Oman: Arabia’s Ancient Emporium

11 Oct – 26 Oct 2018

  • Region:
    • Middle East
    • Oman
  • Status: open
  • Code: 21836
Overview
This tour is limited to 18 participants

Tour Highlights

Assoc. Prof. Alex McKay leads this 16-day tour of little known, extraordinarily diverse Oman. The Sultanate of Oman is one of Arabia’s best kept secrets, an idyllic land where majestic mountains dramatically descend towards deserts and large oases surround medieval fortified towns and castles. The colourful and immaculately dressed people are immensely courteous in welcoming visitors to their seafaring nation, the legendary home of Sinbad. Tour highlights include:

  • Journey through Musandam Peninsula, dubbed the ‘Norway of Arabia’ for its beautiful khors (rocky inlets), small villages and majestic mountains that plunge into spectacular fjords.
  • Enjoy a diverse range of dramatic landscapes including the deep-green wadis and ‘Grand Canyon’ of the Western Hajar Mountains, the pristine white sandy beaches of Dhofar, and the monumental desert dunes at Wahiba Sands, where we camp under the stars.
  • Explore Muscat, with its lively Muttrah Souq, ground-breaking Botanic Garden showcasing Oman’s rich native flora, and the new, state-of-the-art National Museum displaying an extensive collection of cultural treasures.
  • View the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, with seven minarets, presenting the best of Islamic art, and attend a performance at Oman’s new Royal Opera House.
  • Wonder at the impressive crenellated medieval forts of Nizwa, Bahla and Jabrin – featuring magnificent plasterwork, wood carvings and elaborate painted ceilings.
  • Wander through Nizwa’s Friday souq, famous for silver jewellery, Sinaw’s Thursday goat auction where Bedouin also sell camels and handicrafts, Salalah’s frankincense and gold souqs, and Bahla’s famous pottery workshops.
  • Visit the extraordinary tombs of Bat, a UNESCO heritage site, the best preserved Bronze Age settlement in the Middle East.
  • Investigate the medieval port of Sur with its shipbuilding yard, where skilled craftsmen continue to build the traditional dhows and fishing boats.
  • Study Salalah with its little-visited archaeological sites of Al Balid (ancient Zafar) and Sumharam – the ‘frankincense port’, on the southern coast of Oman.
  • Enjoy turtle-watching at the Green Turtle Sanctuary, located at Ras al Jinz, the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Luxuriate with a night in the 5-star Anantara Resort where you will enjoy the breathtaking views of Jebel Al Akhdar mountains at sunrise or sunset.

16-day Cultural Tour of Oman

Overnight Khasab (2 nights) • Muscat (3 nights) • Ras al Jinz (1 night) • Wahiba Sands Safari Desert Camp (1 night) • Nizwa (3 nights) • Jebel Akhdar (1 night) • Salalah (4 nights)

Overview

Join Alex McKay to explore the bountiful heritage that created Oman’s distinct culture. Its world harks back to 5000 BC, when this region influenced the development of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Luxuriant oases, Bedouin camps, sumptuous palaces, pre-Islamic, Islamic and Portuguese forts, tribal fortified houses and villages with colourful souqs, all grace this seldom-visited land. We journey to walled desert towns, ancient and medieval cities, the extraordinary tombs at Bat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and possibly the best preserved Bronze Age urban settlement in the Middle East – and Nizwa, famed for its silver jewellery souq. Oman’s medieval ports are orientated towards India, South-East Asia and East Africa, including the atmospheric medieval city of Sur where we view skilled craftsmen who still produce dhows and fishing boats using traditional techniques. Holy shrines and mosques are set against a diverse environment of rugged mountains, vast sandy deserts, palm groves, and stunning white beaches on the Gulf of Oman. Desert landscapes are relieved by brilliantly green wadis, plantations of dates and bananas, and frankincense trees, still harvested at Salalah and Sumharam, a frankincense trading entrepôt on Oman’s southern coast. We’ll spend an evening watching nesting turtles at the Green Turtle Sanctuary at Ras al Jinz, where the Gulf of Oman meets the Indian Ocean at the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula. We also visit wonderful museums and mosques, including the remarkable Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat showcasing the best of Omani arts and crafts and the new, state-of-the-art National Museum in Muscat which opened in 2016. While based at Al Khasab on the Strait of Hormuz we make an excursion by 4WD to Jebel Harim (2087 metres), the highest mountain in the region, then cruise through the spectacular fjords of the Musandam Peninsula. The Sultanate of Oman is one of the Middle East’s best-kept secrets: an idyllic land where majestic mountains and deserts frame cities populated by colourfully dressed and immensely courteous people, eagerly welcoming visitors to their seafaring nation, homeland of the legendary Sinbad.

