A visit to the Middle East may not appeal to everyone in the current political climate of the region. However, The Sultanate of Oman is a peaceful and beautiful country which has much to offer to family travellers, couples and individuals alike. I have highlighted below a few reasons to visit Oman (in particular the Dhofar region in the south), which hopefully will entice you to consider this magical country for your next sunny getaway.
Stable and safe
Oman has been ranked as the number 1 country worldwide for safety and security in the annual Expat Insider Survey. This is a fairly wealthy country (67th in the world by GDP) with a very strict moral code. Law and order is taken incredibly seriously, corruption is scarce and the resulting low crime rate ensures a generally safe and peaceful country for Omanis and visitors alike. Oman has maintained a neutral position in world affairs. Even in neighbouring Yemen, Oman has maintained an uncontroversial position during the many years of civil war. The popular Sultan of Oman – Qaboos bin Said Al Said, who was Oxford University educated, died in January 2020 (having been the longest serving ruler in the Arab world). Having undertaken many improvements to living standards during his rule, he was widely regarded as a progressive ruler. He named his cousin as successor, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, also Oxford educated who has been described as ‘outward looking and Western Orientated’ which hopefully bodes well for the stability of Oman to continue.
Whilst Oman in the most part offers a stereotypical desert experience, the Dhofar region (the most south westerly region of Oman, neighbouring Yemen) offers something quite unexpected. From the end of July to the beginning of September Dhofar Province experiences it’s ‘Khareef’ season. This is a widely anticipated part of the year when the rains come to this area and the landscape literally transforms from desert to lush, green grass for a brief few months. Visitors flock from other middle eastern countries keen to escape the extreme heat and enjoy some refreshing, cooler weather. Whilst this wet weather may appeal less to those from the UK it does make for a stunning and unusual landscape! Also in the dry season, Dhofar is well worth a visit and remains relatively green in comparison to the rest of the country. I have recommended a few suggestions below of where to stay and what to see in this fascinating region.
The Anantara Al Baleed in Salalah offers a luxurious option for staying in this area, just a twenty-five minute taxi ride from Salalah airport. Salalah is a one and a half hour plane journey from Muscat. Salalah is the second largest city in Oman and the largest in the Dhofar province. The Al Baleed Resort offers the trademark Anantara luxury brand and provides 136 rooms which comprise mainly villas (some with their own plunge pools) and garden or sea view rooms in the main hotel building. These rooms can be interconnecting for families and all are luxuriously appointed.
The hotel is located on a stunning stretch of private beach (250 m wide) looking out across the Arabian Sea. The sand is soft and golden and there are copious number of sun loungers and cabanas to choose from; even in peak weeks the resort does not feel overcrowded. The beach is fairly wild, and the sea can be rough, not ideal for swimming with very young children. For slightly older children though, the constant supply of waves provides endless fun body boarding and wave jumping! Dolphins are often spotted right in front of the hotel; particularly at dawn and dusk.
If you have young children or simply want a change of scene, the 44-metre long infinity pool directly overlooks the beach and is the perfect temperature for families of all ages to enjoy. There are shallow areas ideal for little ones to paddle in. There are three restaurants – Mekong offers a buffet with special themed nights, whilst Al Mina is a pool side Mediterranean option and there is an Asian restaurant open in the evenings and offering mouth-watering curries and stir fries. Remember, the law on alcohol is strict in Oman and drinking alcohol in public is against the law. Alcohol is widely served in hotels but is incredibly expensive and not served until 2pm on a Friday or also restricted during Ramadan.
Diverse range of activities
There are a dazzling range of activities both on and off site to choose from. Within the hotel grounds these include a kids club, gym, tennis court, riding on the beach, paddle boarding and surfing to name a few. Off site there are dolphin trips, sunset cruises, scuba diving, camel riding, trips into the mountains and visits to archaeological sites available. One such sight is right next to the hotel and admission is included if you are a guest of the Anantara. The Al Baleed Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site showcases the remains of what was once a large trading port for Frankincense from the 8th to the 16th century. Excavation is on-going and the best way to explore this ancient site is by golf buggy where you will stop and have the chance to read the informative sign boards on your way around. There is also the indoor Museum of Frankincense which houses various artefacts from Al Baleed and surrounding archaeological sites.
Slightly further afield but very much doable in a half day is Al- Mughsail beach (approximately fifty minutes by car west of Salalah). The drive itself is beautiful, the road winds its way next to the mountains to begin with followed by the merging of mountains to one side and the turquoise sea to the other. The beach itself it huge and stretches for over four kilometres; near to the beach you can visit the Marneef cave (more of an ‘open’ cave but spectacular nonetheless) and the blowholes which shoot sea water from below metres into the sky. They are especially impressive during Khareef season.
A similar distance from Salalah in the other direction, a trip to Wadi Darbat and Wadi Darbat Waterfalls is a highlight. In the Khareef season the surrounding area provides a lush green landscape, quite out of character from the rest of the country. Visitors flock from all over Oman and further afield to enjoy the cooler temperatures (in the early twenties). Even out of the Khareef season the area remains relatively green and there is water in the lake year round. You can picnic and BBQ here and also hire boats or canoes for a gentle meander up the lake. Swimming is not recommended as there are signs warning of Bilharzia. There is a also the chance to see many camels (often wandering along the road, be careful if driving!) and chameleons daring to make a ‘dash’ across the road.