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Oman

Dhows, Souqs, and Mosques of Oman

Explore the treasures of Oman, from the dunes and oases of the desert to a vibrant coastline rich in fortifications, historic port cities, and tropical gardens.

Combining breathtaking natural beauty with a well-preserved cultural heritage, the Sultanate of Oman is one of the most overlooked tourist destinations in the Middle East. On this special trip, you'll experience magnificent historic forts and palaces, the rolling dunes of the Wahiba Sands by camel, the beautiful walled city of Nizwa, and much more. Come along with Atlas Obscura and adventure travel pioneer Richard Bangs on this one-of-a-kind Arabian adventure.

Your intimate group of 10 to 16 explorers will spend eight days and seven nights traversing some of Oman's most striking landscapes, from the Arabian Sea to the Al Hajar mountains. With the expert leadership of Richard Bangs as well as an experienced Omani guide, you'll delve deep into the local history and immerse yourself in bustling streets, ancient souqs, and abandoned villages alongside a group of inquisitive companions.

Trip Highlights

  • Camel ride & desert stars: Ride a camel across the breathtaking Wahiba Sands and sleep under the stars in a traditionally styled Bedouin tent.
  • Traditional dhow cruise: Relax aboard a traditional fisherman's vessel and sail along the Arabian Sea, taking in the coastline and mooring at a natural cove.
  • Local agriculture & irrigation systems: Explore the terrace-style fruit orchards built into the mountain slopes of Al Jebel Al Akhdar. These unique orchards are fed by underground irrigation channels that date back hundreds of years.
  • Grand mosques & ancient souqs: Visit Oman's most exquisite mosque, located in Muscat and able to accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers, and duck down winding alleyways filled with fabrics, spices, and colorful handicrafts.

About Richard Bangs

Richard Bangs has been called the father of modern adventure travel, having spent 40 years as an explorer. Richard led first descents of 35 rivers around the globe, including the Yangtze in China and the Zambezi in Southern Africa. During that period he founded Sobek Expeditions, the first multi-national river running company and the pioneering outfitter for global active wilderness travel.

In the early 1990s Sobek merged with Mountain Travel to become Mountain Travel Sobek, a leader in international adventure. Richard has published more than 1,000 magazine articles, 19 books, a score of documentaries, and all manner of digital media. He has lectured at the Smithsonian, the National Geographic Society, the Explorers Club and many other notable venues. He writes a semi-regular feature for HuffingtonPost.com, occasionally freelances for other print and online publications, and produces and hosts Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose, as seen on national public television.

Deposit

$500 non-refundable deposit is required to secure your spot, as we have a very limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill extremely quickly. The full trip costs $5,995 ($500 deposit plus $5,495 final balance) and will cover all fixed costs including all accommodations, meals, and activities listed in the itinerary below. 

Book Your Trip

To register for this trip, please send an email to our Regional Specialist at atlasobscura@mtsobek.com with your full name, phone number, and and the names of any additional travelers. We will be in touch with further details from there.

QUESTIONS?

Please contact us by email at atlasobscura@mtsobek.com or call us at 800-282-8747 or 510-594-6028 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, or payment.

