Each year the atmosphere and landscape of Salalah, the most populated city in the south of Oman, changes with the rainy season known as Khareef. Brown and dry mountain faces transform into lush and green views you will remember for a lifetime. The number of things to see and explore in the Salalah area during this time are endless, but one of the greatest activities for you in the city is the Salalah Tourism Festival. This carnival-like event, also called the Khareef Festival, is an amazing opportunity to see and experience portions of Omani culture and tradition otherwise inaccessible to visitors.
Opening around July 15th and running until the end of August, the Festival is a celebration of Oman and is geared specifically toward the thousands of visitors flooding into the city. Within the Festival, you will find many different areas for learning and fun. There are Bedouin tents in which native people perform traditional songs, dances, and other cultural rituals. You will have an opportunity to visit the market tent in which you can shop for traditional Omani clothes, incense, spices, frankincense, along with other items popular with local people. Just down the street from the market tent, there are small buildings in which local women work hard to make fresh Omani culinary delights available for purchase. In this area of the Festival, you can also visit the handicraft stalls and watch women weave baskets, paint pottery, among other activities.
Five Essential Foods/Drinks to Try
One of the greatest joys of traveling to new countries is the opportunity to try different, local, and traditional foods. Oman is famous for many foods and beverages, but the following five are essential to taste while visiting the Sultanate.
Perhaps the most popular and specifically Omani sweet found in the Gulf is halwa. This sticky, jelly-like sweet is made from a sugar or honey base with saffron and other special spices added, and then mixed over an open flame for hours until the correct consistency is reached. The unique consistency and taste will be new for you, but the experience is well worth it while you are visiting Oman. No trip to an Omani home is complete without halwa paired with the next item on our list.
The perfect partner to sweet Omani halwa is coffee, but not as you have known coffee before. Omani coffee has a bold, layered flavor that comes from a mix of Omani spices and is always served black in a small cup called a finjan. Since the cups are small, feel free to drink as many as you would like, but when you are finished shake the cup back and forth to show your Omani host that you have had enough.
A Showcase of Modern Tradition
While 1970 was a turning point for Oman developmentally, this Arabian nation has retained its rich cultural heritage in many ways from traditional familial structure and Arab hospitality all the way to the architectural design of new homes and city planning. While exploring the Sultanate you will notice many architectural themes: richly decorated front doors, carved wooden ceilings, and traditional arched windows. These are design motifs that have been carried to today from Oman’s rich history.
Much of the early architecture within the city are mosques and forts traditionally constructed from clay or mud bricks. These strong buildings reflect the geography of the land surrounding them. The Mutrah Fort overlooks the Sea of Oman in Muscat. It is built into the crags of a mountain and looks more like an extension of the rocks rather than something simply built atop them. Nakhal Fort, at the base of Jebal Al Akhdar, does not follow a traditionally symmetrical pattern due to the rock on which it is sits. In fact, the mountain face was integrated into the structure of the fort to reveal a seamless transition between earth-made and man-made materials.
A Day trip to Jebal Akhdar
Although the city of Muscat has many interesting areas to explore and beautiful sights to see, a day trip out of the city is a wonderful way to experience more of Oman. There are many options for these types of trips (See 3 day trips from Muscat blog), but if you crave mountain views and freely exploring village ruins, this specific day trip is the one for you.
Jebal Akhdar, translated ‘Green Mountain’, is has one of the highest peaks in all of Oman, but also is the most easily accessible. A four-wheel drive vehicle is required (there is a checkpoint at the bottom to ensure all vehicles that enter are capable of the climb), but drivers with little mountain-road experience need not be scared away; the entirety of the way is a wide, paved road lined with sturdy guard rails. The two-hour drive from Muscat to the base of Jebal Akhdar winds through the northern mountain range of Oman and will give you an opportunity to catch a glimpse of many small, Omani villages.
Your trip to Oman will surely be one you want to remember for years to come, and there are many items unique to Oman that will remind you of your experience immediately. Here are six souvenirs that are sure to bring you back to your time in the Sultanate.
Luban (Frankincense) and Medkhan (Incense burner):
Oman is known as the Land of Frankincense, so bringing this tree-sap incense back with you will make your home feel like you are still in the Sultanate. Buy a kilo of the resin drops, a medkhan (incense burner), and some charcoal disks at any souq and you are set to make your home smell and look like one of an Omani.
Dulla, coffee pot:
Found in every Omani home and used to serve the famous coffee unique to Oman, a dulla is a beautiful and functional addition to any home in the world. In the souqs you can find dullas of every size from a pendant on a keychain to a fully decorated serving set including the unique small coffee cups, tea cups, and saucers. Metal, plastic, and ceramic versions are available in many colors and patterns so your Omani dulla will be sure to fit into the design of your home.
One of the most prized pieces of architecture found in the Sultanate of Oman is not a fort that protected the people in ancient times, one of the many palaces of a past or present sultan, or a village that has stood for centuries; it is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
Located just outside of the capital city, the Grand Mosque sits elegantly on an open plain between the Sea of Oman coast and the foot of the beautiful mountains of Muscat. Its five towering minarets, prominent dome, and stunning gardens cannot be missed while you drive along the main highway of the north.
