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

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.

109 Comments on “Muscat, Oman – Why I Hated It and Will Never Go Back

  1. Hi barbara im sorry that you had a bad experience i’m an Omani living in Muscat and I would love to take you around if ever you came back to visit us im not a tour guide or anything just an ordinary female

    • Thank you so much Tala. That’s a very kind offer and I’ll keep it in mind. I feel there must have been more to Oman than what I experienced.

  2. Forgive me Barbara, but I think you have forgotten a very important point when it comes to traveling, and that is that “You are a Guest” in a foreign country. No one, besides the people at the hotel, owe you anything. Perhaps you have grown accustomed to people being surprised or intrigued by your presences, or perhaps you have become a bit snooty after all your travels. Either way, when you travel, as you stated, take it all in and try your best to engage locals, but don’t ever think that you deserve anything, not even a hello. You came to their country, not the other way around.

    • I’m the one who was greeting people, Marco, thus it was definitely not me being snooty. You are very correct that people don’t “owe” me a hello back or even any kind of kindness. But you’ve made my argument for me – why on earth would I ever want to go back when the people there can’t even say hello?

  3. Only visted Muscat for a day …. people are so friendly, it’s clean, felt safe

    Would go back

  4. Barbara, 94 countries, not bad, not bad at all =) greetings from Warsaw.

    • Hi Andrze: Thanks so much. Greetings from Chiang Mai, Thailand. I love Warsaw, BTW! One of my favorite cities in Europe, and wildly underrated, IMO.

  5. Try living in Oman….I wish I had done more research about this country before I moved in here last year. Everyone had been so enthusiastic that I thought that I’d won the lottery when I got a job here. It couldn’t possibly be further from the truth and now desperatey trying to get out!

    • So sorry to hear that Karolina. Hope you find a position elsewhere.

    • Karolina, if I may ask, why? I just got offered a teaching job there. Should I take it?

  6. Maybe if you had listened to the taxi driver from the airport you may have found he was right and the bus as he tried to explain was a mistake. For $65 who knows how much that would have changed your experience. Although it is not ideal getting an unsuitable room, a hotel that is willing to keep changing the room until you are happy is a good hotel in my opinion. And finally omanis are not animals in a safari park there for your entertainment imagine if you were playing cards with a friend in a cafe and some foreigner just stood over you staring maybe you made them uncomfortable but you translate this as they are not friendly, why because they didnt perform for you????

    • I don’t expect people to “perform” for me, Thomas. But it would have been nice if even ONE Omani had replied to me when I said “Hell” or “As-salám aláykum.”

    • I completely understand why she didn’t take the driver up on his offer. A solo traveler needs to think about safety. Giving a stranger control over where they can take you is risky. I guess you need to be a solo female traveler to understand that. If she had taken him up on his offer and something had happened to her I’m sure you would have an opinion on that as well.

      • Even as a male, I would not have felt comfortable with the taxi driver’s offer. I would have been even more nervous as he tried harder and harder to get me to do it. Everyone should be careful in foreign lands!

  7. Tnx for sharing your experience. I visited muscat last year but i saw it different as you said (may because i travel by own car) also about the game i don’t think so its be exclusive to oman as people in south of Iran play the same thing …

    • Hi Mojtaba: Thanks for your input. Glad to know others have had a better experience than I did.

  8. Really liked the way you described evrything but there are certain facts you should had researched before visiting Oman. Right now it is still opening up for tourism and they are focusing more on the high end tourists which is why most tours would be costly but standards will be really high as there are many other places which cater to the mid and lower segment already. Most people come to Oman to escape the noisy and crowded cities to relax in nice big hotels. Public transport is known to be poor though it is improving and visiting oman should definitely be done using a rental car. Muscat isn’t really known for its tourist attractions but the places around Muscat are famous for what they offer to tourists. Having lived in 5/6 GCC countries I can definitely say Omanis are some ofthe most friendliest and humble people in the region.

    • Hi Sarthak: Thanks so much for your polite comment. Every person has a different experience when they travel. Unfortunately, mine in Oman was not good, but that doesn’t mean others will have the same experience.

