One of the Middle East’s mellowest and most sublime destinations, Oman has endless charms to offer the visitor: a rich heritage reflected in its ancient mosques and historical sites, incredible dive sites, beautiful sandy beaches and an exotic Arabian culture. It is set on the Arabian Peninsula, featuring a magnificent landscape of vast desert, endless coastlines and undulating dunes. Highlights include: the elegant, evocative capital of Muscat; the friendly port town of Sur; the charming mountain settlement of Misfat Al Abryeen; the prehistoric tombs bordering the Western Hajar; diving around the Daymaniyat Islands Marine Reserve; and watching hundreds of green turtles emerging from the ocean at Ras Al Jinz to lay eggs.
Banking and Currency
Omani Rial (OMR) = 1,000 baiza. Notes are in denominations of OMR50, 20, 10, 5 and 1, and 500, 250, 200 and 100 baiza. Coins are in denominations of 50, 25, 10 and 5 baiza.
Banking hours: Saturday-Wednesday 08h00-12h00 and Thursday 08h30-11h30.
All major credit cards are accepted here, including to a lesser extent American Express. ATMs are widely available throughout the county. Travellers should be wary of using traveller’s cheques in Oman as they are difficult to exchange. International hotel chains are more likely to accept them, but smaller hotels, shops and banks are likely to refuse. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller’s cheques in US Dollars.
Currency is easily exchanged in banks, money exchange centres and major hotels. It is advisable to take US Dollars or Pounds Sterling.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Oman Air, operates direct flights from the UK. Alternatively, there are plenty of indirect options with other carriers in the region, including flights with Emirates, Etihad Airways, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines. Oman has a fast and modern network of roads and motorways with good connections between Muscat and major towns. Principal routes run from east to west, connecting Muscat to Sohar, and from north to south. Sudden rainfall can cause flash flooding in dry riverbeds and roads that cross them. There are excellent roads in Muscat and between Muscat and other major towns in Oman. Unpaved roads open up less-visited parts of Oman for those with 4-wheel drive vehicles.
Many international firms have offices at the airport and at hotels in Muscat and Salalah. Most visitors can use their own national driving licence or International Driving Permit. The minimum age to hire a car ranges from 21 to 25 depending on the company. As distances are long, check if there is a daily mileage limit. There is excellent off-road driving, so you may want to hire a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Few of the orange and white taxis are metered so you should agree fares in advance. Shared taxis and minibuses are popular, especially with Omani women who generally sit next to other women. Apart from taxis, the only way of getting around Oman is by coach or shared minibus operated by Mwasalat. There are regular daily services between the major cities.
There are currently no rail services in Oman, but there are plans to construct a rail network connecting the country with the rest of the Gulf region.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
The cuisine of Oman recalls its role as a key trading post between east and west. The spices used in stews and soups came to Oman by way of the spice trade from India, but the traditions of grilled meat and preserved fruit came by land from the Arabian peninsula. Muscat is the dining centre of Oman and the best place to try some of the more interesting dishes of the Sultanate, including spectacular seafood hauled fresh from the Arabian Sea. As a rule, Omani cooking is less spicy than in other parts of the Gulf, with lots of dishes based on lamb and chicken, usually served with rice, or fried together with rice in local versions of India’s biryani. Some of the tastiest dishes are reserved for big religious festivals. Locals eschew alcohol in favour of strong coffee, flavoured with cardamom and served with dates and other sweet treats.
Muslims are forbidden to drink alcohol, but most hotel bars and restaurants have a bar for guests. Visitors are only allowed to drink alcohol if they purchase drinks from licensed hotels and restaurants. To buy alcohol for home consumption, Western nationals must obtain a licence from their embassy.
Food bought in the main supermarkets can be regarded as safe. Outside the capital area, milk may be unpasteurised and if so, should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurised. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
It is advisable to avoid food and drinks bought from street vendors. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel.
While tap water is generally safe to drink, most Omanis drink bottled water and this is widely available. You can safely drink carbonated drinks in cans and bottles. Outside the capital area and main towns, you should boil or sterilise water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice. Use iodine tablets and portable water filters to purify water if bottled water is not available. Avoid ice cubes in your drinks.
Tipping is not expected but becoming more common; 10% should be given in hotels and restaurants with licensed bars, but is not expected in more casual restaurants.
Climate and Weather
The Sultanate of Oman occupies the southeastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula and a total area of 309,500 sq km (119,500 sq miles or roughly the same size as Italy) including the coastal islands of Masirah, Halanyat and Salama, plus Musandam and Madha, which are completely surrounded by the United Arab Emirates.
With Oman's expansive and diverse terrain, the climatic conditions are as varied as the geography. The most popular time to visit is from October to April when the weather is warm and sunny and temperatures range from a very pleasant 25°C (77°F) to around 35°C (95°F) during the day. It is cooler at night, ranging in temperature from 17°C (63°F) to 19°C (66°F).
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Lightweight cottons are advisable throughout the year, with a warm wrap for cooler winter evenings, mountain excursions and overworked air-conditioning in shops and restaurants. When touring, khaki or beige are more suitable colours to wear than white, as the dry, dusty conditions can discolour clothing.
Oman is a Muslim country and, while it is relatively moderate, visitors should be sensitive to its customs. Women should not bare shoulders or show low cleavage and should not wear short shorts or short skirts. Long shorts should ideally be below the knee. They should also carry a large scarf or pashmina with them at all times in case they need to cover their head. This is essential when visiting mosques. Men should only wear long, baggy shorts, and preferably trousers outside hotels. Swimming costumes are confined to hotel pools and beachwear should be modest. Most hotels do not require women to cover up when swimming, although women may choose to do so when bathing in the sea on public beaches.
There are a few internet cafes in Oman’s main cities. All the luxury hotels have business centres with Wi-Fi.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Plug sockets in the Sultanate of Oman are Type G (BS-1363)and supply electricity at 240 volts AC / 50 Hz frequency. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. If your appliance isn’t compatible with 220-240 volts, a voltage converter will be necessary.