Oman //

Getting there

Oman is well plugged into international air networks, either through the national carrier Oman Air or through other Gulf airlines such as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad, meaning that it’s now possible to reach Muscat from most major air-hubs in Europe, North America and Australasia with only a single change of plane.

Overland routes into the country are more limited. Oman shares land borders with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, though at the time of writing it was only possible to enter the country via the UAE border posts listed. There are no regular international ferry routes into Oman, although the country is an increasingly popular stop on many cruise itineraries.

Flights from the UK and Ireland

Oman Air is currently the only operator offering direct flights from London Heathrow to Muscat. There are numerous one-stop options with other Gulf carriers including Qatar Airways (via Doha), Etihad (via Abu Dhabi), Gulf Air (via Manama) and Emirates (via Dubai), while British Airways also fly via Abu Dhabi. Fares start at around £600; flying time is around 7hr 30min outbound, 8hr on the way back. Oman Air also operates codeshare flights with BMI to Muscat via Heathrow from Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Travelling from Ireland, the easiest thing to do is to get yourself to Heathrow and pick up a flight from there. Oman Air and BMI operate codeshare flights from Belfast.

Flights from the US and Canada

The flight from North America to Oman is a long journey with myriad different route options. It’s possible to get to Muscat with just one change of plane travelling from New York or Toronto (with Emirates or Etihad via Dubai or Abu Dhabi respectively), Washington (Qatar Airways via Doha), Chicago (Etihad), Houston (Emirates and Qatar Airways), and Los Angeles and San Francisco (both Emirates).

From Canada, you could fly from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and other destinations to London with either British Airways or Air Canada, and then pick up a direct flight to Muscat with Oman Air, or go via Abu Dhabi with BA. Flying times from the east coast to Muscat can be as little as sixteen to seventeen hours depending on connections, although other flights can take anything up to 24 hours. From the west coast you’re looking at a minimum flight time of eighteen to twenty hours, possibly quite a bit longer. Fares from both coasts are around US$1300–1400.

Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa

There are various one-stop routes from Australia to Oman. One option is to aim for a major Asian air-hub and pick up a direct flight with Oman Air (who currently operate nonstop flights to Muscat from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Colombo, Mumbai and Delhi, among quite a few other places in Asia). Other one-stop routes include travelling via Dubai with Emirates from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, or via Abu Dhabi with Etihad from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Fares are around A$2000, with flying times averaging around thirty hours.

From New Zealand, it’s easiest to travel to either Bangkok (with Thai Airways), Singapore (Singapore Airlines) or Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia Airlines) and pick up an Oman Air flight to Muscat from there – or alternatively to follow one of the routes via Australia described above. Fares start at around $2700, with flying times from around 33 hours.

From South Africa, the simplest way of getting to Oman is to catch a direct South African Airways flight from Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban to Dubai, and pick up a connection there. Alternatively, you could fly to Dar es Salaam, from where Oman Air operates direct flights to Muscat. Fares start from around R8000. Another romantic, if slightly more time-consuming, option is to fly to Dar es Salaam and then make your way over to Zanzibar, from where direct Oman Air flights leave for Muscat, allowing you to combine a visit to Oman and its most important former colony in a single visit.

Air passes

Oman Air’s “Visit Oman Air Pass” (VOAP) may prove useful if you’re combining a visit to Oman with one to the UAE or other countries in the Gulf. The pass offers discounted airfares (at a fixed $100/flight, or “sector”, as it’s described) from Muscat to various regional cities including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ras al Khaimah, Bahrain, Doha, Kuwait City and Damman when bought in conjunction with a flight to Oman from London or other points outside the Gulf. The scheme is also valid for domestic flights to Khasab and Salalah, but at $100 per journey these actually work out more expensive than standard fares – although this may change in future.

By land

Oman shares land borders with the UAE, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, although at present it’s only possible to enter the country overland from the UAE, either via Buraimi/Al Ain, Khatmat Milahah or Hatta. There’s also a border between the UAE and the Musandam peninsula at Tibat. Border formalities at all four posts are straightforward, and citzens of most European, North American and Australasian countries can buy a visa on the spot. The whole process shouldn’t usually take more than fifteen to thirty minutes, although you might have to wait considerably longer during weekends and local holidays.

Agents and operators

Signing up for a tour of Oman – either tailor-made in your own car or 4WD, or as part of a larger group – takes the hassle out of organizing transport around the country, and can also get you some good deals on rates at better hotels. On the downside, travelling around in a group inevitably neuters your experience of the country, while the itineraries offered by most agents are boringly predictable – although booking a tailor-made package should at least enable you to customize your itinerary to suit your particular interests. Many foreign operators offer tours of the country while there’s also a decent selection of operators in Oman itself.