Itinerary

The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight and ferry schedules. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. Meals included in the tour price and are indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch (several will be picnics) and D=evening meal.

Khasab, Musandam - 2 nights

Day 1: Thursday 11 October, Dubai – Khasab
  • Check-in and Welcome Meeting
  • Dhow cruise to the fjords of Musandam

Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive at Dubai Airport in the early morning. After clearing Passport Control and Customs we shall make the four-hour journey to the northern tip of the Arabian Peninsula to Khasab on the Strait of Hormuz, just opposite Iran, and surrounded by the United Arab Emirates. Our journey takes us along the coast past Sharjah, Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah.

Should you have arranged your own air travel, you are asked to meet the group at a designated area at Dubai airport.

Following hotel check-in and some time at leisure, our program commences with an introductory/welcome meeting. We shall then transfer to Khasab harbour where we board a dhow for a cruise through the western inlet, Khaw ash Shamm, to view the spectacular fjords of Musandam, with its villages clinging to the sides of the majestic Hajar Mountains, and the famous telegraphic island. Until recently the Musandam Peninsula was largely cut off from the rest of Arabia; apart from the remains of a small Sasanian settlement on an island just to its north and of a Portuguese fort at Khasab, few traces of foreign contact remain from earlier times. It wasn’t until the British explorer Bertram Thomas described Musandam after a brief visit in the 1920s that it became known to the outside world. During the cruise there will be an option to swim and snorkel (snorkelling equipment will be provided). Lunch will be provided on board. This evening we dine together at our hotel. (Overnight Khasab) LD

Day 2: Friday 12 October, Musandam Peninsula
  • Qayadh Prehistoric Rock Art, Wadi Tawi
  • 4WD drive to Khor Najid, Birkhat Khalididya Park & Jebel Harim

This morning we depart by 4WD to the prehistoric rock engravings at Wadi Tawi depicting, amongst other animals, several fine camels. Next we drive to Khor Najid with its stunning sea views and then to Birkhat Khalididya Park, a natural park with a multitude of acacia trees and an ancient water catchment system that is still in use. Later we drive to Jebel Harim, the highest mountain in Musandam (2087m) which presents an unsurpassed panorama of the surrounding landscape. Note: the upper area of this mountain is a Military Camp and not accessible to visitors. (Overnight Khasab) BLD

Muscat - 3 nights

Day 3: Saturday 13 October, Khasab – Muscat
  • Khasab Fort
  • High-Speed ferry Khasab-Muscat (1200-1800hrs)

This morning we visit the Khasab Fort, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. At midday we depart Al Khasab by high-speed ferry for Muscat. Khasab’s connections to the rest of Oman have greatly improved since 2008 with the launch of the world’s fastest passenger ferry service that operates between Muscat and Musandam. The diesel-powered vessels built by Australian-based Austal, have top operating speeds of nearly 56 knots and make the 420km journey in just over 5 hours. Our voyage takes us past the rugged Omani coastline through turquoise blue waters and enables us to see Muscat and other coastal villages through the eyes of ancient seafarers who plied this route for centuries with their rich merchandise. (Overnight Muscat) BLD

Day 4: Sunday 14 October, Muscat
  • The National Museum of Oman
  • Al Alam Palace and Forts of Mirani and Jalali (exterior only)
  • Time at leisure
  • Muttrah Souq

We spend the morning visiting the National Museum of Oman, housed in a magnificent new building and dedicated to preserving and displaying the treasures of Oman’s Cultural Heritage.  Opened in July 2016, the museum includes 15 display halls – The Land and the People Gallery, Maritime History Gallery, Arms and Armour Gallery, Civilisation in the Making Gallery, A Falaj Gallery, Currency Gallery, Splendours of Islam Gallery, Oman and the World Gallery, Renaissance Gallery, and the Intangible Heritage Gallery among others.

