Muscat? What is there to do in Muscat? – This was the most common response I received when I told people about my recent trip to Oman. And well they might ask! In all honesty the main reason we chose Oman for our family break in May was the weather. However once we had done a little research we soon discovered that there was a lot more to offer than a guarantee of year round sun.
Situated in the Middle East bordering Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., Oman is a proud independent Gulf state. Unlike its glitzy neighbour Dubai, Muscat has developed along more traditional lines with the glass and steel of Dubai replaced with carved doors, arched windows ornamental railings.
We flew from Heathrow direct with the relatively new Oman Air. Travelling with young children (1 and 4yrs) can often be a little fraught – however Oman Air made it as effortless as possible. A brand new plane with a state of the art entertainment system kept my 4yr old amused until he eventually fell asleep – and my 1 year old was whisked off around the cabin by the stewardesses. My wife and I even managed a few chapters of our books.
The drive in from the Airport took us past Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, one of the biggest mosques in the world and well worth a visit as it is open to tourists (go before 9am to avoid the crowds). This building is representative of the Sultanates policy of grand public buildings in a traditional style.
We had chosen to stay in the Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa situated on the coast east of Muscat itself. This resort appealed for various reasons. Firstly, having stayed in numerous Shangri-La hotels around the world we knew that the standard would be very high. Secondly the resort consists of 3 different hotels all connected by a long beach. This gives endless dining options, multiple pools and means there is plenty of variety.
Our room was a spacious “deluxe suite” with plenty of room for a double bed, a roll-away and a cot for the kids. The large glass doors that opened straight out to the main courtyard area were ideal as every morning we rolled out of bed to breakfast and straight on to the pool area. We were staying in the Al Bandar hotel – described as the most family friendly – and this certainly was the case. The smaller pools had awning shading them from the ferocious mid-day sun, and the beach area was well stocked with kids toys and games. Little touches like a communal dvd/tv set up near the restaurant meant we could enjoy a civilised meal whilst our kids zoned out to Pixar’s latest inventions. However the biggest hit was the “lazy river” connecting the 3 hotels. This allowed endless circuits in inflatable rings as you moved effortlessly from one hotel to the next.
The resort also shares its beaches with both Green and Leatherback Turtles and we were lucky enough to be there during hatching season – an experience that I am sure both my 4yr old and I will never forget.
The resort is flanked on all sides by Oman's Al Hajar Mountains and these make a beautiful backdrop for the whole complex. They also provide the opportunity to escape the resort and see a little more of Oman’s natural wonders. We chose to take a day trip organised by the hotel – but another option is to hire a 4X4 and do it yourself. Avid trekkers will enjoy the walks through trails over mountains and into canyons (wadis), some which have running water all the year round. There are countless wadis and lots have crystal clear pools of water ideal for a swim. We accessed a few by road and a short walk – but to get to the more remote and beautiful spots you need to be prepared to trek in the heat – so just not possible for us with our young children.
Oman is also littered with forts and castles – something my 4yr old was hugely excited by. As with most of Oman’s outdoor attractions these are best visited in the early morning before the sun gets its full force going.
In the end Oman offered both the relaxing holiday we had wished for – and lots of options for a little extra activity.
We visited Oman in May which is the start of the summer – a better time to go is between November and March when the sun is a little less ferocious! Muscat can easily be reached as a break from the UK with a couple of direct flights each day – however to combine the Middle East with a round the world ticket I would recommend a route like this:
London – Dubai // Muscat – Colombo – Siem Reap // Singapore – Hong Kong – Sydney // Cairns – Auckland – Cook Islands – L.A // Las Vegas – London
If you're interested in planning a trip that includes Muscat in your itinerary, call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.