Bordering the United Arab Emirates and sporting luxury hotels to rival Dubai, Oman remains an enigma content to bask quietly in the shadow of its more showy neighbours. Muscat, the capital, is the springboard to Oman’s natural wonders – its desert landscapes, and the mountain ranges that rise above them – and the Bedu people, desert dwellers who have adapted to the arid conditions.
Most visitors to the Sultanate of Oman touch down in Muscat. Oman’s capital city doesn’t attempt to mimic the high-rise sheen of neighbouring Dubai or the other Gulf cities. It’s more a collection of old fishing villages and ports edging the Gulf of Oman coastline. Among the more modern edifices, traces of Portuguese and Asian influences still remain in the older buildings – architecture that harks back to a time when the city was fought over for foreign rule.
The green orchards of the Jebel Akhdar mountains
Jebel Akhdar translates to Green Mountains, and this imposing inland range is a cooling respite from the desert heat at its feet. The climate up in this elevated position – which rises to 3,075 metres at its tallest peak, Jebel Shams – is akin to the Mediterranean. Terraces are farmed to grow fruits, such as peaches, which wouldn’t withstand the conditions below.
Jebel Akhdar breaks the farmland that runs down to the coast and Muscat from Oman’s Empty Quarter, and thousand-year-old forts and other UNESCO World Heritage sites were built on this strategic vantage point. You can now visit many of these sites after an initiative to restore and reopen them by Oman’s current ruler Sultan Qaboos. We particularly recommend the well-known fort at Bahla, and Jabrin Fort with its brightly painted and decoratively carved cedar wood ceiling.
Walking trails dissect the mountains, and one of the most rewarding is the trek to the abandoned village of Wadi Ghul, which sits below the rim of Oman’s Grand Canyon.
The rose gardens of the Saiq Plateau
The Saiq Plateau is the central formation of the mountains. You can explore the terraces that step the hillsides, where orchards grow fruit and almonds and rose gardens bloom in summer. The petals are pressed and filtered into rose water by the local farmers, and there is the opportunity to visit a local distillery to watch (and smell) this production.
The Alila Jabal Akhdar Resort has a dramatic location overlooking a gorge and makes for an elegant mountaintop retreat as well as a good base for exploring local trails. All rooms have panoramic views, but the outdoor infinity pool is possibly the best place of all for admiring the vistas.
Visit the Nizwa Livestock Market
Each Friday, farmers and their goats, sheep and cattle travel down from their villages in the Jebel Akhdar mountains to barter and trade at the Nizwa Livestock Market. Wandering among the throngs in Nizwa’s main square, you can watch this platform of daily life for the Bedu, traditionally the nomadic peoples who inhabit Arabia’s deserts. Both sexes get stuck in with the haggling, wearing the contrasting attire of long cooling white robes (the dishdash) for the men and bright clothes and intricate face veils for the women.
The historic city of Nizwa
The city of Nizwa, a two-hour drive southwest of Muscat, was Oman’s capital for a brief spell in the 6th and 7th centuries. Its deep-seated Islamic traditions are evident in its many mosques, but perhaps its most obvious feature is the 40-metre-tower of the 17th-century Nizwa Fort.
Nizwa is a much wider trading hub than just a place to swap livestock. In the souq, antiques, spices and crafts fill the stalls and you can buy wares from silversmiths, potters, jewellers and other craftspeople.
Close to central Nizwa, The Falaj Daris has two swimming pools set in landscaped gardens and an outdoor barbecue area. This is the only hotel in town, but we also recommend The Golden Tulip. It’s a 15-20 minute drive away from Nizwa, but in the mountains with a fantastic view. A tasteful property built in the traditional Omani architectural style, all rooms overlook the swimming pool, with the Hajar mountain range in the background.
Camp in the desert in the Wahiba Sands
If you crave solitude, the stretching golden sands of the Wahiba desert, not far from Nizwa and a four-hour drive out of Muscat, are untouched by inhabitants save the scatterings of Bedouin tribes who have made permanent homes around its southern perimeter.
Sunset is, perhaps, the most magical time to be in the midst of these shifting sands, watching the dunes graduate through an extravagant mixture of honey-coloured hues into a deepening crimson before darkness falls.
Camel rides and quad biking in the desert
It’s possible to camp out under the desert sky and sample Bedouin hospitality. The Desert Nights Camp even offers the chance to sleep under canvas without compromising on comfort. Its air-conditioned tents have private bathrooms, bedrooms and lounges. Activities include camel rides and quad biking. We also like its location, nestled between two high sand dunes but easily accessible from the main road.
