Muscat was the first Middle Eastern city I’ve ever visited. I did some research before traveling, but I think I failed to learn more about what to expect, rather than what places to visit or where to eat. If I had, perhaps, I would have saved time, avoided some nuisances, and ultimately had a more pleasant trip. Read on for the things to know before traveling to Muscat, Oman.
Scorching temperatures in Oman make sightseeing unpleasant in the summer months
Things to know before traveling to Muscat, Oman
When to visit
Oman has one of the hottest climates in the world. Temperatures during the summer can average over 40° Celsius. This means that many areas will be completely deserted in the middle of the day. The best time to visit is November to April, when the temperatures are lower, making sightseeing more pleasant.
Avoid visiting during Ramadan, the month of fasting, prayer, and reflection in the Islamic community. Many tourist attractions and restaurants will be either closed or have limited operating hours. Even as a visitor, you’d be expected to observe the fasting and avoid eating and drinking in public.
The city is, for the most part, not pedestrian-friendly and public transport links are second to none. The relatively new bus network is not the most reliable, so to move around comfortably, you’ll either need to hire a car or use pricey taxis.
Taxis are not normally metered, so unless you negotiate the fee upfront, you may end up with a hefty bill. If you use a metered taxi, beware as they may take the longest possible route to charge you more. There are several apps you can download to call a taxi. The most popular are Mwasalat (government-owned) and OTaxi.
Omani cuisine is rather simple. Chicken, fish, and lamb marinades with flavourful spices make the most traditional dishes. Unlike many other Asian nations, Omani cuisine is not spicy. A lovely restaurant to try the local cuisine after a stroll along the Mutrah Corniche is Bait Al Luban.
Mutrah Corniche is lined with restaurants, cafés, and markets
I love to shop and would never miss an opportunity to explore a local market. But I was sadly disappointed by the renowned Mutrah Souq. Only a handful of shops were a true representation of Omani culture. Other than that, just a significant number of ordinary souvenirs of non-Omani origin. Parking in the area can be very difficult to find.
There are a few larger shopping malls such as the Oman Avenues Mall and the Muscat Grand Mall, but I didn’t find many notable brands represented at either one of them.
Despite the country’s long history, Oman was poorly developed before Sultan Qaboos bin Said took power in 1970 and modernised the country. For this very reason, some of the most popular landmark buildings in Muscat are quite contemporary. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque was completed in 2001 and the Royal Opera House in 2011. The relatively recent nature of the Sultanate of Oman makes it difficult to describe from a cultural standpoint.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
How to dress
Dressing conservatively is essential in any Islamic country and Oman is no exception. You should keep your legs up to knees, and arms up to elbows, covered. Wearing a swimsuit in the water is acceptable, but you should cover up otherwise.
Men traditionally dress in a dishdasha, an ankle-length, collarless gown with long sleeves
Sunbathing is rare. People will mostly go to the beach for a stroll along the coast. If you want to treat yourself to a day at the beach, I’d suggest getting a day pass from one of the many seaside hotels. These will normally give you access to the hotel facilities, including the pool and a private beach.
The last thing to know about traveling to Muscat is that it will cost you. Finding budget accommodation and places to eat is viable. However, tours don’t come cheap, so hiring a car for self-guided exploration is a very good alternative to keep costs down.
On and all, Oman could be considered an off the beaten path destination. Despite its recent modernisation, it still doesn’t fully have the infrastructure to cater to traditional tourists, as neighbouring UAE. For this reason, some could leave feeling underwhelmed.
I do believe, however, that the true beauty of Oman lies outside of Muscat and I’d love to go back one day and continue to discover the country.
Are there more things to know before traveling to Muscat, Oman? Please leave your comments below.