The Orient holiday destinations - especially the Arabian Peninsula with its incredibly tastes, spices, souks and the feeling of 1001 night fascinates me again and again. The big guarantee on stable weather with warmth and sunshine are certainly further positive characteristics. So it is not surprising, that I always return. I've been to Dubai many times, but the hustle and bustle is getting too much for me. Abu Dhabi also follows Dubai's construction boom and gets lost in the artificial piling up of beaches and islands for countless construction projects. Somehow I have the feeling, that Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar are all about one thing - being better, bigger and crazier than one of the others. And Oman? Is Oman following this trend or is Sultan Qabus ibn Said pursuing another goal and... how is it to discover Oman as a solo traveller?
Take your seats, close the seat belt and put the seat upright. The journey to Oman begins.
Land and it's people
The inconspicuous Oman lies on the Arabian Peninsula and borders on the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Most people are probably aware of the fact, that the region around is in crisis. What I can say, however is, that I have not noticed anything in this regard. Here it has to be mentioned that the country Oman is very neutral and above all a diplomatic heavyweight in the region.
Already during the landing approach to Muscat International Airport I noticed that there are no skyscrapers here. My taxi driver told me, that a law forbids the construction of buildings with more than 6 floors in Oman. Somehow really likeable as I think. Also I noticed during the taxi ride through Muscat, that the simplicity stands in the foreground. - there are not many showy buildings, if I compare this with Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Of course, there are exceptions as the sultans palace, official government buildings, museums, the Opera House and some new hotel complexes. Also very noticeable, that all the buildings are white/beige in colour - this is another law - but only for the capital city. The second largest state in Arabia looks back on an impressive history, it inspires with its historical buildings, including numerous UNESCO world heritage sites.
Directly behind the city of Muscat, a fascinating mountain range begins. This is the Hadschar mountain range that stretches from north to east - just impressively beautiful and the right place for lots of activities. The famous wadis surrounded by palm trees can also be found here. In winter mostly filled with water, in summer rather dry. The deserts of Oman are also said to be impressive. Unfortunately I didn't make it here this time. So a good reason to return again. ;) The Sultanate also has a large number of hotel superlatives to offer. Whether in the desert, in the mountains or directly at the sea. More about this later.
But what struck me from the very begin was the impressive hospitality of the Sultanate Oman locals. Rarely I have experienced this in such a way in another Arab country. I would say above all, that is what makes this country so special.
Arrival Muscat International Airport
I'm sure you're wondering why I mention this explicitly. It's just the fact, that it's a lot differrent here than in other Arab airports. Zero hassle and also the passport and visa controls are not comparable with other airports in the region.
Hospitality begins already noticeably here. You are appreciated and welcomed as a guest. Any arrogance is missing. I would like to briefly tell you my personal story about the visa and passport control. When the friendly customs officer had looked at my passport, he said, oh Switzerland, oh Matterhorn. You can imagine, that I was a little surprised, that he knows my home mountain. Sure, it's not just any mountain, but still. In a conversation he told me, that friends of his always go on ski vacation to Zermatt and bring him back the Matterhorn as a chocolate version... I don't think there's a better way to start entering a country.
The public transport system in Oman is very poorly developed. If you are travelling outside Muscat, it is certainly worth renting a car. In and around the capital I recommend to take the taxis. There are no Ubers. Attention - ask the price to the taxi driver before departure. It can happen that the driver sets the price according to his mood and activity in town. ;) Since I most of the time moved in and around Muscat, I took the taxi opportunity. On the 2nd day I had the luck to meet my future (taxi) driver and guide Sulaiman. He was the one who drove me the upcoming days to the most important and beautiful places, told me a lot about the history of the country and gave me intensive insights into the time of Ramadan. Something better couldn't happen to me. Also here I discussed the respective price with him in advance. Please don't hesitate to write me if you want to have his contact. Sulaiman is really amazing and also offers tours though the desert and the mountains.
The time of Ramadan
When I booked my Oman trip, I wasn't really aware that this would be during the Ramadan period. Because I was often in Dubai at the end of May but I never slipped into that time. What I didn't know was, that Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, so the exact period always shifts 10 - 11 days per year. So it happens that Ramadan goes through the seasons and this year it was in May. After a bit of a research I was very happy to stay during the Ramadan period. During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. Only at sunset they meet with family and friends to dine together. This can be outdoors in nature, on the roadside or in parks. Most hotels in Oman offer huge traditional Iftar buffets during Ramadan.