  9. Oman is a great country.
    Of course, Omanis and Expats live in harmony.
    Peace is the hallmark of Oman because we have people from different countries. Any country where the local population mingles with the expat community will achieve peace and development.

  10. if you don’t want to do research before visiting a place then you need to take it for what it is. Not everywhere is waiting for you to visit with lots of cheap activities whenever YOU want to do them.
    doing a little research may have saved you this obviously very awful trip and left Oman to the people who appreciate it for what it is.

  11. Hi Barbara,
    I felt ur opinions and comments about Oman were true.. i had lived in muscat for 17 years (Ruwi) and now settled in New Zealand… Oman still needs a lot of improvement and growth in the tourism sector.. I feel the government still has not done enough or has underestimated the true potential of this sector (especially a country with such scenic beauty) when compared to other middle eastern countries (UAE, Bahrain etc)
    Anyways sorry to hear that ur trip wasn’t enjoyable as expected…

    • Hi Sam: Thanks for sharing your experience. I really wish I’d had a better time in Oman, but the way things are there, as a solo traveler, I found it extremely difficult to arrange to see any of that scenic beauty.

  12. Barbara, thank you for being honest in sharing your experiences. Some people may not be able to accept them, however, honest and real experiences as such are great help for travellers in making decision on where to go next or at least what to expect…. thanks.

    • You’re very welcome William. Thanks for your comment – it meant a lot to me.

      • I’m a Omani kid and I don’t like my tourist section of Oman, me and my family go to yachts and hotels like bar al Jissa shangrila resort and sometimes rent limos for Bday parties . My family talks English so I feel weird in public because all Omanis talk Arabic and they look at me ??this is oman what to do

        • Oh dear Jana, I’m sorry to hear that even a local doesn’t like the tourist areas. That’s very telling.

  13. Barbara, I found numerous posts here, in response to your time in Oman, to be completely insensitive and probably unrelated to other countries they suggested you visit. You were in Oman at the suggestion of someone, based on how their experience had been. It was Oman you were interested in experiencing. Every country has it\’s own culture. A lot are not developed in terms of being sensitive to other cultures and how to take care of their tourism industry. Those are just facts and it was your experience. I trust it.

    • Thank you so much H. Davis. I am constantly amazed that people feel it is appropriate to write hateful comments. Of course, they do so anonymously, so I guess they feel safe. But I’m finding it harder and harder to hold my tongue with these people. When they say that I should have more thoroughly researched Oman before traveling there, I wonder if they would say the same thing to Graham Greene, one of the great travel writers of all time. Or Patrick Leigh Fermor, who walked across Eastern Europe with little information before setting out. Or even in more recent times, Paul Theroux, who has never much relied on guide books. In my earlier days of travel there was no Internet, and guidebooks were out of date by the time they were published. Yet in those days, travel was still the supreme adventure! You headed off and figured it out along the way. You talked to locals and asked their help. You stayed longer and got to know the lay of the land. My sense of things is that the Internet has taken all that away from us. I, for one, choose to travel in the old manner, so that I can have an adventure and bring those tales to my readers. I frankly pity the people who have to plan every second of a journey. Thank you again for so eloquently responding to my critics.

      • Perhaps you\’re too thin-skinned to be a travel writer, Barbara. I didn\’t find H Davis remarks (anonymously or not) hateful or inappropriate. In fact, you both made valid points. The bottom line is that travel is a highly personal experience. Your most favorite travel destination is someone else\’s least favorite destination. Lighten up! 🙂

        • I think you missed her point, Dave. She didn’t say H Davis’ comments were hateful. Go back and re-read it.

    • Your article is so well written and openly honest about your experience and I could \’feel\’ your disappointment in having to write thus. Feel sad at the tone of some of the replies. Wholeheartedly agree with the idea of not doing endless research. We do very little until we get to our destination and then do a bit.
      We love the mystery in finding out things for ourselves and try to feel and see like the early travellers might have.
      Good luck and thanks.

      • Thank you so much Therese. I appreciate your support and your comment. I’ve been doing this for more than 11 years now and I do really believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I must admit that I tend to get a little testy when people come out in full attack mode and don’t even have the guts to use a real name.

