General information about the Sultanate of Oman
Situated in the extreme southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman stands as one of the most fascinating Arabian countries in terms of landscape variety and cultural heritage. In the north of the country, the Hajar mountain range forms a great arc that stretches towards the south-east and the sea, creating around the Musandam region a stunning landscape of fjords. The Western part of the Sultanate is bordered with the magnificent sand desert Rub-Al-Khali while its interior is made of a 800-kilometer long rock and gravel desert that stretches to the south of the country – the Dofhar province – and its eponymous mountain range. These 1000-meter high limestone mountains change smoothly into a wide plain bordered with the nicest palm beaches of the country.
Groups of people living from agriculture started to invade the Arabian Peninsula in the 5th millenium before J-C. During the 2nd millenium before J-C., the whole region became an important trade crossroads. At the time, the Sultanate of Oman exported copper and incense. In 1500, the Portuguese troops invaded Oman and captured some of the coastal areas, such as Bahrain and the UAE. A century later though, the Portuguese were defeated with the help of the British troops. In 1820, Oman was made a British protectorate which lasted until the first half of last century.
The currency of Oman is the Omani Rial (OR) which is divided into 1,000 Baiza. International credit cards are accepted almost everywhere.
Arabic is the official language in Oman. However, English is widely spoken and understood. Road signs and restaurant menus are generally written in both languages.
Local time is GMT + 4 = 9 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time
Although the economy of Oman, like many Arabic countries, mainly relies on the oil industry, there is in the Sultanate no obvious link between opulent luxury and the hydrocarbon resources – like there is in Dubai for example ; as a matter of fact, the country has kept an appealing authenticity and the way of life of its inhabitants is calmer and closer to the roots than in any of the UAE cities. Sultan Qaboos is the eighth sovereign of the Al-Busaid Dynasty which has been ruling over the country since 1747. The Sultan is known to entertain friendly relationships with almost all the nations and is tremendously popular with the Omani who are grateful that he share with them the growing wealth of the country as well as take the Sultanate out of the Middle Ages towards progress and modernity.
Politics and Social Life
The Omani culture remains very influenced by its heritage as a powerful seatrading nation. At the time, various cultures impregnated the country and are still present nowadays. The isolation politics conducted by Oman until 1970 has banned massive Western influences and even after Sultan Qaboos came to power and began to open and lead the country towards progress and modernity, he clearly made the choice to restore old monuments and buildings or integrate new ones into already existing sites rather than launch vast construction programs which would have meant modern architecture and contemporary design.
Religion and Culture
Like in the United Arab Emirates, the Islamic religion is the official religion of the country. Since its accession to the throne, Sultan Qaboos has however condemned all forms of extremism in the religious practice. As a matter of fact, Oman developed its own particular form of Islam, called Ibadhism, which firmly rejects violence and intolerance. In the everyday life, the Omanis are very hospitable and friendly people who love meeting and talking with foreigners. Travellers can thus discover the country in a very authentic way. Those who come to the home of Sindbad the sailor with eyes wide open and a real desire to learn more of the country will definitely go back home with unforgettable memories !
Ramadan is the holy fasting month of the Islamic religion. Every year, the beginning of Ramadan is timed according to the phases of the moon. During Ramadan, the Muslim believer is neither allowed to eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. People of other religious beliefs are supposed to show respect and understanding during this period of time. They will neither eat, drink or smoke in public during the day. Bars are not allowed to serve alcohol and shops opening hours are shorter than usual. In Oman, recreational activities and entertainment programs are also severely cut out during Ramadan.
The dates outlined below for Islamic religious holidays are approximate. The precise dates are not announced until a day or so before they occur.
- RAMADAN : 10 Aug 2010 – 9 Sep 2010
- EID al FITR (3 days at end of Ramadan) : 10 Sep 2010
- HAJJ / EID AL ADHA (Feast of the sacrifice at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca):
11 Nov 2010 – 13 Nov 2010
Flora & Fauna
The Gulf of Oman is one of the most fertile part of the Indian Ocean, as one can tell when wandering in one of the numerous fish markets of the country. The warm waters are also home of several species of whales and dolphins. Nature reserves have been set up throughout the Sultanate to protect several endangered species such as turtles attracted to Oman’s shores, the white Arabian Oryx antilope, desert foxes and wild cats.
The ancient fortress and its impressive towers crowning the Hajar Mountains still reflect the considerable importance of Muscat as a trade center during the Middle Ages. Founded around 1000 AD, the city boasts a great deal of fascinating worth seeing sites, either restored or still in a good shape as well as numerous beautiful museums. Travellers who visit Muscat will also enjoy delightful moments of relaxation on the less than crowded immaculate beaches. In terms of comfort and service, Muscat beach hotels and resorts are as impeccable and exclusive as Dubai hotels.
As Salalah is about 1000 kilometers away from the international airport of Muscat, the fastest way to get there is to take a domestic flight with Oman Air. Like a real tropical oasis, Salalah is surprisingly lush and green – heavy and regular rain is registered from June to October due to monsoon, “Kharif” in Arabic. The architecture and decorative details reflect the cultural influence of Yemen, a close neighbour of Salalah.
Visa procedures and facilities
For Canadian and American residents as well as most of European countries, a single entry visit visa is issued upon arrival in all land, sea and air entry points after filling and presenting the visa application form. Fee : OMR 6 or its equivalent in other currencies. (16 US dollars). Please, check before departure that the validity period of your passport should not be less than 6 months.
The Sultanate of Oman offers many possibilities for those who want to spend unforgettable holidays, whether they choose to relax peacefully on one of the numerous pristine beaches of Muscat or Salalah – where they’ll also find an extensive range of water sports -, or travel around the country in Sindbad’s footsteps... As for diving fans, they will enjoy a unique experience in the beautiful and still preserved fjords of Musandam.