With convenient flights from Hong Kong, and a huge range of activities and itineraries that are manageable in one week, Oman is the perfect introduction to the Middle East, and a great up-and-coming destination to explore in 2016. We asked Hong Kong-based luxury tour operator Lightfoot Travel for some expert advice on what to do there.
Days 1-2: Muscat
Arrive in Oman’s port capital of Muscat via Cathay Pacific or Emirates, touching down in Doha or Dubai respectively. Surrounded by mountains and desert, the city is a mix of old and new, with 16th-century Portuguese forts sitting alongside swanky shopping centres and traditional dhow boats sailing past upscale beachfront resorts.
Embark on a day tour of Muscat, making sure to visit the Sultan’s Palace; wander the narrow streets of the Mutrah Souk picking up Indian and Omani artefacts such as textiles and gold, and stopping by the spectacular Grand Mosque that holds watch over the city.
If you want to experience the sights and sounds of Muscat, opt to stay at the Chedi Muscat, a beautifully designed hotel with a trendy Middle Eastern feel. It’s in the centre of town with an excellent selection of popular restaurants, the largest spa in the city and three swimming pools – one of which is 103 metres long. The beachfront Al Husn Hotel at Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort is ideal for those looking for a more relaxing experience. The property is set on a private beach in a quiet bay, where turtles can sometimes be found swimming in the crystal clear waters.
Day 3: Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve
Drive down Oman’s coastline towards the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, making sure to stop for a dip in the blue-green waters of the Bimmah Sinkhole, and exploring valleys and beaches along the way. Check into your accommodation for the evening, an eco-lodge located within the reserve, and then make your way down to the beach for an evening of turtle viewing.
The reserve offers visitors a truly unique opportunity to watch sea turtles nest in the wild, and get involved in a breeding and protection programme that has been running since 1996. The facility allows visitors to get up close and witness the spectacle in an intimate fashion without fear of interrupting the turtles themselves.
Day 4: Wahiba Sands
Set off early for the 2.5-hour drive to Wahiba Sands, taking in scenery that is increasingly stark, untouched and remote, interrupted by a smattering of traditional Omani villages. Your accommodation for the evening is the enchanting Desert Nights Camp, comprised of 26 Bedouin-style luxury tents set in the middle of the desert.
During the day head out for quad bike rides; dune bash in a 4×4 jeep with reinforced caging, hurtling up and down ginormous sand dunes; and ride camels to see the dramatic desert sunsets. In the evening, enjoy a barbecue feast around the campfire or dine in the privacy of your tent, and observe more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life.
Days 5-7: Nizwa and the Al Hajar Mountains
Today you will head to the Al Hajar Mountains, stopping over in one of Oman’s oldest cities and former capital, Nizwa. Visit the impressive Nizwa fortress and the famous souq with its silver Bedouin handicrafts. From Nizwa it’s a 45-minute drive up the zigzagging road to the Al Hajar Mountains. Here, the climate is cool and dry, and the region is famed for its fruit orchards that are typically laid out terrace-style along the mountain slopes.
Your accommodation for the next two evenings, Alila Jabal Akhdar, is perched in an almost surreal fashion atop a craggy cliff face. Built out of stone and wood, rooms have their own verandahs overlooking the spectacular landscape of dramatic peaks, gorges and wadis (valleys). Spend your days hiking to nearby Bedouin villages, exploring the Al Hoota Caves, driving to scenic lookouts, or relaxing at the Alila spa.
If you have a little more time…
Days 8-11: Zighy Bay
For those with a few extra days to spare, we highly recommend making the 6.5-hour drive to Oman’s northern Musandam Peninsula for a stay at the exclusive and remote Six Senses Zighy Bay. Guests can opt for the most unique of arrivals – driving up the mountain and paragliding down to the beach while receiving a bird’s-eye tour of the property from your gliding instructor. The villas are spacious, each with private pools, and are beautifully designed, incorporating stone and earthy colours against the stark backdrop. There’s an amazing selection of watersports including wakeboarding, water skiing, micro flying, scuba diving and sunset dhow cruises through the peninsula’s craggy fjords. Make sure to sample the traditional lamb that is cooked underground in a massive pit, and save one night for a sunset dinner at the iconic cliff-side restaurant, Sense on the Edge.
When to go: The best time to visit Oman is from October to April – so it’s a good idea to start planning now!
For bookings or to speak to an Oman specialist, call Lightfoot Travel at 2815 0068 or visit lightfoottravel.com.