  14. Barbra Weibel was obviously paid to write a bad review of Oman by one of the Middle Eastern countries that is envious of the great strides and social justice in Oman compared to the other gas station dictatorships.

    She loved Dubai and hated Oman. LOL

      • Hi Barbara. I was privileged to live in Oman with my husband and young children for 2 years. Admittedly it was late 80\’s. I worked with Omanis, had Omani friends and travelled extensively throughout the country. I found Oman to be a fascinating place with plenty of culture. It sounds from your experiences that the country has become more tourist friendly in one way but also more commercial. Visiting a foreign country, especially one with such different cultures to your own, and actually living there are very different things.

        Next time try Ghana.

        • Hi Sue: Yes, I think they’ve focused on tourism in Oman, but haven’t really figured out the best way to do it. Left a bad taste in my mouth. And I wholeheartedly agree that living in a place is much different than visiting. Now, as for Ghana…I’m intrigued by that country and DO hope to visit. Maybe next year!

    • Very strange… Been there and loved it. But, maybe you are measuring things according to US. Many people do unfortunately.
      I love differences and buses not being on time or noise will not spoil my vacation.
      There is no such a thing as too noisy – it is more like not being tired enough.
      Anyway, I loved Oman and all countries that I have visited. I strive for change and absorb with all of my senses.

      • I have the sense from Barbara\’s travels and experience in many countries, that she is not comparing any country to the US. It\’s also imperative that she not waste time and money, since she travels for a living. I didn\’t find your post very realistic of her lifestyle and experience in Oman. She has no reason to print something that isn\’t true or realistic.

    • I seriously doubt that she was paid to write a bad review on Oman, but I do agree in regards to Dubai, the land of conspicuous consumption on steroids. It\’s definitely not my idea of having a good time.

  15. Sorry to read that you had a bad experience. I wonder if you ever been to Pskistan especially northern part; law enforcement situation is improving there and as a Pakistani American I am kindly requesting if you would consider your next journey through there.

  16. The writer seems like someone who should stay in Chicago, and get everything she needs at the time she wants in the the easiest of ways. Just stay home, lady.

    • LOL – I’ve been to 94 countries, so I have a pretty good basis for comparison. You???

  17. Really ??? if you hated Oman , you probably left your soul at home . I visited for business ( not Muscat though) and found Omanis to be very hospitable , nice , helpful and respectful to visitors. It has authenticity , humbleness . The dilemma is that your pictures contradict your writing .
    If you took these while hating Oman ,then It is a testament to your skill as photographer . You are a good photographer. Not sure why you did not drive & chose to be dependent .

    If what you write are your true feelings , I would suggest Madurodam in Netherlands for your next visit , great opportunity for aerials , light opportunities are great , no ( real) people or cars also tourist facilities in Nederland are very good , it is a nice quiet country .

  18. Honestly, you were not planning your trip as you should have. Muscat has so many to offer and the locals if you go to the right places, are amazing people, open for a chat every time.
    Going to the Wadis outside the capital is also really beautiful. ODC beach like so many others is much nicer than what you find in Dubai. Dining at Cargeen is a bucket list must for every Muscat traveller. The pool at Chedi with the insane sunset…
    Do your homework next time!

  19. Ooops, will visit Oman in 2 weeks time…will try not to let your article influence my stay. Have only positive memories from Dubai n Abu Dhabi and want to see Oman now and Qatar (?) later in 2018. Beautiful pics though

    • Thanks Claes. Hopefully, it will resonate better with you than it did for me

    • do not worry, but you have to rent a car and bring or rent a GPS and tour the mountains and wadis and forts, e.g. jebel shams area, or do an organized tour with jeep and driver (you can see turtles and oases/wadis and stuff).

      The city of Muscat itself is not worth staying in imho unless you’re staying at a resort with a beach and stuff and you want to relax a bit. Sure, the big mosque is beautiful and you can go for a walk at the souk but that’s pretty much it, the rest is just way too much driving.

    • Hi Claes, I am glad I was patient enough to read your comment. Could you please say a bit or much about your experience on your Muscat visit? I am hoping to travel there in April.