If you just want some kind of discounted flight-plus-hotel package deal, Destination Oman (whttp://www.destoman.com), Dream Oman (whttp://www.dreamoman.com) and Travel Oman (whttp://www.traveloman.co.uk) all have a decent selection of offers.

Tour operators outside Oman

Abercrombie & Kent UK t0845 618 2203, whttp://www.abercrombiekent.co.uk; US t800 554 7016, whttp://www.abercrombiekent.com. Upmarket, tailor-made tours focusing on Muscat, Musandam, Nizwa, Salalah and the Wahiba Sands.

Destination Oman t0844 482 1672, whttp://www.destinationoman.co.uk. Range of basic tours (5–7 days) plus flight-and-hotel packages to Muscat.

Kuoni t01306 747002,whttp://www.kuoni.co.uk. Range of short tours including “Highlights of Oman” (6 days), combined tours of Oman (or just Muscat) and Dubai (8 days), plus various one- or two-day excursions focusing on themes such as forts, wildlife, the desert, and frankincense in Salalah.

North South Travel UK t01245 608291, whttp://www.northsouthtravel.co.uk. Friendly, competitive travel agency, offering discounted fares worldwide. Profits are used to support projects in the developing world, especially the promotion of sustainable tourism.

Oman Bike Tours whttp://www.omanbiketours.com. German company offering exhilarating off-road motorbike trips from its camp in Wadi Bani Auf.

Responsible Travel t 01273 600030, whttp://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/oman. Refreshingly different – and socially responsible – tour operator offering an excellent selection of unusual and ethical tours across Oman. These range from mainstream country tours through to camping, hiking, camel-trekking and Empty Quarter safaris, as well as the chance to work on local conservation projects.

Shaw Travel t01635 47055, whttp://www.shawtravel.co.uk. Upmarket tailor-made tours, plus a range of one-day tours including off-road mountain and desert trips and dolphin- and birdwatching.

STA Travel UK t0871 2300 040, US t1800 781 4040, Australia t134 782, New Zealand t0800 474 400, South Africa t0861 781 781; whttp://www.statravel.co.uk. Worldwide specialists in independent travel; also does student IDs, travel insurance, car rental, rail passes and more. Good discounts for students and under-26s.

Trailfinders UK t0845 058 5858, Ireland t01 677 7888, Australia t1300 780 212; whttp://www.trailfinders.com. One of the best-informed and most efficient agents for independent travellers.

Travel CUTS Canada t1866 246 9762, US t1800 592 2887; whttp://www.travelcuts.com. Canadian youth and student travel firm.

The Ultimate Travel Company t020 7386 4646, whttp://www.theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk. Two countrywide tours (11–12 days) of Oman, plus tailor-made tours, including trips into the Empty Quarter.

USIT Ireland t01 602 1906, Northern Ireland t028 9032 7111; whttp://www.usit.ie. Ireland’s main student and youth travel specialists.

Voyages Jules Verne t 0845 166 7033, w http://www.vjv.com. Reliable group tours: choose from “Muscat & Beyond” (6 days), with day-trips from the capital, and “Frankincense & Fortresses” (7 days), divided between Muscat and Salalah.

Tour operators in Oman

Arabesque Travel whttp://www.arabesque.travel. Long-established local company under mixed Omani–British ownership offering a range of day and overnight trips from Muscat and Salalah, including wadi, fort, wildlife and Empty Quarter tours.

Gulf Leisure whttp://www.gulfleisure.com. Good range of adventure tours. On land there are desert safaris, wadi- and dune-bashing, mountain-biking, climbing, trekking and canyoning, while water-based activities include game-fishing, diving and glass-bottom boat tours.

Mark Tours t 2478 2727, whttp://www.marktoursoman.com. One of the largest local travel agents offering an excellent selection of one-day and overnight tours (including trips to places like Wadi Abyad, Wadi Shatan, Bat and As Suleif which aren’t covered by other operators), as well as customized camping trips. They can also arrange car hire, or 4WDs with guide-driver.

Muscat Diving & Adventure Centre t2454 3002, whttp://www.holiday-in-oman.com. Oman’s leading adventure specialists, with a big range of energetic outdoor activities on land and sea, including canyoning, caving, mountain-biking, climbing, trekking and diving, along with more mainstream cultural tours and self-drive itineraries.

Zahara Tours t2440 0844, whttp://www.zaharatours.com. Reputable local travel agents offering a wide range of one-day tours from Muscat, plus a few longer trips (2–10 days). They can also arrange car hire.