Itinerary
canon_shooter92 / Banner: Andries Oudshoorn
Day 1
Welcome to Muscat
  • Today, members of our group will touch down at Muscat International Airport. You'll be met by a guide at the arrivals hall and transfer to your hotel (check-in begins at 2 p.m.). Enjoy the rest of the afternoon at your leisure, and take your time adjusting to the time change.
  • Muscat is the capital of Oman—officially the Sultanate of Oman—and has been a key trading port between east and west for over 1,000 years. Its etymology is disputed, with suggested linguistic origins ranging from "anchorage" to "strong-scented" to "hidden." The city is harbored by the Arabian Sea and hugged by the Western Al Hajar ("Stony" or "Rocky") Mountains.
  • In the spirit of traditional Omani hospitality, your hotel is quite luxurious, sitting perched along the sea. The main beach, along the Gulf of Oman, as well as Turtle Beach, a smaller, secluded area at the edge of the mountains, offer perfect places to relax, in additional to the hotel pools. But not to worry—we won't let you get too spoiled.
Thierry Gregorius
Day 2
Muscat Explorations & Dhow Cruise
  • After a hearty breakfast, we'll depart for an action-packed city tour of Muscat. This ancient-turned-contemporary metropolis offers a unique opportunity to witness a modern commercial center existing in harmony with its traditional culture. Over the centuries, Muscat has traded hands and been tugged between different political spheres of influence, including the Portuguese, Ottoman Turks, Persians, and Omanis.
  • We'll start the day's tour with a visit to Muscat's Grand Mosque, the most exquisite mosque in Oman. With an interior that can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers, the edifice consists of a main prayer hall, ladies prayer hall, covered passageways, meeting hall, and library. A single handmade Iranian carpet of 1,700 million knots and weighing 27 tons covers the floor of the prayer hall. Please note that ladies visiting the mosque are required to cover their heads with scarves and should to be fully covered (no shorts or sleeveless outfits). Men are also to be fully covered, and slip-on shoes are recommended.
  • Next, we’ll sip coffee with the curator of the Bait Adam Museum and learn about the museum’s unique collection of historical Omani artifacts. Afterward, we'll drive via the waterfront to Mutrah Souq, Muscat's traditional Arab market.
  • Mutrah is one of the most popular souqs in the Middle East, with its myriad of merchandise beckoning from labyrinthine alleyways, including fabrics, spices, intense perfumes, and rich handicrafts. A visit to this frenetic, pulsating hub of Muscat’s old quarter makes for a delightful experience.
  • We'll continue on to the magnificent and very photogenic Al Alam Palace, one of the six royal residences of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. The palace is flanked by Al Mirani and Al Jalali, two 16th-century Portuguese forts.
  • At 3 p.m., we’ll transfer from the hotel to the marina to embark on a relaxed dhow cruise, weather conditions permitting. Dhows are a traditional fisherman's vessel. We'll see the coastline through the eyes of ancient seafarers who plied this route for centuries. 
  • Moor briefly at a natural cove and take in the spectacular Al Bustan Palace Hotel before returning to the marina. Soft drinks, tea, coffee, and dates will be served on board. 
  • Tonight we’ll dine at a local Arabic restaurant and return to our hotel for a good night's rest.
By Andries Oudshoorn
Day 3
Sparkling Springs & Mountain Villages
  • Wake for today’s drive to the sparkling springs at Nakhl, a traditional town located 75 miles from Muscat. At the heart of Nakhl, among an orchard of palms and against a backdrop of the jagged Al Hajar mountain range, is Nakhl Fort, a top sight in Oman. Dating back to the pre-Islamic period, the fort is now host to both a permanent museum as well as a weekly goat market.
  • Those who are feeling adventurous can opt to take a spectacular canyon drive through Wadi Bani Awf, a dramatic ravine, or wadi. This drive involves steep bends and bumpy, graded roads through some remarkable geological formations.
  • Next, we'll visit the charming mountain village of Bilad Sayt, located near Jebel Shams, Oman's highest peak. Tonight we’ll stay at Alila Jabal Akhdar Oman, a boutique hotel set in the magnificent Al Hajar mountains. After a whirlwind day of singular scenery, relax and replenish your energy over dinner here with the group.
Philipp Weigell
Day 4
Tropical Orchards of Al Jebel Al Akhdar
  • After breakfast, we'll set out by 4WD to explore Al Jebel Al Akhdar, a central section of the Al Hajar mountain range known as the "Green Mountain" in Arabic. Site of the Jebel Akhdar War from 1954 to 1959, the area was named a nature reserve by Sultan Qaboos in 2011. The region is famed for its fruit orchards, typically nurtured terrace-style along the mountain slopes, and fed via underground Aflaj (also known as Qanāt) irrigation channels. The region's agriculture, which stretches back hundreds of years, includes pomegranates, walnuts, apricots, and peaches; Jebel Akhdar is also the nucleus of Omani honey bee breeding.
  • We'll get to take a closer look at the Aflaj irrigation system and learn more about the ways it has been a critical piece of engineering in agriculture across the globe.
  • Next, we’ll visit the villages of Saiq and Wadi Bani Habib, which overlook a spectacular landscape of dramatic peaks, gorges, and wadis. If you love exploring abandoned places, you'll love wandering around parts of Wadi Bani Habib, now quiet and crumbling.
  • The afternoon is at your leisure. Regroup in the evening for a set dinner, and, of course, some walnuts and apricots.

 