  20. I hate Oman .i am an indian .I have been in Oman .And i decided to go back to india. I didn’t see any crowd places or festivals nothing is exist.But the omani’s are good .They are so friendly .I want something entertainment and fun..thats why I hate Oman.

    • You could have been describing the attitude of many cities throughout the world, ‘fast buck’ people who make a living from people stepping off a plane, whats new. Im visiting my son there in a few weeks and will just accept it for what it is, you want entertainment go to Vegas.

    • Thanks for your comment Al basith. I know many people don’t agree with me, but Oman was just not for me. Unfortunately, I found it hard to meet Omanis. The only people who were willing to strike up a conversation were the immigrants. Such a shame.

      • the problem is that you did not ask for a conversiation. people in oman do not disturb tourists and they just let them enjoy.

        • I did try, several times, to start up a conversation with locals. The Filipinos, Nepalis, and Other foreign workers were all very friendly. The Omanis wanted nothing to do with me, unfortunately. I would have loved to talk to a native.

  21. Wait so you didn’t visit Bait Al Zubair Museum? No National Museum? No Mohammed Al Ameen Mosque? No visit to the Hindu Temple in Old Muscat? No walking along the Qurum Beach to watch sunset? No eating at Bin Atique or Bait Al Luban for authentic Omani food experience? Wait, locals didn’t talk to you! Are you serious? That’s insanse they love talking to tourists…. Ooh don’t tell me you didn’t go to Ghalia Art Museum which displays what Omani houses look like…. Hmmmm you didn’t even bother to go to Nizwa? My dear mam, you clearly did not experience real Oman

    • Hi Amanda: I did do some of those things, but they were overshadowed by the negative experiences I had.

    • I understand you did not do home work to visit Oman. Omanis are educated and cultured among all Arab community. Perhaps you selected wrong place to stay. You should have visited through proper channel of Oman tours and travel. Amanda is right you missed very many – a must see – spots. But your photographs are so beautiful that people would be attracted to visit the place overriding your negative narrative. I wish you visit again and experience it\’s real charm which will inspire your photography skill greatly.

  22. I am so sorry to hear (or read to be more specific :P) what you went through in my country, Oman. I am not bragging but Oman is really a wonderful country. To appreciate that, you’d have to get out of Muscat but then again you need a good amount of cash to do so. Places like Nizwa, Ibra and Bahlaa, S are the right places to get the real taste of Oman.
    Muscat is a capital city after all and there isn’t much to do. I have to say that we have a long way to go when it comes to tourism and the country is supposedly working on it. May I ask which hotel did you stay in when you were here?
    Also, it bothers me how all restaurants in Muttrah Souk serve terribly cheap fast food! It doesn’t even suit the place! However there are a few Omani restaurants in the area, one of which is in Muttrah Corniche called Bait Al-Luban, one of the best in town and serves local food.
    I am surprised that you did not visit any of the museums in Muscat, like the National Museum which sits just opposite the palace and the Bait Al-Barnda Museum near Muttrah Souk and the Galia Art Gallery which is housed in an ancient house and you can see what Omani houses look like!
    I recommend visiting the country again and arranging things before coming. It is a wonderful country with friendly people (please note that taxi drivers don’t represent the whole nation and we’re all aware of how terrible some of them are. But we’re currently working on metered taxis (I know its a bit too late but better late than never).
    I am agree that places should not close during the day and more activities must come to place in Old Muscat and better tourist facilities must be installed.
    Wish you all the very best

    • Hi Mohammed: Thanks so much for your detailed suggestions. I have made note of them, should I ever return to Oman.

    • been to Oman, you nailed it. You have to get a car and get out in the country and cover some distances (it’s $$ for sure but gas is cheap), for experiencing cities there are better destinations, but the mountain landscapes and small historical sites and villages and oases all around are Oman’s atout.

      There even are beehive buildings apparently from 5000 years ago in some places.

  23. Barbara, I really appreciate your candor in writing this piece. Reading through the other comments, I see that some of your readers really like Oman, but the biggest truth about travel is that each journey is different. I would have disliked Oman if I’d had your experiences. Thanks for sharing — I look forward to reading about your other adventures.