Ramadan in Oman - What you should know
- It is generally said that the hotels are less frequented in the month of Ramadan. This is ideal for all those who looking for calm. (but I think this depends a little on the season - this year at the end of May it was already very hot and just because of that there was less activity).
- Already in general, Oman is stricter with the handling of alcohol. During the fasting month, there is hardly any alcohol to buy in the hotels, unless you order it to your room.
- During the Ramadan period, public street restaurants and restaurants in the shopping centers are closed until sunset. The hotel dining places offer a slightly limited service throughout the day. In the evenings, they usually offer special Iftar buffets in addition to the A-la Carde restaurants. Guest are also welcome here.
- During Ramadan the hotel bars and clubs are closed. There are also no DJ's playing at the pool facilities. Quiet background music is usually played during dinner.
- Day trips and activities are also offered during Ramadan.
- It makes sense to take drinks from the hotel with you on excursions, as these are also difficult to buy during the day.
- Shops and shopping centers are also open during the day time, but are almost empty of people. The locals move their activities into the night. Most shops and restaurants are open until midnight.
If you are staying in Oman during Ramadan, try to experience it a little. So it is a must to visit an Iftar dinner after sunset. Usually the hotel operators set up big buffets in tents in the hotel gardens or in the specially decorated in house restaurants. Don't be worried when you enter, but be aware, that around 80% will be local Muslims on large tables with family and friends. I know this doesn't make eating alone any easier, but it is incredibly interesting to experience such a dinner, enjoy new tastes, typical local dishes and watch the hustle and bustle. You have your own table - just be there and enjoy a very special evening.
Also visit Old Muscat during Ramadan at sunset. Shopkeepers spread out their carpets on the sidewalks and eat with friends there. The parks and forecourts of the mosques become huge "picnic places". It's insanely impressive to see this. Of course with the necessary distance and without photographing. Unless you ask if it's ok, but that's the case everywhere right?
My personal Ramadan highlight was the ride with Sulaiman (my driver) to a point with a beautiful view over the city of Muscat. The view, the breathtaking sunset and the sounds of the mosques was really magical. Here I had the honor of eating the Iftar dinner with him. A very special moment, difficult to describe, which again shows the big hospitality of this country.
I'd like to introduce you to 3 hotels that really fascinated me. In 2 I stayed overnight, the third one I just looked at. All are located in and around Muscat.
The Muscat Hills Resort
The Muscat Hill Resort reached sad fame through the suicide of the world-famous Dj Avicii. And to be honest, that's how I became aware of it too. Not far from Old Muscat, this resort is located in a beautiful bay. Rather untypical are the main buildings with a very trendy, mediterranean style. The feeling of 1001 night is not to be found here. The wooden air-conditioned cabans for staying overnight are simply furnished. If you are looking for the luxury of a room, you are in the wrong place. The cabans offer a simple bed with mosquito net, a small desk, dressing area leading to the open bathroom and a small terrace. Here you spend a pleasant holiday without TV. Yes, that's right, TV sets are not available in any of the rooms. Just the right thing to relax and come down. But if you want to watch a Netflix movie or communicate with family and friends, the free WIFI is at your disposal everywhere in the resort. My personal impression was, that the cabanas were very dark. So most of the time only used for sleeping. They are also very sensory acoustic. You can hear the neighbours relatively well. So as a couple I wouldn't know if I would feel so comfortable - if you know what I mean.
It's very cool that the cabans are positioned like mini villages directly on the private beach. It feels like a small community in the evening when most people sitting on the terraces. If you want to talk to each other, you talk and if not, nobody is pushing you. As a single taveller I found this very pleasant.
The swimming pool, restaurant and beach club are located in the main building. A DJ plays every Friday until 18h00 and an international one on the last Friday of the month till late at night. Here the normally quiet bay becomes to a Party Place - but why not, once a week. (since I was in Ramadan month on site, I could not experience this) The restaurant offers an international, mostly Mediterranean cuisine. There are also some local dishes on the menu. The prices of the dishes are not cheap, but they harmonize with the quality and the premium products. Also at breakfast I had nothing to complain about. The staff at the reception as well as in the restaurant and beach are very friendly and helpful, maybe a little disoriented from time to time. There is also resort own diving centre. Snorkeling tours and dolphin watching are also offered here. Water sports enthusiasts will also find jet skis, paddle boards and kayaks. Everything corresponds to a really good 4-star standard resort.
