April 14 - 21st 2006

Where is Oman? / Où est Oman?



Oman is a country that is waiting to be discovered. Very few tourists make it there because it’s a country situated in an unstable part of the world and very few backpackers choose this country because it is a very expensive place to travel around.

I found Oman to be a very organized, calm, peaceful and civilized (compared to Egypt!). Road rules are strictly reinforced and crime is almost non-existent. Photo-radars are every few kilometers on the highway, so you can’t really speed!

Oman is a paradise. Undiscovered beaches, unclimbed mountains, unpaved roads, untouched sand dunes, few hotels, no tourists, I simply loved it.

Let me tell you how much I was shocked after my first evening in Muscat:

1- Men were calm and not excited like young boys (kicking each other around like some men do in Egypt);

2- People were talking in a very relaxed, low tone manner. They were not yelling & screaming like police officers do most nights in front of my apartment in Cairo;

3- They were extremely clean, nicely shaved and nicely dressed. (I am not sure if this has to do with culture, water supply, or money, but Omani men were definitively more attractive and appealing than average Egyptians);

4- The most important observation: No man was staring or whistling at my wife like Egyptian men do.

Don’t get me wrong here, I do not hate Egypt (living in Cairo for almost two years now), but leaving the pharaoh land for another ‘’real’’ Middle East country gave me some perspective about another Arab country. It was a refreshing and interesting change. When I came back at the Cairo airport, I was wondering: Where did Egypt go wrong?

Women in Oman were entirely covered and very few of them walked alone in the streets, but men also were covered wearing their galabias (long robe) and prayer cap. No jeans, no shorts, no Occidental influences!






Our trip to Oman

A four hour flight from Cairo brought us to one of the most unspoiled and undiscovered country in the world. For only 200$US (return) from Cairo, Oman was a steal!

A visa of 6OR (about 15$US) is necessary to enter the Sultanate of Oman. The airport is located 45km from the city and a 6OR cab ride brought us to Muttrah corniche (waterfront), one of the most picturesque places in Muscat. The official rate is 8.5OR for a taxi, but we managed to negotiate one of the many cab drivers.

In Muscat, we stayed at Naseem Hotel, which is a very clean, friendly & honest place. A triple room cost us 26OR ($67US) per night. Expensive (I usually travel cheaper than that), but this was one of the cheapest place to stay in the capital. (Most rooms I’ve looked at in Oman were between 40OR and 225OR – this is between $100-600US-)

Leaving Muscat, we rented a Toyota 4 X 4 vehicle (Land Cruiser) and traveled the rough-gravel road to Sur. This was one of the most scenic roads I’ve ever seen. From dramatic abrupt deserted mountains to green aqua-blue water, it was simply breathtaking. We’ve snorkeled along the coast and although the water was superb, I still think that the Red Sea is better in terms of visibility and marine life.










On that day, we stopped at Wadi Shab and walked through the oasis. This oasis is another wonderful place to see. Women were fully covered, kids were curious to see us around and the walk through the canyon was pleasant. We swam in fresh water pools and ate mangoes picked from the trees. It was paradise!

This day from Muscat to Sur was unforgettable, but I am glad we had a four wheel drive vehicle. The road was in bad shape in some sections. They are currently working on a new road along the coast, but this 200km stretch is far from being completed (my guess is that it will not open before 2008).

The city of Sur was another interesting place to spend the night. The 2 forts were really impressive and our 14 year old nephew was really happy to climb up those fortified towers to get a look at the city and the surroundings.

The waterfront (corniche) was also pretty, but by 11am it was already 46 degrees Celsius, so we decided it was too hot to walk outside. I still managed to catch a glimpse at the dhows, the famous wooden boats of Oman.




From Sur, we drove into the Sharqiya sand dunes. We now have been to several deserts, but this one with its reddish dunes was totally different. I tried to wonder through the dunes with the Land Cruiser, but quickly realized that it was easy to get lost. We stopped to see the sunset, but within minutes, a sandstorm appeared erasing all our marks & footprints behind us. Wind was blowing at over 70km/h and sand was all over. Driving back to the hotel was interesting: I felt I was in a snowstorm in Canada! I couldn’t see more than 5 meters ahead and sand dunes were quickly accumulating on the road.

The next morning, a clear blue sky was back and we decided that sand boarding would be an interesting activity to try. We drove to a camp into the desert and asked them if we could rent a board. The manager there was kind enough to lend the boards free of charge, so we went and climbed a 75 meter high sand dune. Wow! How fast can you go?

At 9am in the morning, it was already 36 degrees outside and the sand was burning hot. In less than 45 minutes, Jordan and I drank 3 liters of water and we were completely dehydrated when we came back to the hotel.

We drove back to Muscat, changed vehicles (because the 4X4 was 120$US per day, whereas a car was $30US a day) and left for Nizwa.

The small city of Nizwa was intresting: one of the biggest forts in Oman and a very interesting market where locals come every morning to sell chickens, goats, fish, handcrafts, etc. We woke up a 6:30am and walked through the market and this was one the best decisions we made during our trip. For the first time, temperature was reasonable and the sky was cloudy (it didn’t last long: by 8am it was 32 degrees Celsius!).

We left Nizwa for Sawadi resort (hoping to end our trip on a beach resort), but were really surprised when the receptionist told me that the resort was full. We finally found where all the tourists in Oman were hiding!!! It was horrible to see all those tourists drinking and half naked on the beach. The resort was not really nice and the small rooms were 165$US + 17% tax. Horrible!

We slept our last night in Qurm, another Muscat district before flying back to Cairo.