After lunch we take a short tour of Muscat by coach. Although Muscat was used as an anchorage from at least the 1st century AD, the city did not become an important trading port until the medieval period and by the 15th century had emerged as one of the busiest harbours in the East, an entrepôt that traded with Asia and East Africa. Its natural harbour is enclosed within a bowl of igneous rock hills and is framed by the great forts of Mirani and Jalali that were constructed by the Portuguese during the 16th century to guard the entrance; by this time it had become Portugal’s main naval base in the region. Until recently, these forts served as prisons, whose shackled inmates could be seen climbing their steep stairs! We shall also view (exterior only) the magnificent Al Alam Palace, the official residence of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the ruler of Oman. The palace, constructed in 1972, is an architectural masterpiece and sits in a historic location, framed by the aforementioned forts. We then return to our hotel for some time to relax and enjoy the hotel’s excellent facilities.

In the early evening we visit the Muttrah souq, one of the most popular souqs in the Middle East. We shall walk through its labyrinthine alleyways which display a bewildering array of merchandise, from imported fabrics to exotic Oriental spices, perfumes, wood carvings and richly handcrafted jewellery. In this regard it is worth recalling that the Omanis were considered amongst the finest silversmiths within the Arab world. A visit to this frenetic, pulsating hub of Muscat’s old quarter is a must, giving a vivid sense of the vitality of trade that has always sustained Oman’s economy. (Overnight Muscat) BLD

Day 5: Monday 15 October, Muscat
  • Grand Mosque
  • Oman Botanic Garden
  • Opera Performance (pending confirmation in 2018)

Our first visit will be to the Grand Mosque, the major place of worship in the Sultanate that is distinguished by lavish and opulent architecture reflecting the rich artistic heritage of Islam. This extraordinarily beautiful modern mosque, with five minarets, was gifted by Sultan Qaboos to the Omani people. (Men: shorts and sleeveless shirts should not be worn in the mosque. Ladies must cover their bodies so that only face, hands and feet are visible – please bring a headscarf; abayas (robes) can be provided).

This afternoon we visit the new Oman Botanic Garden, a groundbreaking project developed by the Diwan of the Royal Court in Oman. Situated on 425 hectares, the garden is designed to cultivate, study and conserve Oman’s rich native flora. It includes large-scale (indoor and outdoor) native habitat displays ranging from dry desert to rich monsoon cloud forests. Currently still under development, the garden will also showcase the traditionally cultivated crops and the many ways that people use plants in Oman. When completed, this ambitious project will be the largest botanic garden in the Gulf region.

We shall return to the hotel in time to shower, change and relax before attending a performance at Oman’s Royal Opera House. Opened in 2011, the opera house hosts  classical music and ballet. (Overnight Muscat) BLD

Ras al Jinz - 2 nights

Day 6: Tuesday 16 October, Muscat – Wadi Tiwi – Sur –  Ras Al Jinz
  • Bimmah Sinkhole
  • Wadi Tiwi
  • Dhow Building Yard & the Maritime Museum’s historic Fath al Khair, Sur
  • Evening visit to the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve

This morning we rise early and board our 4WD vehicles to drive along the rugged and scenic coastal route to Ras Al Jinz. The journey along the coastline offers breathtaking glimpses of the blue waters of the Gulf of Oman offset by pristine beaches. You may also see elegant gazelles sprinting across the landscape. As we continue south the road hugs the coast, passing many gravel beaches and tidal pools.

Our first stop will be at the picturesque Bimmah Sinkhole, set on the first of several ‘wave-cut terraces’, created by changes in sea level at the base of a mountain. If you wish you may take a dip in the vibrant emerald-tinted waters of its 20-metre-deep pool. The ground beneath sinkholes normally consists of easily dissolved rocks such as limestone, carbonates and salt beds. When groundwater flows through these rocks, it eats them away, leaving behind subterranean holes and caverns. When the roof of one of these caverns collapses, the land above it falls in too, leaving giant holes such as this impressive example.