    • Thanks so much Ann. I agree. Not every traveler is going to like every destination. For some reason, Oman and I just didn’t click. Nut others might love it. That’s what makes the world go around!

      • Not for “some reason”, sorry. As an experienced traveler you should know that every single trip to any place in the world requires preparation and planning. My big question is why you didn’t even bother to learn something about Oman before you traveled, or you just waited for a country to entertain you somehow on its own? Having read your article carefully I’ve noticed several huge fails: first -wrong choice of the area you stayed, second – not planning your transportation around the city and country (there are plenty options, trust me, starting from renting a car at affordable prices and ending with finding a driver with a car etc), third – eating at dirty fast food restaurants (you could have opened at least TripAdvisor or instagram to make a list to suit your taste), fourth – you did not even attempt to prepare a must see places list and options to reach them. And I can go on and go on with this. As a frequent traveler I may say that your approach is totally irresponsible and you did not find anything better, but to put the blame on the country and its people. I’m not Omani, but do live in Oman for more than 10 years. Pity that you could not get to the heart of such a beautiful country, but only because of your wrong actions. The best things sometimes have to be found with some effort, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist just because you weren’t able to reach them.

        • Yada yada. When you’ve been to 94 countries you can criticize my method of travel. Until then, you travel your way, and I’ll travel mine.

  24. Thanks for giving your personal take on Muscat. So sad that they seem to be handling what little tourism they do have so badly, and word-of-mouth like this from people who’ve been there will only make it worse. If I venture there, I think I’ll probably try and rent a car, as the tourist bus sounds like a total rip-off!

    • You’re welcome, Julia. If you don’t mind renting a car, I think that would be the best bet.

  25. Barbara, Thanks for your brutal honesty. How rude of those men to ignore you! Rudeness is right up there with the worst of sins!

  26. The experience may not have been good but really enjoyed your photos. My article about Arunachal Pradesh in India and the Hornbill Festival will be published in International Travel News in June. Check it out and hope you enjoy it. I took 1500 photos in 18 days.

    • Hi Audrey – you’re as much as a photo addict as me! I also end every trip with thousands of photos. Thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed them.

  27. Nice article, Barbara! I also like to experience the country I’m visiting, day by day, without too much research ahead of time. Everyone visiting a country will have different experiences, that’s a given. Additionally, some people like to travel by staying at an ‘all inclusive’ frying on a beach somewhere, while others like to travel to more exotic places, experiencing life day by day and getting to know the culture in the country they’re in…you can’t knock either way….it’s people’s personal preferences. Consequently, if one person prefers to research their heart out before travelling somewhere and another doesn’t….well, that personal preference also…no one should be chided for their personal preference! A-n-d…renting a vehicle?….I prefer not to drive also in the countries I visit as I feel it’s too risky (will that provide a different travel experience than those who rent?…yes, and I’m OK with that…lol) Keep writing, Barbara…I enjoy reading your blog!!

    • Thank you so much Crystal – you can’t possibly imagine how much that means to me.

  28. This is a really great post and I appreciate your honesty about your experiences. The hard sell in the taxi on the way into town after a long flight sounds super-annoying.

    One thing I wanted to point out though… just because people are immigrants doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting or worthwhile getting to know! They are also locals and have the most fascinating stories and viewpoints because they have a different life to compare to the one they are living now.

    I know you probably didn’t mean to imply that immigrants aren’t interesting – but that’s the way it sounds in your post!

    J

    • Hi Jane: You’re absolutely correct about immigrants, and I did not mean to imply that they aren’t worth talking to. In fact, I spent a delightful hour chatting with a group of Filipino men who were fishing off the rocky coast. They’d worked all over the Middle East and sang the praises of Oman, saying that it was the best country to work in. Apparently Oman has much better laws to protect workers than other countries in the region. I’ll have to go back and re-read and see if I can’t change that somehow so that I’m not giving a poor impression that I didn’t mean to.

