The Sultanate of Oman is in the Middle East, on the southeastern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders the United Arab Emirates in the northwest, Saudi Arabia in the west, and Yemen in the southwest. Oman has two exclaves separated from it by the United Arab Emirates, the Musandam Peninsula and Madha.
Until Sultan Qaboos bin Said exiled the previous Sultan in 1970, Oman was an under-developed nation, and almost completely closed to visitors. Since that time, education, public works and tourism have taken off throughout the country.
Omanis are friendly people and are very helpful to tourists. In turn, tourists should respect the ways and traditions of the Omani people.
Omanis are proud of both their country’s rapid progress and their heritage as one of the great sea-faring nations. Excellent schools and hospitals, good governance, and on-going infrastructure improvement are all important characteristics of this once introverted and closed nation.
The Omani national symbol is the silver-sheathed dagger known as the khanjar. These vary widely in quality and cost, but almost every shop will stock several different models. Most of the modern ones are made by Indian or Pakistani craftsmen under Omani direction, while many are actually made in India or Pakistan. There is a large variety in quality, from the handles to the sheath. The best handles are made of silver-adorned sandlewood, while the lesser quality handles are made of resin. Look carefully at the sheath to determine the quality of the silver work. A good quality khanjar can cost upwards of OMR700. Typically, those will come in a presentation box, and include a belt.
Another reminder of the country’s tribal past is the walking stick known as arsaa. This is a cane with a concealed sword in it, which can prove quite a talking point at home. Unfortunately, in many countries, it will prove a talking point with customs officials rather than friends and family. In Musandam, the khanjar is frequently replaced by the Jerz as formal wear, a walking stick with a small axe head as the handle.
Omani silver is also a popular souvenir, often made into rosewater shakers and small “Nizwa boxes” (named for the town from which they first came). Silver “message holders” (known as hurz, or herz), often referred to in souks as “old time fax machines” are often for sale as well. Many silver products will be stamped with “Oman” on them, which is a guarantee of authenticity. Only new silver items may be so stamped. There is a large quantity of ‘old’ silver available which will not be stamped. Although it may be authentic, stamping it would destroy its antique value. Caveat Emptor are the watch words. Stick to reputable shops if you are contemplating buying antique Omani silver of any sort.
There is a wonderful selection of Omani silver available as jewellery as well. Items for sale in the Muttrah souk may not be genuine Omani items. Instead visit Shatti Al Qurm just outside of Muscat or the Nizwa Fort.
The distinctive hats worn by Omani men, called “kuma” , are also commonly sold, particularly in the Muttrah Souk in Muscat. Genuine kumas cost from 80 OMR.
Frankincense is a popular purchase in the Dhofar region as the region has historically been a centre for production of this item. Myrrh can also be purchased quite cheaply in Oman.
As one might expect, Oman also sells many perfumes made from a great number of traditional ingredients. Indeed, the most expensive perfume in the world (Amouage) is made in Oman from frankincense and other ingredients, and costs around OMR50. You can also find sandalwood, myrrh and jasmine perfumes.
Opening hours during the holy month of Ramadan are very restricted. Supermarkets are less strict, but don’t rely on being able to buy anything after iftar. At noon, most shops are closed anyway but this is not specific to Ramadan.
Using credit cards in shops is hit or miss. It is better to get cash at an ATM. Small denomination notes are hard to come by but necessary for bargaining. Unless you are in a supermarket, restaurant or mall bargaining is recommended, and this should be conducted politely.
The food is mainly Arabic, East African, Lebanese, Turkish, and Indian. Many Omanis make a distinction between “Arabic” food and “Omani” food, with the former being the description of the standard dishes found throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
Omani food tends to be less spicy and served in quite large portions – whole fish are not uncommon at lunch in some local restaurants (sticking to local food, it is quite easy to eat a substantial meal for less than OMR2). As befits a country with a long coastline, seafood is quite a common dish, particularly shark, which is surprisingly tasty. True traditional Omani food is hard to find in restaurants.
Omani sweets are well-known throughout the region, with the most popular being “halwa”. This is a hot, semi-solid substance which behaves a little like honey and is eaten with a spoon. The taste is similar to Turkish Delight. Omani dates are among the best in the world and can be found at every social place and at offices.
American fast food chains, especially KFC, McDonalds, and Burger King, are not hard to find in the bigger cities, especially Muscat and Salalah.
In Khaboora you can get Pakistani Porotta. They are double the size of Indian Porottas and look like pappadams. But they taste like porottas and are much thinner and delicious. Three porottas are available for the equivalent of Rs11. Traditional Omani Khubz (bread) is hard to find outside of an Omani home, but for an experience one should try hard not to miss. This traditional bread is made of flour, salt and water cooked over a fire (or gas stove) on a large metal plate. The bread is paper-thin and crispy. It is eaten with almost any Omani food, including hot milk or chai (tea) for breakfast– “Omani cornflakes”.
In Sohar you may get an excellent lunch with Ayla curry, Ayla fry and Payarupperi. Expect to pay only 400 baisa (OMR0.40) which is considered a very low lunch price here.
A good bet for budget travellers are the many ‘coffee shops’ which are usually run by people from the Indian sub-continent and sell a mixture of Pakistani/Indian and Arabic food, dishes mostly cost one rial or less, especially ‘sandwiches’ which can be around 200 or 300 baisa. They usually sell falafel, which is a good and cheap vegetarian option. Their actual coffee is often uninspiring Nescafe but their tea reflects their sub-continental management in being masala chai.
Food & Hospitality Oman is an annual international exhibition that focuses on Oman’s food and hospitality industry. It showcases food and beverage, hotel equipment and supplies, kitchen and catering equipment, food packaging products, and food processing technologies, and other related products and services.
The legal drinking and purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 21.
Bottled drinking (mineral) water is easily available at most stores. Tap water is generally safe; however, most Omanis drink bottled water and to be safe, you should too.
Alcohol is available only in select restaurants and large hotels and is usually very expensive (ranging from OMR1.5 for a 500mL Carlsberg to 4 rials). Drinking alcohol in public is prohibited, but you can get your own drinks and enjoy at public areas but in privacy such as camping by beaches, sands, mountains, or actually in any remote areas. Only foreign residents can buy alcohol from alcohol shops and with certain limits. Residents need personal liquor licenses to consume alcohol in their private residence(s). But an alcohol black market is widely spread around the cities and alcohol can be found easily.
Foreigner travellers are allowed 2 litres of spirits as duty free baggage allowance. Travellers can pick up spirits at the duty free shop in the arrival lounge.
During Ramadan, drinking anything in public is prohibited during daytime (i.e., sunrise to sunset), even for foreigners. Take care to drink in the privacy of your room.