Muscat, Oman – Why I Hated It and Will Never Go Back

Last fall, I met an Omani man at my guest house in Delhi, India. When he learned I was a travel writer, he began to gush about Oman. “You must go! It is so beautiful. Muscat is gorgeous and people are so friendly.” I was sold. I added Oman to a list of Middle Eastern countries to visit this spring.

I arrived in Muscat, the capital of Oman, on a balmy March evening on the heels of visiting Dubai in the UAE. I’d thoroughly enjoyed my time in Dubai and, if reports I’d read on the Internet were any indication, I’d be even more wowed by Oman.

A walk along the Corniche passes between this rocky promontory and the giant incense burner perched on the hillside, which is a nod to Oman being the world's major producer of Frankincense
A walk along the Corniche passes between this rocky promontory and the giant incense burner perched on the producer of Frankincense

My first inkling that Oman might not be all that I hoped came a few minutes later. The driver of the taxi who met me at the airport started asking what I wanted to do in Muscat. I replied that I’d begin by taking the hop-on, hop-off Big Bus in order familiarize myself with the sprawling city. “Oh no! You don’t want to do that. It’s really expensive and you have to wait a long time between buses.” His warning was quickly followed with a sales pitch. He could show me everything I needed to see in half a day and it would cost only $65.

Clock Tower in the Central Business District of Muscat, Oman
Clock Tower in the Central Business District of Muscat, Oman

I wasn’t interested. As a photographer, I often need to wait for the right light, or for crowds to clear in order to get the best shot. As a writer, I must be able to roam at my own pace, soaking up the atmosphere, talking to locals, and musing over story angles. Being tied to a tour where I’m allowed 15 or 20 minutes at each stop simply doesn’t work. I politely declined, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Trapped in his vehicle, I suffered the hard sell all the way to my hotel.

Entrance to the traditional Souk (market) in the Mutrah neighborhood of Muscat, Oman
Entrance to the traditional Souk (market) in the Mutrah neighborhood of Muscat, Oman

It was late and I was exhausted by the time we reached my hotel. I wanted nothing more than to fall into bed and sleep for ten hours. But my room fronted on a six-lane highway and the traffic noise was so bad I knew sleeping would be impossible. I asked for and was given a second room…which had a balcony with sliding glass doors that would not lock.

As a solo female traveler, I have a few non-negotiable rules for staying safe. One of them is never to stay in a room where the doors won’t lock. Once again, I asked for my room to be changed. The third try was even worse. The room reeked like a dead animal and there were dark brown spots on the carpet the size of dinner plates. I’m sure the Filipino staff hated me by that time, but I had to demand a fourth room, which was finally acceptable.

In Old Muscat, a mosque is framed by one of the 16th century Portuguese forts that once guarded the harbors
In Old Muscat, a mosque is framed by one of the 16th century Portuguese forts that once guarded the harbors

My experience did not improve over the next five days. I began in Old Muscat, where the only interesting sites among a sea of whitewashed buildings were the Al Alam Palace and two 16th-century Portuguese forts. None of which were open to the public. With everything closed during the midday heat, streets of the old town were deserted. The only sign of life was four Omani men wearing the traditional Omani Dishdasha, an ankle-length white caftan, and round embroidered caps known as kumma. They strolled slowly down the middle of the street, eventually disappearing into one of the brilliant white palaces. Little did I know this would be the closest I would ever get to Omani culture.

The Corniche is a 4-mile long walkway between the Mutrah area of Muscat, and Old Muscat, the original site of the city
The Corniche is a 4-mile long walkway between the Mutrah area of Muscat, and Old Muscat, the original site of the city

Dejectedly, I turned my back on Old Muscat and headed back down the 4-mile Corniche. It was a beautiful seaside walk, but as in Old Muscat, everything along the way was closed. I arrived at the Mutrah Suq just as the market was opening for the evening and ducked inside to wander its cool narrow alleyways. Like any other market in the world, merchants hawked wares ranging from gold to spice to pashmina shawls. But every single one of the shop owners was an immigrant. I met friendly Pakistanis, Filipinos, Bangladeshis, and even Nepalis. But not a single Omani was to be found.

Shop owner in the Mutrah Souk hawks his goods
Shop owner in the Mutrah Souk hawks his goods

On day two I fended off multiple pushy taxi drivers, found the Big Bus stop, and sat down to wait. The bus arrived fifteen minutes later, but I wasn’t allowed to board. A cruise ship was in town and the company was busy shuttling passengers back to the ship. When the next bus finally arrived, it did an “abbreviated” route that ignored some of the stops shown on the company’s website.

