My adventures in amazing Oman
Back in November 2022 I received an email from a PR agency about the ‘Half Time For Oman’ competition running during the Qatar World Cup. To promote tourism in the country, Visit Oman were awarding 128 prizes of a week’s holiday in Muscat – 2 winners were selected for each of the 64 World Cup matches!
Entry was simply by leaving a comment on the Visit Oman social media posts, which were daily during the Group match stages and then less frequent during the knockout stages. Winners were announced daily, with 8 winners a day in the first two weeks. I knew this promotion offered great odds of winning so I shared it in my Top 5 Competitions to enter right now post, the SuperLucky Facebook page, Lucky Learners group and my newsletter. I encouraged people to optimise their chance of winning by entering daily on all three social media channels: Insta, Facebook and Twitter.
Although I didn’t win a trip myself, around half of the 128 winners were SuperLucky readers and Lucky Learners members – and when my lovely friend Susannah won a trip and asked me to be her +1 I jumped at the chance! I’d never travelled to the Middle East and thought it would be a fascinating adventure. Thank you Susannah!
Susannah and I flew out from Heathrow on 18th February; we realised travelling during the Omani winter was a good decision as it was pleasantly hot but usually with a breeze. I certainly wouldn’t like to be there in May or June where the temperature can reach the late 30s!
The prize included flights with Oman Air and 7 nights half board accommodation at the Crowne Plaza hotel near Muscat airport. Situated beside the Convention Centre, this was a business hotel so although it had a lovely small pool, sadly there were no balconies to sit on and enjoy the sunset from your hotel room! The breakfast and evening buffets were superb, with a range of local, Indian and Mediterranean foods on offer. I was thrilled to be able to eat Sri Lankan style curry and coconut chutney for my breakfast, accompanied by a mug of the local cardamom flavoured Talak tea. Every evening at the hotel is ‘Ladies Night’ where ladies can enjoy unlimited cocktails between 7-10pm for 9OMR (we certainly took advantage of this deal, knocking back ten cocktails on the Friday night – although some of the drinks on offer were much nicer than others!). On Thursday it’s Mediterranean night – included in the prize package for the Half Time winners – with lots of fantastic dessert options plus cheese and grapes. You can get unlimited red wine top ups from 7-10pm for 15OMR. It may seem odd that a hotel in a Muslim country would offer these cheap alcohol deals, but they have a lot of foreign visitors and tourists in Oman so it’s a good way for them to get people spending because the individual hotel drink prices are pretty high!
One of the best parts of the trip was meeting other compers – shout out to Amelia, Sare, Helga, Robert, Deborah, Julie, May, David, Gilly, Sion, Bonnie, Lucy and Jon! We met up in the evenings and chatted over dinner and drinks at the bar and it was lovely to spend time with likeminded people.
Initially I thought this would be a chilled out holiday, but I genuinely hadn’t realised how much there is to see and do in Oman, so we booked a few trips to ensure we made the most of our time there. This blog post is all about my amazing trip, and hopefully also full of helpful information for all the Half Time For Oman winners who are travelling later in the year!
I’ve only shared a few photos in this post, but you can see the rest at www.instagram.com/superluckydi
Getting around Muscat
The Muscat region stretches out a long way along the coast, and it’s designed for driving rather than walking. We decided not to hire a car and instead used the OTAXI app to order the orange-and-white cabs that you see everywhere. Thanks to friends we learnt not to order a taxi from a hotel as you won’t be offered an economy taxi and the prices are hugely inflated! Instead, it’s possible to move the pick up point on the Otaxi app map slightly to a nearby bus stop or landmark, which will reduce the price significantly. You’ll need an internet connection to use the OTAXI app, but for UK visitors the cost of using mobile data in Oman is huge. Friends told us the local free SIM they give you on the plane is fiddly to set up, and not really worth the effort. But most places have wifi, and if you ask the staff they will log you into it if you need to order a cab – we even had helpful taxi drivers sharing their hotspot so we could use their mobile data! We would make our plans in the hotel while we had wifi, use the OTAXI app to quote us a price, then screengrab it for later so we wouldn’t get overcharged for the journey if we had no wifi and needed to flag a taxi down and pay cash! When you use the OTAXI app, payment is taken in advance from your registered bank card, so there’s no need to worry about paying cash in the cab. When leaving the hotel we would book our cab for a pick up at the bus stop about 2 minutes walk from the hotel, which worked perfectly and saved us a lot of money. Oh, and drivers don’t expect a tip!