We continue our journey along the coastal highway to Wadi Tiwi, a spectacularly deep and narrow gorge carved out of the mountains, running between towering cliffs right down to the sea. The traditional villages within it are surrounded by lush plantations of date and banana, criss-crossed with a network of gurgling flaj. We shall walk though the date trees and dense banana plantations and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Next, we continue along the Omani coast to the port of Sur where we shall visit its boatyards, whose ships sailed to distant ports in Asia and East Africa and where skilled craftsmen still make these craft. Sur was one of the greatest medieval ports in the Middle East. After the decline of Qalhat (one of the key ports in Arabia) in the 16th century, Sur became the regional marine trading town of the region. Its strategic location enabled ships to make use of the north-east monsoon to reach East Africa. Ships would leave Sur and other Omani ports in November and reach Zanzibar, the main port-of-call around mid-February. The return voyage, before the south-west monsoon, would see them back in Oman by early May. Until the 19th century, Sur remained an extremely important shipyard, responsible for the construction of the great wooden ghanjahs and baghalas that plied the oceans from Arabia to India and back. The Belitung ship (carrying porcelain from China, on the sea-route to Arabia) – now on display at Sentosa island, Singapore – is thought to have been built at Sur.

In the shipyards we watch skilled craftsmen building traditional dhows and fishing boats as they have done for centuries. After this practical demonstration we view displays of traditional dhows, and at the nearby yard of the Maritime Museum, we view the historic Fath al Khair, a solid and beautiful timber ship that embodies the glorious past of the Wilayat of Sur, both craftsmen and sailors. In its voyages, Fath al Khair carried cargoes to and from Oman, including dates, salted and dried fish, dry lemon and salt. It also imported Iraqi and Iranian dates, saffron, Yemeni coffee, and timber and spices from the East Africa.

In the late afternoon we continue our journey to the Ras Al Jinz Reserve, an important nesting site for the endangered Green Turtle. Every year thousands of female turtles arrive at Oman’s coastline to lay their eggs. As female turtles only come ashore to nest after dark, there are two tours conducted each day – at dawn and at dusk. After an early evening dinner, we make an excursion to the reserve to watch the Green Turtles as they come ashore to nest. (Overnight Ras Al Jinz) BLD

Safari Desert Camp, Wahiba Sands - 1 night

Day 7: Wednesday 17 October, Ras Al Jinz – Jalan Bani Bu Ali – Al Kamil – Wahiba Sands
  • Optional dawn turtle-watching, Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve
  • Ras al Jinz Visitor Center
  • Triliths, Dhofar’s Standing Stones
  • Ruined Fort & Mosque of Rashid bin Hamouda, Jalan Bani Bu Ali
  • Private Fort of Al Kamil

This morning there will be an optional dawn excursion to view the turtles as they push themselves back down to the sea as the day breaks.

After breakfast we visit the small museum that provides information on the Green Turtles and their relationship with early human settlement. Ras Al Jinz is the easternmost point on the Arabian Peninsula. Here, excavations by the British Museum uncovered sherds with Harappan writing and jewellery beads, along with bitumen from Mesopotamia, linking Oman with the Indus Valley in Pakistan and Akkad in Iraq, giving clear evidence of contacts with Asia more than five millennia ago. Museum exhibits include stone and seashell jewellery, early fishing equipment, examples of copper smelting and metal working, and the earliest dated Omani frankincense burner (2200 BC).

From Ras Al Jinz we travel by 4WD through the Jalan region. En route we stop briefly to view an example of Dhofar’s standing stones, known as triliths, due to their construction from three stones. Standing in groups of three to fifteen, each one consists of three stone slabs approximately 2 feet high, standing on end and leaning against each other with their base forming a triangle. Dated to between 400 BC and 300 AD, these archaeological structures are widespread across the southern and eastern areas of Arabia; their purpose is still unclear.