We were well past the beach by the time I realized the driver had skipped it. My only option would have been to go all the way around and wait for the next bus. By that time it was too late. Even if I took a quick stroll on the beach and grabbed a late lunch, I would miss the last bus back. And a taxi back to the hotel would set me back another 25 bucks.

The stunning Swarovski crystal chandelier in the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The stunning Swarovski crystal chandelier in the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

My Big Bus ticket was for two days, so I set out early the next morning. I was beginning to suspect that there was little to see or do in Muscat, and the Big Bus tour quickly confirmed my worst fears. Strangely, the two most visited sites, the Muscat Opera House and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, were not even included on the route. Unlike the hop-on, hop-off buses I’ve taken in dozens of other locations around the world, this one was a total rip-off. I did manage to see the mosque when a lovely French Canadian family at the hotel invited me to accompany them in their rental car. Good thing, too, because the taxi driver I’d hired to take me didn’t show up.

A palm-lined beach along the Corniche in Muscat, Oman
A palm-lined beach along the Corniche in Muscat, Oman

For the remainder of my time in Oman, I decided to focus on day trips outside of the capital city. I’d read about jeep tours in the surrounding Sahara-like dunes, off-roading through rugged mountain scenery, and wadis where hidden emerald pools offer opportunities for a cool dip. I tried my favorite go-to booking site, GetYourGuide, and even Viator, without success. Not only are tours in Oman extremely expensive, the minimum number of participants for any tour was two people. As a single person I would have had to pay double, even if other customers joined the same tour. The cheapest option was $250 for a half-day trip to a wadi. I just said no.

Dining along the Corniche in the Mutrah area of Muscat, Oman. The only choices are a few expensive restaurants or these "fast food" sidewalk cafes.
Dining along the Corniche in the Mutrah area of Muscat, Oman. The only choices are a few expensive restaurants or these “fast food” sidewalk cafes.

I spent my last day wandering around the Mutrah area, eating horrible fast food and trying to meet locals other than taxi drivers. The only Omanis I found were squatting on the sidewalk in front of a sand pit, playing an ancient game known as hawalis. The chess-like game involved moving a series of pebbles among four rows of holes dug in the sand. The men refused to acknowledge me and even my requests to take a photo went unanswered. Lacking denial, I snapped the photo. I stood there a while longer, trying to decipher the rules of the game, but their snub made me increasingly uncomfortable. I later learned the centuries-old game, which is just as incomprehensible as the local culture, is exclusive to Oman.

Omani men play Hawalis, a board game where stones are moved between four rows of cups dug in the sand. This version of the game is said to be exclusive to Oman
Omani men play Hawalis, a board game where stones are moved between four rows of cups dug in the sand. This version of the game is said to be exclusive to Oman

Others may wax lyrical about Oman, but the only friendly people I met were immigrants. And the countryside may indeed be beautiful, but since all the tours were exceedingly expensive, I never saw it. There is no published information about bus routes and no rapid transit. Even renting a car is problematic. My new French Canadian friends told me horror stories about getting lost in the interior on roadways completely devoid of any directional signs. Oman doesn’t have a clue how to handle tourism. Until it does, I can find lots of other places to spend my money.

Author’s note: Since publishing this article, I have been flooded with comments from travelers who love Muscat. I’m the first to say that different places resonate with different people. I may not want to return, but those of you who are intrigued by Oman as a destination may find both this comprehensive travel guide to Oman and this 10-Day Oman Itinerary helpful.

Muscat, Oman - Why I Hated It and Will Never Go BackMuscat, Oman - Why I Hated It and Will Never Go BackMuscat, Oman - Why I Hated It and Will Never Go BackMuscat, Oman - Why I Hated It and Will Never Go Back

578 thoughts on “Muscat, Oman – Why I Hated It and Will Never Go Back”