What to wear in Oman
Oman is a Muslim country, but almost half of its population are foreigners (including plenty of Brits) so there’s no need to be concerned about female visitors showing too much flesh as Omanis are used to tourists and Westerners. The only place where you must cover up is at a mosque, where women should cover their arms, legs and head.
Omanis love dates, coffee and karak (sweet spicy tea). As pescatarians Susannah and I didn’t tuck into local specialities such as camel and goat, but we enjoyed the salad, bread, aubergine dip and houmous that accompanied most meals. Near Seeb Port we had a fantastic feast of seafood with whole crabs, king prawns and scallops (around £17 for the two of us). The sweet treat for special occasions is halwa, made from sugar, spices, ghee and scooped out of a fancy dish. You can taste halwa at the markets and buy a box for a few rials at supermarkets too.
Sunset Muscat Cruise
Visit Oman had booked us on to a 2 hour sunset cruise as part of our prize; unfortunately the sea was a bit rough on the day of our boat ride, so it involved a lot of bouncing up and down and more than a few passengers felt queasy. Captain Mahmoud took us past the Sultan’s Palace, luxury hotels, a Christian Cemetery in a hidden cove and lots of forts built by the Portuguese. The sun setting into the mountains was a wonderful sight. If you’re doing this cruise, pack some seasickness tablets just in case!
The trip we were most looking forward to was Wadi Shab. A friend had recommended Let’s Go Oman, and we paid 30 OMR each for four of us to take a private day tour with our guide Nassar. He was fantastic and told us so much about the history of Oman, Islam and education in the country. At Wadi Shab Nasser arranged for a guide to accompany us on the 45 minute trek, and our adventure started with a short boat ride. Nahmoud helped us across stepping stones and around rocks until we reached the beginning of the wadi. Wear shoes with good grips (I wore trainers) as it’s easy to slip and fall on this trek – sadly one of the winners who was there earlier this month had to go to A&E after hitting her head, but she’s recovering well back home in the UK.
Here you could change from your trekking shoes into water shoes for the swimming, and leave your bag and picnic lunch to keep dry at the rocks, or alternatively you could take a waterproof bag swimming with you. Make sure you put your swimming clothes on before you start the trek as if you want to change it will be in public view! A rash vest is a good idea as it’s very hot and a lot of getting in and out of the water. A few people were wearing bikinis but most had covered up to be respectful. There’s a lot of clambering over slippy rocks and in and out of pools, and you will also be swimming out of your depth (you can ask for a life jacket at the start of the hike if you would like one). We took waterproof phone pouches so we could use our iPhones in the water.
At the end of the wadi is a cave that’s not always accessible. In deep water you swim through a small gap to get in, just a little wider than your head! The water is turquoise and beautiful and once through to the cave you’ll find a lovely waterfall that you can swim behind. It was magical.
After Wadi Shab Nasser took us to a local restaurant where we were fed barbecued chicken and tuna, salad, chips, Omani bread, salad and houmous. He’d also brought vegetarian sandwiches from Muscat – we feasted!
The Wadi Shab tour also includes a stop off at Bimmah Sinkhole, a huge hole in the ground filled with turquoise water and tiny fish! A fabulous place to swim, but wear your swim shoes as it’s rocky. I had seen some brave YouTubers jumping into the sinkhole but nobody was brave enough to do it during our visit. They have toilets at Bimmah where you can get changed for the trip back to Muscat.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Muscat’s glorious Grand Mosque is heaving with tourists, even though my photos might not give that impression. Built in 2007, It’s a huge complex with marble floors and fabulous gardens. The Omanis love to brag about the 12 metre high chandelier and 600m2 carpet (both of which were initially record breaking, but have since been demoted to the world’s second biggest). Look down at the carpet edges on your way out of the Grand Prayer Hall and you’ll see it doesn’t quite fit round the pillars – how infuriating!
