Oman

OVERVIEW
The Sultanate of Oman is the third largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. Visitors to Oman can expect to experience an era of timelessness in its ancient interior cities, Coastal towns, or the capital, Muscat, and beyond. Each area is steeped in its own history and traditions bringing forth a vast and vibrant unspoiled culture, which visitors can enjoy all year round. Even in the age of modernity, Oman remains distinctly Arabic, offering a taste of old wonders to new age visitors. World heritage and ancient archaeological sites, hundreds of forts and castles, mosques, souks (marketplace) and dhows (sailing ship) are all dotted across the country, providing an intriguing insight into the rich history and culture of Oman. With its splendour and wealth having been acclaimed by world travellers such as Marco Polo, this most breath-taking destination in the Arabian Gulf boasts a fascinating history which is imbued with rich cultural traditions spanning 5000 years. Oman features an intoxicating mix of modern opulence and traditional culture, vast barren deserts and rocky deep-water fjords, ancient forts and luxurious hotels.

One of the greatest conveniences for New Zealand travellers visiting Oman is the fact that English is widely spoken. People are almost universally polite and will take great pleasure in showing hospitality to visitors.

 

DESTINATION INFO
This information has been compiled for your reference in good faith but please use this only as a general guide. We advise you to check with relevant authorities with regard to the latest requirement for passport, visa, travel advisory, entry restrictions, health requirements, local currency etc. as these are subjected to change with without prior notice and our information given below may not be as updated.


Best time 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. For the rest of the year, much of Oman is very hot and hazy, particularly between May and August. The redeeming summertime feature is the khareef, the mid-June to late-August rainy season in southern Oman. 

Visa: All countries require a valid passport (with minimum 6 months validity). No visa is required for New Zealand citizens upon entering Oman for a 30-days stay. Many “Western” nationalities are issued with a free visa on arrival. Please check for updated information with Oman consulate or your travel agent. 

Currency: The currency for Oman is the Omani Rial (OMR) which is made up of one thousand Baisa. Notes are in denominations of OMR50, 20, 10, 5 and 1, and 500, 250, 200 and 100 Baisa. Coins are in denominations of 50, 25, 10 and 5 Baisa. The Rial is officially tied to the US dollar at 1 Rial = 2.6008 dollars; exchange rates on the streets are a percent or two lower.

All major credit cards are accepted and ATM’s are widely available throughout the country. Foreign currency can be changed at money exchanges throughout Oman and at airports. Traveller’s cheques are easily exchanged and to avoid additional exchange rate charges it is advised to take traveller’s cheques in US Dollars. Banking hours are Sat-Wed 0800-1200, Thurs 0800-1130. 

Health: Oman has an extensive public health service (free to Omani nationals) with many hospitals and health centres widely available. Whilst hospital emergency treatment is available, there is no ambulance service in Oman. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Visitors are recommended to carry original identity documents (such as passport) at all times, as photocopies may not be accepted. New Zealanders travelling to Oman should have comprehensive medical and travel insurance policies in place before travelling to Oman. Please contact your Doctor for recommended vaccination.

We strongly advise that all New Zealand travellers check the latest travel advice on the New Zealand Government Safe Travel site.

Food and Drinks: All water outside the capital (Muscat) is not safe to drink and any water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should be boiled or otherwise sterilised. Bottled water is widely available from most stores and alcohol is only available from select restaurants and large hotels and is expensive. Drinking is illegal for Omani’s and drinking in public during Ramadan is strictly prohibited. Foreigners should take care during this period to drink in the privacy of your room. Food bought in main supermarkets is safe and milk outside the capital is generally unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is recommended and only eat well cooked meat, fish, vegetables and peeled fruit.

The food in Oman is mainly Arabic, Turkish, Lebanese and Indian. Omani food tends to be less spicy than typical Arabic food and is served in large portions such as whole fish. Traditional coffee houses and popular chain coffee shops are available and popular. Waiter service is the norm in restaurants and the majority of hotel bars and restaurants have a bar for foreigners. Alcohol for home consumption can be bought, however travellers must obtain a license from the embassy to do this. 

Safety & security: Oman is recognised by the United Nations Council as the safest country in the Gulf. Crimes rarely occur as the Royal Oman Police are very efficient and honest. Like in any other part of the world, a few precautions need to be taken to avoid any problems. Please do not leave your bags unattended at any time. Please use safe deposit in your hotel room or Reception to keep your money or valuables including passport. When you leave the room, it is recommended that you lock your suitcase. It is also recommended to carry a copy of your passport including the visa page.

