Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
This wadi is arguably one of the most gorgeous destinations in Oman. Beyond the breathtaking entrance, the wadi rewards you with views of aquamarine pools, waterfalls and terraced plantations; kingfishers add glorious splashes of colour. For the adventurous, there are plenty of opportunities for (discreet) swimming and a visit to a partially submerged cave.
Rising without competition from the surrounding plain, Jabrin Castle is an impressive sight. Even if you have had a surfeit of fortifications, make the effort to climb one more keep as Jabrin is one of the best preserved and whimsical of them all. Head for the flagpole for a bird's-eye view of the latticed-window courtyard at the heart of the keep.
Oman's second city is a striking change from Muscat. Salalah is about the only corner of Arabia that catches the Indian summer monsoon, and it's also the best base for exploring the villages and archaeological sites of southern Oman.
The ruins of Al-Balid, site of the ancient city of Zafar, lie about 5km east of the centre, on the coast. Zafar's heyday was in the 11th and 12th centuries when it was an active trading port. Coins from as far away as China have been found at the site. There are very good beaches all along the road to Mughsail, once you're about 5km west of Salalah.
When to go?
The best time to visit Oman is between November and mid-March, when the cooler air brings the mountain scenery sharply into focus and daytime temperatures average 25°C (77°F). During this time, you can reduce your costs by sharing local tours with other visitors. For the rest of the year, much of Oman is oppressively hot and hazy, particularly between May and August.
Avoid the June to September rainy season in the south (though this is peak season for Emirati visitors to Dhofar who come specially to see the spectacle of green mountains in the desert).
Travel Visa Overview
In an effort to encourage tourism, Oman relaxed its visa regulations in late 2001. Visas are still required (except for citizens of other Gulf countries) but it is now possible for many foreign nationals (including those from the EU, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand) to obtain a visa at Muscat's Seeb Internationa Airport, or at border crossings. These visas are valid for two weeks. Tourist visas obtained through the Sultanate's embassies abroad are valid for three weeks. Visas are still obtainable through Oman's bigger hotels and tour companies. One-week extensions are available from the Immigration & Passports Directorate in Al-Khuwair in Muscat. A nominal fee is payable to cross into the Musandam peninsula from UAE and a road pass is necessary if you plan to travel by car from Muscat. If your passport shows any evidence of travel to Israel you will be denied entry to Oman. As always, check with authorities for any changes.
British-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade
If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects.
Its varied geography means Oman has a wide variety of climatic conditions. Muscat is fiercely hot and humid from mid-March until October and pleasantly warm from October to March. Indeed, during June unwavering humidity and average day-to-day 31-38°C (88-100°F) temperatures make for seriously dangerous conditions. In the Dhofar region in the south of the country, the weather is more temperate with temperatures of 30°C (90°F) all year round. The Salalah area is affected by the khareef, a drizzling rain, from June to September which turns the local mountains green.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Centure History
As in much of the rest of Arabia, the earliest known settlements in Oman date from the 3rd millennium BC. In that era an empire known as Magan developed along the Batinah Coast, Oman's northern coast, exploiting the rich veins of copper found in the hills around Sohar. The region's economy declined over the centuries and sometime around 563 BC northern Oman was incorporated into the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Southern Oman's Dhofar region flourished due to the presence of frankincense-producing trees. This aromatic gum was one of the ancient world's most sought-after substances and it kept southern Arabia wealthy well into the 6th century AD.
In the mid-8th century AD the tribes of northern Oman swept into the rest of Arabia, briefly conquering Medina, where they were subsequently overthrown by the Abbasids. Though defeated, Oman managed to remain relatively free of Abbasid control. Until 1506, when the Portuguese began prowling the Indian Ocean, Omani naval power had few rivals in the area. The Portuguese occupied Oman for more than a century, until they were expelled by Imam Sultan bin Saif in 1650.
This victory marked the beginning of a great expansion: by the end of the 18th century the Omanis ruled a far-flung empire. At its peak in the 19th century, under Sultan Said bin Sultan, Oman controlled both Mombasa and Zanzibar and operated trading posts even further down the African coast. It also controlled portions of the Indian subcontinent. Oman stagnated after Said's sons split his empire, a situation which the British exacerbated by pressing the sultan to end the trade in slaves and arms for which the country had long been known. This left the sultan a great deal poorer, and lack of money left the interior difficult to control.
When Sultan Faisal bin Turki died in 1913, the interior's tribes refused to recognise his son as imam, leading to a split between the coastal area ruled by the sultan and the interior, which came to be controlled by a separate line of imams.
In 1938 a new sultan, Said bin Taimur, came to power, but it took him until 1959 to gain full control of the interior. With the discovery of oil, Said was concerned that Oman should not become a cultural casualty of the wealth it would bring. He therefore tried to isolate the country from outside influence with the result that education and health care failed to develop at the same pace as in neighbouring countries. This inevitably frustrated large sections of the population and led to widespread unrest. In 1970, Said was overthrown by his only son, Qaboos, in a bloodless palace coup aided by the British. Said spent the rest of his life living in comfortable exile in a London hotel.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said quickly set to modernising Oman's semi-feudal economy and repealing his father's oppressive social restrictions. Oman's comparatively modest oil revenues were used to build roads, hospitals and schools, which had all been in short supply. He also opened the country to tourism in 1987, which is fast becoming an important sector of the economy.
In foreign affairs, the Qaboos government has won a reputation for diplomacy and peacemaking. In 1993, Qaboos welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a brief visit to Oman, and supported peace initiatives through the 1990s. In 1998, Oman was one of several oil-producing countries that announced slight cuts in output, touching off a rise in oil and petrol prices.
In 1997, Omani women were given the right to vote and to stand for election to the majlis al-shura or Consultative Council. Five years later, the same right was extended to all voters above the age of 21. Several women have now been elected to the council and there are three female government ministers (of Tourism, Higher Education and Social Development). Many regard Oman's political and social reforms of the past 35 years as nothing short of miraculous and the sultan, who has been personally responsible for many of the changes, is much beloved by the Omani people.
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