Travel

Surprise: Muscat Has Everything You Need for Your Next Exotic Vacation

The capital city of Oman, home to one of the most open societies in the Middle East, has historic souks, stunning architecture, and the highest mountain range in the region.

Source: Courtesy of the Chedi

Sleep Near the Beach

From Muscat International Airport, take a taxi to the Chedi, a gorgeous 21-acre oasis with 158 guest rooms and villas on the Sea of Oman. The space combines traditional Middle Eastern design (reflecting pools, foundation courtyards) with Eastern-influenced Zen gardens. The Chedi has a 13-suite Balinese spa, three swimming pools, and six restaurants, including one that serves dinner on the property’s private beach. From $450 per night; +968 24524401, ghmhotels.com

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Photographer: Philip Sinden/Gallery Stock

See the Ancient City

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is an enormous marble fortress that holds 20,000 worshippers. Arrive at 8 a.m. to avoid the crowds, and if you’re a woman, wear nonrevealing clothing and a head scarf. Afterward, navigate the dense, winding alleys of the Muttrah Souk. While there, pick up some frankincense essential oil, cultivated from small trees that grow in Oman’s southern mountains. It’s said to have anti-aging powers—add a few drops to your night cream. sultanqaboosgrandmosque.com 

Master the Old Traditions

At the Bait Al Zubair Museum, there’s an excellent collection of jewelry, costumes, and Bronze Age household items. Make sure to tour the grounds, which contain a re-creation of an historical Omani village, complete with an ancient water system, or falaj. Two medieval Portuguese forts, Mirani and Jalali, can be seen from outside the museum. baitalzubairmuseum.com

Inside the Muttrah Souk.
Inside the Muttrah Souk.
Photographer: Matteo Colombo/AWL Images Ltd/Corbis

Dine on Salted Shark Meat

For lunch, try Bait Al Luban in the central city. Order traditional dishes such as katchori, potato patties served with mango chutney; Awal salad, preserved salt shark served with onions and tomatoes; and shuwa, beef that’s roasted in an underground fire pit. Have dinner at Al Angham, a restaurant in Muscat’s royal opera house that serves seafood soups and slow-cooked lamb. baitalluban.com, +968 24711842, alanghamoman.com, +968 22077777  

Be King for a Day

The ancient fort at Nizwa.
The ancient fort at Nizwa.
Photographer: Obert O’Dea/Arcaid/Corbis

Book seats at the Royal Opera House, which looks more like an Arabian palace than a theater. Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli, and Yo-Yo Ma have played there, yet tickets for most performances, even big names, are about $16. Then take a nighttime stroll down the boulevard that leads to a real palace, Al Alam, the 200-year-old residency of the Sultan of Oman. Or take a day trip north to Nizwa, where a 17th century fort has foundations that are 100 feet deep. rohmuscat.org.om for opera tickets 

Find an Adventure

Paragliding to the Six Senses Zighy Bay.
Paragliding to the Six Senses Zighy Bay.
Source: Courtesy of the Six Senses Zighy Bay Hotel

Paragliding
Drive southwest to Dibba, a small town that extends into three countries. The Six Senses Zighy Bay Hotel, in the Omani part of the region, is so remote that the best way to arrive is to paraglide off a cliff to the resort’s grounds. Unwind in your own private pool, or go scuba diving in the Sea of Oman, right at your doorstep. From $659 a night; +968 26735888, sixsenses.com 

Dune bashing
When the sun rises, take a 4x4 through the dunes of the Sharqiya Sands, three hours from Muscat, or venture to the immense Rub’ al Khali desert in the far south of Oman. The area remains largely unexplored and tourist-free. Desert Nights Camp offers accommodations, dining, and excursions from $115 per person per night; +968 92818388, desertnightscamp.com

Caving
The Al Hajar mountains, four hours away, have a huge network of underground passageways, including the Al Hoota cave, which has public access. Visitors can go on a 40-minute tour to see stalactites, stalagmites, and karst crystals covering the walls. Sun and Sand Safari offers two-day excursions for two people, including private vehicle transportation for $1,040; +968 99373928, sunandsandtours.com