Our next stop is to view the ruins of the huge mud-brick Fort and Mosque of Rashid bin Hamouda located in the town of Jalan Bani Bu Ali. During the early 19th century, following repeated Saudi incursions into Oman, the local Bani Bu Ali tribe converted to the Wahhabi form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia. It was the only tribe in the country ever to do so, and subsequently repudiated the rule of the sultan – who responded by dispatching a large armed force to crush the fledgling rebellion. Today the town retains a decidedly old-fashioned atmosphere and comprises a conglomeration of watchtowers, old fortified houses, forts and ancient plantation walls, all of which lie crumbling in various states of dereliction. Elaborately painted metal doors and traditional carved wooden gates sported by the town’s residences are a feature of the region.

Next we continue to Al Kamil, one of the few towns in the country surrounded by trees. The low-lying acacia and ghaf woodland is a special feature of the area, much prized by the Bedouin who use the wood for shade, as props for their tents and firewood. Their camels nibble the nutritious new shoots and livestock lick the moisture from the small leaves in the early morning. Here we visit the family fort of the Hashami Sheikhs of Al Kamil where we shall have lunch and view a private collection of ceramics, coins and various documents.

Continuing north from Al Kamil for about 60 kilometres we arrive at our Bedouin style camp located in the remote, quiet desert landscape of the Wahiba Sands. Traversed by the great British explorer Wilfred Thesiger in 1949, the Sands are a vast sea of undulating red and white sand with dunes rising up to two hundred metres. They support a wide variety of flora and fauna. The ever-changing patterns of the dunes are a photographer’s delight. The Wahiba Sands are also home to the powerful Wahiba Bedu tribe (regarded by Thesiger as ‘aristocratic’) who are known for their hospitality and their knowledge of the desert. (Overnight Safari Desert Camp, Wahiba Sands) BLD

Nizwa - 3 nights

Day 8: Thursday 18 October, Wahiba Sands – Sinaw – Lizq – Manah – Birkat al Mawz – Nizwa
  • Sinaw’s Souq and Thursday Goat Auction
  • Early Iron Age Settlement, Lizq
  • Manah & Fortress of Fiqain
  • Mud Settlement & Date Gardens of Birkat al Mawz

After an early breakfast we continue our journey by 4WD to Sinaw’s Thursday market, one of the oldest Bedouin markets in Oman. Filled with local people in their colourful costumes, the souq is divided into various sections including a bazaar for household goods and textiles, a section for fresh fish and meat, and an area where domestic animals like camels, cows, goats and sheep are displayed for auction.

Continuing a further 40 kilometres north, we reach the oasis town of Lizq where an impressive Early Iron Age stone staircase (the only one of its kind yet found in Oman), leads to a citadel on the summit of an escarpment. Rising some 80 metres above the surrounding plain, the mountain fort at Lizq is one of Oman’s most impressive prehistoric sites anywhere.

While in Lizq we also learn about the traditional falaj system. A falaj in Oman refers to an underground channel that carry water. The plural of the word ‘falaj’ used in Oman is ‘aflaj’, which denotes a system of irrigation. This unique water system gave boosted agriculture in Oman, which represents, alongside fishing, enabled Omanis to establish a sustainable civilisation throughout centuries providing sustenance for generations who survived in harsh climatic and environmental conditions.

Aflaj rise within mountains, flowing down in channels like waterfalls and passing through hills and plains to bring abundant life to land. They date back more than 2000 years, during which Omanis developed special tools and techniques that enabled them to maintain these aflaj and create new ones to meet the burgeoning development of agriculture. In 2006 the World Heritage Committee, under UNESCO, adopted the inscription of five Omani aflaj in the World Heritage List.

From Lizq we continue to the ancient, abandoned mud-brick village of Manah, dominated by the Fiqain fortress with its massive defensive walls. Manah’s history dates to the 6th century when it was controlled by the Sasanians of Persia. With the introduction of the falaj, the village, which produced mainly sugar cane throve until the second half of the 20th century when inhabitants moved to more modern residences.

Just outside of Manah is the oasis town of Birkat al Mawz (‘Pool of Bananas’). Here we view the old mud brick settlement, a UNESCO-listed falaj system built between 1624 and 1741, and a well kept date oasis that extends for just under 2 kilometres.

