“Oman suteki!” How many times have you heard that? Odds are, not many. But for intrepid travelers who like to be ahead of the curve, that’s a good thing. Put simply, the Sultanate of Oman is the Arabian Peninsula’s most alluring destination. Few locations offer the dramatic scenery and peace of mind—this friendly land has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Who knew standing around on a pitch-black beach staring at flashlight-illuminated turtle butts could be so mesmerizing?
The exotic wafts of Omani fragrances are an appropriate introduction to a wealthy country where aromatic scents and the smell of money commingle in a happy mixture of tradition and modernity. There are several small museums of interest in the capital, Muscat, but the country’s real attractions are remarkable landscapes, natural wonders—and enigmatic perfume, much of which is based on frankincense, a substance known to many only as a mysterious gift borne by a wise man 2007 years ago.
Frankincense is the milky sap of a gnarled, stubby tree that grows in high-desert conditions; Oman’s has been coveted for centuries and remains sought-after to this day, though fellow mystical scents myrrh (also derived from a tree) and orris (the aromatic dried root of a cactus) are nothing to sniff at with regard to value. To inhale them all, visit the Amouage perfume showroom located near the airport in Muscat’s Seeb district. The company began as the perfume manufacturer for the royal family and grew from there; Amouage is now sold in exclusive shops across the globe to an elite clientele to whom the price tag for the most valuable perfume in the world is not an obstacle to smelling regal.
It is in Dhofar that the treasured frankincense trees ooze with charm and sap; they can be seen along the spectacular mountain road beyond Al Mughsayl, whose beach would be reminiscent of Ireland if not for the camels ambling along the sand. Frankincense resin crystals are easily purchased at the al-Husr souk, where exotic ingredients are displayed for a mélange of fragrances prepared and bottled to order.
Inland from Muscat is Nizwa, once the capital of Oman and now home to the impressive Nizwa Fort. The complex is large and well positioned (as forts tend to be) for extensive views over the landscape. Nearby is Birkat Al Mawz, an unexpectedly lush settlement and one of the country’s most picturesque locations; it is the apotheosis of desert oases. Further inland is Wahiba Sands, an attraction for adrenalin-heads looking for desert adventure. Riding the sand dunes is a popular pastime here, where the endless undulations can yield surprise encounters.
At the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Ras Al Hadd and Ras Al Jinz are among the busiest egg-laying beaches in the world for giant green turtles who come ashore to keep the species alive. Visitors come from far and wide to see the massive creatures drop their ping pong-ball-sized rubbery eggs into small sandpits. If you’re an early riser, get to the beach at dawn to see the spectacle sunny side up.
Salalah, in the southern Dhofar region, is a world apart. Its most impressive sight is the dense vegetation between the sea and the city; the cornucopia of coconuts and tropical fruits will have you thinking you are in Kerala after a monsoon instead of the Arabian Peninsula. Dhofar attracts European and Japanese visitors eager to escape the cold and gray of winter. In summer, it is the comparative cold and gray of the misty khareef season rolling out a green carpet of lush foliage exotic for this part of the world.
In Salalah’s vicinity are several excursions: into the mountains along the coast to the city’s west, to the dense fog of the khareef to the north, and to the archeological sites of the ancient trading cities Sumharum and Al Baleed to the east.
Oman is an automobile society; distances are considerable and gas is subsidized, making motoring the way to go. Yet whether you hire a guide or do it on your own, the country has something to please all five senses.
The Oman Ministry of Tourism website (www.mot.gov.om) is an excellent aid in planning travel to the country, offering detailed information about every region. Zahara Tours (www.zaharatours.com) is a professional outfit that can arrange an SUV with a driver to take you anywhere in the country. Such a tour company is a necessity for those who want to ride the sand dunes or go to remote locations where sturdy wheels and local knowledge are invaluable. Oman Air (www.omanair.aero/wy) flies from Muscat to Salalah several times per week. The flight is approximately 90 minutes. The airline’s introduction of nonstop flights from Bangkok to Muscat makes getting there from Tokyo extremely easy.