Believed to be about 6,000 years old, the Sands’ dunes measure up to 80 metres high. The fine-grained sand is ever moving, teased by the wind, and the tracks made by your 4×4 will soon disappear. They make a surprisingly lively habitat for some 150 species of plants and 200 species of animals, including desert foxes and the white-tailed mongoose.
Watch nesting turtles at Ras Al Jinz
Back on Oman’s coast, the Ras Al Jinz Scientific and Visitors’ Centre offers a neat stopping place between the Wahiba Sands and Muscat. The Arabian Peninsula’s most easterly point, the small cove is a hotbed for nesting green turtles which clamber out of the water year round to lay their eggs in dugouts in the golden sand. The most prolific time for egg-laying is between July and September, although this coincides with Oman’s hottest weather.
Green turtles are the largest of all hard-shelled turtles. You’ll be able to watch the females as they each lay somewhere between 100 and 200 eggs, and the resultant hatchlings’ struggle to reach the ocean.
The emphasis of the centre is on conserving the population, and this means any handling is discouraged. When you learn that only 0.01% of all the green turtle babies will survive into adulthood, you start to understand why.
You’ll stay at the only accommodation option, Carapace Lodge, which is part of the centre. As such, it is pretty basic with the choice of rooms or tents. Look at it as a practical option for being close to the turtles, and being able to walk down to the beach to watch them in the early mornings.
With all year round sunshine, Oman offers renowned Arabian hospitality, a traditional culture and unspoiled natural beauty. From the spectacular coastline at Muscat to the imposing rugged interior mountain ranges, Oman is just waiting to be explored.
This post was brought to you by Audley Travel. Audley trips don’t come off the shelf – they’re tailor-made down to the finest detail. When planning a trip with us, you will speak to a destination specialist who has either lived or travelled extensively within the country or region that you are visiting. They will create a bespoke trip based on your tastes, interests and budget and with an absolute commitment to providing quality travel experiences.
In this guest article teenage traveller, Reka Kaponay shares her excitement at a walk in the Saklikent Gorge, Turkey, wading through icy water and taking a mud bath, before the day ends with a traditional Turkish meal. Reka writes;
As I lay in my bed, it took a few seconds before I realised again in sheer excitement, I’M IN TURKEY! Today we were heading out to what is arguably one the most beautiful natural wonders of this region, Saklikent Gorge, a 300 meter deep canyon that is close to Fethiye, forged through the power of the water’s elemental force, cutting its way through sheer rock over thousands of years.
A bus ride to the Saklikent Gorge
Given that it was late September and no longer high tourist season, the bus ride was filled with a couple of explorers like ourselves, but mainly with locals who were making the trip home to rural villages that lay in-between the canyon and the touristy Fethiye.
After an hour and a half, we finally descended into a deep ravine which signalled our arrival. As we got our bearings, we realised that we would be wading through water and mud over rocky terrain and would need to leave our shoes behind. A row of stalls lined the entrance to the gorge, hiring plastic wading shoes to all the visitors.
I looked up to see a towering ravine of ancient rock formations in front of me. It was as if I was at the entrance to a medieval fortress that would only allow me entrance if I knew its secret password. The view was entrancing and at the same time awe inspiring, knowing that the simple flow of water had sculpted this natural beauty. I stood on the suspension bridge looking deeply into the rapid flow of the river below me.
As we entered the park, we were swamped by tour guides trying to sell us their services for similarly ridiculous mark ups to that of the cab drivers of Marmaris. We ended up bringing helmets as a small precaution, but five minutes later we were taking them off and even leaving them behind to pick them up on our return journey, rather than lug them around for the rest of the walk. First, however, we had to enter the canyon and before us was a raging torrent of water about 20 meters across, that we would have to wade through to get to the entrance of the gorge.
An icy-cold plunge!
Pants rolled up and newly acquired wading shoes on, we plunged feet first in the water. I lost my breath when my feet made contact with the element. Pain shot up my legs and my toes felt like they had contracted frost-bite in a few simple seconds. My whole foot had turned numb. I shot out of the water, fast as a hare, shrieking like a hyena. I’m sure it was a sight to see. Lalika and Dad seemed to bear it better, as they were the first to begin heading through the fast flowing waters.