Driving in Muscat can be dangerous mainly due to congestion. Omani drivers outside the cities tend to drive fast and overtake without indicating and at night many drivers fail to turn their headlights on. Beware of camels on the roads as collisions are often fatal for both camel and driver. Driving in the desert requires proper preparation. Never go off road, leave your itinerary with a friend and take spare tires, sufficient water and sufficient petrol.

Clothing: Lightweight summer clothing in cottons or blends is ideal for parts of the year. Sweaters, a light jacket or shawl may be needed for the cooler evenings. The dress code in Oman is comparatively relaxed, but revealing and inappropriate clothing may be considered offensive.

Language: Whilst the official language is Arabic, almost all signs have English translations. In addition, most citizens speak a reasonable level of English and are happy to converse with travellers.

Gratuities: A 10% tip is customary in hotels and restaurants if a service fee has not been included on the bill.

Airport tax: Airport Tax of OMR 5.00 has to be paid upon departure if not included in the flight ticket. Children up to 2 years of age are exempted. 

Internet: Communication in Oman is excellent. Most providers including Vodafone are networked throughout with most smart phones and Blackberry having coverage across the country. Data is also available as well however appreciate that when travelling overseas this can be quite costly and most of the New Zealand telecommunication companies don’t offer bridging data plans when travelling to Oman. Visitors can buy a sim card on exist from immigration which is by far the most economical way of receiving calls and data. OMR10 (NZD30) gives around 7 days of coverage. This allows a substantial amount of emails / data and calls. Recharge cards are available throughout the country.

Telephone: Telephone cards Al Mutaqa and prepaid and pre-programmed Alpha cards, Jibreen cards are available in denominations of OMR 1.5, 3 and 5. Oman’s country code is +968 from New Zealand. While calling New Zealand from Oman, you will need to dial +64…. For outgoing International calls made between 9pm and 7 am these are charged at a discounted rate. Local calls are charged 25 Baisa for 3 minutes. Public telephones use phone cards. Cards are available from filling stations, supermarkets and some smaller shops. 

Time Difference: Oman is 9 hours behind New Zealand from April to September and 8 hours behind from October to March. 

Photography: Tourist photography is permitted and it is always courteous to ask permission before taking pictures of Omani people or their property. (‘No Photography’ signs exist in certain areas). 

Electricity: 220V to 240v. British plugs with 240 volt power system (at 50 Hertz) are used. Adaptors to convert New Zealand/Australian to British plugs are readily available at many travel stores and airports. Few Hotels have adapters available which you could borrow free of charge during your stay but it might be a good idea to carry one from home. Visit this link for more information: http://kropla.com/electric2.htm

Religion: Islam is the official religion in Oman, although other religions are tolerated. Over 80% of the population is Muslim and most of these are of a minority sect known as Ibadis. Most of the remainder are either Sunni or Shia. Indian Hindus account for 13 % of the population and there are also a small numbers of non-Omani Christians. Never criticise the Sultan of Oman or the Islamic religion as it will cause great offence. 

Customs: The Omanis are generally very humble, down-to-earth people. The usual rules of respect when travelling in a Muslim country should be followed in Oman, even when locals appear to be a little less “structured” than their neighbours. Do not discuss or question the Sultan’s sexuality; while this is a subject of rumours in the West, it is not an acceptable topic in Oman. Similarly, homosexuality is illegal due to Islamic law.

While Omanis may not say anything to foreigners who dress in tight or revealing clothing, it is quite disrespectful. Yes, some visitors push the goodwill of the Omanis in choosing their attire, but a little sensitivity goes a long way. Staring is quite common in Oman; children, men and women are likely to stare at you simply for being a foreigner, especially if you travel off-season and in out-of-the-way places. This is not meant as an insult, it rather shows an interest, and a friendly smile will leave the kids giggling and showing off, and the adults happily trying out their few English phrases.

 

CITIES OF INTEREST

Muscat: 
Muscat is the capital and commercial centre of Oman. It retains its heritage more than any of the new-look cities of the Middle East. Muscat comprises of a long string of suburbs, and despite its length feels more like a collection of small towns than a busy metropolis. Muscat is sometimes referred to as three cities: Muscat, Muttrah and Ruwi.

The harbour is nestled between the azure waters of the Gulf of Oman and the seemingly impenetrable mountains. Most of the cities sights are in and around Muttrah and the neighbouring Walled City of Muscat. Famous landmarks include Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muttrah Souk, the forts of Al-Jalali and Al-Mirani which flank his Majesty’s colourful and elegant Al-Alam Palace, Burj As-Sahwa, Clock Tower Square, and Al-Bustan Palace Hotel.