In the late afternoon we continue to Nizwa, the chief town of the interior and Oman’s capital for many centuries. (Overnight Nizwa) BLD

Day 9: Friday 19 October, Nizwa – Al Hoota Caves – Al Hamra – Jebel Shams – Nizwa
  • Nizwa Fort & Friday Souq
  • Al Hoota Caves
  • Village of Al Hamra
  • The Grand Canyon of Oman: Balcony Walk, Jebel Shams

Today we continue our exploration of the Al-Dakhiliyah Region. This dramatic, mountainous area has spectacular scenery, including Jebel Shams (Oman’s highest mountain).

We start the day by visiting Nizwa’s great 17th-century fort, one of the most impressive in all of Oman. Constructed on a solid base of rock, the huge crenellated tower was designed to withstand the vibrations of its 24 cannons; it remained Oman’s seat of government for some 300 years. Nizwa Fort was designed with various ingenious devices used to repel invaders. Among these were ‘murder holes’, slots through which defenders could pour boiling date syrup on the heads of attackers as they climbed its stairs. From the top of the tower there is a superb panoramic view of the city and the surrounding plains with their extensive stands of deep green palm date trees. Nizwa is still an important centre for Omani date farming – some 40 varieties of dates are cultivated.

Mid-morning, we spend some time exploring the Nizwa souq, which is renowned for its intricately hand-carved khanjars (Omani silver daggers) and ornately designed silver jewellery.

From Nizwa we travel to the Al Hamra region, where at the foot of Jebel Shams lies the Al Hoota Cave. Estimated to be over 2 million years old, this cave is approximately 4.5 kilometres long (only 500m publicly accessible) and contains a rich ecosystem that includes four lakes. The central lake, which we visit, is estimated to hold 30,000 cubic metres of water and is 800 metres long and 10 metres wide. It is here that we may see the rare blind fish Garra Barreimiae, commonly known as Bu Naseh. Following a period of extensive renovations the caves reopened to the public in August 2016.

Nearby we visit the mud town of Al Hamra, set below Jebel Shams and overlooking an extensive date oasis. It is interesting for its wonderfully well-preserved row of two- and three-storey mud-brick houses built in the Yemeni style. There are many abandoned houses in the upper parts of the village but it’s easy to gain an idea of traditional life that has only altered in the past three decades.

In the afternoon we ascend Jebel Shams for a one-kilometre walk along the ‘The Balcony'; a trail offering spectacular views down into the great chasm of Wadi Nakhr, popularly known as the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Oman. The scenery here is some of the most dramatic anywhere in Oman: a huge natural amphitheatre, with kilometre-high cliffs, looking down on the tiny village of Nakhr way below in the canyon’s shadowy depths. Birds of prey – such as the Egyptian vulture, with its distinctive black-and-white-striped wings – hover silently on the thermals overhead. In Jebel Jams you may purchase hand-woven carpets and rugs directly from the weavers. These stunning creations, dyed in shades of black, bright red and brown, represent the best of traditional textiles. (Overnight Nizwa) BLD

Day 10: Saturday 20 October, Nizwa – Bahla – Jabrin – Bat – Nizwa
  • Bahla Fort, souq and pottery workshop
  • Jabrin Fort
  • Beehive tombs of Bat, Al Ayn

This morning we drive to Bahla village, which is surrounded by a 12-kilometre adobe wall, originally punctured by seven grand gates. Bahla was once known as a centre for magic and sorcerers; today it is well known for its skilled potters. Just to the south of the village and rising above the vast sea of palm groves is the Bahla Fort, a World Heritage site. Qalat Bahla (Bahla Citadel) is one of four historic fortresses situated at the foot of the Jebel Akdar highlands. Dated back to the pre-Islamic era, it was rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries, when the oasis of Bahla prospered under the control of the Banu Nebhan tribe, and largely rebuilt in the 17th century. The fort’s ruined adobe walls and towers rise some 165 feet above its sandstone foundations. Closed for many years, the fort underwent extensive restoration and was re-opened in 2012. While in Bahla we also visit the recently restored souq which sells homemade ropes, fadl (large metal platters for feeding a whole family), daggers, copper artefacts, pottery and Omani sweets (Halwa).

