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Oman is one of the most naturally beautiful and diverse countries in the Middle East. Boasting everything from a long stretch of a 3,000 km coastline to the highest peak in the Arabian Peninsula, the country is blessed with many natural wonders still waiting to be explored by intrepid travelers.
Moreover, one thing that makes it easy to travel Oman and see all the many natural, cultural, and historical sites is the fact that the best things to do are located in close proximity to Muscat, Oman’s capital. That means if you only have a short time in Oman, there are ample UNESCO World Heritage sites, beautiful islands, rugged mountains, historic forts, cultural towns, and more—and nearly all of them make easy day trips from Muscat.
Let’s dive right into ten places in Oman filled with natural beauty, and the things to do located all across the country that should be on the bucket list of every visiting traveler.
1. Snorkel the Daymaniyat Islands
How to Reach: 30-minute boat ride from Al Mouj Marine, Muscat
Just 70 km from the coast of Muscat lies a cluster of nine small islands called the Daymaniyat Islands. This cluster is a nature reserve and under the protection of International Coral Reef society. The Daymaniyat Islands are particularly famous for its healthy and colorful coral reef, as well as diverse marine life that cannot be found anywhere else in the Middle East.
The island also boasts crystal clear water and white sand beaches. Several tour operators at Al Mouj Marina conduct short day trips to the Daymaniyat Islands, and sunset cruising is also popular. Snorkeling is the most popular activity, which makes sense given the superb water quality! Excellent underwater visibility enhances the overall snorkeling experience, and you can spot turtles and tiger sharks around the islands during the breeding season. You should book a place to stay in Muscat, and then slot this into one of your days in the city.
2. Scuba Dive Near Bandar Al Khairan Island
How to Reach: 20-minute boat ride from Marina Al Rowdha, Muscat
Bandar Al Khairan Island is the nearest island from mainland Muscat, which makes it one of the most visited islands, too. This island is drowning in natural beauty and is surrounded by three main scuba diving sites that attracts many local and international scuba divers throughout the year. It offers good kayaking and snorkeling opportunities, too.
The best thing to observe at Bandar Al Khairan, however, is the unique limestones cliff formations that surround the island, and are best viewed from the boat on the way to the island. The limestone cliffs at Bandar Al Khairan were formed hundreds of years back. With time, due to sea erosion, the cliffs have changed and formed unique shapes.
Dolphin watching is another interesting activity at Bandar Al Khairan. On the way to the island, fifteen minutes into the sea, is an area where hundreds of dolphins can be seen in their natural habitat. All island tours stop at this spot for dolphin watching—if you have a particular ratio of snorkeling to swimming to dolphin watching, consider booking your own tour to Bandar Al Khairan Island.
3. Hike Through Al Wakan Village
How to Reach: 3-hour drive from the Muscat city center via Sultan Qaboos Road
Al-Wakan Village in the Batinah governorate in Oman is a mountain village that doubles as a popular hiking spot hike near Muscat. Located just a three hours’ drive from Muscat, the mountain village of Wakan demands a simple hike to be reached.
Alternatively, you can also hike all the way up by climbing stone paved 700 steps to the top. The views of the valleys from the top of the mountain are totally worth the hike! It can also be reached with a short and adventurous half-hour, off-road drive along the mountain. Pomegranate farms and padded fields dot the landscape the entire way up the mountainside—the villagers of Wakan Village own these farms and are extremely welcoming and friendly people.
The main viewpoint from Wakan village shows great panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and natural water springs flowing from the mountains to the valleys at the foothill. Witnessing the sunset or the sunrise from the main viewpoint in Wakan village is truly an incredible experience. While hiking is arguably one of the most popular things to do, there are also hot springs in the region and you can visit Al Wakan on a hot springs day trip as well.
4. Spot Turtles at Ras Al Hadd Beach
How to Reach: 3-hour drive from the Muscat city center via Amerat Road
Ras Al Hadd—popularly known as “Turtle Beach,”—has the only turtle reserve in Oman. The beach is located in the Ras Al Jinz area, which is a small fishing village.
This beautiful beach is a haven for marine life enthusiast as it homes the endangered green turtles. Turtle nesting season starts in September and runs until March. Throughout this period, hundreds of turtles come to shore every day to lay their eggs and hatch them.
The beach is divided into two areas—one part is the public beach, which is open for everyone. The other is the protected area, which can only be accessed with special permission—this means from an approved nearby hotel, or on a Turtle Tour of the area. Upon booking a room at the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, you can book a tour of the turtle reserve, and also have the opportunity to get up and close with the breeding turtles at the beach. Turtle Beach Resort is a bit further from the turtle reserve, but a great option if you’re interested in a mix of beach and turtle time.
5. View the Top of the World from Jebel Shams
How to Reach: 4-hour drive from the Muscat city center via Nizwa Road
Jebel Shams, located in the Al-Hajar mountain range, offers the best hiking experience outside of Muscat. Meaning “Mountain of Sun” in Arabic, Jebel Shams is the highest mountain in the Arabian Peninsula standing 3,000 meters above sea level. It also happens to be known as the Omani Grand Canyon, or the Grand Canyon of Arabia given it’s impressive depth and length!