Andries Oudshoorn
Day 5
Overnight in Wahiba Sands
  • Today we’ll rise early for a drive to Nizwa, one of the oldest cities in Oman and a former religious, educational, and trade hub. We'll arrive in time for the weekly Friday morning cattle market, which is a fascinating spectacle of furious bidding. Nizwa itself lies on a plain surrounded by a thick palm oasis and some of Oman's highest mountains, and is famed for crafting silver khanjars (traditional daggers). We'll see many of these khanjars, plus pottery, baskets, and silver jewelry, as we stroll through the souq.
  • We'll also stop by the Nizwa Fort, which was built in the 17th century and dominates the town center with its 125-foot round tower.
  • Our adventure continues as we head to the desert. Wahiba Sands is a vast, undulating, red and white sea of sand and dunes rising up to 650 feet. Its ever-shifting patterns are home to a variety of flora and fauna. Wahiba Sands is also home to the traditional Bedouin tribe, known for their hospitality and knowledge of the sands. To learn more, we’ll visit a Bedouin house set in this colorful expanse.
  • Tonight, we'll enjoy dinner under the stars at our Desert Night Camp. Later, we'll head to bed in large Bedouin-style individual tents, complete with en-suite bathrooms and cozy patios that provide panoramic vistas across the golden sands. But first, you'll have to take advantage of the dazzling night sky stretching above a dark and empty landscape. This is an evening we doubt you'll ever forget.
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Day 6
Camel Ride & Transfer to Salalah
  • This morning, we embark by camel! Wake to enjoy a desert ride on the resident, spittle-prone ungulates. Though we aren't planning to race our camels, nor assign them prizes based on appearance, both of these are Bedouin traditions dating back thousands of years. In addition to camel races and beauty contests, Oman accords special status to their "Ships of the Desert," which includes such institutions as the Sultanate's Royal Camels Corps.
  • Afterward, we'll visit a local Bedouin family. The English term, loaned from French, derives from the Arabic badawin, or "desert-dwellers."
  • From here, we'll continue to the airport for our flight to Salalah at 3:30 p.m. After our 5:15 p.m. arrival, we’ll transfer to the elegant Juweira Hotel. Here, we’ll enjoy dinner and boutique accommodations, both sharing regional notes.
Juozas Šalna
Day 7
Ancient Sites of Taqa & Salalah
  • After breakfast, we’ll head out to explore Taqah, a fishing village and old coastal town. Here we’ll visit Taqah Castle, a fine example of a relatively new fort built in the 19th century, with one of the best fort museums in the country.
  • We’ll proceed onwards to Khor Rori creek, the site of the ruined city of Samhuram and capital of ancient Arabia’s frankincense trade. Excavations have produced evidence of an ancient city with trade links by sea to destinations as distant as Greece. At this unique historical site, we'll be treated to a short lecture by a local archaeologist.
  • Next we’ll visit Al Husn Souq, where frankincense crystals of Dhofar and typical Dhofari frankincense burners are sold. Walking along the city’s promenade, you'll see single-story houses dwarfed by lofty, swaying palms. Al Husn Palace, summer residence of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, stands at one end of the promenade.
  • After lunch at a restaurant in Salalah, we’ll explore what is considered the “garden city” of the south. Experience the bounty of this tropical paradise at Garden Farms, which has coconut, banana, and papaya groves, as well as a variety of vegetable beds.
  • Continue to the biblical “Nabi Ayoub,” or Prophet Job’s Tomb, perched high up in the Jebels (mountains). The dramatic drive up, offering panoramic views of Salalah and its surrounding scenery and wildlife, is often the highlight of this trip.
  • Arrive back at your hotel in the afternoon and enjoy a free afternoon to rest or explore.
  • Tonight is our group's farewell dinner. We'll toast to our adventure together, and to more explorations in the future!
Day 8
Salalah Departure & Farewell
  • Enjoy a buffet breakfast at the hotel before transferring to the Salalah airport for your flights home.
The Fine Print

YOUR OMAN EXPEDITION INCLUDES

  • All lodging in double-accommodation rooms in modern, well-equipped hotels throughout the trip. (Single supplement for a private room is available for $1,500. Otherwise we'll work to place singles together.)
  • Expert leadership, including both Richard Bangs and local guides.
  • Meals are included as noted in the itinerary.
  • Airport transfers and ground transportation as noted in the itinerary.
  • Basic medical and evacuation protection, purchased by Mountain Travel Sobek on your behalf.

GROUP SIZE

Adventure travel works best with a small group of people. This trip requires a minimum of 10 guests in order to operate. We limit this trip to a maximum group size of 16 travelers (plus your guides, Richard Bangs, and support staff). Please check with us before purchasing airline tickets to confirm that your departure is guaranteed to operate.

SOLO TRAVELERS

Accommodations are based on double occupancy. If you prefer single accommodations, you must pay a single supplement fee of $1,500. If you are traveling alone and wish to share accommodations, we will assign you a roommate of the same gender. If there is not a roommate available, the single supplement fee will apply.

NOTE ON ITINERARY

Itineraries and pricing are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, whose schedules and availabilities may change in coming months. If any activity or attraction that is advertised is missed or not available, then we will always replace it with another activity or location of significant interest and value.

NOTE ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

This is a fairly active tour, and while we will not be trekking, there will be plenty of walking and moving about each day, often in the sun. You should be comfortable with walking between two to four miles each day and spending long stretches of time outdoors and on your feet.

NOTE ON ACCOMMODATIONS

Accommodations in Oman, and especially in Muscat, tend to be quite high end. You will be staying in four-star hotels with top amenities while in the capital, and top quality lodgings throughout the trip, including your night in spacious Bedouin-style tents in Wahiba Sands.

PAYMENT

You will be charged a non-refundable deposit of $500 per person to hold your space. The final payment of $5,495 will be due November 28, 2017. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the trip's Terms & Conditions. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $1,500 will be included in the final payment.

TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR

  • International flights to and from Oman. (For assistance booking your tickets, we recommend Exito Travel: 800-655-4053, mtsobek@exitotravel.com).
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
  • Personal travel insurance covering trip cancellation, lost baggage, etc.
  • Baggage charges.
  • Airport taxes (varies by location).
  • Medical immunizations.
  • Optional tipping to leader, guides and local staff.
  • Your Oman visa.