Soon it was up to their knees, but battling their way through they were the first of our family to make it across. During this time I was contemplating if I really wanted to go through with this. The look on Mum’s face showed me that there was no alternative and with a renewed collective determination, Mum took my hand and we began making our way through the ice cold water to the sound of Lalika’s cheers.
I nearly slipped at one point but thankfully I recovered in time and Mum and I emerged from the water half dry and very happy. The ice crystal water had somehow instantly rejuvenated my curiosity and I was keen to see what mysteries lay beyond the curves of the deep ravine in front of me.
Wading through the clay
I began to wade through the softest flowing grey clay that had deposited itself over thousands of years between this magnificent Moorish pink gorge towering over me. I was surprised that the locals hadn’t already made a beauty industry out of this, mining this natural resource, when I remembered that thankfully, it was a protected national asset, located behind the confines of a national park.
That didn’t stop Dad and Lalika from making a mud pack, as the two of them smoothed the liquid clay all over their faces, arms and legs. The mud also made great war paint and Lalika and I had a really fun time applying it before role playing a fierce battle of the clans.
The canyon snaked its way in curves and arcs in what seemed like a never ending array of rocky colours of beauty. After about 45 minutes of walking, we came to a fork in the canyon. To the right you could make your way through waist deep mud and continue on. The other choice to the left was neck deep fast flowing river. These were the only two options to continue on.
We decided that this was our sign to turn back, but in truth you can continue up through the canyon for another 15 kms as it is 18 kms long. On the way back, we faced a small crisis when my brother lost one of his croc slippers in the muddy stream and we had to drop to our knees in the murky river feeling with our hands as to where it could be.
It took us a couple of minutes, with some airing of our frustration at his carelessness, but we finally found it. We stopped just before crossing back across the freezing river to take a moment to marvel at our current location. We managed to cross the river once again with no trouble and we emerged with frozen feet but joyful smiles.
Learning about local Turkish cuisine
Changing back into our shoes, the wolves in our stomachs reminded us that it was time to eat! Walking through a canyon for an hour and a half and half bathing in cold water, really works up an appetite! We wandered beyond the closest and obviously touristy oriented restaurants lining the river walk. We decided to walk a kilometre up the dusty road, away from the park in the direction of some local stalls and we were duly rewarded for our efforts.
We found a smaller traditional restaurant that was built over a natural spring that flowed right through the middle of it. There were no chairs to sit on. Instead you reclined on comfy colourful Turkish motif cushions, while you ate on a small luxurious raft floating on the water. This is where we learnt our third and I feel most useful Turkish expression – Gözleme.
Gözleme is a pancake-like unleavened bread, baked freshly on an open grill convex metal hotplate, and filled with all sorts of wonderful fillings like Feta cheese and spinach, or chives and potatoes, or any other combinations of meats and Turkish spices. Of course back in Australia we were already familiar with Gözleme, but not in the manner that this Turkish grandmother, dressed in her regional traditional costume, was working this convex hotplate, heated by traditional wood fire.
Her hand movements were so skillful, that it was almost as if she was conducting a symphonic orchestra to its crescendo, rather than making a pancake. It was mesmerising and almost as good to watch as it was to eat. The Gözleme was not the only fare on the menu of the day. As those that don’t eat meat, we had a generous selection of figs, potato salad, roasted eggplant, beetroot, tomato and cucumber salad, french fries and of course more Gözleme to choose from… All of this was to the setting of this beautiful oasis of natural spring water and the surrounding granite mountains that embraced us.
It was extremely relaxing, so much so, that we all took a small traditional Turkish nap on our water raft bed. For me, this combined experience of the natural wonders and our lunch, were all the reasons why I need to recommend that if you are ever in this part of the country, then Saklikent Gorge is an experience not to be missed. Take a day away from the beach and you will be rewarded with a traditional Turkish experience.
Our ride back to Fethiye was hot and uncomfortable and the bus was packed to the brim with people from the villages returning to their jobs in the touristy Mecca that is Fethiye. I ignored this however, along with the heat, and dreamt of Gözleme and rocky gorges, as I dozed in and out of consciousness on the bumpy ride home.
Author Bio: Many thanks for this article to Reka Kaponay, a teenage life schooler traveling the world who blogs at Dreamtime Traveler
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Comments Off on A dangerously beautiful hike in British Columbia
Our guest author, Dana Sibilsky takes a hike in the beautiful woods of British Columbia that proves more dangerous than she anticipated when she finds signs of bear activity along the trail.
