Welcome to Oman
Next door to the trendy United Arab Emirates and to the north of Yemen lies a country full of unexpected beauty that I fell in love with.
Oman. I had barely heard the name before visiting and knew almost nothing about it. To give the best example of how little I knew, I used to be able to name every country in alphabetical order as a kid. Oman just happens to be the only country that starts with the letter “O.” Beyond that, I knew it was a majority Muslim nation in the Middle East. That’s about it.
When I flew to a much more popular destination in the UAE, I just happened to see a $40 flight to Muscat, the sprawling capital city. Since Oman altered their visa requirements for American tourists, this was the perfect time to visit. I bought the ticket, and it was one of the best travel decisions I’ve ever made!
Oman Is Safe
Any mention of traveling to the Middle East can be met with concern and confused looks. While there are countries in the region that can be deemed ‘unsafe,’ Oman certainly isn’t one of them. While their neighbors to the south are in a horrendous war, Oman is a thriving nation and becoming increasingly popular. Not once did I ever feel unsafe or unwelcome, even when wandering the streets late at night for the best kabob you’ll ever have.
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The U.S. State Department currently has Oman listed as: Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution.
It is not advised to go near the Yemen border.
Mutrah: The Heart Of Muscat
I went on a 3-week backpacking trip to 5 European and Middle Eastern countries, where Oman was my second to last stop. Honestly, I was tired at this point and now wish I had stayed here longer and explored further. But for the duration of my time in Oman, I stayed in Mutrah. I have no regrets about that, as it was my favorite district in Muscat. From gorgeous mosques to well-preserved historical forts, the architecture in this area is stunning and takes you back in time.
The surrounding scenery is eye-popping, the local cuisine is immaculate anywhere you go, and the popular souq will activate all of your senses. You experience the unique Omani buildings in all directions, the delicious cafes with Turkish and Omani coffee, the aromas of freshly cooked street food, and the bright colors of various decor illuminating the sidewalks. It was shocking how quickly I fell in love with this place.
There are many hills in Mutrah, which are honestly fun to wander. You never know what type of shops or hole-in-the-wall restaurants you’ll find in the alleyways. When you reach the bottom of the hill, the streets open up at the corniche, and the whole atmosphere changes. The chaos of the market quickly turns into picture-perfect serenity with waves crashing into the seawall and beautiful mountains in each direction, especially at sunset.
It truly is a wonderful place.
The Welcoming Nature Of Omani People
As an American tourist, I often stood out like a sore thumb. As a frequent traveler, I’ve learned it’s normal to be pestered by vendors trying to make a sale, but what isn’t normal is for them to be so nice after rejecting their pitches.
One lasting memory that stands out is when I declined to purchase traditional Omani clothing at a small shop within the souq. The vendor quickly changed subjects with a smile on his face, all to show me his world currency collection. He said he had currency from over 100 countries, but his most prized possession was an American two-dollar bill. The kind man couldn’t care less if he made a sale. What he cared about was making a human connection.
This happened all over Oman time and time again. One morning, I met another American at my hotel, and he told me Omani beaches are stunning, so I decided to go. To fuel up for the day, I stopped at a coffee shop and used their wi-fi for a bit. When I was wrapping up some work, the shop owner noticed me and asked me to join him at his table. He was from Kenya but, like me, fell in love with Oman and never looked back. He wanted to know my life story, why I visited Oman, and if there was anything he could do to make my trip more enjoyable.
To some reading this, they might wonder if this was some sort of shady sales pitch to make money off “the American.” It wasn’t. He gave me a complimentary Turkish coffee, and we added each other on Instagram. Just another warm-hearted person in this amazing place.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com