After 24 hours in Kuwait, Ann, Mihaela and I boarded our 9:05pm Oman Air flight for Muscat, landing at around 12:15am.
Muscat’s new international airport is really really nice.
The current fee for an Omani tourist visa on arrival is 20 Omani Rials (OMR), which you can quickly pay at a desk next to passport control with a credit card. Unlike the runaround I had back at Kuwait Airport, the visa process here takes only a few minutes.
Like Kuwait there are no hostels in Muscat for the budget traveler, so I found an apartment for all of us to share on Booking.com. And Muscat as a city is not a single entity but rather 6 distinct, separate provinces connected by a highway along the coastline, so when looking for lodging you have to choose where you want to stay depending on what you want to do.
We wanted to be near the mosque as that seemed to be the top tourist attraction here so we stayed around Al Ghubrah South. I found a great value at Somerset Residences, which is a newly designed apartment complex located inside Panorama Mall. They offer an airport pickup service for 15 OMR which I took up since I didn’t feel like haggling after what we had experienced all day back in Kuwait.
We arrived at Panorama Mall’s Somerset Residences at around 1am, where after checking into our room, we were delighted how great of a value we got. Unlike our awkward place at Arkan Residence yesterday in Kuwait, everything works perfectly here.
We woke up to a brutal 107ºF day the next morning, and given that everything was closed during daytime for Ramadan, we decided to stay in until the weather cooled down.
Mihaela and I both hit our respective gyms inside Somerset (they separate male and female gyms here, and funny enough — or disappointingly — Mihaela had weights that only went up to 10kgs whereas I had weights going up to 20kgs), after which we became famished after working out. Fasting for Ramadan was not going to do us any good; we needed to cook something ASAP, so we quickly went grocery shopping on the bottom floor of Panorama Mall.
It’s worth mentioning how much of a difference it makes when your lodging is is connected to a giant mall — we never stepped foot outside to brave the 107ºF weather once.
By 5:30pm it dropped to only 105ºF outside so we said screw it and decided to go out anyway. We headed downstairs and hailed a cab towards the 3 forts/palaces on the eastern side of the Muscat coast, stopping first at Al Mirani Fort.
Right in front of Al Mirani is a strategic harborfront location where you’ll get scenic views of the other 2 palaces/forts. One is Al Alam Palace, the ceremonial residence of the sultan that’s famous for its facade with bright blue & gold columns.
The other in the distance is Al Jalali Fort:
You can’t enter any of the 3 as a tourist as they’re all government buildings guarded by the military. So we drove back west along the corniche.
We then got out at Mutrah, where we walked along the corniche for sunset.
Turning left towards the city, we checked out Mutrah Souq:
The sunset adhan began to play so we stepped back outside for a surreal, serene moment where the entire city quiets down to break their Ramadan fast for iftar. Everyone begins to eat in silence.
As everyone was distracted by their iftar, we climbed up unguarded Mutrah Fort for views over the famous Mutrah Corniche:
We went up as high as we could, even hopping up on a precarious ledge with no guardrails. Don’t fall! The photos are worth it.
Take all the selfies you want.
Mutrah glows during sunset:
We then headed back down from the fort and did another round at the souq for some more shopping.
Afterwards we took a cab to Moorish Café in the Shati Al Qurum province, arguably the best shisha café in the city.
Then it was one last walk along the beach before heading back home.
The next morning we got up early for our 2 day journey across the rest of Oman. Thanks to Ihita, another monsooner who had traveled with me to Russia last year and was just in Oman 2 weeks ago, I was referred to Talal Al Alawi of Talal Transport, a master tour guide in a country where it seems that everyone knew his name.
He picked us up promptly at 11am, our first stop being the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the 11th largest mosque in the world and home to the world’s largest chandelier. Visiting hours are 8:30am-11am Saturday to Thursday and admission is free.
Our first stop was the women’s area to pray, which can fit about 500-700 people:
The mosque complex as a whole can fit as many as 20,000 worshippers inside.
…and the main prayer hall features an 8-ton chandelier from Germany, with its wooden doors from Myanmar, the single-piece giant carpet from Iran, and the marble from India.
We spent about 45 minutes here exploring, as well as getting free gifts (I got a picture frame, the girls got Frankincense) from the tourist center.
We now head onwards to Wadi Shab!
—FLASH FORWARD 2 DAYS–
After an epic 2 day adventure swimming at Wadi Shab, camping overnight at Wahiba Sands, and exploring bombed out ghost towns by Nizwa with our fearless guide Talal, we returned to Muscat the next evening for one of Muscat’s handful of fine dining options at Al Algham Restaurant, located at the newly constructed Opera House.
We went at the recommendation of Ihita, another monsooner from my Russia trip who was in Oman 2 weeks ago (she also had helpfully referred us to Talal).
Upon arrival into Muscat at around 4pm, we decided to book a last minute stay at nearby Al Qurum Resort, which is a 10 minute walk away from the opera house complex in the Opera Galleria Mall.
Al Angham is meant to represent the highest class of Oman cooking, serving traditional recipes in a glamorous, modern, setting.
When we say down we already had a plate of dates, fruit, a basket of fried starters, and fresh juices waiting for us.
Our next course was a lamb congee soup.
Next was a French presentation of a lamb pasta course, followed by unlimited rounds of coconut chicken, grilled lamb with rice, a glutinous lamb dish, and fried lamb with rice, all served to you on your plate by rotating waitresses:
Dessert featured a series of small bites that included a pumpkin pastry, frankincense flavored ice cream, and cardamom rice pudding:
Since it was Ramadan they only could serve their iftar set menu, which cost us 20 OMR per person. There have other set menus and a la carte options if you choose to come at a different time of year.
After dinner we headed out to the opera house to take some photos:
…which wouldn’t be complete without it getting served:
Tomorrow we head to Qatar!
– At time of posting in Muscat, Oman, it was 96.8 °F – Humidity: 24% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy