Living in the Middle East has its perks! It is definitely easier to travel the region from the region! Living in Saudi is no exception. You can head to places like Bahrain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Beirut and Oman for the weekend!
I recently went with my girlfriends to Oman – it was the one place on my list that I hadn’t been and wanted to go before I finally leave Saudi Arabia for good! We were also desperate for a weekend out of Saudi as the last time we left was in January! No school holidays suck!
Muscat is the capital of Oman and also it’s the largest city. It has traditionally been a centre for trade between various empires of the East and West – the Persian and Ottoman among the few.
These are the things we did that we loved most!
- Wadi Shab (Shaab / Wadi Sur)
- The Grand Mosque
- Sultan’s Palace
- Mutrah (Muttrah) Souk and Corniche
- Bimmah Sink Hole
Wadi Shab (Shaab/ Sur)
Wadi Shab is about 2 hours drive from Muscat by taxi bus in the Al Sharqiyah region. The landscape on the way is a mountainous desert of rocks until the edge of Oman appears and you get an awesome view of the ocean. The road is signposted and once you get to the entrance of the wadi there is parking area with amenities -it’s not to prettiest place to stop as the Muscat–Sur Highway runs across the entrance, however, the view up the wadi is stunning.
Shaab means ‘Gorge Between Cliffs’ and the lower pools provide drinking water so you can’t swim in them. We were told it was a 40-minute hike to the pools – it took us longer! Perhaps because we kept stopping for photos! The gorge you walk through is amazing, although there are lots of black pipes that take water to various places for drinking. the way is easily identified and you get to walk and scramble across rocks.
Once you get to the pools you can swim. It is definitely a great way to cool off even if there are lots of people there having a rest! If you are more adventurous you can head even further into the wadi to an awesome waterfall in a cave To get to the waterfall you need to swim and wade up the wadi most of it is walkable but there are some sections that even I could stand (I am 5 foot 9 – 1.75 meters) and had to swim! The swim is a huge amount of fun and with a waterproof camera or waterproof bag, I have one and I love it! The waterfall is definitely worth the trip – although if you don’t like close spaces watch out for the entrance to the cave as it is a bit narrow!
Plan on being out for either the whole morning or afternoon, be prepared as April is hot in Oman so take the standard stuff:
- Food, snacks and plenty of drinking water
- Swimming clothes and towel
- Water-proof footwear
- Camera and waterproof bag
The Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque was a gift to the people of Oman from Sultan Qaboos on May 4, 200, to celebrate 30 years of his reign. It was built from 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone. In the sunshine, the sandstone shines brightly edged by the green of the garden. It is stark but beautiful with many places for an Instagram shot!
The mosque is a working mosque and is open to tourists until 11 am when it closes for prayers. It can hold 20,000 worshipers and has a private prayer hall that can accommodate 750 women.
Do not miss going into the mosque!
It is breathtaking! The Persian carpet is a masterwork woven in four years by 600 women and it measures 70 m by 60 m wide, making it the second-largest hand-loomed Iranian carpet in the world as well as the second largest single piece carpet in the world. It boggles the mind at the work that went into it!
There is a chandelier above the praying hall which is 14 meters tall and is from Italy. It is the world’s largest chandelier and fits proportionally into the mosque which is the 90 meters high. We sat for about 20 minutes beneath the chandelier marvelling at the geometric and floral designs that decorates the inside of the mosque. In the hushed quiet we took in all the beauty and serenity!
Check out any guides to Oman and the Sultans Palace gates will feature in the photos! Built on the site of the former British Embassy, the palace is closed to the public, however, the surroundings are free for you to wander and take photos! The collonaded approach is amazing in its simplicity and allows a great view and gives you a quintessential photograph.
Mutrah (Muttrah) Souk
Located at the edge of the corniche with the main entrance on the corniche side is the Mutrah (Muttrah) Souk also known as Al Dhalam (Darkness). It has been here for many years, dating back to the days of the empires! It has been rebuilt and updated however it retains the chaotic nature of a traditional Arab market despite being housed under decorated modern timber roofing.
You can find pretty much anything, with a predominant mix of Omani and Indian artefacts together with antiques – oddly enough spyglass and compasses – which are intermingled among more traditional textile, hardware and jewellery stores.
Our driver accompanied us, which was awesome as I know I would have gotten lost inside the maze that is the souq. While getting lost is half the fun, with my luck I would have ended up lost for hours!
Bimmah Sink Hole
Between Muscat and Wadi Shab is the Bimmah Sinkhole and was formed by a collapse of the surface layer due to the dissolution of the underlying limestone which created the 50 m by 70 m wide and approximately 20 m deep, sinkhole. Around the sinkhole is the Hawiyat Najm (Falling Star) Park, around it, as well as a stairway leading down to the lake – which makes for better access for swimming! The park is kitted out with tables and braai/ barbeque areas for families and play areas for children. I wish we had taken a picnic with us and chilled more in the shade, maybe next time.
Once you are done exploring you are going to be famished! The restaurant we went to is one I will recommend again and again! Located on Al Bashair Street is the Kargeen Restaurant, it has an open-air section and an indoor section. The outdoor area includes majlis-style dining (on sedans in small rooms), with a courtyard of trees illuminated by fairy lights to create a magical Arabian experience. Definitely worth finishing a long day here!
PS. the Food is AMAZING!
Check out the Lonely Planet guide for more information on Oman!
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