Muttrah Souk is the oldest market place and is located behind the Corniche of Muttrah. Frankincense, spices, dates and antiques jostle for the limelight with electronic products, Barbie dolls and fashion accessories. The Souk is a maze of pathways leading through narrow, winding alleys and by-lanes, and tucked away in a corner is the Gold Souk.

Flanking His Majesty the Sultan’s Al-Alam Palace, are the so-called Twin Forts: Al-Jalali and Al-Mirani, in conjunction with the veritable defences of the Fort of Muttrah and a host of fortified structures and watchtowers along the rocky ridges of the bay, made Muscat virtually impregnable. Muscat has a number of beautiful beaches such as Qurum Beach, Bandar Al-Jissah and Yeti.
 

Nizwa:
The oasis city of Nizwa, the largest in the interior province, was the capital of Oman in the 6th and 7th centuries. Today it remains one of the most popular tourist attractions with its historical buildings and imposing fort built in the mid-17th century by Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya’ribi. The town’s immense palm oasis stretches for eight kilometres along the course of two wadis. It is famous for its bustling souk where tourists can buy exquisite copper and silver jewellery and other craft items.


Sohar:
The coastal city of Sohar was once an important Islamic port and the largest town in the country. Visitors will be attracted to its large and functional souk with handy tailors, fruit sellers and fishermen vying for space and its fort which stands apart with its four-story walls and six towers, an imposing sight overlooking the bay.

 

Sur:
Sur has an ideal location in the northeast Province of Sharquiya and is a seafaring town, a fishing village and a trading port all in one. The highlight of the town is the dhow builder’s yard of the coast just beyond the town. Sur started trading activities with the African coast as early as the 6th century A.D. A walk through its streets reveals many fine old houses with carved doors, arabesque windows and other intricate details. Sur is also famous for its breeding sites of world’s rare sea turtles in Ras Al Jinaiz, which has been declared a protected wild life area.

Western Hajar Mountains: This dramatic, mountainous region is Oman’s biggest tourist attraction. Here you will find: Jebel Shams (Oman’s highest mountain at 3075m); Wadi Ghul (the Grand Canyon of Arabia); and Jebel Akhdar (the fruit bowl of Oman – famous for its fragrant, pink roses from which rosewater is made); and some of the country’s best forts, can be seen in Nizwa, Bahla and Jabrin.

 

Musandam Peninsula:
An Omani enclave within the UAE, Musandam contains some of Oman’s most spectacular scenery. The stunning peaks of the Fjords of Arabia plunge up to 2000m into the azure waters, where tropical reefs provide shelter for an abundance of colourful fish. Dolphins also make regular appearances, following the local fishermen as they go in search of tuna and other local species.

Around the water’s edge, ancient fishing villages dot the landscape. Some are little more than ruins, while others continue to provide shelter for today’s inhabitants as they maintain a way of life that has changed little over the centuries.

Travellers will see Musandam‘s treasures best via boat, embarking on a traditional Arabian dhow tour which will sail them through the majestic fjords, take them past fishing villages, and bring them up close and personal to dolphins and vibrant coral reefs. Most tours will include lunch on board the dhow with freshly caught seafood and other local delights, and also offer guests the chance to snorkel amongst the tropical marine life waiting just beneath the surface.

 

Muscat to Sur road:
This very scenic five hour journey follows the base of the Eastern Hajar Mountains, and is known for some amazing sights.

Bimmah Sinkhole – the blue-green water at the bottom of this 40m x 20m limestone hole invites a swim and snorkel – but be warned the depth is unknown.

Wadi Shab – one of the country’s most popular walking destinations is known for its aquamarine pools, waterfalls, terraced plantations and kingfishers.

Wadi Tiwi – is home to a string of emerald pools and plantations, the wadi offers excellent walking opportunities.

Qalhat – is a 2nd Century AD settlement, and one of Oman’s most ancient sites. Have your photo taken under the picturesque Tomb of Bibi Miriam…Why? Because Marco Polo stopped here in the 13th century.

 

Salalah:
The Largest city in Southern Oman, Salalah has a unique charm with its coconut groves and banana plantations growing right to the water’s edge. Its beautiful beaches of white sand are a haven for swimmers and sea lovers. The rugged beauty of its fertile plains, its fresh water springs, its bustling souks and tropical landscape leave a lasting impression on the visitors mind. The best time to visit Salalah is from June to September, When the monsoon rains lash the region, turning it into a tropical paradise.

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