InterNations Founder & Co-CEO Malte Zeeck shares his experiences in Oman, where he explored the capital city Muscat during a community visit.
The Grand Mosque: An Architectural Masterpiece
With fewer very tall high-rise buildings dotting the capital’s skyline than in, for example, the neighboring UAE, some other striking landmarks will inevitably stand out. The remarkable Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of them.
No wonder: While the Ladies’ Prayer Hall “only” has the capacity to hold 750 worshippers, the main musalla can accommodate up to 6,500 people.
Not only does the main hall contain a gigantic Persian prayer rug, but it also features the world’s largest chandelier. Fun fact: The latter is actually “made in Germany”, by a company based in the small town of Stockdorf near Munich — less than a 30-minute drive from the InterNations head office!
I was happy to visit the mosque in the early morning — non-Muslim visitors are allowed to enter every day (except for Friday) from 8:00 to 11:00, and the site would definitely be more crowded later on. Naturally, you are expected to dress appropriately and conservatively. For both men and women, this means long pants and covered shoulders, and women are required to cover their hair as well.
The mosque is a stunning site, with colourful patterns that run through the whole building. You can walk the grounds and gardens that stretch around it to admire the architecture from all sides.
Muttrah Souk: Be Prepared to Bargain
Thanks to Oman’s proximity to the sea and its trading routes, Muttrah Souk — one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arab world — is a beautiful symbol of the country’s past. It’s probably the most famous attraction to visit in the country, due to the array of goods they have to offer.
It’s an interesting mixture of an authentic Omani souk and a bit of a touristy market for cruise ship passengers, but it’s definitely worth a visit if you have time to browse all the souvenirs booths and local shops. The combined smell of incense burners and spices made this visit quite memorable.
Like in many souks, always make sure you’re prepared to haggle! As many shop owners increase the price for the never-ending stream of cruise tourists, you can always try for a lower price. I found that the store owners weren’t particularly pushy and were usually prepared to go down in price.
If you’re looking to taste the history of the country and have a sweet tooth, too, try some Omani halwa. This is a traditional Omani dessert made in different flavours. I got to taste the halwa with honey, and it was delicious!
Bait Al Zubair Museum: Oman’s Past
If you want to dig deeper into the rich history of Oman, make sure to visit the Bait Al Zubair Museum. It’s well within the city limits, situated in the older parts of Muscat, and you can find out all about where famous Omani traditions come from.
The collection displays Omani culture both from the past and the present, spanning entire centuries and millennia. Each building showcases a different part of the country’s cultural history, such as its famous silver and gold jewellery, historical weapons (especially the khanjar, the hand-crafted ceremonial dagger), period dress, and household items.
The artefacts allow tourists to understand more about the Omani lifestyle, but the living history of Muscat also gets its due in temporary exhibitions by local artists. My personal favorite, though? The Maritime Gallery, a tribute to Oman’s seafaring roots, which will make you feel a bit like Sinbad the Sailor.
They also exhibit the first European map of Muscat, which was very impressive to see. I found it particularly interesting to learn that the map Terrae Oman was produced by an 18-century geographer by walking (!) the distances of the vast country and recording his paces.
Pebbled Beaches: Escaping the City
Even if your stay in the capital is rather short, you might find some time to wander on the beaches along the coast of Muscat. On my way to visit the wadi — between Sur and Muscat — I stumbled upon a beautiful pebbled beach.
The beach is spread over a few kilometres, so finding a spot for a rest is no trouble, though there’s not a lot of shelter from the sun. The water is very clear, and I’d even been told I might have a chance of to see turtles hatching their eggs. Unfortunately, that did not happen, but I immensely enjoyed the serenity after a busy day in the city.
A friendly local told me that if you have more time, you should definitely check out other beaches in Oman. If you want to escape the rush of Muscat, you can drive further south, where you’ll find immense sand dunes and flocks of flamingos. It’s not that well known among tourists, so it won’t probably be packed with people.
Snorkeling is supposed to be amazing in the pristine waters! You can rent a four-wheel drive and enjoy the rough coastlines with stunning views of sea.
Wadis: An Off-Road Adventure
The Arabic word for valley is wadi, and Oman’s wadis are very popular sites to visit outside of Muscat. The particular one that I visited was Wadi Shab, in a small town called Tiwi. With its turquoise pools and waterfalls, it was simply a must-see on my bucket list.
The valley itself is only accessible by boat, so you either need to book a boat trip in advance or shill out 1 OMR for one of the local guides to help you cross the river. After the short boat ride, you have to hike for approximately 3km, but with the stunning views and the relatively easy accessible road it was just perfect.
The hike along the wadi was beautiful, and if you want to — and bring along some swimwear and beach sandals — you can even end it with a swim in a cave. I was happy to be there in spring, as the temperature was still comfortable: it can go up to 40 degrees in summer!
Although my stay was short, I would definitely describe it as “short but sweet”, like Omani halwa! I feel like I got to experience Omani culture to the fullest, and really enjoyed the beautiful scenery that surrounds the capital.
(Image credit: iStockphoto)