  29. I have no opinion on Oman in general or Muscat specifically, since I have never been there. But I do have to wonder at the things you found to be problematic. Did you do NO research before your trip? A two-minute check on Google informed me that many/most Muscati businesses routinely close for about three hours during mid-day. Why did you not know this before setting out to discover the city and adjust accordingly? Why were you apparently surprised at the price of hotels and other things? It\’s not like this information is hidden. Of course, not every location is going to be to everyone\’s taste. Perhaps I will dislike Oman as much as you when I finally see it for myself. But at least I won\’t go so unprepared. I will do some basic research and find out what other travelers did, how much they paid and what they thought. Then I will go have my own trip.

    • Hi Donna: Yes, you and I apparently have very different travel modes. You are correct. I do very little research before any of my trips, and that’s on purpose. I don’t want to arrive in any destination with expectations. That way, my experiences are usually richer, and that adds richness to my writing. I obviously wasn’t surprised by the price of hotels, since I had booked my hotel ahead of time. As for the tours, I knew how much they were ahead of time, but it was only when I tried to book that I discovered the vendor’s ridiculous policies about doubling the price for solo travelers, regardless of how many people joined the tour. I hope your trip to Oman is better than mine.

  30. After reading this article, I first have to say, that I’m, sorry it didn’t work for you. I love it here in Oman. I’ve been living in Muscat for 4 months with one month left to go and from day one I was connecting with Omani’s. Finding a hotel can be tricky, and yes, they are expensive here. But I’d think if you are going to be a travel writer you need to learn to do your homework. homework. Oman and muscat are especially safe places and there is no need to fear traveling
    here, even as a woman being alone.

    As you say in your article, for photography you want to take your time for the right light and with no people or cars to interfere with photographing. Well, I have to ask why didn’t you rent a car?
    You would then have the freedom to drive when and where you want. There is plenty to do in the city for a few days but to get the real feel for the culture you need to get out of the city and go into small villages. Hanging out at one tourist venue, the suq in Muttrah, is not where you meet and experience the locals. The mountains, wadi’s and small villages outside of the city are loaded with wonderful photo opportunities and contacts with Omanis. You don’t have to go far. Beaches in Yiti, the hot springs and old ruins in Gahla are near by and there is lots to take in.

    There are a number of Omani restaurants in Muscat…once again do your homework.

    Going to the beach is not that difficult; the entire city is next to the beach and it is accessable for the public everywhere, for miles and miles with endless opportunities for picnics and shelters open to the public and, there are many Omani’s on the beach. I have met many while walking alone on the beach.

    Sorry it didn’t work for you but I don’t think it’s fair to blame Muscat, Oman for your poor choices. The people and culture are here in Muscat. You missed out and I’m sorry for that;
    because you have now blamed Muscat for your lack of adventure and research.

    • News flash Ruby. I AM a travel writer. And have bee doing it successfully for more than ten years. I never said I was fearful – I’m not – and I never said I had any problem finding a hotel. As for planning, that is something I don’t do on purpose. Too much planning gives me expectations, and that is not good for my writing. I make a conscious choice to arrive at a destination without much in the way of plans, other than perhaps a hotel reservation. This allows me to take advantage of experiences that come along, which would be impossible if all my time was planned. I also never rent a car, preferring public transportation, as it usually allows me better interaction with locals. I’ve done this in 81 countries and hundreds of cities, but rarely have I had such a frustrating experience. I wish it had been different.

      • I have to say that I think Oman is very safe and is a peaceful country. I feel safer here than in the States. Very little crime here in Oman. Just want those out there who are reading these comments about Oman, it’s safe here. I spend much of my time here alone walking through all sorts of areas in the city and on the beach day and night. And have always felt safe.

        • Hi Ruby. Thanks for mentioning this. I also felt completely safe in Oman.

    • I can’t rent a car as I don’t have licence. I guess paying a driver to bring me to the desert or villages will be very expensive?

  31. Thank you for being honest about your experience. Will think “twice” before we travel to Oman (which we were considering for 2018).

