A Travellerspoint blog

Oman

Muscat and the Surrounding Area

sunny 37 °C
View 2017 Middle East April on Borisborough's travel map.

The Oman capital of Muscat is a large, sprawling city made up of several smaller towns, villages and communities which are slowly merging into one long conurbation. The international airport is in the west side of the city with a modern highway network spreading eastwards towards Qurm, Ruwi, Mutrah and Old Muscat, North westwards towards Seeb and Sohar and eventually Dubai in the UAE.

Driving in Muscat is quite easy although the tailgating definitely gets tiresome. A good GPS is handy - the road-signs aren't always as informative as they should be. A full tank of petrol is about OMR7 and, once outside the capital, road-traffic is sparse and free-flowing.

Definitely worth visiting is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, across the road from the Supreme Court, officially opened in 2001. Grand_Mosque_Muscat.jpgThe prayer carpet is the second biggest carpet in the world, weighing 21 tonnes and covering nearly 4500 square metres. Specifications of the buildings themselves are here. Non-muslims can visit this glorious building Saturdays - Thursdays 8am - 11am

The beachfront at Qurm is worth exploring, especially on a Friday evening.There's the odd Lamborghini, Maserati and Ferrari amongst the many Mercedes cruising along the road and the pavements are packed with walkers out to be seen. Most will be happy to stop for a chat, especially the dog-walkers. Don't expect to get anywhere quickly - walking the Qurm seafront seems to be the number one pastime for Muscatians on a weekend.

Further east, Mutrah has a mixture of budget and more up-market hotel accommodation and another very walkable Corniche. The short stretch from the port in the west to the fort in the east takes you past coffeeshops and cafes and the busy souq. It's possible to walk all the way to Old Muscat (5km, one way) although the midday heat makes this quite a slog. There are plenty of opportunities to park and walk and then drive again on the way.

At Riyam Park there's a monument on the hill and a couple of watchtowers to walk to and it's easy to stop for photographs immediately after the wall and gates approaching Old Muscat. The Old City itself is certainly worth an hour's wandering - it has to be one of the world's most photogenic cities with Al Mirani Fort perched on a hill to the west and Al Jalaili Fort similarly situated ti the east overlooking Al Alam Palace (home of the Sultan himself), Al Khor Mosque and a host of other museums, gates, government buildings and mosques.

Further afield, a drive down southeastwards towards Sur takes you to the Bimmah Sinkhole, a lovely natural sinkhole, now incorporated into Hawiyat Najm Park. Bimmah_Sinkhole.jpgTurn off the main highway after passing the town of Dibab, turn left towards the coast and left again running northwestwards parallel to the coast. Another left turn (signposted) takes you to the carpark and then the park itself. There are about seventy concrete steps down to the turquoise waters which start with a shallow beach and get deeper towards the carpark side. Sitting on the rocks in the middle of the water, the small fish will 'eat' the dead skin from your hands and feet.

Further down the coast at the turn-off to the town of Tiwi is Wadi Shab, a ravine containing a shallow watercourse. At the carpark, there's a small cafe and a collection of local boatmen charging ONR1 (not 200p as suggested in some travel guides) for a return trip in a boat across the water to the walking track. In reality it's just a 100m ride which can actually be traversed by wading knee-deep through the water for free. Once over the other side, it's probably a two-hour walk to the pools and waterfall at the very start of the wadi although there are scenic pools every ten minutes or so. To complete the full trip, aim to start no later than 2pm (the last boat takes you back across the water to the car park at 6:20pm) although good swimming spots can be found just thirty minutes or one hour into the wadi.

A little further down the coast is the ancient city of Qalhat, home to the mausoleum of Bibi Maryam and once visited by Marco Polo. Beyond that is the ship-building city of Sur.

Heading southwestwards out of Sur and then northwestwards from Al Kamil along route 23, you eventually reach the small town of Al Wasil, near to which are several desert camps amongst the giant sand dunes of Sharqiya Sands. A four-wheel drive vehicle is necessary to travel off-road through the desert here although it is possible to experience these great sand dunes by following a sealed road through Al Wasil, past the fort in the town and south westwards out of town towards the Bidiyah Desert Camp. The sealed road ends 2km from the camp. It's possible to park your car at the end of this road and (with plenty of water) walk up a few of the sand dunes to get endless views across the desert over the dunes.Al_Wasil_Fort.jpg

Continuing northwest along route 23 is the town of Ibra and then back towards Muscat is Bidbid. At the interchange of the Muscat Expressway, turning left rather than right towards Muscat takes you to the seaside town of Seeb. There is a stretch of beach here and it is possible to paddle about in the ocean but there is a strong undertow which hinders swimming. In addition, cars are allowed on the beach here and at weekends and holidays, it's more like a highway than a beach.

Posted by Borisborough 23:17 Archived in Oman Comments (1)

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