It’s open for visitors from 8-11am every day except Friday. I wouldn’t recommend paying 2.5 rials for the audio guide as it’s just a few facts and figures you can find on Google. We enjoyed just sitting quietly on one of the seats for a while, and it’s nice to walk around the gardens rather than the busy central area – arriving at opening time would be a good idea to avoid the tour groups!
The Daymaniyat Islands are off the coast of Oman and boat trips go there from Muscat and Seeb. Lots of turtles live there so it’s the perfect snorkelling destination. We booked with Asaad at Mobula Dive for 28OMR per person and took a 9.30am boat from Seeb Port with Captain Bassam, who cranked up the EDM tunes to full blast for our 30 minute ride to the islands!
We snorkelled for an hour or so – I recommend using a life jacket and flippers for this so you can relax and float without worrying about treading water, which are provided on the boats. We saw around 20 turtles and so many gorgeous yellow and blue fish. Bassam then took us to a tiny beach with pristine white sand where we ate lunch (sandwiches, bananas and oranges) and could snorkel some more. It was idyllic! Don’t forget your waterproof sunscreen though.
On the Friday of our trip our guide Ahmed (Nasser’s friend) picked us up at 6.45am for the 90 minute drive from Muscat to Nizwa, where the weekly goat auction is popular with visitors. Goats are paraded in a circle past prospective buyers, who check their teeth and squeeze their backbone to see if they’re a good buy! They cost anything between 30 rials for an old goat up to 90 rials for a young healthy goat. It was very lively and recommended if you fancy cuddling a baby goat! I reckon the goat auction finished about 8.40am, then the cattle auction began – the cattle are pretty hard to control, so keep your distance!
We wandered around the old Nizwa market and also the new market, snacking on dates and drinking complimentary coffee. I bought a box of sweet halwa and tasted some freshly made warm tahini which was lovely (apparently it’s great for dipping dates in!).
Then we popped into Nizwa Fort and I was excited to see the traps and ‘murder holes’ where they poured hot date syrup onto the Portuguese intruders!
From Nizwa we drove to Jebel Shams, a winding drive through the mountains (not recommended for anyone without a 4×4 – or for those who get carsick!). Jebel Shams is 3000m high, Oman’s tallest mountain, and is more like an epic canyon – down at the bottom is a tiny village. You can hike from the top to the bottom in a few hours (and ask your driver to collect you at the bottom) but we only had time for photos at the top. There were lots of new hotels being built there so if you fancy going I’d recommend an overnight stay so you have time to do the hike.
After Jebel Shams we stopped off for lunch in Al Hamra where we sat on the floor to share a meal with Ahmed in one of the traditional Omani style private cubicles (a bit like being in a carpeted shower cubicle!) accompanied by some lovely cinnamon tea.
On the way back to Muscat from Jebel Shams we visited Jibrin Castle, which had lots of rooms and staircases to explore (it would make an epic hide and seek venue!). The highlight for me was the amazing views across to the mountains in all directions.
Our tour to Nizwa, Jebel Shams and Jibrin cost 60OMR rials each and lasted almost 11 hours (it would have been cheaper if there were more than 2 of us). For tours booked with Omani guides, they will ask for cash payment at the end of the tour.
We spent our first full day of the holiday in Muttrah, we took a taxi (about 6OMR one way) to quiet Riyam Park, with its white watchtower – designed to look like a giant incense burner – perched atop a hill. Near the park was the beginning of a mountain trek with two options of intermediate and difficult. The first section was easy, with steps and viewpoints guiding the way.
However then things went wrong; we took the wrong route and switched from the intermediate path to the difficult path! The red, white and yellow flags painted on rocks showed we were on the path, but we hadn’t realised it was the wrong path!