Day trips from Muscat
Muscat is a beautiful area with many things to see and do, but if you need some time out of the city, here are three day trips to experience more of Oman’s natural beauty, history, and culture.
Barka and Nakhal:
Just an hour drive northwest along the coast from downtown Muscat is another large city in Oman, Barka. While visiting here, be sure to check out the showroom at the Barka Halwa Factory, where you can taste several types of the famous Omani sweet. Next, drive the coastal road to Al Sawadi Beach and enjoy the white sand beaches, calm sea waves, and warm sunshine. When you have soaked in all the sunshine you desire, an hour drive away from the coast will bring you to the small, historical village of Nakhal nestled at the base of the northern mountain range. The centuries-old fort sits at the peak of the village and is open to the public for exploring. Just down the road from the fort is Athawarah Hot Spring, a perfect place to sit and relax or go for a quick hike through the wadi (valley).
The former capital city of Oman sits at the base of the interior mountains and holds many exciting and historical opportunities for visitors. The Nizwa Fort is one of the largest and oldest fortified buildings in Oman and with a small admission fee, provides interested guests a look into the ancient life of the Omani people. Directly outside of the Fort is Nizwa Souq, a maze of shops selling all sorts of Omani items including its famous pottery, frankincense, incense burners, and assorted souvenirs. For more adventurous visitors, the livestock souq is open at 6am on Friday mornings, in which animals are auctioned off in the loud and exciting environment.
In the Islamic month of Ramadan (link in bolded text to Ramadan blog) daylight abstinence from food and drink is strictly observed in Muslim-majority countries. During this time, non-Muslim expats in Oman or visiting tourists might find it a challenge to locate options for daytime meals. The following is a list of reliable locations we’ve discovered while hosting a few of our guests in Muscat and Salalah. Just remember that if you choose partake, please do so respectfully, and out of the public eye.
1. $ Lulu Hypermarket – Hot Pre-Prepared food available
2. $ Carrefour Supermarket – Hot Pre-Prepared food available
3. $-$$ Fast food options: McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Subway – open for take away – various locations, and timings.
4. $$ Mackenzies Deli (Scottish)- PDO – Open for dine-in from 9am-5pm, Menu available here: http://www.mackenzies.me/menus/
When traveling to any new country, one of the best experiences is simply getting out and about amongst the local people and seeing what daily life is like. Well, in Oman, nothing encompasses this better than visiting the local souq, or open-air marketplace.
Arab souqs (pronounced “suːk”) have been a longheld practice for hundreds of years, originating from caravans that would travel through the desert and set up camp outside of cities to sell their goods. These caravans often brought luxury items, anything from silks to spices to jewelery and even exotic fruits and vegetables. This tradition has continued into present-day Oman, so whether your in Muscat or Nizwa, Salalah or Sohar, here are a few tips to make the most out of your time in an Omani souq.
1. Try something new.
Souqs are fantastic for finding all sorts of new and interesting items, and the best way to experience it is to put yourself out and try something new! Whether it’s trying on a traditional hat or shawl, tasting an unknown spice, smelling the foreign perfumes, or even chewing on a piece of frankincense resin (for renowned health benefits!), many shop owners are excited to share their goods with you. Some may even offer you a cup of tea or coffee wanting simply to share some of the their famous Omani hospitality.
An exploration of Oman wouldn’t be complete without a visit to its second-largest city, Salalah. Located in southern Oman, Salalah is an hour and forty-five minutes away from Muscat by plane. It is a unique city, boasting an incredible monsoon season in July and August (called Khareef) and beautiful places to wander year-round.
Here are our recommendations for five must-see things in this special place (although there are certainly more than just these)!
1. Khor Rori Beach
It takes about half an hour to drive to this spot east of Salalah. The beach is rarely busy the sand is clean, and you can climb a little ways up the cliffs that guard the sides of the beach and jump into the water below. A short hike will take you to the top of a plateau that overlooks a spectacular expanse of ocean scenery. There you can explore the ancient ruins that date back to 100BC. For a more relaxing activity, check out the small museum with local artifacts. The museum also has restroom facilities available for use. A marshy inlet holds great spots for birdwatching and exploring. There is an entrance fee per vehicle ( 2 OMR) which is included in the cost of your tour. Don’t forget sun protection for this beach as there is little shade available.
2. Mughsayl’s Blowholes
On the other side of Salalah about half an hour away is a spot called Al Mughsayl. This is another beautiful beach to explore, with plenty of room for people to spread out. There are well-spaced gazebos for a private picnic, or you can set up mats and umbrellas on the sand. A parking spot past the beach area hosts some vendors selling food and souvenirs, as well as a public restroom. From the parking area, it’s a short walk over stone-paved paths to Marneef Cave. This cave is more of a rocky overhang with benches set up in the shade and a wonderful view. Walk down a series of steps (with handrails) to see the grated tops of the well-known blowholes. The height of the spurts of water will depend on the time of year you visit—the fountains can shoot water over 90 feet (30 metres) high during Khareef!