Introduction - The Sultanate of Oman has one of the oldest civilizations in the Arabian Peninsula, stretching back thousands of years with notable periods of greatness in the ancient world and in medieval times.Like other great civilizations, Oman faded from prominence - until the recent resurgence due to the discovery of oil. But all along, the country was active in many ways and has an interesting history that is still relevant today and has left many tangible traces in prominent landmarks and a highly developed culture.
Mountain villages clutched against canyon walls, clusters of dates weighing heavy in the plantation oases, a ribbon of sand blown across the dunes, a lone camel padding across the limitless interior - these are the kinds of images afforded by the beautiful and enigmatic country of 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. 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.
Area: 309,501 km2
Languages: Arabic is the official language. English is widely spoken. Swahili is also spoken by Omani descendents from East Africa. German and French are spoken by some hotel staff while Urdu, Farsi, Hindi and Tagalog are widely spoken by Oman’s large expatriate workforce.
Passport and Visa: The Ministry of Tourism has clubbed the three visa requirements in Oman such as tourist visa, business visa and short visit visa into the single Entry Visit Visa. This visa has been issued to travelers from particular countries including countries such as France, Germany, Netherlands, Russia, United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, China, USA, Australia and many more. Upon their arrival at the major terminals of the Sultanate one is required to fill a visa application forms along with the major requirements mentioned on Oman Visa Information by the Ministry of Tourism. The fee charged for this facility is OMR 6 which can also be paid in foreign currencies. One can also obtain a single entry visa by applying to the major diplomatic missions and commercial representation offices in Oman. The Validity of this visa is one month. One can also extend the visa permit by filling the extension application form which should be submitted at the Directorate General of Passport and Residency office before the expiry date. As per the law, a fine of OMR 10 per day can be charged for after the expiry date. But visa requirements in Oman can differ from country to country. For the tourists belonging to India, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Syria the visas are issued at the main entry points either individually or as part of a group. The tourists belonging to the above mentioned countries can only enter the country if they have purchased a complete tourist voucher from specific tourist companies that have been approved by Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The package should also include the lodging facilities and the airline ticket of one of the national airlines of Oman. For more information contact the nearest embassy or consulate.
Health and Safety: Oman has an extensive public health service (free to Omani nationals), with many hospitals and health centres. Treatment varies according to the location. Hospital emergency treatment is available. Health insurance is essential. Vaccinations against tuberculosis and hepatitis B are sometimes recommended.
The usual rate of crime is Oman is low as compared to the western countries. But, traveling at unfamiliar places or deserted places at night might cause potential danger for the traveler. Though the terrorist attacks are much more reduced in number of late, these can break out all of a sudden inside public transportation systems such as buses, trains or cars. Driving at night in or outside Muscat, the capital city of Oman, can sometimes prove hazardous, as the road condition is not good everywhere, there are heavy chances of accidents due to the camels coming on to the main roads sometimes. Some safety measures are also to be taken while dressing in Oman, as being a Muslim country Oman strictly adheres to decency and sobriety while dressing.
Religion: Islam is the official religion, although other religions are tolerated under the country´s Basic Law. Muslims make up 86 percent of the population. Three-fourths of the Muslims are Ibadis, a minority sect dating from the 8th century. Most of the remainder adhere to Sunni Islam and the rest to Shia Islam. Indian Hindus account for 13 percent of the population. There are also small numbers of non-Omani Christians.
Social conventions: Shaking hands is the usual form of greeting. A small gift, either promoting your company or country, is well received. Collecting seashells, abalone, corals, crayfish and turtle eggs is also prohibited. Dumping litter is forbidden. It is polite not to smoke in public, but generally no-smoking signs are posted where appropriate. Homosexual behaviour is illegal. During the holy month of Ramadan all moslems fast from sunrise until sunset daily. The fixed hours of prayer are observed and during daylight no moslem will eat, drink or smoke. The fast is strictly observed. All non-moslems, during this period, are requested to avoid eating, drinking or smoking in the presence or sight of a moslem. Eating, drinking or smoking in public places during the hours of daylight is forbidden. Hotel’s coffee shop remain open during this time, but will not serve alcohol. Alcohol though can be served through room service only after sunset.
