Oman

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Up until just 20 or so years ago the Sultanate of Oman, the second largest country in Arabia, was secretive and reclusive, its people kept from the modern world by on oppressive ruler to the point that the gates of the capital city Muscat were closed from dusk to dawn. The surly Sultan, however, was overthrown by his British-educated son in 1970, and since then Oman has been gradually gaining confidence and wealth, catching up with the times and welcoming expatriate workers and tourists alike at Seeb International Airport.

Oman occupies the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It’s topography is varied and dramatic, with rocky mountains and deep water inlets in the north, rolling dunes and salt flats in the central interior, verdant green hills in the southern Dhofar province, and a coastline stretching thousands of miles with magnificent beaches and cosy coves.

A pride in tradition has maintained a fascinating culture rooted in the ancient code of Arabic hospitality, and well planned small scale development has preserved an attractive backdrop that remains unspoilt by high rises.

The capital of Muscat is a mix of ancient sights sprinkled with touch of Eastern glamour. It is home to such landmarks as the Corniche, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Royal Opera House and Mutrah Souk where your senses cannot fail to be enticed.

Out of the city, the desert blooms with citrus groves and feathery palms and traditional reed houses reminiscent of an old Arabian way of life.

The endless dunes of the Wahiba desert offer off road safaris to visit a traditional Bedouin camp where a host of dishes are served – finger bowls of hummus, salads, olives and marinated meats.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said has realised that tourism is an integral part of his modernisation programme, but thus far it is the wealthy who are being urged to bring their holiday funds to spend in Oman. Sightseeing and activities are mainly restricted to Muscat and the southern town of Salalah, famed for its seafood, frankincense trees and the ruins of the palace of the Queen of Sheba. Accommodation is offered mainly in luxury resort hotels.

Making responsible use of oil revenue, Muscat has taken on the veneer of a prosperous modern Arab city without losing its old world charm and heritage. It features forts, palaces and other historic sites of interest to visitors, as well as an exciting traditional souq (bazaar) and some stunning long sandy beaches like Qurum, Bandar Al-Jissah and Yeti.