While the sands of time have lessened Muscat’s importance as an international port city, the world is taking note of the city’s rise as a one-stop shop for adventure, relaxation and discovery.
Pinched between the rugged Western Hajar Mountains and the dhow-lined coast of the Gulf of Oman is the low-lying port city of Muscat. Long an important harbour along the Arabian Sea, and having spent time under the rule of the Portuguese, the Ottomans and the Persians, Muscat has been enriched by a wide spectrum of cultures. With its mixture of old and new, foreign and domestic, and natural and man-made, the city by the sea offers visitors a glut of activities. In helping you get started, The Chedi Muscat’s discerning concierge team, along with some of the city’s premier tour operators, has helped to create a list of activities and tours (which they will arrange for you on request) to get your Omani experience rolling.
Whatever your fancy, you’ll find it in the heart of the Omani desert.
Diving and Snorkelling
Known more for its rugged interior, Oman is also a diver’s haven, and with 1,700 kilometres of coastline and direct access to three bodies of water (the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, and the Arabian Sea), it’s not hard to see why. But for the best diving, travellers need not venture much farther than Muscat.
The Daymaniyat Islands: Roughly 45 minutes from Muscat’s coast by speedboat, this group of nine tiny islands comprises Oman’s first marine reserve and offers divers and snorkellers the opportunity to take in colourful coral reefs, clear waters and schools of snapper and other fish. With two dives a day, this trip offers guests a relaxing reprieve from what can become scorching heat.
Bandar Al Khiran: This site, roughly 30 minutes by boat from the coast of Muscat, affords divers an opportunity to glide through the wreck of the Al Munassir, a decommissioned Omani navy ship that was scuttled in 2003 as part of an artificial reef-building project. With moray eels, cuttlefish, blue-spotted stingrays and swarms of reef fish on hand, divers and snorkellers alike will be able to enjoy the diverse marine life as it navigates the rusted remnants below.
Finding Peace on a Dhow
Dhows, the traditional Omani trading vessel, are slender, lateen-rigged sailing boats whose design is said to have come from India anytime between 600 BC and 600 AD. While you’ll see many sputtering along Muscat’s coastline with fishing nets in tow, you too can take to the seas in these traditional Omani treasures. Dhows can be arranged for hire through The Chedi Muscat and can accommodate anywhere up to 40 people for a sunset tour or even an overnight excursion. Leaving on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the Dhow sunset tours last from 4:00 to 6:00 pm and take visitors beyond the coastal waters to where the sun can be seen falling away behind the ocean’s expansive horizon.
For those geared more towards sport, speedboats can also be arranged for deep-sea fishing. Using modern methods of trawling and conventional fishing rods is common, but for the more adventurous and challenge-seeking guests, try your hand at Omani khiteh, or hand-line fishing, for red snapper.
Perhaps the best way to experience all that this ancient city has to offer are through The Chedi Muscat’s comprehensive day-long tours that take guests from the capital’s humming interior to the silent serenity of the dunes.
Wake up early to take in the two historic 16th-century forts of Al Jalali and Mirani that crown the skyline before heading to Al Alam Palace, the most flamboyant of Sultan Qaboos’ royal residences.
Tour 1: Wake up early and hit the road in a meaty 4×4, destination Sur—dhow-building country. Along the way, you’ll be able to relax on the powdery white beach at Fins and enjoy Wadi Shab, a freshwater sinkhole, Bima Sinkhole, that offers unmatched views, waterfalls and a quick way to beat the desert heat. After picnicking, pick up where you left off and drive through the sparsely populated Omani interior to Sur, where you can watch boat builders crafting dhows out of teakwood. Leaving around 6:30 am, the tour will get you back to Muscat in time for dinner.
Filled with Omani goods such as gold, antique silverwares, and frankincense, this traditional Arab souk is a mainstay of Muscat’s cultural itinerary and can be visited repeatedly without tire.
Tour 2: If you’d rather stay closer to the hotel, a city tour offers a unique glimpse of the history and modernity that make Muscat what it is today. Wake up early to take in the two historic 16th-century forts of Al Jalali and Mirani that crown the skyline before heading to Al Alam Palace, the most flamboyant of Sultan Qaboos’ royal residences. From there, wander over to Muscat’s renowned Muttrah Souk where minutes fade into hours. Filled with Omani goods such as gold, antique silverwares, and frankincense, this traditional Arab souk is a mainstay of Muscat’s cultural itinerary and can be visited repeatedly without tire.
After you have finished digging for treasure, saunter down to Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque as afternoon prayers are called and finish off your tour by finding your way to the local seafood market. These four-hour guided tours, which can be done independently if desired, run daily with the exception of Fridays, and are a great way to get acquainted early with the city.
Though it involves a drive of nearly four hours from Muscat, staying overnight in the Wahiba Sands is a must, if only to catch the incredible sunrises, sunsets and smattering of stars overhead. The Chedi Muscat recommends two options for accommodation: isolated five-star luxury at the Desert Nights Camp, or more basic lodgings (but a more authentic Bedouin experience) at the 1,000 Nights Camp. Other activities that can be pursued while on these sandy excursions include observing traditional Bedouin lifestyle, sand-boarding (think snowboarding on mountains of sand), going on a camel caravan, or dune bashing—ploughing through sand dunes at high speeds in a modified off-road vehicle. Whatever your fancy, you’ll find it in the heart of the Omani desert.
(Featured image:Muttrah Souk is famed for its diverse offerings – from frankincense, Arabic perfume, silverware, gold jewellery, wood carvings and praying attire to Omani dates and Middles Eastern spices.)