Oman’s wild mountain and desert landscapes offer enormous potential for outdoor activities and adventure sports – one which is slowly beginning to be realized, although the field remains in its infancy. The country is also a leading diving destination, with some of the region’s most pristine underwater landscapes and marine life.
The most obvious – and perhaps most rewarding – of the country’s outdoor activities is hiking. An extensive network of hiking trails exists across the country, particularly in the Western Hajar, with reasonably well-marked trails winding around and through some of Oman’s most spectacular mountain ridges, wadis and canyons. Walks range from high-altitude treks along the mountain ridges through to exhilarating and challenging canyon walks, which usually involve scrambling over boulders and wading (and sometimes swimming) through rock pools and watercourses.
None of the treks should be attempted lightly. It’s imperative to carry sufficient water and also to keep a watchful eye on the weather if trekking through wadis (especially narrower canyons). Rainfall in the mountains can be sudden and dramatic, leading to violent and potentially fatal flash flooding.
Twelve of the best routes are covered in Oman Trekking, published by Explorer.
There is a range of adventure sports and activities around the country. Activities include canyoning (the rough scramble up Snake Canyon is especially popular), caving, abseiling, rock-climbing or tackling one of the country’s three via ferratas (Wadi Nakhr, Snake Canyon and Bandar Khayran). Mountain-biking and kayaking are other possibilities. Leaders in the field are the Muscat Diving & Adventure Centre (wwww.holiday-in-oman.com), while Gulf Leisure (wwww.gulfleisure.com) also run a similar range of offerings.
Oman offers some of the region’s finest diving, with good snorkelling too. Compared to other parts of the region, most of the coastal waters remain unspoilt, home to fine coral gardens and a few wrecks, and attracting some spectacularly large marine life.
It’s possible to go diving straight from Muscat, which has a surprisingly extensive roster of dive centres. Many operators here can also arrange trips to the spectacular Daminiyat Islands up the coast north of Barka. Further afield, Musandam is perhaps the finest diving destination in the country, while there are further excellent dive sites along the south coast, especially around Mirbat.
Most of the country’s dive centres are run by European and North American expats; all offer a fairly standard range of dives, along with PADI courses, while many places also run snorkelling trips and assorted boat cruises.
There’s little in the way of organized sport in Oman, although if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of one of the country’s traditional competitive pastimes like bull-butting and camel-racing – the latter is held at many locations around the country, especially on public holidays and National Day, although it’s difficult to pick up information about forthcoming events. Try asking locally to find out if anything’s planned.
Currently, the only formal annual sporting event is the Tour of Oman (wwww.tourofoman.om) cycling race, first staged in 2010. Held over six days in February at locations around Muscat and the Western Hajar, it attracts a strong field of international riders.