Escape to the nature on a short trip to Oman
I love to live in Dubai - but sometimes it is nice to leave that glittering and artificial world to breath in some fresh air and enjoy the tranquility of nature. From Dubai it is only a 50 minutes flight to Muscat, the capital of Oman and with Fly Dubai you can often grab great deals - it sets you back with less than you would have spend most probably for a dinner on that day in Dubai.
GCC residents do not require any visa and for Europeans with a residence in Dubai they get a discounted visa upon arrival in the airport. To avoid queuing there you can also obtain your visa online in advance. Many nationalities do get the visa upon arrival, but please check for your specific nationality before travelling there.
As I have been many times to Muscat we skipped the city this time and headed directly to the desert. In Oman you can either rent a car and drive around yourself or hire a car with a friendly Omani driver through an agency. We booked our driver through Golden Oryx Tours, who are also my business partner for our tourist groups. They are very reliable and have super friendly staff and drivers. Drivers are all locals so you can get a real insight into the local life and culture and tourguides can be arranged for different languages in addition if that is required. Our driver on this trip was Salim a real good driver, super friendly and polite.
The company also offers great cultural visits as well as trekking tours in Oman. Check out their website www.goldenoryx.com
The same agency also ventured into the hospitality business and opened Oman's first eco-friendly hotels - which are a desert camp hotel and a mountain resort www.samaresorts.com - so this trip was supposed to check out both of them.
First we stayed at their desert camp - the Sama Al Wasil Desert Lodge. Around two hours drive away from Muscat airport this lodge is nestled at the edge of the vast Wahiba Desert. You do not really have to be an expert in desert driving to reach there as it is a quite easy off-road trail, however you should have a 4x4 in order not to get stucked in the soft sand.
The Lodge consists of a choice of Chalet accommodation as well as some private tents all equipped with private bathrooms and small terraces. Within the Lodge are the public areas like reception, souvenir shop, relax tent where coffee and tea is offered and the restaurant tent where you get your breakfast and dinner which is included in the room rate. And guys no WIFI here :-) so you can completely relax and unplug from the outer world! The resort people can also arrange various activities as dune bashing or camel riding for you.
The camp is situated in a kind of valley and you only have some local farmers around you and the stunning sand dunes which already reach quite a height over here.
The Chalets are small, but very cosy.
Or you choose to have an accommodation with a more local desert touch and you stay in one of their private tents.
Most of the guests are staying one, maximum two nights here so in the public areas of the Lodge you have the chance to mingle with the other guests and enjoy some freshly prepared local food.
Not to be missed is to enjoy the sunset from the dunes behind the Lodge. Once you managed to climb up, which is actually not so easy as it seems in that super soft and deep sand - you can have an amazing view of the desert dunes stretching out in front of you.
The same dune climb of course is nice to do in the morning for sunrise if you are an early bird. I have to admit I am not, so I missed the sunrise, but I did the climb a bit later in the early morning hours and the atmosphere was a different one from the evening but still so peaceful and tranquil. Perfect for my morning Yoga stretches and breathing.
After breakfast we set off for our next destination the impressive mountain region, however before we took a small detour in order to visit the famous Wadi Bani Khalid. We reached early so we avoided the tourist crowds and were able to enjoy a peaceful and picturesque Wadi.
From the main highway you first have to pass a quite steep, but good developed road before you reach the lively village of Bani Khalid. On the approach to the Wadi itself you pass some picturesque farm settlements with huge date tree oasis plantations. Then you have to stop your car at the car park and follow the ancient irrigation system canal - the so called Falaj - on foot to the Wadi, which is quite open in the front and suitable for swimming. Refreshments and light meals you can get at the small restaurant beside. Unfortunately quite touristic, but the Wadi still has its beauty.
Fish Spa, anyone? And its free of charge :-)
From the desert area to Nizwa it is a good three hours drive which is quite boring as the landscape is pretty flat and no major things to see. So good for a nap in the car - that is the advantage if you do not drive yourself :-) en route you can also stop in a roadside restaurant and try out some local cuisine. In Oman that mainly means rice and rice and rice and some chicken or lamb meat on top. Nice taste but really filling.