  1. A real traveller will instantly fall in love with the place he or she visits. Why I say this? Well, reasons are ample, but only if you are a TRAVELER and not someone who is fussy and groaning you can decipher that traveling is linking to the roots of mankind beyond borders.
    I am a Journalist, writer, blogger, traveler, photographer residing in Oman for past fifteen years and call it my second home. I traveled Oman extensively and written about it. I am from India, from Kolkata and culture runs high in my blood. I find your blog uncouth and you hold no right to call yourself a writer.
    Nowhere, in Oman , I found people unfriendly. I click pictures with permission, i speak to locals for my stories and I am always greeted with dates and “qahwa” (omani coffee). I worked with amicable Omanis who are well known for their hospitality and warmth that they provide to their guests.
    Your failure to judge The Sultanate of Oman, is purely due to your poor research work and fixing up a right kind of tour. If you are a backpacker then Oman is the place to be, if you look forward to luxury tour, then, Oman is the country you must visit. Your choice of season must be right, your gesture should be true to the country you visit and their people.
    You said you are a photographer. Then my dear, being a journalist, I have an advice for you. Follow the ethics of a photographer. Never photograph someone who is unwilling. It is same like someone clicking your picture without your liking. Respect the privacy of people. You must ring the right chord and not a random one to make the situation turn melodious.
    You are only getting scowls for your blog. This is not what a blogger demands in his or her sanity.
    Try to be good to get good.
    #swatibasudas
    #oneamongmany8.com

    Reply
  2. Well, Im Syrian who lived, worked and enjoyed Muscat/Oman for years.

    When you get to know the real Omani people, you will never say that they are unfriendly. on the contrary, local Omani are the most hard working helpful people I ever met. But your photography work is on a different wave from the beautiful and unique landscape of this amazing country. They dont want to be blinking Dubai or in your face wealthy Qatar. Just normal laid back humble and stress free life style with respect to nature and traditions.

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  3. Karen vomited up her venom over seven years ago. Since then, there have been a series of developments in both Oman and its attractions as a tourist destination. There are now literally dozens of videos on YouTube, showing what is available and which are the best destinations to visit. Why does anybody pay attention to the whining of one old biddy who was too stupid to do elementary research before she arrived, and who ignored expert local advice once she was here?

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  4. Thank you for this very honest review of Oman which seemed to be one of the first links that came up when I searched about Oman so maybe they should address that more. Ive had experiences just like this in other countries and cities. It always sucks when you have a bad trip and post about it and then get a bunch of victim blamers saying you’re entitled and all that. F— ’em. Hopefully when the scars heal you can return and explore what else you discovered from the actual helpful people in the forum. That’s what I’m going to do eventually with India after mathura and delhi handed me my a– during holi. Nomadic matt trashed Vietnam and people are talking about it years later. People writing about their experiences does have an effect. Id love to see Oman so I’ll check those links you referenced. Thanks!

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  5. at leasst there isnt freddy fazbear in oman cus if there was hed go or or or or or or or or or or and eat you with his friends chica the kitchen foxy the fox pirate rawr and bunny the bonnie and he eats a finger and goes yummty

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  6. It is not fair to write this article. It is clear from your article that you did plan your trip well and as a result, there is big probability you will experience inconvenience throughout your journey. Failure to plan is a plan of failure. If you go anywhere in this world without a good plan, you will put yourself into such dilemma and unwanted troubles.
    Many tourists have great impressions about Oman, natural sceneries, many attractive landmarks and friendly people which you seldom find anywhere in the world. Authentic and geniune people, safety and security is high in the country. If you plan to come again let us know and I will give you some hints and contacts so you can get the best experience. Good luck.

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  7. oman is best contry you are just racism i do not agree with you. there is alredy to much racism in USA you promote it. bye.

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      • Don’t be ridiculous. Threatening a woman is not only repulsive but cowardly. It also demonstrates your failure to behave like a Muslim. I am an English man (Muslim) married to an Omani. This lady had a bad experience. I love Oman but it can be boring for westerners. I only meet with Omanis and yes I do find Omanis friendly and welcoming but Omani taxi drivers do try to cheat foreign visitors which gives Oman a bad name. They don’t try it with me because if they do I tell them to clear off.

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      • I’m a man. Try coming for me? I am also a Muslim. To threaten a woman is pathetic. This lady is entitled to her opinion. So before you start threatening people like a cowardly bully be careful. I don’t like bullies. I am an English Muslim and we English can be tough when dealing with cowardly bullies like you. I follow Islam. Clearly you are either too stupid, can’t read or simply don’t know what being a Muslim is. You are a silly little boy. Go away before someone takes you seriously.

