Oman

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Introduction to Oman

Oman is slowly emerging from its hermit shell, revealing a land of friendly people and dramatic landscapes peppered with forts. Although it remains, in many ways, the most traditional country in the region, it's often more outward looking than it's given credit for.

It was once an imperial power that vied first with Portugal and later with Britain for colonial influence. Its development since 1970 is all the more striking because the country's oil reserves are so limited, and because it has been kept sealed away from the outside world.

Full country name: Sultanate of Oman

Area: 212,500 sq km

Population: 2.8 million

Capital City: Muscat

People: Arab, Asian, African, Baluchi

Language: Arabic, English, Persian

Religion: Ibadi Muslim (75%), Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslim, Hindu

GDP: US$18.6 billion

GDP per capita: US$7,900

Annual Growth: 1%

Inflation: 0.5%

Major Industries: Oil, natural gas, agriculture, fishing

Major Trading Partners: Japan, UAE, South Korea, China, EU, Thailand

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Traveler Facts

Visas: In an effort to encourage tourism, Oman relaxed its visa regulations in late 2001. Visas are still required (except for citizens of other Gulf countries) but it is now possible for many foreign nationals (including those from the EU, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand) to obtain a visa at Muscat's Seeb airport, or at border crossings. These visas are valid for two weeks. Tourist visas obtained through the sultanate's embassies abroad are valid for three weeks. Visas are still obtainable through Oman's bigger hotels and tour companies. One-week extensions are available from the Immigration & Passports Directorate in Al-Khuwair in Muscat. A nominal fee is payable to cross into the Musandam peninsula and a road pass is necessary if you plan to travel by car. If your passport shows any evidence of travel to Israel you will be denied entry to Oman. As always, check with authorities for any changes.

Health risks: malaria

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +4

Dialling Code: 968

Electricity: 220/240V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Secular holidays observed in Oman are New Year's Day (1 January), National Day (18 November) and the Sultan's Birthday (19 November). The two latter holidays are somewhat fluid, and also tend to be celebrated twice. The National Day festival features all sorts of highly visible official celebrations, but the main significance of this day for visitors may be that everything closes down.

The Islamic holidays of Eid Al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), Eid Al-Adha (the pilgrimage to Mecca), the Islamic New Year and the Prophet's Birthday are all observed in accordance with the Muslim calendar. The two Eids are marked by traditional celebrations and dancing in the streets.

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Best time to Visit

The temperate months of mid-October to mid-March are the best time to visit. Avoid the June to September monsoon season in the south. Non-Muslims should bear in mind that, over the next few years, Oman will be celebrating the end of Ramadan in January or December, the pilgrimage to Mecca in April or March, and the Prophet's Birthday in July or June.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Omani Rial

Meals

Budget: OR1-4

Mid-range: OR4-10

High: OR10-15

Deluxe: OR20+

Lodging

Budget: OR8-15

Mid-range: OR15-45

High: OR45-80

Deluxe: OR80+

Costs in Oman fall mainly into the budget and top-end categories; there's next to nothing in the middle. Those wishing to travel comfortably can expect to shell out for the ritzier hotels and eat sumptuously for relatively little; budget US$150-200 a day or more. Travellers who want to spend moderately will have a hard time of it. Good food can be very inexpensive, but accommodation is either cheap and unappealing or good but expensive; expect to spend at least US$100-120 a day if you stay in a decent place. Budget travellers who don't mind cramped, somewhat dingy accommodation can make up for it with lots of excellent, inexpensive food, though they're still likely to spend at least US$50 a day. Beds and swanky eateries aside, domestic travel and food are very cheap and admission to museums, forts and other places of interest is generally free.

Banks and moneychangers will change cash and travellers' cheques. ATMs are widespread, though few of them appear to be tied into international systems.

Tipping is not expected in cheaper eating places while more expensive restaurants tend to add a 10-15% service charge to all bills - which goes to the house and not the staff. There's a 15% hotel tax. Most prices are fixed, meaning the only things you can expect to haggle over will be souvenirs in the souk (bazaar). Even in the souk, however, bargaining can be a frustrating experience. Shopkeepers tend to offer a small discount on the marked price and then refuse to budge. If you try to bargain for the cost of a taxi, you will inevitably pay two or three times what you ought to.

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Attractions

Muscat

Oman's capital enchants visitors in a way that no other city in the Gulf can even begin to match. Maybe it's because Muscat doesn't have that slightly artificial feel which typifies so much of the rest of the region. Muscat, Mutrah and Ruwi are the capital's core districts.

Muscat, the old port area, is the site of the sultan's main palace and a fascinating place to wander around, but has few shops and sights except for the old city walls. Mutrah, just north-west of Muscat, is the main trading and residential port area. Ruwi is the capital's modern commercial district.

Batinah Coast

Oman's northern coast easily deserves a good two or three days. Most of the towns feature stunning forts, each different enough to warrant seeing. Some 175km (108mi) west of Muscat, Rustaq is best known for its imposing fort, though for a time in the Middle Ages it was Oman's capital.

Barka, just west of Muscat, has a fort and a restored house showing how wealthier Omanis lived many years ago. Inland, the town of Nakhal, with its dramatic fort, leads to the lush spring known as A'Thorwarah, which emerges into a wadi here to form a stream and small oasis - perfect for a picnic.

Nizwa

Nizwa has recently emerged from centuries of fierce religious conservatives as one of Oman's major tourist centres. Nizwa's fort is quite a looker and was built in the mid-17th century by Sultan bin Saif, the first imam of the Al-Ya'ribi dynasty.

For the next 300 years it was the primary seat of the imamate, serving as a combination palace, seat of government and prison. The town's other great attraction is its souk which, despite having been moved into more 'modern' quarters, retains much of its colour and vitality.

Salalah

Zafar had its heyday around a millenium ago when it was an active trading port. A striking change from Muscat, Salalah is about the only corner of Arabia that catches the Indian summer monsoon, and it's also the best base for exploring the villages and archaeological sites of southern Oman.

Numismaticists will have a field day as coins from as far away as China have been found at the site. There are very good beaches all along the road to Mughsail, once you're about 5km (3mi) west of Salalah, near the ruins of Al-Balid, site of the ancient city of Zafar.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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