Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Sultanate of Oman travel profile

Take the rough with the smooth on an Arabian drive through Oman

From the vast barren deserts, rocky deepwater fjords and the beauty of the ancient forts, to the hospitality of the Omani people and the modern opulence of its luxury hotels, The Sultanate of Oman is a true joy to the senses for visitors taking a drive across this treasured land.

With so much opportunity for those wishing to experience both the 'glamour' of Oman, as well as its more traditional Arabic heritage and breathtaking landscapes, a good idea is to combine both aspects with a guided tour drive. With the use of an air-conditioned, comfortable 4WD vehicle - often a Toyota Land Cruiser - these tours come complete with a highly knowledgeable, English-speaking guide, who is ready to tailor-make a 'desert crossing' experience to your requirements.

Providing for the ultimate Arabian experience, many tours begin in the elegant capital, Muscat, a location which provides an abundant choice of the world's most exclusive five and six-star properties, all of which focus on quality and sustainability.

Names include The Grand Hyatt, Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa and The Al Bustan Palace – the truly magnificent six star property built to host royalty and some of the world's wealthiest nations, including the six member states of the Gulf Cooperative Council.

From Muscat, head north to the foot of the Hajar Mountains, following a mountain trail through dry wadis. Wadis are the key to understanding the Omani lifestyle outside of the capital. Seasonal riverbeds that flow throughout the country, and which only fill up from time to time after heavy rains, wadis have for centuries, provided a place for locals to wash, bathe and play. They also reveal an abundance of waterfalls, caves, oases and dramatic views.

Take the opportunity to go mountain climbing in the spectacular mountains, where the growing popularity of organised expeditions lends itself to some truly stunning experiences.  Take your pick from either a leisurely or an 'extreme' option, and after a day climbing the 3,000m high peak of Jebel Shams, an overnight accommodation option is to stay at a camp retreat set amongst the stunning landscape.

Accessibility is not a problem in The Sultanate, as your guided tour will take advantage of the new and extensive road network. Where there was once only 10 miles of asphalt road in the whole of Oman, now a program of building has created a network of more than 16,500 kms of asphalt roads and motorways which link the main cities in the north and south.

These roads provide discovery to a country which still has massive areas of unexplored wilderness, a fact which becomes apparent when you come face to face with the spectacular desert formations of the Wahiba Sands.

Here is the location for Desert Nights camp. A true reflection of Oman's authentic Arabic style and just a two hour drive from Muscat, Desert Nights offers an oasis of untamed spectacular open spaces within the beauty of the Wahiba sands. Sprawled across 10-acres of silken sands, luxurious Bedouin-style tents await those who seek the ultimate desert adventure vacation, as well as the ultimate in personalised service.
Travelling on through beautiful and often diverse desert landscapes, and onto the great coastal road, the opportunity awaits for some camping of the more 'rugged' sort, amidst the stunning serenity and wildlife of locations such as Khaluf Bay. With help from your guides, you will be able to pitch a tent in the sand dunes, just metres from the sea, kms from anywhere and at one with nature. Pure bliss!
En route to your next destination, learn more about the unique Omani hospitality by paying a visit to a local Bedouin family. Within the confines of one of these remote homes, you will be welcomed with qahwa (traditional Arabic coffee) and dates. And like just about everywhere you may go in this deeply patriotic country, you will see a picture of Oman's deeply revered leader, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said, hanging on the wall.

There is a strong likelihood that your guide will inform you that in Oman, the people are indebted to their Sultan who has achieved so much for them.

Indeed they are, as for much of the last century, Oman was an insular society, virtually isolated from the rest of the world. It wasn't until the current Sultan Qaboos took over the country from his father in 1970, that the foundations of the new economy were built, with running water, electricity and free schooling available for all.

Signal the end of your great desert crossing with the drive into Salalah, the administrative capital of the Dhofar region of Oman and the country's southernmost city. Unlike other regions, lush greenery prevails here, as a result of being the only place in the peninsula that receives the South East monsoon showers from June to late September or early October.

Known as the Khareef (winds of plenty), this is the season when people flock to see the land of mist and mountains in all its glory. The entire region is swathed in green, with the showers causing a significant drop in temperatures, thus ensuring the cool capital city of Salalah a permanent place on the Oman tourist map for visitors escaping the searing summer heat of the Gulf.

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