In the area around Nizwa you can find many oasis plantations, forts and ancient villages with houses made of clay - many of them are abondand these days and partly fallen down. The government has arranged modern houses for those who lived there. However they are still under protection as they belong to the cultural heritage of the country as well as the many Forts. Many of them got a new make over as well - but they are still very picturesque and good for a quick stop.
We had a photo stop at Birkat Al Mauz first.
And at Wadi Al Ghul afterwards before we started the climb up with our 4x4 to the high mountain area.
Our destination was the Sama Heights Resort , which lies on 2100 m at the foot of the Jebel Shams peak. The first part of the upwinding road is well developed, but then it goes into off-road terrain and depending on the road condition especially in winter when the rain comes you have to expect huge stones and holes on the road, so a 4x4 is obligatory. Also the signboards are not always there so you need a very good map or GPS system if you drive by yourself.
The resort is next to one of the main attractions of Oman - Wadi Nakhr, also known as the Grand Canyon of Oman. In just a 5 minutes drive from the hotel you can reach the viewing platform and the peaks around there are a perfect place to enjoy a spectacular sunset.
The Sama Heights Resort is eco-friendly same like its desert sister. The private villas and bungalows are made of locally sourced Omani stones and recycled materials. Tent accommodation is also on offer, but I would really recommend the rustic bungalows. Each has its own terrace and even an Outdoor BBQ place. There are common areas like the reception, restaurant and outdoor relax lounge as well as a small swimming pool, which however was dried out during our visit. The friendly reception staff can arrange for you various activities as hikes up to all levels in the area, rock climbing or mountain biking. Due to the height temperatures are always cooler here even in summer. And yes guys also no WIFI here so our social media account already didn't see us for a long time :-) .....soon they will also have their very own private cave I was told.
Rustic rooms, made of stones and some nice local features.
Public areas where you can mingle with your fellow mountain visitors and enjoy your breakfast and dinner. Food is freshly made and naturally sourced.
And we had an early morning visitor to our terrace that liked our cookies a lot :-)
All in all a very nice experience in a basic but very charming place. If you are up for a more luxurious mountain accommodation then you can head to the nearby Jabal Akhdar, Oman's famous Green mountain on which Anantara Hotels have built a beautiful and purely luxurious mountain resort (www.jabal-akhdar.anantara.com). Each villa has its private pool with spectacular views and the resort offers unique features in a very special setting.
After our breakfast we left our mountain hideaway and got back into the buzzling city life of Nizwa. Nizwa is mainly popular for its markets which are best to be visited in the morning hours. Here you can find different halls selling local products as fruits, vegetables, fish and every Friday morning you can also witness a live stock market.
The city is also famous for its pottery items which are displayed in various shops around the market.
The region is moreover well known for its excellent dates that come in various flavors, sizes and shapes. To break down their sweetness they are dipped in a sesame sauce called Tahini.
Another famous Oman export is the silver jewelry most famous the daggers and huge necklaces.
Second main sight of Nizwa is the Nizwa Fort, in several rooms you can learn about Nizwas past and present and see local traditional items. If you climb the stairs to the main watchtower you will be rewarded with a fantastic view over Nizwa and the surrounding mountains.
As we still had some time to our departure flight we did a deroute on the way back to Muscat to visit another impressive Fort - Nakhal - also with amazing mountain views around. We arrived there at closing time, but the guard was so nice to still let us in - just a very small example of the great Omani hospitality.
Behind the Fort lies a vast palm tree oasis. It is a very pretty drive through it until you reach a small Wadi and a tiny water cascade. Not suitable for a swim but nice for a foot dip and to enjoy some fresh tamarind juice from the local vendor.
And that is already the end to a very short Oman trip but it reminded me again how beautiful Oman is in terms of landscapes, cultural heritage and most important the hospitality of the Omani people. Great country to visit, very recommended!