries:
EU citizens and other Europeans including nationals of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland and Vatican City but not Cyprus and Malta.
Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldova, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Suriname, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine*, USA, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The fee is OMR20 and your passport should be valid for no less than 6 months from the date of arrival. However, if you arrived by air into Dubai International Airport and subsequently enter Oman via land, the visa fee will be waived. Any visa fees can be paid using UAE dirhams at a rate of ten to OMR1. At the airports, visa fees can be paid in any Gulf Co-operation Council currency, euros, and US dollars. Update of Nov 2014: At least one traveller reports that the visa fee is also waived if you have arrived in UAE by air and cleared immigration, and then entered Oman by air; however, it is not yet clear if this is consistent.
As of March 2012, a new 10-day tourist visa has been introduced that costs OMR5 and is obtainable at any land, sea or airport.
Chinese, Russian and Ukrainian nationals may obtain visit visas following the same procedures provided that they are part of tourist groups arriving to the Sultanate through a local tourist agent or a hotel or as a family. In the case of groups, the number of females must not exceed the number of males.
Citizens of Egypt, Iran, India, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia can apply for a one month visit visa only at air terminals.
The visa can be extended another month by submitting your passport to the Royal Omani Police in Muscat, however there is one line, and the wait can be as long as 2 hours. Be aware that the concept of personal distance is different in the Middle East than it is in Europe. Queue jumping may be a problem for Europeans unless you set aside that personal distance concept. If you are on a budget and need to extend your visa, consider taking a trip to the United Arab Emirates. Buses are OMR10-12 return. A same-day round trip flight to Sharjah on Air Arabia costs about OMR50. Even a taxi would be an option. Visa is not required for nationals of GCC member states and a short stay visa will be granted on arrival to residents of GCC member states as well regardless of nationality.
Israeli stamps are not a problem for entry, but Israeli passports can not be used to enter Oman.
See also Money Matters
The local currency is the Rial (OMR) and 1 Rial is 1,000 Baisa or Bz. ATM's are available at the airport and city. Changing currency at the exchange counters at the airport is recommended since street traders will be more expensive. When you change currency at Travelex, there is a sign that mentions free buyback, but be sure to verify that you will have this facility when you are leaving.
If you are going to use cash US currency, please make sure you have bills dated after 2007. Apparently most of the businesses (at the airport so far) and even Travelex the foreign currency trader will not accept older bills. Credit cards are useful. Travelers checks may not be as useful according to unverified local advice.
Working in Oman requires that you hold a residence permit. In common with other Gulf countries, you must be sponsored by an employer to obtain a residence permit. It's not uncommon for people to enter on a tourist visa then look for a job - this is fine. Penalties for the employer are substantial if they are caught employing illegals, although this naturally varies depending on how good their connections are.
The majority of positions are filled by expats from the sub-continent. Positions for Europeans tend to be restricted to upper management levels or specialised occupations, so don't expect to pick up a position as you pass through unless you are prepared to work for very little!
Arabic is the national language, but most Omanis will speak good to excellent English, and particularly so in major tourist areas and cities. In the southern Dhofar region, a Semitic language called "Jibbali" is spoken. Swahili and Baluchi are languages spoken by ethnic minorities in Oman, especially in the capital Muscat. The presence of a large number of Malayalees expatriates from the Indian state of Kerala, has made Malayalam a prominent language. The historical presence of Indian traders has meant that Hindi is understood in some urban areas. An English-speaking traveller should have no language difficulties unless he or she really travels "off the beaten track".
The food is mainly Arabic, Lebanese, Turkish, and Indian. Many Omanis make a distinction between "Arabic" food and "Omani" food, with the former being the description of the standard dishes found throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
Omani food tends to be less spicy and served in quite large portions - whole fish are not uncommon at lunch in some local restaurants (sticking to local food, it is quite easy to eat a substantial meal for less than OR2). As benefits of a country with a long coastline, seafood is quite a common dish, particularly shark, which is surprisingly tasty. True traditional Omani food is hard to find in restaurants.
Omani sweets are well-known throughout the region, with the most popular being "halwa". This is a hot, semi-solid substance which behaves a little like honey and is eaten with a spoon. The taste is similar to Turkish Delight. Omani dates are among the best in the world and can be found at every social place and at offices.
Oman has the full spectrum of accommodation - from ultra-luxurious hotels to extremely rustic huts in the desert constructed from date palm leaves.
In recent years, Oman has been attempting to turn itself into something of a five-star destination for well-heeled travellers. This does not pose a problem to the budget-minded in Muscat, and even outside of the capital there is still a range of budget options. In some parts of the country, however, accommodation may be limited to higher-end hotels and resorts.
Bottled drinking (mineral) water is easily available at most stores. Tap water is generally safe; however, most Omanis drink bottled water and to be safe, you should too.
Alcohol is available only in select restaurants and large hotels and is usually very expensive (ranging from OMR1.5 for a 500 mL Carlsberg to OMR4). Drinking alcohol in public is prohibited, but you can get your own drinks and enjoy at public areas but in privacy such as camping by beaches, sands, mountains, or actually in any remote areas. Only foreign residents can buy alcohol from alcohol shops and with certain limits. But an alcohol black market is widely spread around the cities and alcohol can be found easily.
Foreigner travellers are allowed 2 litres of spirits as duty free baggage allowance. Travellers can pick up spirits at the duty free shop in the arrival lounge.
During Ramadan, drinking anything in public is prohibited, even for foreigners. Take care to drink in the privacy of your room.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Oman. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Oman) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Oman. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B and rabies are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Homosexuality is a crime in Oman. LGBT tourists should be self-aware. Visiting gambling and adult sites is also a crime in Oman. Internet censorship in Oman is very serious. So you need to be careful to stay safe on-line.
Driving in Muscat can sometimes be a problem, although this is due more to congestion than bad driving on the part of the locals. Outside of the major cities, a common driving risk is falling asleep at the wheel due to the long stretches of featureless desert. Driving in Oman calls for attention to the unexpected. It has the second highest death rate from traffic accidents in the world (surpassed only by Saudi, followed closely by the UAE). Omani drivers outside of the cities tend to drive very fast and pass with impunity. Driving at night is especially hazardous as many drivers fail to turn their headlights on. Camels will walk into the road even if they see cars approaching, and collisions are often fatal for both camel and driver. Female travellers should be careful to dress modestly, as not to offend local customs.
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.
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.
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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I can provide background information on Oman and the UAE and answer specific questions on the countries' history, geography, culture, etc. - I am willing to help where a travel guide fails, so please don't ask me questions to which you can easily find an answer in one of the many published travel guides for Oman and the UAE!
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