Muscat, The Capital of Oman
In recent years Oman has caught attention on the press for being the hidden gem of the middle east. It is a country that’s positioned on the Arabian Peninsula with it capital being Muscat. 5 years ago, no one would recognize where my country is from, whenever the question pops up I would go and say I am from “Oman” to which question of Amman and Yemen start to appear. “No, Oman! As in Oh- Man, it is a small country next to Dubai,” “Oh wow, how is Dubai like?” I gave up on trying to explain.
However, recently I would find people to be ecstatic when they find out I am from Oman, it has become the hot new thing! Being born and raised in Muscat for the first part of my life, I am here to shed some light on the pitfalls that one could make and how to make sure your experience does not go south while visiting Muscat, or the other parts of Oman.
This article comes in direct to a post made by A Hole In The Donut where I rebuke and clarify on the experience this traveler has faced. Knowledge is key to visiting any country and as such I believe that individual experiences should be taken into context. As a Muscat native, I do have bias but it is worth mentioning that at the time of writing this I have lives in 5 different countries since, I shall be as objective as possible with this.
Transport in Muscat
The driver of the taxi who met me at the airport started asking what I wanted to do in Muscat. I replied that I’d begin by taking the hop-on, hop-off Big Bus in order familiarize myself with the sprawling city. “Oh no! You don’t want to do that. It’s really expensive and you have to wait a long time between buses.” …He could show me everything I needed to see in half a day and it would cost only $65.
To be fair, it’s understandable that one lacks trust when it comes to sales pitch coming your way as a foreigner. I personally would never trust an offer from any one if I was in the US, EU, China or anywhere else with a high tourist capacity. However, to take things into perspective here, a taxi from any point A to point B in Muscat would set you back around $8-25 dollars in any direction. Now if a taxi from the hotel to the Big Bus Tour would be $15, a taxi back would cost you another $15, it would only cost you $30 to be on your way. Sounds like it could be cheaper to decline, right? Wrong.
I wasn’t interested. As a photographer, I often need to wait for the right light, or for crowds to clear in order to get the best shot. As a writer, I must be able to roam at my own pace, soaking up the atmosphere, talking to locals, and musing over story angles
Let’s do the math here, a Big Bus Tour would cost you $67.8 (if booked early) and your round trip costs are at $30, you would spend $97.8 overall! I think this is the part that the writer misunderstood. To be offered a personal tour for $65 means you could choose your locations: at your own pace and at your own time. I would understand how a tour bus would be an issue, but a taxi? As someone who studied Business in college, I would’ve accepted on the spot.
One thing to keep in mind while visiting Oman is that Public Transportation is relatively new and most of the time does not take you close to your drop off point; meaning you would have to walk 1 km to your destination. Muscat is a commuter city and most people travel either by cab or personal cars. For those of you used to travelling with public transport I would say that it is possible but not very convenient. This is especially true in the summer, June-September, months when the temperature reaches 40 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit).
Hotels in Muscat
“It was late and I was exhausted by the time we reached my hotel. I wanted nothing more than to fall into bed and sleep for ten hours. But my room fronted on a six-lane highway and the traffic noise was so bad I knew sleeping would be impossible. I asked for and was given a second room…which had a balcony with sliding glass doors that would not lock.”
At this point of the article I start noticing that this writer isn’t into spending money on comfort and has probably booked through a hotel booking platform looking for the cheapest deal. With that being said, I know exactly where she is, and NO, I would not recommend staying there.
The area that the writer is in is Ruwi district. It is home to Muscat Port and the King’s ship. This location is historic and known for boasting local shop from the 1900’s that were once on the forefront of trade in Oman. It is definitely a must visit while visiting Muscat, but I would not recommend staying there for several reasons. One, the area is very inaccessible and very difficult to maneuver with a vehicle. The infrastructure in not up to par with the current development in the country and such it is a hassle leaving to and from your place of residence. Second, asides from the historic aspects of the location, locals are not be seen as much as Indians or Bangladeshis who predominantly occupy this location. Third, development has not touched this location since the city started developing and the locals migrating other parts of the city, primarily on the coastal side- you can’t expect quality hotels to be found here. For the same price you would pay you could find hotel in newer and developed part of Muscat in Bawsher district.
Regarding hostels, Oman has not had a big surge of tourism and what is happening right now as the country has been very quiet with their daily lives. However, few hostels have emerged but nothing from what you would be used in Europe. They are not packed and tend to be on the nicer side. At the same time, you can expect to pay a higher price for this market gap. Oman is relatively expensive when it comes to hotels as the quality tends to be on the higher side in comparison to international standards. I would expect to pay $80/night for a stay at the Park inn where there is a roof top bar included, $200 for an Ocean side room at the Kempinski Muscat or $150 for a night at the intercontinental in one of the city’s most expensive areas. Bottom line is, expect to pay $80 for a nice room in downtown Muscat, $150-200 for anything Ocean Side & $250+ if you look for high end luxury excursion not far off from Muscat at the Shangri-La or The Chedi Muscat.
