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Monday, June 6, 2022

OPINION:

When many Americans hear a generic reference to “The Middle East” their immediate impression may be one of war and/or challenging circumstances. The last two U.S. generations have heard endless tragic stories of American hostages, “death to America” chants from Iran, the war in Iraq and a never-ending dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians. The impression of trouble in the region runs deep. 

One word that probably doesn’t immediately pop into Americans’ minds when referencing The Middle East region? Vacation. 


It should, however. When looking at great getaway spots, one should give serious consideration to Oman

Located on the Arabian Sea, the Sea of Oman, the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, Oman has a coastline that runs nearly 1900 miles. It has pristine beaches and coast in a wide variety of settings. If a beachfront resort is your speed, you have multiple choices ranging from five-star luxury to more affordable accommodations. Expect modern, clean and comfortable. Most importantly, expect friendly, courteous, professional service everywhere. 

The Omani culture is a friendly one. Whether you’re visiting the big city of Muscat or a tiny historical village, you’ll find the locals to be exceedingly courteous. A suitable analogy might be the State of Maine in the United States. While large American metropolitan areas like New York can be intimidating and people are taught not to make eye contact, in Maine, the culture is overwhelmingly amiable. Even the toll booth attendants in Maine act as though they’ve known you forever. So it is in Oman. The amiable approach is natural and comfortable. 

One essential element of any vacation is food. If you are a seafood or meat lover, you’re going to be very happy in Oman. The nation has a rich history of fishing, so fresh fish and lobster are plentiful. If you’d like to try traditional fare, you can find places to sit on the floor and order a large shared plate of seasoned basmati rice with lamb or beef, topped with spicy yogurt and tomato sauce. If you need a taste of home, western cuisine is readily available, ranging from high-end steaks to local burger joints. Platters of rice and spiced meats are available at almost every restaurant. 

If you’re an underwater diver, many will argue there is no better place on earth for avid divers looking for exceptional marine life. Muscat is not only the capital of Oman, it offers several dive sites within a reasonable drive, including some with private islands and genuinely unique diving experiences.  There are tour operators offering 3-4 day extravaganzas that tour much of Oman and the best diving spots.

If exploring historical sites is your bag, a visit outside of Muscat is almost like going back in time. The remnants of a long-ago era are visible almost everywhere. You can visit mountain-side villages that are hundreds of years old.  You can find mud homes built into the sides of mountains. Forts, castles and important historical structures dot the countryside as well. 

The Hajar Mountains are a stunning and dramatic place to explore. They begin just outside Muscat and continue all the way toward neighboring countries. They are large, majestic and a reminder of how harsh mother nature can be. Soaring peaks of more than 9800 feet and plummeting valleys offer awe-inspiring views.

Oman offers no shortage of true luxury five-star resorts. Among the best is Alila Resort. Situated far from any hustle or bustle, nearly a mile and a quarter above sea level, it offers the most relaxing luxury experience with just a dash of adventure. At that elevation, every room has stunning views and the infinity pool appears as though the edge drops seemingly forever. Mountain climbs, spa days and unspoiled stargazing are all part of the experience. 

While ancient history is a highlight of any journey around Oman, Muscat offers some extraordinary modern facilities as well. The Grand Mosque, completed in 2001, is made from over 300,000 tons of Indian Sandstone and its architecture makes an impressive statement. It has an information center and all tourists are invited to visit the center to ask any questions they may have about the mosque or the religion.

The Royal Opera House is a truly world-class performance hall that opened in 2011. In addition to the performance halls, the complex features formal landscaped gardens, a cultural market with retail, luxury restaurants and an art center for musical, theatrical and operatic productions. It makes a huge statement about modern culture in this ancient historical country.  

When it comes time to pick up a few gifts for friends and family back home, the Mutrah Souk located on the Corniche in Muscat is an authentic old-world bazaar where tourists and locals can haggle over a variety of items including hand-made scarves, carpets and historical souvenirs. 

Oman has a low crime rate and is generally considered to be safe for business, tourists, families and even for women traveling alone. 

The best time to visit Oman is between October and March. The winter months are when the weather is pleasant, relatively cool and essentially perfect. April and May are considered the shoulder season, as the temperatures start to heat up, but vacations are still enjoyable. 

Visit Oman. It will change your perspective.

  • Tim Constantine is a columnist with the Washington Times.


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