Oman

Oman FlagThe sultanate of Oman is a land of friendly people and magnificent landscapes--so the world is finding out as this corner of the Middle East emerges from a long period of isolation. Oman is one of the most traditional countries in the Middle East, but as it slowly comes out of its shell, it's beginning to look more toward the future than the past. The many forts were built during the years when Oman was an imperial power tied to Portugal and later Britain. When the British left the region, Oman pulled the covers over itself, keeping the eyes of much of the rest of the world away. But in 1970, with the ascension of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Oman began a "makeover" period, during which modernization and a spirit of openness came to define the sultanate. Oman's varied landscape includes rugged coastlines, beaches, mountains, salt flats, oases, and deserts. The sultanate has one of the world's most ecologically friendly governments, and a wide range of wildlife thrives in many protected areas. Sanctuaries have been set aside for Arabian oryx, giant sea turtles, the Arabian tahr, Arabian wolf and leopard, striped hyena, and the sooty falcon. Protecting plant life is important to the government as well: coastal areas are preserved and there are National Protected Areas scattered around the country. Oman is considered a safe, secure destination, but you would not want to find yourself in the midst of demonstrations--either political or religious. Traveling in Oman Oman Air flies to many cities within Oman, and for closer travel there are intercity buses. You can also rent a car, but this is not cheap. There is also an extensive system of microbuses and taxis. Find one get in, but don't be surprised if you don't go anywhere right away: usually the driver will wait for a few more passagers before hitting the road. You can also hire a cab privately, but this means you are "paying" for all the seats, so expect the fare to be a lot more. Unless you are a citizen of the GCC (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain or Qatar), you need a visa to enter Oman. It is valid for one entry and cannot be extended. It's recommended that you have an Omani travel agent or hotelier arrange your paperwork--primarily the No Objection Certificate (NOC). A road pass is necessary if you plan to travel by car. As is the case for many Middle Eastern countries, if your passport shows any evidence of travel to Israel you will be denied entry to Oman. What to Know Oman MapWhen traveling to Oman, keep in mind that you will either have to travel first class or low budget--there's almost nothing for the midrange traveler. First-class travelers will spend a lot for better accommodation, around $100 to $150 dollars a day. Whereas the low-end traveler will likely spend $50 dollars a day on accomodations and eating. Don't be surprised to shell out up to $200 a day on food, transportation, souvenirs, and a bed. Site seeing and other places of interest are generally free; domestic travel and eating can be relatively inexpensive, so you should decide in advance whether nicer accomodations are something you're willing to pay for. Tipping is typically not expected--many restaurants will include an additional 10%-15% gratuity in the bill. Haggling at markets may get you a modest break in prices, but it's not as widely appreciated as in many other countries. Traveler's checks are easy to change, and ATMs are available most places, though they're often not linked to international systems. Weather in Oman The best time to visit Oman is between October and March--the temperate months when the weather is the best. June to September is the monsoon season, so it's best to avoid visiting during these times. Oman Information Middle Easy Map Population: 2.5 million Government: Sultanate Square Miles: 82,000 sq mi (212,500 sq km) Capitol: Muscat (population 380,000) Official Language: Arabic (official), English, Farsi, Baluchi, Urdu People: Arab, Asian, African, Baluchi Religion: Ibadi Muslim (75%), Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslim, Hindu Major products/industries: Oil, natural gas, agriculture, fishing