Even though it is one of the oldest civilisations in the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman is slowly coming out of the shell it was in until the discovery of oil. While still the most traditional country in its area, it is proving to be a land of friendly people keen to encourage and welcome tourism. A real mixing pot, its people are Arabic, Asian, African and Baluchi, speaking Arabic, English and Persian.
It is bordered to the west by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Yemen. The Musandam Peninsula forms a coastal enclave on the Strait of Hormuz and its 2700km of coastline is surrounded by the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. The Hajir Mountains divide the land, stretching from the Musandam Peninsula to the southeast.
Muscat, the capital, is referred to as "the three cities" Muscat, Mutrah and Ruwi. Muscat is the old port area and site of the sultan's palace. It has a couple of good museums, but few shops and no hotels. Its attraction lies in its traditional feel.
Mutrah is the main trading and residential port. Its long, sweeping corniche is one of Arabia's most beautiful places and its souq one of the best. This is the place to go for silver jewellery some antique fabrics, clothes, incense, frankincense, perfumes and rosewater milk! The town has moderately priced hotels and superb views.
Just a generation ago, Ruwi was an underdeveloped valley. Today it is a modern commercial district where you will find the national museum.
Oman has a history of internal power struggles and more than 500 forts suggest those times of hostility. If you visit just one, it should be Jabrin a day trip from Muscat. It was restored 20 years ago and provides excellent insight into the opulent life enjoyed by ruling imams.
Built in 1671 by Imam Bal'arab bin Sultan al-Ya'ruba, who is buried there, it commands the plain and surrounding hills. Entering the main door takes you to a dramatic courtyard with irrigation system and onto the kitchen and servants quarters. A staircase leads to a prison, complete with manacles hanging on the wall.
You will see formal meeting rooms and the dining hall, as well as recesses in floors which allowed defenders to shoot at attackers through windows. There are small, open courtyards, living quarters and a school, weapons, household items and impressive painted ceilings.
In 1970 Sultan Qaboos bin Said ousted his father in a bloodless palace coup and ever since, progress has sped ahead. He abolished many of his father's harsh restrictions, the cause of many Omanis leaving their country, and extended amnesty to those people. Education and health have become important and women were elected at the 2003 Shura elections. Everyone loves the Sultan, evidenced by pictures of him everywhere you look, and members of the royal family have hands-on roles in Oman's development.
The Chedi Muscat is stylish and elegant, characteristic of traditional Omani architecture, a blend of Arabian and Asian influences. It is on a private beach, away from the teeming marketplaces and is an oasis on the brink of the Gulf waters and mountain ranges.
Chedi has 151 rooms and suites and turquoise pools bordered by cabanas and a water garden. Light meals and drinks are served.
The four-storey Serai wing has 61 rooms and the Chedi wing has 60 deluxe rooms, all enjoying mountain or Indian Ocean views. Forty Chedi Club suites have a bedroom and sitting room.
The hotel restaurant has open kitchens and serves Arabic, Mediterranean, Asian and Indian cuisine. Guests can enjoy refreshments, snacks and cocktails in the lobby.
Chedi Spa has a wonderful range of treatments and massages to make you feel like royalty!
It is important that visitors to Oman dress according to Muslim custom. Clothing should be modest, covering everything between the head and knees, and beachwear should be worn only at a beach or hotel pool. Likewise, care must be taken not to offend through the use or abuse of alcohol. It should be consumed only in licensed premises and it is illegal to carry liquor in a vehicle.
If you are in a Muslim country during the holy month of Ramadan (approximately the end of November to the end of December), non-Muslims are asked to avoid eating, drinking or smoking in the presence or sight of a Muslim. Eating, drinking or smoking in public places during the hours of daylight is forbidden.
All visitors, except for citizens of Gulf countries or visitors with tourist visas to the UAE, require visas prior to travel to Oman. Nationals of countries in the European Union, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand may obtain temporary visas on entry into Oman. When applying for a visa, visitors should also ensure that their passports have at least a six-month validity period. Check with your local Sultanate Embassy for current information.