After clambering through crevices and a bit of scrambling we materialised at Takia an hour later, where we realised what had gone wrong! Luckily a friendly Pakistani dressmaker invited us into his shop so we could cool down and order a taxi to Muttrah using his wifi. If you decide to do this hike, be sure to take a photo of the huge map sign before you start climbing! We took C39b, but if you take the correct route – C38b – it will bring you out just behind Muttrah Souk (market). Maybe it was because it was mid afternoon, but we really didn’t enjoy the souk, it was the first place that we were hassled by the local traders who were desperate to sell us pashminas, fake designer handbags and stuffed camels! It was more interesting to take a tour of the quieter back alleys around the souk instead.
On our last day I treated Susannah to lunch at Bait Al Luban, where we had a balcony seat overlooking Muttrah Harbour and Fort, where the Sultan’s massive super yachts are moored. We ate Omani style pakora, fish soup, red bean & coconut curry and vegetable curry, accompanied by lovely lemon and mint slushies. Followed – of course – by dates and coffee. It cost around 22OMR for the two of us.
Sunset at Qurum Beach
On our first day in Oman, we met up with fellow compers Sare and Helga, who invited us to join them for a sunset walk on Qurum Beach, as it was their final day before heading back to the UK!
Then for our own final day, we spent the afternoon lazing on sun loungers on the quiet private Crowne Plaza beach in Qurum – you don’t have to be staying in the hotel to use the beach and it has clear, shallow water for paddling (you have to go out a long way to get to water deep enough for a swim though!). Either go through the hotel to get to the beach, or just paddle round the rocks from the main Qurum beach!
We splashed out on 2-for-1 tequila cocktails (7.3 OMR) in Dukes Bar so we could sit on the terrace for sunset, it was really lovely!
A few tips if you’re travelling to Oman
- Take a toilet roll or packet of tissues in your bag, as public and restaurant toilets don’t usually have any
- …and pack sanitizer or wipes to clean your hands after eating all the sticky dates!
- If you don’t finish your meal, restaurants will be happy to give you a takeout container (the Crowne Plaza will give you one at breakfast too, so you can take away your snacks for lunch!)
- It’s expensive to use your UK mobile in Oman – I answered two 15 second calls from our Omani guides, and each one cost me £1.66 with O2. I didn’t dare answer any calls from the UK! Switch off your mobile data before you fly, I forgot to do this and had a £4 bill for a few seconds of usage before I connected to free Muscat Airport WiFi. You can connect to free WiFi in hotels, and some restaurants, but will need to put in your phone number and get a confirmation code to enter (receiving this code by text won’t cost you anything)
- If you want to video call the UK while using WiFi, you won’t be able to do it on Facebook or WhatsApp – but Snapchat works!
- Download an offline map of the Muscat area to your phone – when you’re on wifi, open the Google Maps app, tap your profile pic, then select Offline maps and download – now you’ll be able to access a map without needing mobile data or a wifi connection!
- Popular gifts to bring home are frankincense, spices, coffee, halwa, dates, clay pottery, and camel milk soap – or if you’re splashing out, any scent by Amouage
- If you want to drink alcohol, check the Happy Hour and 2-for-1 deals at the bigger hotels to save money – the Kempinski, not far from the airport, was recommended to us as a great spot for a drink near the beach
- You can also bring in your own alcohol – up to 2 litres per person at UK Duty Free, and then you’re allowed to buy 2 more litres on arrival at Muscat. We bought gin, martini, Amarula & vodka and kept it all in the fridge in our room along with a bottle of Sprite from a supermarket, then ordered ice from room service so we could make cocktails (using lemon, orange and olives from the breakfast buffet as garnish!)
- If you also won the ‘Half Time to Oman’ prize trip, there’s a private Facebook group for winners to share their tips and experiences, so please contact me if you’d like to join
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my time in Oman, the country felt safe and welcoming and I can absolutely recommend it as a great destination for a sunshine holiday with a bit of adventure on the side. If you’re also a prize winner, please do ask me questions in the comments and I will do my best to answer them!