(Taxi ride airport - resort 30 - 40 min / costs 20 - 25 Rial)
My conclusion is that the Muscat Hills is a cool and trendy resort. Everything is handled a bit more relaxed. I really loved my stay here. It is not really big and so beautifully located in this bay. Everything is really well maintained. Good food is a must during my holidays - I have not missed this here in any way. The Beach Club is for sure another highlight. The beach sections for hotel guests and day guests are separated. Mosquito spray is very recommendable, because mosquitos are everywhere.
As a single traveler I felt super comfortable.
The Chedi Muscat
The Chedi Muscat is rated as one of the top hotels in Oman. Here I wanted to know whether it kept what it promised and whether I felt comfortable as a single traveller. As usual in these luxury hotels in the Arabic region, the guests are welcomed by a whole delegation of hotel employees. My reception was very elegant and formal. A lot of time is taken for each arriving guest. In the hotel lobby very anonymous the usual check-in details are made. Then I am accompanied to my room on the third floor of a smaller building overlooking the swimming pool, the palm-lined garden and with a beautiful view to the Gulf of Oman.
In the bright and light-flooded room (Serai room with sea view) with King Size bed you will find every luxury you can imagine. The interior is beautifully decorated with an Asian-Arab touch. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and beers in the minibar are free. The bathroom is equipped with rain shower and care products from Aqua di Parma. (Bathroom and toilet are separate) There is no balcony or terrace in this room category, but this didn't bother me at all, as the whole resort offers many terraces and tropical gardens to relax.
The Chedi Muscat is a giant resort with many gardens, beautifully arranged and not to be surpassed in diversity. It Provides enough space to offer the 300 guests during the high season a certain anonymity. In addition to the three floor high buildings, smaller two floor club villas are also available. 3 huge, beautiful pools offer enough space for swimming or cooling down. Sun chairs can be found everywhere - at the pool, in the palm-lined gardens and on the beach. Whereby I have to say that I did not find the beach very special. (compare to the Muscat Hills Resort) The whole resort is well maintained according to the 5 star standard.
Let's talk about food at Chedi Muscat... ;)
In the morning a huge breakfast buffet awaits you at "The Restaurant". It doesn't work, it doesn't exist, it's really the motto here. The buffet is huge and leaves nothing to be desired. Egg dishes and drinks can be ordered directly at the table. The beautiful room doesn't seem overcrowded at anytime. Everything is very quiet. If you want to have a snack at lunchtime, the "Serai Pool Restaurant" is just the right place. Balanced, light cuisine with a certain Asian touch is served here. Besides the Iftar Buffet I had another dinner in the "The Restaurant" in the evening. Here dishes from the Far East, Asia, India and also European influenced will be served. The various show kitchens are a giant eye-catcher. To be honest, "The Restaurant" was too formal for me. From the staff, service, to the piano player, whom it really doesn't need anymore in today's world.
Regarding alcohol, as everywhere in the Arab world, the prices are utopian. This is mainly because of the taxes that are levied on alcohol. A glass of wine can quickly cost twice or three times as much. This not just in Oman, also in Dubai and the other big destinations.
My personal impression. I really loved The Chedi Muscat. The 5-star standard is really high and hard to beat. The Chedi offers plenty of privacy in the pool areas, beach and gardens, what I really liked as a solo guest. This is much different and better as I experienced in resorts in Dubai. Small free amenities as ice water, cooled sheets, fruit skewers or ice cream are brought to the sunbeds during the day. In the restaurants during day and in the evening everything is done to provide a pleasant stay for a single person. So they offered always a table on side and never in the middle of the room. The food is just outstanding.
For me personally, the check in and the service in the restaurant in the evening was bit too formal and could be a little more modern.
As always, this is my personal impression.