It is considered very rude to point with your feet. When you are seated, the soles of your feet should not be facing anyone. When you accept anything, especially food, do so with your right hand. In this culture, and many others throughout the Middle East, the left hand is associated with unclean behaviors. Dietary restrictions are observed throughout the city (for example, meat must be slaughtered a certain way, and all pork is forbidden).
Do not take photographs of individuals without their permission. Women in particular, do not like being photographed. It is forbidden to take pictures of military facilities, borders and airports. Observe ‘NO PHOTOGRAPHY’ signs. Remove all your litter when leaving a picnic or camp site.
Clothing: Oman is a Muslim country and it is important that, as guests of the country, everyone should respect the local customs. Women and teenage girls should not wear strappy sundresses, miniskirts, shorts or low necked dresses in public places (e.g. offices, markets, town and shopping areas). Tight-fitting clothes should be restricted to hotel restaurants to avoid giving offence although this is not strictly followed by some Westerners. The most suitable wear in public is shoulders covered and below knee length skirts with a top that is appropriately long (below the hip) is also acceptable. Men should wear short or long sleeved shirts and long trousers. Shorts or beach wear should not be worn except at the beach or pool area. Business attire is usually formal with suits and ties the norm; women in particular should dress modestly.
Climate: From May to August it is very hot and humid in all parts of the country except Dhofar. The climate is best from late September to early April. Rainfall varies according to the region. During the period June to September there is light rain in the Dhofar region with heavy fog across the hills.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Oman is between October and March, temperatures are warm and you avoid the monsoon in the South.
Money: Omani Rial (OMR) = 1,000 baiza. Notes are in denominations of OMR50, 20, 10, 5 and 1, and 500, 250, 200 and 100 baiza. Coins are in denominations of 50, 25, 10 and 5 baiza. All major credit cards are accepted here, including to a lesser extent American Express. ATMs are widely available throughout the county. Travellers cheques easily exchanged. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in US Dollars.
Currency exchange: Visitors from foreign countries will have no trouble exchanging their money when they get into Oman. Before leaving, however, guests should change any remaining Rial Omani back into their currency. There are money changers throughout the city and several banks which will provide currency exchange at rates comparable to the money changers.
Currency restriction: There is no limit on the amount of local or foreign currency you may bring into or take out of Oman. However, it is worth noting that Israeli currency is prohibited.
Getting around towns and cities: Oman Air, the domestic flight services operated by Oman Aviation Services, offer regular flights from Muscat to Salalah, Sur, Diba, Khasab and Msairah. Omani roads are among the best roads of the world and guarantee you the most pleasing driving experience. The well-laid traffic lanes, excellent asphalt roads, well-designated signals, strict, yet simple traffic rules and guidelines – all these make driving on Omani roads an unforgettable experience. All the roads from Oman lead to Dubai. Anyone owning an international driving license can drive in Oman.
Please note that drink and drive is strictly prohibited and in case found, is a grave offence. One can rely on the bus services offered between Muscat and other Omani destinations including Nizwa, Sohar, Salalah as well as Dubai and many other places. The white and orange Omani taxis do not come with a meter. So, make sure that the price is negotiated before you embark your journey. If you feel that the costs are not within your budget, then you can opt for shared taxis. The shared taxis are very practical and offer you to enjoy taxi ride within your budget.
If you still want to enjoy your travel at a cheaper option, then opt fot baiza bus, the small vans that offer services to more or less fixed routes. Car hire available from international firms which have offices at the airport and at hotels in Muscat and Salalah. Local firms have limited availability in smaller towns.
Emergency Numbers: police, firemen, ambulance by dialing 999.