Places: These Omani landscapes are out of this world
From lush oases and hilltop towns to vast stretches of desert, Oman really is a land of contrasts. We round up five otherworldly destinations you need to visit
Travelling less than 100 miles in Oman sees transformations so great you could be on another continent. The country has gorges, cave chambers, immaculate beaches, fjords, and even its own answer to the Grand Canyon — all of which play a part in making this country a beguiling jewel in the Middle East's crown. So what are the best places to visit in Oman?
On the northern tip of the country and known as the Norway of the Middle East, the Musandam Peninsula is enclosed by sawtooth cliffs plunging into deep, crystalline waters. Its otherworldly appearance, along with year-round mild temperatures and diverse marine life make these fjords a must-visit. Hire a traditional Omani dhow, a kayak or don a wetsuit and tank and explore the area's sub-aquatic hinterland. On land, the rugged mountains, remote villages and empty beaches are equally as impressive. Several companies do full-day trips down the Khor Ash Sham, the longest and most dramatic of all the inlets, which stretches for more than 10 miles.
Dolphin Khasab Tours offers several kinds of tours including kayaking and diving.
For a few months each year, when most of the Arabian Peninsula is still buckling under soaring temperatures, Dhofar ushers in the monsoon season. The arid landscape transforms, and wadis — normally dry riverbeds in deep, narrow gorges — become emerald rock pools, palm-fringed lagoons and gushing waterfalls. There are so many beautiful swimming spots dotted across this region that even in peak tourist season, you'll most likely be able to find a completely secluded spot for a dip.
Al Fawaz Tours offers tours of the wadis around Dhofar.
The Rub' al Khali
The 'Empty Quarter' is the world's largest contiguous sand desert — covering 250,000sq miles, it encompasses southeast Oman, parts of Yemen, the UAE and the lion's share in Saudi Arabia. One of the driest regions on Earth, the only humans living here are a handful of Bedouin tribes scattered around its edges. Geckos, scorpions, rodents, an array of specialised shrub species and the ubiquitous camel are among the flora and fauna hardy enough to withstand the sometimes decade-long droughts the desert endures. Gravel plains and salt marshes occasionally interrupt the undulating landscape of dunes.
Bediyah Safari offers an overnight camping tour of the Rub' al Khali from £275 per person.
Majlis Al Jinn
Located 60 miles south east of Muscat, Majlis Al Jinn is the second-largest cave chamber in the world — over 300 metres long and 225 metres wide. In ancient times, it was a deeply spiritual place (its name means 'meeting place of the genies' in Arabic). The cave can only be accessed by three tiny openings at the top. Fearless abseilers and BASE jumpers occasionally brave the 500ft drop to the cave's sandy floor to land beside the bones of goats and snakes whose descent was anything but voluntary.
There's a shortage of organised tours to Oman's caves, although it's straightforward to organise a visit with a local guide once you're there, and these can be combined with camping trips.
Standing at a lofty 9,934ft, Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun) is Oman's highest mountain, offering spectacular views of its neighbour, Wadi Ghul. Known as the 'Arabian Grand Canyon' (it actually bottoms out around 650ft deeper than its American rival), the desolate grey and ochre landscape yields little vegetation, except for a few date plantations and small bushes. The 'balcony trail' is the main draw here for hikers, offering for the most awe-inspiring views across the entire ravine.
twenty3 extreme offers one-, two- and three-day tours that can include caving, canyoning, abseiling and a via ferrata, as well as a trek up Jebel Shams.
Oman Air offer daily direct flights from London Heathrow to Muscat, and for more information on the country as a whole, visit experienceoman.om.
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