The Middle East's hidden oasis
Welcome to Oman
Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is Oman.
"Oman isn't exactly an obvious destination for Americans," said Hanya Yanagihara at Condé Nast Traveler. But don't make any assumptions about this Arab country of 5 million based on its neighbors Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran. Oman is "not just a literal oasis but also a geopolitical one," maintaining friendly relations with the U.S. and welcoming tourists from around the world. I visited the country earlier this year, and it proved a revelation: "a safe, secure patch of the Middle East that's not only an antidote to the glittery artifice of Dubai but also a series of astonishing topographies" — beaches, mountain ranges, and broad desert among them.
Muscat, the capital, is not much to look at, beyond its main attraction, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Built in honor of Oman's 75-year-old ruler, the building houses the world's second-largest carpet, as well as a 46-foot-tall chandelier, and the mood among the many visitors is "festive, even joyful." It was only a two-hour drive to my luxury hotel in Jabal Akhdar, a beautiful mountain region where a vista here and there "looks as if the Grand Canyon and the Rockies have been photoshopped into one extravagant image." I was too early for the region's rose harvest, but apricot trees were budding, and "sun-drunk bees" wobbled from blossom to blossom. As I breathed in the smell of hot, dry earth, the world of skyscrapers felt very far away.
I needed to see the desert, so I arranged to spend a night in a tent on the Wahiba Sands. Standing in that majestic landscape, amid its "swooping parabolas of apricot-colored sand," I found the silence almost overwhelming. A ferocious dust storm forced us into our tents that night, but when the storm died, the air was cool, and I could see camels in the far distance. Even I can't believe that I was swimming alone two days later just off a white-sand beach on the Persian Gulf. At the Musandam Peninsula resort I'd chosen, the sea was "the kind of blue you find only in children's drawings." Sometimes, "I wonder if I dreamed the whole episode."