A special thanks to Johnny Africa and his incredible blog for inviting me to write a guest post. We can certainly agree that Berlin wurst sandwiches are a meal made of pure awesomeness; although, I don’t know I could ever get tired of a doner kebab! Check out his 48 hours in Berlin when you’re done here. It’s a great guide to one of my favorite cities and contains a few tips of the trade (free subway rides if you’re clever!) that could make or break your visit.
Muscat may be pretty far off the radar of the average traveler, or even one who’s been around the globe a few times. But for lovers of Arabic souks, Persian teas and glistening beaches, Oman’s capital city should become a familiar place very quickly. Nestled on the coast, surrounded by desert and mountains, Muscat is an old world gem that has, amazingly, gotten better with age.
Unlike many places in the Middle East, Oman is open to international travelers and a flourishing and friendly cultural cornerstone that needs to be seen to be believed since Sultan Qaboos made it to the throne in the 1970s. Now the Muslim country has the most perfect manners, a strong heritage and a people that are very concerned about visitors coming, having a great time and spreading the news that this almost fairytale like country is actually a reality.
Traveling as a solo female
Traveling as a female in Oman is actually very safe and you will usually be met with warmth and a friendly greeting. Although Oman is pretty open and liberal, you will want to try and respect local customs by dressing more modestly in public than you might back home (cover your shoulders and to your knees) and save the swimwear for the pool or beach. Crime is rare in Oman and the country is very safe in for travelers. As a lone woman you are unlikely to encounter any issues however as with anywhere, just keep your wits about you and trust your gut instincts.
Where to Stay
Airbnb: Muscat is well known for it’s luxurious hotels and spa resorts, all with long stretches of beautiful sandy beaches, which make the city not a very cheap place to stay if you don’t go looking for a deal. I struck a compromise between bargain and luxury with Behly’s Guesthouse.
Mic’s guesthouse is one of those beautiful treasures if you grab it at the right of the year—just after peak season October-March, but before it gets really hot in the summer. The villa is situated close to everything, has a great atmosphere to it, and breakfast is included in the price of your stay. Plus there’s a restaurant on site if you get the munchies.
Free WiFi is also available for guests, but internet accessibility is somewhat limited in the area. If you plan to watch Netflix to chill, I suggest grabbing a Virtual Private Network. It also is great for protecting your information from prying eyes on public WiFi.
Where to Eat
Al Boom & Dolphin Bar: As I’m sure you’ve come to notice, a vacation to Muscat is not for pinching pennies. In this beachside town, you’re going to want to go all out for the best experience, and grabbing a table at Al Boom is a great place to start. Its main draw may be the excellent seafood, but the dining terrace overlooking the harbor isn’t a bad reason to go either.
Ubhar: Eating at Ubhar is like taking your dining experience in Muscat to the extremes. The restaurant is definitely on the fancy side, but it combines all the best things to try in classic Middle Eastern cuisine. Your best bet for a great meal is to try their Muscat lamb fattah. While the name may sound exotic, fattah only means soaked bread. Their well-seasoned lamb is served on a bed of flatbreads, and it’s beyond delish.
Street food: From falafel to mishkak (marinated chicken, beef or mutton on kebab sticks), Mustak really delivers great street-side eats that have to be tasted to be believed. The shawarma is easily the most popular snack (and definitely a cheap eat), but my favorite is the Omani bread crepe, which can come with fillings anywhere from cheese to honey and is only around 350 baisas. This is also a great chance to meet with the locals and have a conversation. Muscat is definitely for avid travelers wanting to get a taste of Middle Eastern culture as authentic and uncontrived as is possible.
What to Do
Al Boom & Dolphin Bar: As I’m sure you’ve come to notice, a vacation to Muscat is not for pinching pennies. In this beachside town, you’re going to want to go all out for the best experience, and grabbing a table at Al Bo
Muttrah Souk: The Muttrah Souk is easily the biggest draw of tourists to Muscat, and one step inside the infamous market doesn’t make it hard to see why. Not only is it one of the oldest surviving markets in the Arab world, but it’s rows of never ending stalls make this a must-stop.
The souk is a lot bigger and more confusing than you probably anticipate, so don’t enter it just from anywhere or you’ll get a little lost. But if you go in the entrance from the corniche, you can follow the main road through in about 5 minutes if you want to. Also, everything gets a hundred times more exciting at night, so plan to go after dark or make a second trip once the sun goes down.
Grand Mosque: The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque was completed in 2001, making it a new addition to the Muscat architectural landscape, but it is surely the grandest of all the structures in the capital city. With a chandelier from Germany and a traditionally made Persian rug that is the second largest carpet in the world, it’s definitely one destination to head to with your camera phone out and posed for pictures. Just be respectful of the religious significance of the venue!
Al Mirani Fort: The Al Mirani Fort makes it’s place on this list not only for its hulking presence on the Muscat coastline, but also for its special history. Once a fortress of the Portuguese occupation in the 19th century, it is said that the Portuguese naval commander fell for the daughter of a rich merchant, which lead to the downfall of the Portuguese influence in the area.
Where Not To Miss
Afternoon tea: Muscat is at the heart of two different worlds: the coffee drinkers and the tea drinkers. But it’s my personal preference that in Muscat, it’s better to go after the tea. While the Sirj Tea Lounge at the Grand Hyatt is considered the creme de la creme for the fancy “all out” teas and cakes kind of deal, I prefer grabbing a cup at the Chado Tea Lounge Wave Mall branch because of its extensive collections of Persian and flowery teas and really great beach view for relaxing. Plus if you’re a fan of a stronger brew, they’ve got a wide range of coffees, soft drinks and delicious cakes. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon after shopping along the Wave or a jumpstart to a beach morning walk!
A chance to practice your Arabic: There are a few general phrases that are helpful when you’re visiting any country and Oman is no exception. With how polite the Omanese are, you might actually score some major points by bringing your A-game with you. The standards like marhabaan (hello), min fadlik (please) and shukraan (thank you) are basics, but if you’re replying to “Keef halak?” or “keef halek?” (which is “how are you?”), it’s better to do more than just fine (kowayyes or kowayyesah) and respond with “Alhamdolillah.” Not only does it sound better, it means all praise be to Allah, and is a blessing to yourself and the friend you’re conversing with. Download DuoLingo to help get yourself prepped before heading out. You won’t regret it, and the locals will love it!
If you’re a newbie to the Oman region, take it all in. This area of the world was once a huge hub for trade and commerce, and pieces of international nations and cultures can still be seen, tasted and heard in the bustling city of Muscat. It’s a wonderful thing to see a mecca of the world meld people of different backgrounds together so wonderfully. Whenever I travel in the Middle East or Asia, I am always fascinated by the culture shock, the wonderful customs and the beautiful way of life. So tie up your laces, wet your appetite and happy travels!
About the Author: Jess Signet is a blogger who writes about technology, traveling and technology needed when traveling. Having visited places all over the globe, traveling is both her love and addiction. She does not want to be cured. Visit her blog here!