In 2013, my husband and I made the mutual decision to spice up our lives together and really venture out to see what the world has to offer. With this decision, we agreed to travel at least twice a year; one place within the first half of the year (January-June) and another place within the second half of the year (June-December).
In our journey to explore the world together, we have visited nearly all of the United States and only half of Canada. The world is big and we aren’t even halfway through yet! If you were to ask what is the most beautiful place we’ve been to, it would without a doubt be British Columbia, Canada. If you have ever seen pictures, no photo nor video does this incredible place justice because you simply must be there to FEEL the atmosphere.
Beautiful British Columbia
The air seems cleaner, fresher and easier to breathe with a certain natural “crispness” to it that my husband and I have not found anywhere else in our travels. The water seems to be more pure, more fresh with the same crispness that makes you say to yourself, “This is the way it’s meant to be. What have we done to our world in other places?”
Through our travel in British Columbia, we hiked until we came to our destination at the well-known and popular Three Valley Gap Hotel. Oh my, if you could just see the scenery of nature that surrounds this place. There’s a saying that we kept hearing while visiting that went something like, “Out here, you are normally no further than 20 feet from a bear at all times.” I’m not sure how true it is or if they were just trying to scare us knowing we weren’t locals from around the area.
The wildlife is just as spectacular as the surrounding scenery. My husband and I (but honestly mostly my husband) wanted a closer look at the the wildlife. “What is the point of coming 2000 miles out here if we are just going to sit in a hotel?” he questioned. “Let’s venture out to see what we can never see at home.” With that said, we got a nature tour guide and began to explore the surrounding wooded area at least 3 miles away from the comfort of our hotel. At first, walking through the thickness of the brush and woods was intimidating. What if we saw a bear? What if we ran into a pack of wolves or coyotes? I remembered hearing stories from our friends in Toronto and Mississauga about coyotes running freely through the city in 2010. The more we tracked through the woods, the more comfortable I became until the tour guide stopped us in our tracks.
The look on our guide’s face was the look of fear and nervousness he was trying his best to hide for our sake. “Is everything ok?” I asked him, touching his arm gently in concern. “You look like there is a problem.” With a shaky hand he was trying to control, he pointed to the tree in front of us roughly 10 feet away and said, “Bear.”
My eyes widened as my head quickly snapped to the general direction he was pointing. The tree had claw and teeth marks on it and was missing chunks of bark. Bears do this to mark territory and possession of their favorite trees. These marks usually are present on other trees given by the same bear in a trail. This helps the bear find its way back to wherever it came from.
I was stone cold in fear and to tell you anything different would be a complete lie! I couldn’t move. The thought that I could possibly be standing in or near a bear’s nest shut down all of my motor mechanics such as my ability to walk and open my fear-clenched fists into open palms.
In the distance, I could hear my husband calling me. “Dana!” I heard him say. I wanted to look at him, but the fear was overpowering me. I heard him shout in a louder, projecting voice. This time, my head jerked toward him as the guide and I let out a harsh “SHHHH!” toward him simultaneously. “Are you out of your mind?!” said the guide, “We are in the danger zone of a bear’s or group of bears’ territory! Keep quiet!” he instructed my husband. “We need to go. Now!” the guide said. We didn’t hesitate! The tour guide, my husband and myself double-timed it to the hotel as quickly, quietly and safely as we could.
Make lasting memories
Fast forward 2 years later. Isn’t it interesting that the worst moments in our lives at that particular time turn out to be the most memorable? The moments we believe are the downfall of our day, the ones we say we could do without at the moment they are happening are the very same moments that become the memories we wouldn’t change for anything. The moments we look back on months or years later and can’t help but to laugh and smile to ourselves. Being in a dangerous position having trespassed through bear territory was one of those moments.
If you haven’t visited the British Columbia side of Canada, what are you waiting for? It is, without a shadow of a doubt the most beautiful, refreshing and enlightening adventure you could ever take no matter if you’re alone or with those you love. Just a word of advice: Don’t go exploring without an experienced nature tour guide!
Author bio: Many thanks for this article to Dana Sibilsky, a stay-at-home mother of three prides and joys. When she isn’t giving her family their needed attention, she enjoys traveling and blogging her art on her sites.
Visit the #explorecanada official Canada Tourism Website for more information on things to do in British Columbia and Vancouver Island as well as their social media channels on Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
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Photo credit: Dana Sibilsky
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