I have to say, that I'm a big fan of the W-Hotels. For a long time I was thinking about whether I should book my stay at The Chedi or at the W. Finally, as you read, I did choose the Chedi. But I wanted to visit the W-Hotel and went there for dinner. This amazing design hotel is also located in Muscat next to the sea. Shortly before my stay there was the Soft Opening. The Grand Opening now took place in the middle of June. According to the W-motto the hotel is super trendy. The W-WOW factor is definitely guaranteed here. The hotel consists of two 6 floor building complexes. The pool with all the beach cabanas is huge. Whereby one has to say that the pool is rather advertised as a party location than as a swimming pool. DJ's are always to be found in the "W". Every Friday the big pink pool party with hip DJ's takes place. Compare to The Chedi, there is no direct beach access. (at least at the time of my stay)
The W Hotel offers several restaurants and bars. I have reserved a table in the "Char" restaurant. Also here everything is designed in the typical W-Style. The menu promises a variety of international dishes. On this evening I decided on a tuna tartar the signature burger and a warm chocolate cake. All dishes were really excellently prepared. I would especially like to mention the very friendly staff. Here I felt more like a colleague than the guest - of course always with the necessary respect. I just loved this way. A big thank you goes in this regard to MIKKO, NASIM, DIANE AND KISHAN. You guys made this evening to a very special one for me. Sadly The Siddharta Lounge by Buddha-bar on the roof top was not open during my stay. But I think it will be an other highlight at the W.
Well, what can I say. The W-Muscat exceeded my expectations. I think it will be the new hot spot in Muscat and I will certainly book here my next stay. As a solo guest I felt super comfortable in the restaurant and the team was really amazing. I really liked the relaxed, cool atmosphere in the whole hotel. It's hard to say if you feel comfortable alone at the pool as well, as you know, party alone is less fun. But I'm pretty sure that you can get in touch quickly with other guests here as well. If you're looking for a hotel with the typical Arab design, you will be disappointed here. Anyone who likes cool, modern international design will be thrilled.
Sightseeing - Places to visit
As already mentioned, I have been staying in and around Muscat. Therefore I would like to introduce only the sightseeing places I have seen personally. The deserts and wadis are for sure also worth a visit.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
This mosque is absolutely worth a visit. Beautiful from the outside, it offers even more highlights inside. Among other things, the second largest Persian carpet in the world with a size of 4'300 m2 and an unbelievably impressive chandelier weighing 8 tons and consisting of 1122 lamps, produced especially for this mosque. Important, the mosque is available for visitors from 8 am to 11am. Friday is exclusively reserved for Moslems and closed for visitors. Dress code: Women must cover skin and hair, i.e. ankle-length clothing covering up to the wrists and a scarf as headgear. Men wear long trousers.
Old Muscat, separated from modern Muscat by the foothills of the Hadschar Mountains, is the historical landmark and the beginning of Muscat. A beautiful view can be enjoyed from the old pass road. The main sightseeing spots are the Sultan's Palace with its guest house (They are mainly used for representative ceremonies), the National Museum and the guardian fortresses Al Mirani Fort and Al Jalali Fort.
Mutrah & Mutrah Souk
Old Muscat and Mutrah can easily be combined for sightseeing as they are more or less next to each other. Mutrah used to be the trading centre of Oman. Worth seeing is certainly the Mutrah Souk, one of the oldest markets in the Arab world, which lets you dive deep into the Orient with all its tastes. Aromatic spices, fine fabrics, fine jewellery and exotic herbs are only a small selection of the goods offered here. Right next to it is the fish market. Here the freshly caught fish are offered in the mornings. At Port Sultans Qaboos (as the name suggests) the Sultan's luxury yachts are stationed. You find also the port of the Cruising ships here. There are plans that the harbor will be extended. This would create more space for the cruise boats. Here I am not sure how Mutrah will manage the crowds.
Shopping in Oman
Anyone looking for a great shopping experience in Oman will be disappointed at the moment. There are shopping centers, but they are still relatively small and do not offer the huge variety. It also seems that the established fashion labels are still holding back. Many plans for ultimate shopping centers exist. Oman Avenues Mall is the biggest shopping center at the moment, many shops are still unoccupied here.
My own personal conclusion on Oman
Oman is definitely worth a trip for those who travelling alone. It's very safe here, even though around the country the world seems to be collapsing at the moment. The hospitality is overwhelming. I have rarely experienced anything like this in the Arab world. Those who love Dubai will be disappointed by Oman, because the big show-off is missing. Here you can still find the real Orient. The hotel complexes are among the best in the world, the right places to relax and have a good time. Be aware that you can only move around with private vehicles or taxis. Nature lovers will find deserts, mountains and wadis to their liking. The country also has a lot to offer historically.
And... it is not touristically overcrowded yet.
Surely I will travel again through beautiful Oman as a Swiss Solo Traveller.
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