    • Hi Mark: If you’re going to rent a car, and if you’re not traveling solo, you’d avoid many of the issues that bothered me, so maybe don’t write Oman off entirely. But I wrote the article because it’s an honest overview of my experience, and I wanted others to know the downsides. Thanks for your comment.

  32. Hi Barbara, I stayed for a few days in Oman with my wife last January and found it really enjoyable. We had a rental car and found it’s the best way to go around, as roads are all in great condition, especially the freeways. We even got lost and stuck in a narrow alley inside the Shi’ite neighborhood, but all the Omanis there were very helpful (and every one spoke English). With a GPS unit, I think it would be very hard to get really lost.

    It’s true that Muscat doesn’t have much to see, except for the Grand Mosque. We went instead to Wadi Shab (an easy 2-hour drive along the freeway) and hiked inside it, then to the Wahiba Sands area, where we spent a night in a bedouin camp, and onto Nizwa and the mountains. We finally took a flight to Khasab and spent a couple days in the Musandam area, doing a jeep tour of the interior and a dhow cruise along the fjords.

    While it’s true that most of your interactions will be with immigrants, we found Omanis to be generally friendly and open to tourists, but then again it’s still a traditional, patriarchal society in many ways.

    If I had the opportunity, I would go back and explore more of the mountains, the desert and the south.

    • Hi Ugo: Happy to hear that you enjoyed Oman. I just have no interest in renting a car. I prefer public transportation, which in Oman, was difficult because of the lack of information about schedules, prices, etc. I spoke to others who rented a car and they, too, enjoyed the country more than I did. And I also think I would have had a better experience if I’d gotten out into the country, but sometimes, I just have to stand on principle about the single traveler supplement.

      • It’s interesting you find it rude. Often times men don’t speak to women, especially older men out of respect to their own wives and to the woman addressing them.

        As for the single supplement as a tour operator it’s not possible to offer the same tour to a solo person as it is for a couple or more travelers. Because your costs are more. I do agree if they had others booked on the tour they should extend the normal price but if you’re going alone the vendor needs to charge it as a business; to cover their costs and make a small profit.

        • Hi Amanda: Interesting take on why men wouldn’t speak to me. I hadn’t considered that, ad of course, every one of us has baggage from our own cultural norms. As for the tours, I do understand I’d have to pay the two-person minimum if I was the only participant. What aggravated me was their unwillingness to only charge me for one if others ultimately booked on the same tour. Also, unlike in other locations around the world, there was absolutely no disclosure of this on the tour aggregator sites that I often use. In fact, I found the wording very misleading.

  33. I had the best experience in Oman. Got to meet a lot of Omani locals who were so friendly and down to earth. I would love to go back there.
    Btw, i have been to Dubai and Abu Dhabi twice but never had the chance to chat with the locals unlike in Oman where locals were so approachable.

    • Hi Sarah: It’s really interesting to me how different our individual experiences can be. For me, travel is all about the people in the places I meet, and it was unfortunate that I found it so impossible to connect with Omanis. Good to hear that you had the opposite experience.

  34. Wow, I’m so sorry. I lived in Oman for six years and think about it almost every day in the six years since I lived there. I can’t wait to go back with my family over winter break this year.

    • Hi Shawna: I guess that’s what make the world go round. It’s a good thing, in my opinion, that we all like different things.

  35. Thanks for the warning. Always good to know the places to stay away from.

    • You’re very welcome, John. Oman might not be the same for you, but I really feel I have to share my experiences honestly.

  36. What a shame you didn’t have a better experience. I found the opposite to you as far as meeting local people and experiencing the culture goes. In the Emirates I struggled to find anyone who wasn’t an foreigner, but in Oman I found the Omanis and expats mixed all the time and I had no trouble meeting local people. Of course, because of the culture, it was mostly men I met (all who were extremely welcoming and friendly with no other motive than to be hospitable). I rectified this by finding the women’s room at the Sultan Qaboos mosque and spent several hours chatting and drinking tea with the women there. I was fortunate to stay with a friend and so only got to experience hotels on quick look rounds or visits to the bars, but my impression was that Oman is a high-end destination and to stay somewhere decent probably does cost a lot. But the rest of the prices I found really reasonable. Taxis were never more than a couple of dollars (even though my friend lived quite far out) and food was good, but quite cheap. There isn’t really an ‘Omani’ cuisine same as there isn’t an ‘Emirati’ cuisine, but there was plenty of Indian, Lebanese, Western, etc food. I would love to go back and explore more. It’s such a shame you didn’t have a good first trip, but please don’t write it off.