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  8. Girls an idiot. Sorry I’m american oman is amazing. Colombian wife agrees also. She didn’t stay anywhere decent or do anything half decent of course she had a bad time

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  9. Wow you suck. So entitled and unadventurous. You could’ve rented a car for cheap and avoided 99 percent of your self inflicted woes. Next time try planning or maybe ask the man who invited you to oman how you should spend your time. This was the most obnoxious article I’ve read on the internet in years. Just senseless whining about how you were too lazy to actually see a country you visited.

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  10. Honestly, it seems to me you are a really bad planner. For starters, why would you stay in the Mutrah area? Did you take anytime to research your trip. You could’ve have spent a whole week in Muscat in one of the 10s of hotels near the beach and would have had a wonderful time. Secondly, the taxi driver told you the bus was a ripoff. Its a company afterall and can’t blame the country for it. There are many tour guides that take you on day trips to some of the nicest wadi adventures in the world for less than 70$ for a full day trip. Why are you even taking taxis?! And also you seem cheap. There are some good modern restaurants in Mutrah. Have you heard of google maps?

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  11. Thank you for sharing your opinion with us without the sugar-coated, everywhere-is-magical, rose colored tint that so many people share. It’s okay to have a bad experience or bad impression of a city, and that doesn’t make you an “idiot” for sharing your personal account.

    I was in Paris last week and thought it was super dirty and kind of sketch. Many people think it’s the most amazing and beautiful place on the planet— and that’s ok too.

    You’re awesome for taking the time to share with us.

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  12. I thank all the comments that did not agree with the writer’s opinion. It is clear from the title that there is an intention behind these yellow writings that are far from reality. Oman is a good country and welcomes all visitors and non Omanis who have spent their entire lives among Omanis exchanging love and there are Omanis of Indian origin who cherish their culture among Omanis. Your talk about Oman was disgusting and full of lies with bad intentions.

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  13. I thank all the comments that did not agree with the writer’s opinion. It is clear from the title that there is an intention behind these yellow writings that are far from reality. Oman is a good country and welcomes all non-Omanis there who have spent their entire lives among Omanis exchanging love and there are Omanis of Indian origin who cherish their culture among Omanis. Your talk about Oman was disgusting and full of lies with bad intentions.

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  14. You being a travel writer, this is an intellectually ignoramous post to write. I have lived in this country since i was born, and me being an Indian, i feel more safe and free in Oman, rather than my nation, India, which is known as the bastion of democracy where ironically we muslims are targetted, blamed, and stereotyped. You were telling that the roads here are dangerously built?…. Nonsense, in the last road quality index, oman performed much better than usa and other ‘so called developed’ western countries, oman is ranked as top 10. And in fact, the year you came here, oman was ranked 3rd right below UAE and Switzerland. First reasearch about a country before just coming here with all that arrogance. I am from the most developed state in India, that is Kerala yet still i find oman way better. Now you sit there and claim that the Omani government is sending fake comments in the name of loyal expatriates… Excuse me, the government of oman has much better things to do rather than reacting to such a measly scum who’s knowledge and experience is mere crap. You intellectually subservient people are the main reason why people are getting misinformed. Mind your knowledge on certain matters before posting an article, or you’ll end up writing crappy articles like this…

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  15. I think the writer is an idiot and wants attention. Go back to your tuberculous infested disgusting poverty ridden country and feed the homeless children in the streets of Delhi.

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    • I found it annoying. She seems like a stuck up person. Let the people play their game, they probably didn’t want to seem weird by bothering you and maybe even if they didn’t greet you or “acknowledge” you it’s just how they are. The reason you didn’t mean Omans was probably because you went to a tourist destination. Not everything has to be about Americans or the Brits as it seems like they want attention wherever they go! Different people approach things in different way I guess, but I could definitely tell that travelling with her attitude is not the way. The title is controversial and rude. I do agree it attracts attention which is why I read it but it doesn’t reflect what was said in the article. I think there is enough stuff being said on Middle Eastern countries as a whole, and putting out dramatic articles that give a negative light just isn’t appropriate.

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      • The author is so condescending and stunningly unfair
        We are Canadians and also travelled to Oman from Dubai at least twice (on our way the third time) and ALL our experiences are quite the opposite to what she is describing.
        We are budget travellers and stayed mid-grade accommodation that was superior. People are extremely nice and giving, we made new friends including locals who in fact invited us to see some hidden gems.

        The beauty in the eye of a beholder, and so is the ugly.
        If she came with the open mind and heart, she would attract better experiences and things would go different for her.

        Surprising attitude for somebody who is a travel writer.

        Reply

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