On Friday we left Dubai’s shiny, glitzy airport and landed in Muscat, a much smaller, less shiny facility, but nonetheless a welcoming airport. Our first stop on entering the airport was the arrival priority lounge where we could sit and wait for our visas to be processed, rather than wait in line out in the main arrival hall. This is a service provided by tour companies to assist their clients and make the process a bit easier for them. I was also told that if you are not able to use this service, then you go to the window that looks like a cashier’s window and pay for your visa, then get in the line for immigration. Once we had our visas ( US $15, or it can be paid in dinars or rials or euros) we picked up our luggage, finished the customs and immigration process, then went out to our bus.
Muscat is different in so many ways from Dubai. The skyline is modest, but the most striking difference is the landscape. The mountains come right to the sea in Oman. Muscat is nestled in between the water and the jagged peaks, and instead of seeing miles and miles of dunes at the edge of the city of Dubai, you see white buildings and stark mountains.
We drove to our hotel for the night, the Shangri La Resort, located outside the city of Muscat on its own private beach. There are three sections to the resort: one that caters more to families, one that is more for the business traveler, and one for people who want a more private, relaxing resort experience. After getting settled into our rooms we departed for a tour of the resort, then later in the afternoon we went for a dhow cruise.
The dhow cruise was very pleasant and it was nice to get out on the water. In spite of the heat, once we were out in the light breeze on the water it was much more comfortable. We had an excellent view of the villages and the mountains, and the rock formations jutting out of the water. We also saw a few of the many watch towers that dot the hilltops all throughout Oman, as well as a fortress, and one of the Sultan’s palaces. After watching the sunset, we returned to the port, then headed to Muscat’s famous Mutrah Souk. It is much like other souks in the Middle East, and has spices and jewellery, as well as clothing, shoes, housewares, and more. You can find the typical Omani curved daggers – khanjars – with their ornately decorated scabbards, and frankincense here. Frankincense was once a commodity worth its weight in gold, but now is readily available and much less expensive, making it a good souvenir of Oman.
Just judging by what we have seen here so far, two days is not enough time to see everything Oman has to offer. Tomorrow we go to Nizwa for a half day, then return to Muscat for dinner and another hotel inspection, then it will be a late transfer to the airport to leave already. We have been hearing from the local tour operators that at least 5 days is a good stay, but you can easily spend more time in the country, going to the north to Musandam, and to the south to Shalalah, and visit the sites in between. I think we will have some more sample itineraries for Oman on the website soon!