    • Hi Anne: I also found the woman’s room at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and spent a lovely half hour there speaking with one of the local women. It was the only bright spot in an otherwise dull and uninteresting trip. Of the 81 countries and hundreds of cities I have visited, I’d have to rank Muscat near the bottom of the list, so I won’t go back. Too many other fascinating destinations to choose from. But I do appreciate your viewpoint and am glad to hear you had a different experience.

  37. I think you don\\\\\\\’t see Oman, and i never believe you.. from where you bring this story? when you come again i will take you free. and i will show you Oman.

  38. Thank you for this candid write up. It is all too common for people to wax lyrical about a place even if they really hated it.

    I was considering Oman as a bucket list location, but will remove that in favor of Jordan! As an older female, I trust your judgment and trip reports.

    • Hi JB: As you can see from the other comments, lots of people really loved Oman, so maybe don’t completely write it off. Just know that it’s not going to be a place where you will have much interaction with locals beyond those who are being paid to serve you. And be prepared for the high prices. For me, there are just better places in the world.

  39. Interesting that there can be such contrasting views. I didn’t hate Dubai, and loved seeing the amazing architecture, but found it a false, almost non middle eastern place. Very easy to navigate and set up for tourists of course, but expensive and very touristy. Haven’t really thought about Oman before, but like you Barbara as a lone traveller, safety, value for money as a single user and ease are fairly high up on my list of requirement. I do want to visit an Arab country (only been to Dubai and I really don’t think that counts, it was almost like Arab Disneyland to me!). Maybe Jordan?

    • I can recommend Jordan but best if you have a guided tour hols because of the distances to be travelled from one site to another.

    • Jordan is on my travel wish list, Val, for sure. And I was going there after Israel until I suffered some dental problems and had to go back to Thailand for surgery. But one of these days for sure…maybe that’s somewhere we can meet up?

  40. I have been to Oman once,I was fascinated by simplicity and natural sights…The prices vary .you get what you pay for…The people are hospitable and generous.I enjoyed the Omani cusine.

    • Hi Amna: Other than fresh seafood, I never found ANYTHING that could be considered Omani food. Wish I had – it would have made my visit better.

    • Where u from?
      U r most welcome to Oman again and again

      Would like to know about ur experience in Oman in detail

      mujawars at msn dot com

  41. Hi.. I am from the States and this is my second trip to Oman… I personally loved it and I am relocating. It’s not for everyone. If you are into the glamour and glitter of Dubai you won’t be amused by the simplicity and nature of Oman. As a matter of fact, I’m sure that it is almost impossible to see the culture of Dubai because it is an international area and much like the Las Vegas of the Middle East. My experience in the hotels is that you get what you pay for. I had an experience similar to yours when I stayed at a cheap Delhi hotel. Oman can get expensive unless you do your research. And yes, if you are a solo traveler, maybe Dubai is better.

    • Hi Zayd: Appreciate your comment. Dubai was pretty glitzy, and I admit that many, many of the people I met there were also immigrants. But even having said that, I still felt that Emirati culture was so much more accessible than Omani culture.

  42. Really surprised that your visit was not that enjoyable. Personally I have been twice and found the Omanis to be great hosts generous and very helpful. Cheap it is not but I did a little research before my first visit to get a feel for that. The forts were splendid and good value the wadis were not only fun but an experience that should not be missed. From my visits I gathered some great images and they provided some good copy too.
    The UAE and Dubai it is not which I happen to think makes it more interesting as a country. Add in sailing fishing and some excellent hotels its a great option as so many countries in the Middle East are somewhat out of bounds these days. I would go back tomorrow!

    http://www.thetraveltrunk.net/oman-gem-in-the-middlle-ast/
    http://www.thetraveltrunk.net/wadi-shab-video/

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