There are three main viewpoints at the top of the mountain that can be reached by crossing many unpaved rocky paths in the mountain. Hiking at Jebel Shams can be challenging due to the altitude, hot weather (for most of the time in the year), and extremely rough and dangerous terrain. However, the view of villages and neighboring mountains from the top makes all the hiking hassle totally worth it. Jebel Shams is also very popular for overnight camping. After all who wouldn’t like to see a sunrise from the top of the Mountain of Sun!
6. Taste Fresh Pomegranates on Jebel Akhdar Mountain
How to Reach: 2-hour drive from the Muscat city center via Nizwa Road
Jebel Akhtar, also called as the “Green Mountain,” is the most visited mountain in Oman, likely due to its proximity to Muscat. Situated in the governorate of Nizwa, Jebel Akhdar is famous for its pomegranate fields and rare species of flowers that are grown on the mountain. Locals in the area are all farmers who sell pomegranate from their fields for a living.
In order to reach the mountain, a 4wd drive is mandatory, so it’s often better to book this experience on a day tour. There is a police check post right at the mountain foothill that checks the condition of the car and verifies it’s good enough for the ascent. However, the road leading all the way up to the mountain is well paved and recently constructed. If you don’t have a 4wd, you can actually also rent a car right at the check post then and there. Also unlike Jebel Shams, Jebel Akhdar is a very developed mountain with local cafes, shops, and even a petrol station on the mountain top.
7. Swim Inside the Bimmah Sinkhole
How to Reach: 2-hour drive from the Muscat city center via Amerat Road
The Bimmah Sinkhole, also called Hawayat Najam Park, is a park built around a large sinkhole that was naturally made in the ground. The sinkhole was formed many years due to the collapse of a limestone cliff in the area—in more recent years it’s become one of the best cliff diving spots in Oman. The sinkhole is believed to be a hundred meters deep and it’s surrounded by cliffs. The sinkhole beautiful emerald water is swimmable (so be sure your day trip to the Sinkhole includes time to swim!), and it’s also home to the Garra rufa “doctor” fishes, which give a nice pedicure if you put your feet in the water.
8. Cliff Dive at Wadi Shab
How to Reach: 2-hour drive from the Muscat city center via Amerat Road
Just a 10 minute drive from the Bimmah Sinkhole is Wadi Shab, which is a natural water spring flowing from the mountains (wadi means spring in Arabic). There are two small pools of water and one larger pool at Wadi Shab. It is also very famous for cliff diving and swimming, and most day tours to Wadi Shab have at least a short stop at this place is a definite must to see the natural water flowing from between the rocky mountains and surrounded by the date trees.
9. Camp in Wahiba Sands Desert
How to Reach: 4-hour drive from the Muscat city center via Amerat Road
A mere four hour drive from the city of Muscat (or two hours from Wadi Shab) will lead you to the second largest desert in the country, the Wahiba Sands desert. Located in the Sharqiyah governorate of Oman—and also called as the Sharqiyah Sands—the Wahiba desert is the best place in Oman to take a break from the chaos and the hassle of the city and to relax in the calmness of the lonely desert.
If you’re crunched on time, you can visit the desert on a tour from Muscat, but given the large number of tourist influx in the area, there are many great desert camps in the Wahiba Sands desert. Though independent camping is allowed in the area, it’s highly recommended to spend a night in the desert camps, which are designed like the Bedouin camps in which the locals in olden days lived. Watching the sunset and sunrise from the top of a sand dune is a not to be missed activity while in the Wahiba Sands desert. We highly recommend booking a night at the Safari Dunes Camp, which makes for a wonderful experience.
10. Relax on Al Mughsail Beach
How to Reach: 1-hour direct flight from Muscat to Salalah
There are many unexplored pristine beaches in Oman, but Al Mughsail Beach in the southern city of Salalah (which is where you should book a place to stay) is the most popular and one of the most visited beaches in Oman. Situated near the border of Yemen, there are several factors that make it the best beach in Oman. Al Mughsail Beach is located along a limestone cave called the Marneef Cave, which is believed to be formed years ago due to the soil erosion from the sea.
Another key reason Mughsail is the perfect beach? Natural blowholes are located along the beach and during high tide, when the water crashes against the limestone cliffs, water gushes from the blowholes with great force, making them look like a fountain. So, not only the Mughsail Beach an ideal place to swim, the ability to tour the cave and the blowholes make the beach more worthy of visiting.
Ready to book your trip to Oman? Don’t forget to book travel insurance for your trip—this will cover you in case of medical mishaps, lost luggage, and more—and bring an Oman guidebook so you don’t miss any of the country’s best attractions and spots dripping with natural beauty.
By Rahma Khan
Rahma Khan is the blogger behind ‘The Sane Adventurer‘, a blog aimed at safe travels and adventures in off the beaten tracks around the world. Born, raised, and currently living in Muscat, Oman, Rahma is a Pakistani expat who calls herself Omani by heart. An engineer by profession and a traveler by passion, Rahma is currently just ten countries. However, her love for traveling across all the continents is slowly but passionately taking her to new places, and she shares travel updates on Instagram.