Sadly, the author has made the wrong call with choosing accommodation.
Here is an alternative list of Muscat hotels that are worth your money and are in prime locations.
Budget (under $80)
Family Friendly Luxury
- Shangri-la Resort at Bar il Jissah (Exceptional)
- Al Bustan Palace, Ritz Carlton Hotel – Muttrah Beach
“For the remainder of my time in Oman, I decided to focus on day trips outside of the capital city. I’d read about jeep tours in the surrounding Sahara-like dunes, off-roading through rugged mountain scenery, and wadis where hidden emerald pools offer opportunities for a cool dip. I tried my favorite go-to booking site, GetYourGuide, and even Viator, without success. Not only are tours in Oman extremely expensive, the minimum number of participants for any tour was two people. As a single person I would have had to pay double, even if other customers joined the same tour. The cheapest option was $250 for a half-day trip to a wadi. I just said no.”
Unfortunately, I must agree that the tour prices in Oman are on the expensive side. Which is why one of the reasons I have started this blog was to help travelers navigate the country without affording negative experience a chance to come to life. From a business perspective, you have to account that Demand & Supply disparity in terms of trips offered means that the price would be higher. For a travel operator you would need a 4-wheeled vehicle (usually newer models that cost $50k) a dedicated guide to drive you 1-2 hours back and forth and a company expense to mitigate. I understand the high cost given that since this is relatively a new venture, demand for a group tour is hard to come by to be offered a lower priced deal. At the same time, you get privacy and total freedom, I would say it’s worth as it would be a once in a life time ordeal.
Granted if you are looking for a reasonably price guided tour, I scoured through tens of listings for a list of tours which I think warrant the price. Here is a list of recommended activities that cost less than $200/person:
- Dolphin Watching and Snorkeling for 3 hours at $93/person. I would recommend this over an independent dolphin watching tour as spotting dolphins is not guaranteed. Marine life in Muscat is beautiful and you might spot some turtles while snorkeling.
- 4WD Desert Safari Day Trip from Muscat is a personal recommendation. For $80 you are going on an 8 hour tour where you visit Wahiba Sands desert camp for Dune Bashing and camel riding. I went on many trips as a kid and its definitely fun and worth the money as Dune Bashing requires it to be done by an experienced driver.
- Safari From Muscat With An Overnight Stay at Wahiba Sands. This tour includes a visit to Al Hajar mountains, Wadi Bani Khalid, before heading to a Wahiba desert camp for sunset. Usually this a trip you can go on by yourself. However, because Dune Bashing is not a beginner skill, I always hire a guide when visiting Wahiba. For starting price at $100, this is a steal as it would be more expensive to book everything individually. German speaking guides are provided as a plus on this tour.
I think it is fair to establish that author making remarks of not being able to find a tour under $250 obviously speaks to a lack of preparation or inaccurate presentation of information.
I further expand my search to a listing which shows the best day tours from Muscat.
Nonetheless, I recommend hiring your own car as travelling within Oman. This alternative would bring the trip value down to $90, including gas, for a one-day rental if you skip guided tours all together. It is easy and extremely safe as the locals would pull over to help anyone who is parked roadside (should an emergency occur). And of course, why miss out on some parts of the adventure when you can take full control behind the wheel of a mighty off-road SUV?
With that being said, visiting Muscat can be an adventure. At the same booking tours around Oman is not recommended for low budget travel.
Restaurants in Muscat
I spent my last day wandering around the Muttrah area, eating horrible fast food and trying to meet locals other than taxi drivers.
I mean let’s be real. I think fast food is horrible in the first place, but I can’t help but wonder where the author has found this horrible fast food. Like anywhere in the world not knowing where to eat could have you ending up trying the worst (or best) foods found in a country. But I personally rebuke this statement to be nothing representative of anything but a culmination of the authors bad choice in location, lack of preparation and off set mood to begin with. This is because Muscat has a variety of food which are delicious. The occurrence of fast food in Muscat as you know would mean western food in Oman; American chains, burger shops, pizza etc. Other than that, fast known to locals in Muscat goes by the name of Shawarma: the most delicious Doner like sandwich you would ever have. Another fast food would be Hummus from the many Turkish and Lebanese shops you would find across town. A local meaty option, made street side by the beach, is the Mishkak, which is tender pieces of lamb on a skewer and grilled on charcoal topped with special African seasoning, Yum!
