For more than a year, my husband, Geoff, lobbied for our big 2018 overseas trip to take place not in the south of Italy -- but rather in a small Middle Eastern country four hours south of Dubai. “It’s just like Hawaii!” he claimed. I told him he’d been smoking too much frankincense.
But Geoff wasn’t pitching the country blindly. My husband’s best friend had married a woman whose family lived in Oman. Tagging along on a family vacation once, Geoff had fallen in love with the country (and the family). In marriage, you compromise, or so I gathered from a relationship column at some point. So we booked our tickets. And sure enough, between hiking copper-colored cliffs and swimming through caves with waterfalls, I fell in love, too.
Unlike its flashier neighbors, Oman isn’t great at self-promotion, and Americans often overlook it. This is a shame. While Dubai and the UAE beckon with man-made islands and towering skyscrapers, and Jordan draws visitors with the astonishments of the ancient city Petra, Oman’s beauty tilts decidedly natural, defined by its golden red cliffs, green-tinged mountains, turquoise seas, and vast deserts. And though development and modernizations have been priorities of Sultan Qaboos, the classical music loving sultan who took over the country in 1970, you can still see the handprints of time here. Centuries-old terraced farming villages cling to the sides of mountains, and every Friday, locals still purchase their livestock at a live goat and cattle auction in Nizwa.
Oman’s location, a stone’s throw from Saudi Arabia and north of Yemen, can make people (like my mother) nervous. But Omanis practice a brand of Islam, called Ibadi, known for its openness and hospitality. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion; Oman is the only country in the Middle East to score a zero on the Global Terrorism Index. Our most dangerous moment on the trip happened when I tripped getting out of the swimming pool and almost lost my toenail. Indeed, five minutes into conversations with locals, we were fielding invitations for future visits. And with a new $1.8 billion dollar airport in Muscat, it’s suddenly become a lot easier for people all over the world to discover the beauty of this under-the-radar country.