The land of Oman, which overlooks the trade routes leading into the Persian Gulf, has attracted the attention of foreign powers from the ancient Persians, to the Portuguese and the Ottomans. The old town of Oman’s capital, Muscat, is dominated by two great stone forts, Al Jalali and Al Mirani, which were built by the Portuguese in the late 16th century. Nestled between the two forts is the imposing royal palace of Al Alam and the contrast between the buildings provides the perfect visual demonstration of Oman's compelling history. Your visit will also include a tour of Salalah, an ancient city famed for the production of frankincense, which boasts both the ruins of the fortified town of Sumharam and the Tomb of Job.
Beaches, blow holes and a biblical site form just a part of the fascinating mosaic in Oman's second largest city, where colorful souqs and marketplaces sit in the shadow of a grand Sultan's Palace. Start your sightseeing with a scenic drive that reveals the contrast between the city's lush vegetation and the serene landscapes of the desert.
Then head to Mughsail Beach where white sand stretches for miles. If the tide is high, you may be lucky enough to see geysers spouting from the blow holes in the limestone cliffs. Legend holds that the prophet Job is buried outside Salalah, and the next site you visit is sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews. Job's tomb itself is simple, but the surrounding scenery is breathtaking with panoramas of the Qara Mountains and the Jubriah Plain.
Al Husn Palace, the summer residence of His Majesty, the Sultan of Oman is an imposing landmark with towering stone walls and teak doors. Although not open to visitors, you will be able to take photos en route to Al Husn Souq. Stroll among the vendors and colorful stalls heaped with mounds of frankincense, myrrh and incense and you'll soon see why this city was called the perfume capital of Arabia. In addition to fragrant oils, there are a variety of local artifacts like the fearsome Omani khangar daggers.
*Please note that visitors are required to remove their shoes at Job's Tomb. Please dress appropriately for visiting religious sites, with shoulders and knees covered as a general rule.
From desert landscapes and lush oases to ancient forts and the capital of the frankincense trade, this tour from the port of Salalah gives you a fascinating insight to Oman.
At the Al Husn Souq you will have an opportunity to browse the colourful stalls selling everything from myrrh and frankincense to perfumed oils and pottery. Continue on to Al Balid and the remains of the city of Dhofar. The most important ancient port on the Arabian Sea (part of the Frankincense Trail) the history of Dhofar dates back to before 2000 BC and some archaeological research suggests that the city's prosperity dates back to the Iron Age. The city was a trade hub, being one of the largest ports on the Indian Ocean, making it a thriving commercial centre for the export of frankincense to China and Rome.
The city’s location was first discovered in 1930 and the site and the ruins, which cover an area of 64 hectares, are surrounded by high walls to the east and north. The whole site is currently undergoing extensive archaeological investigation.
Then pass through the fishing village of Taqa with its old town and fort on the way to the ruined city of Samhuram at Khor Rouri creek. Excavations here have uncovered evidence of an ancient city with sea trade links to the eastern Mediterranean and Greece. Up until the 1st century AD, the transport of frankincense had been the domain of the camel caravans. As a result of improved navigation techniques, the trade routes became increasingly maritime via the Red Sea.
At that time Dhofar was part of the Yemeni kingdom of Hadramaut. The King recognized the importance of having a safe storage place and a port for the export of frankincense in the vicinity of where the frankincense was harvested, and in the 2nd century AD he ordered the building of Samharam.
Medieval forts, Moorish mosques and modern architecture mingle enchantingly in Muscat, the seaside capital of the Sultanate of Oman. The country's political, economic and commercial hub has a wealth of landmarks, as you'll soon see.
Sightseeing highlights include a visit to the Grand Mosque, built by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. This striking example of Islamic architecture accommodates 20,000 worshippers and has an immense handmade Persian carpet in the prayer hall. Next, wander one of the oldest and most interesting markets in the Arab Gulf, the Muttrah Souq, where everything from copper bracelets to camel bone vases can be found. At the Bait al Zubair Museum, gain a richer knowledge of Omani heritage as you peruse exhibits including clothing, household items and weaponry.
Enjoy a lovely coastal drive past the charming fishing village of Sidab to the old city and Al Alam Palace, overlooking sparkling Muscat Bay. This is the official residence of Sultan Qaboos, built in 1970 on the site of an earlier palace. The modern design blends oriental and occidental styles in bright gold and blue. Nestled between two 16th-century Portuguese forts, Jalali and Mirani, the palace ensemble is the perfect expression of Oman's compelling contrasts. Due to opening times of the Grand Mosque, included sightseeing will be in the morning of the second day in Muscat. Optional tours will operate in the afternoon of the day of arrival.
*Please note you must dress appropriately for visiting religious sites. Women must wear modest clothing, which covers the body and the head, including the hair. Arms and legs must be covered to wrists and ankles.
Board a traditional sailing dhow, modified for comfort, on this afternoon odyssey along the Omani coast. The triangularsailed dhows that add such an exotic touch to these waters are a testament to centuries of seamanship. In the 8th century an Omani dhow sailed as far as Canton, China. These stalwarts of the sea are said to last from 60 to 100 years.
Your sailing adventure begins with a drive to the marina, where you step aboard the wooden dhow, Lubna, and set sail. The route has been thoughtfully designed to showcase old Muscat and such landmarks as the medieval Portuguese forts, as well as modern Al Alam Palace. Sinbad would feel at home aboard your dhow, which was built in the town of Sur, where the craft of dhow building is passed from generation to generation over the centuries.
Although modern comforts and safety features were added later in Muscat, this is a ship with a true Omani ambiance, featuring such Arabic touches as stained glass windows in the central stateroom and raised floor seating outside. Relax and enjoy the hour and a half cruise, during which assorted non-alcoholic beverages will be served.
Note: Dhow cruise is subject to weather conditions.