This leads me to make the following assumptions. As the author is staying in Ruwi provenience, where locals are no where to be found and the main population is Indian & Bangladeshi, I would assume that she dined in the equivalent of a street food cafeteria meant to service the population in that area. Even then, I do not let the author off of this one because Indian food is delicious. I remember driving to the area where she would live as a kid to buy the most delicious Kushari (Egyptian dish) or Biryani, from a Pakistani coffee shop, for under $5 each! Although I don’t deny that it exists, but it’s really hard to eat bad food in Oman. For every “bad” restaurant there are 9 delicious ones to be found. Of course, I am not to claim that where she ate was bad as it probably accustoms different taste buds, knowing what to order sometimes play a big role in knowing what and where to eat-or not.
Muscat boosts cuisine from all over the world. My idea of fast food there would be $5 for 1kg of hummus, baba ghanouj, muhammara and the biggest Turkish bread you can find. Or a foot-long Shawarma for under $3. When feeling ethnic I would dine at a Persian restaurant buffet for no more than $10. As a recently converted vegetarian, the easiest places I would easily find cuisine at easy would be in Southern California where I lived, or Muscat, where I now visit. Therefore, I discredit this last statement made.
Muscat Quick Facts
If the above has changed your mind and you are now inclined to visit Muscat, then I recommend you read below for some essential facts related to Muscat.
Muscat today uses the same currency used all over Oman, which is the Omani Rial (OMR). The Omani Rial is divided into 1000 baisa. You should expect to have the following bills:
- 100 baisa
- 500 baisa
- 1 Omani Rial
- 5 Omani Rial
- 10 Omani Rial
- 20 Omani Rial
- 50 Omani Rial
Each currency in Oman is colorful and would make for a nice souvenier on its own. My favorite currency is the 5 Omani Rial pictures above. Oman currency is pegged to the dollar and the going rate is around $2.5 for 1 Omani Rial.
The conversion rate does not say much on whether it is good or bad, so instead here is a list of what your currency can buy along with each bill:
- 100 baisa/$0.25 – 500ml water bottle or Indian tea
- 500 baisa/$1 – Red bull
- 1 Omani Rial/$2.5 – One Shawarma (pictured above)/entry fee to most places
- 2.5 Omani Rial/$7 – Starbucks/Gloria Jeans/Second Cup latte/beer
- 5 Omani Rial/$12 – A vegan meal for 2 at a Lebanese restaurant or 1 cocktail
- 10 Omani Rial/$25 – Dinner for 2 at delicious western food dine-in
- 20 Omani Rial /$50 – Dinner for 2 at a high end restaurant (no drinks)
- 50 Omani Rial/ $120 – One night stay plus dinner at Park Inn Hotel
Going off of this you can see that the OMR has a high purchasing power but can get expensive really fast when it comes to entertainment. Plan your budget accordingly given this information.
Muscat Oman Airport
The new Muscat International Airport has come into operation at the start of 2018. It is a high end and luxurious airport that offers a pleasant welcome at arrivals. It set the tone for what to expect out of Muscat.
This is the main airport you will fly in to when visiting Oman. Taxis are available at the main gate. However, there is no metro or public transport upon arrival. A taxi should cost you no more than $25 to take you to your hotel in Muscat.
Muscat does not boast much of a nightlife like many other major cities. However Muscat bar scene is very luxurious and beach oriented. If you are going for a drink or a hang out with friends, Kempinski Hotel or Intercontinental Hotel Muscat would be your go to for bars overlooking the beach.
If you are living around Muscat then Shanghri-la resort has a nice & mellow bar scene with delicious breakfast in the morning. Otherwise for a day trip to Jebel Sifah then The Bank is a pool side bar and one of the hottest entertainment spots in Muscat.
For many of the younger generation, Oman’s rise to fame has been through the belated Swedish DJ Avicii who has left this world while visiting Oman. Avicii is a popular DJ who was visiting Oman on vacation. It is only fair that he is acknowledged in this post when addressing Muscat.
Muscat Welcomes All
Oman is a new a destination that has just opened its door to tourism. The locals are generous and wealthy and not to be assumed to be heads over heels for any foreigner that shows up at their doorstep like you would find in some other destinations. The people would share utmost respect to anyone that comes to their country and they would carry on with their lives accordingly. with that being said, Omanis don’t love the heat and you won’t expect to see many of them out before 6 pm. The beaches are empty, the roads are empty, and the mountainsides are for your viewing pleasure at your own pace. The only places that might be crowded with Omanis would be indoors and conditioned, so think Restaurants, Bars or Cinemas. On that note, one of the unique perks to visiting Oman is that you get to observe the culture with hospitality, as opposed to the culture observing your every move. Do your research and you will have the best time of your in Oman. I promise.
Muscat’s very own.