Nearby we visit Jabrin Fort. Rising from the surrounding plain, Oman’s most impressive fort has been sensitively restored and features magnificent plasterwork, wood carvings and elaborate painted ceilings with original floral motifs. Built in 1675, Jabrin Fort was an important centre of learning for astrology, medicine and Islamic Law.

Our next stop is the village of Al Ayn; in the distance rises Jebal Misht (‘Comb Mountain’) one of Oman’s most majestic landmarks with its south-west wall rising over 1000 metres. On a ridge with Jebal Misht as its dramatic backdrop, are a series of beautifully preserved stone ‘beehive’ tombs which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The settlement and necropolises of Bat form the most complete and best-known site of the 3rd millennium BC. They reflect the increasing sophistication of settled life during the Bronze Age when copper mining in Magan (the ancient name for Oman) was an important source of revenue. (Overnight Nizwa) BLD

Jebel Akhdar - 1 night

Day 11: Sunday 21 October, Nizwa – Al Ayn – Wadi Bani Habib – Jebel Akhdar
  • Village of Al Ayn (including 1km walk)
  • Wadi Bani Habib
  • Time at leisure at the 5-star Anantara Jabal Akhdar Resort

This morning we drive up the Wadi Muaydin to spectacular Jebel Akhdar. This region is dominated by the great Saiq Plateau, 2000 metres above sea level. It is corroded by of a labyrinth of wadis and terraces where the cooler mountain air and greater rainfall supports the region’s famed market gardens and orchards of pomegranates, apricots and other fruit.

We take an extended walk through the terraces and villages from Al Aqr, which is famous for its roses, to Al Ayn and Al Shurayjah perched on cliffs that afford spectacular views of the wadi below. As we walk we will see the falaj that bring water to these luxuriantly fertile fields.

Following lunch at the home of our local guide, we visit the secluded valley of Wadi Bani Habib (the children of Habib’s valley). Two abandoned villages here overlook walnut trees and pomegranate bushes.

From Wani Bani Habib we continue to the Anantara Jabal Akhdar Resort for the night. We arrive mid-afternoon, in time to enjoy the facilities of this 5-star resort, and to enjoy the spectacular views of the ‘Grand Canyon’ at sunset. (Overnight Jebal Akhdar) BLD

Salalah, Dhofar - 4 nights

Day 12: Monday 22 October, Jebel Akhdar – Muscat – Salalah
  • Wadi Bani Awf
  • Wadi Al Sahtan: traditional beekeepers
  • Evening flight from Muscat to Salalah

Today we return to Muscat, travelling via two of the most beautiful valleys of the Western Hajar. Our first visit is to one of the most impressive wadis, Wadi Bani Awf, flanked by mountains, has waterfalls, crop terraces, date palm oases and houses built into a steep hill. Our route through a narrow winding canyon of limestone culminates at Bilad Sayt, probably Oman’s most picturesque mountain village. From Wadi Bani Awf we continue through the vast natural Sahtan Bowl, where many of the villages are known for their traditional beekeepers who use date-log hives and produce dark-brown Acacia honey.

On arrival at Muscat International Airport we take an evening flight to Salalah, a tropical paradise, justifiably considered the ‘garden city’ of the south. (Overnight Salalah) BLD

Day 13: Tuesday 23 October, Salalah – Taqah – Sumhuram – Mirbat – Wadi Darbat – Salalah
  • Taqah Fort & Fishing Village
  • Ruined city of Sumhuram
  • Mirbat, ancient capital of Dhofar & Tomb of Mohammad Bin Ali
  • Wadi Darbat

This morning we begin by visiting Taqah, an old fishing village with a white-washed 19th-century castle surrounded by watchtowers and stone houses. It is well known as the source of much of the stone utilised in buildings in Salalah and even Muscat.

We then drive to the ruins at Khor Rawri. Known as Sumhuram, it was one of the great entrepôts of the trade in frankincense, spices, textiles, and other precious items, which flourished between India, Arabia Felix and the Mediterranean some 2000 years ago. Excavations, most recently by an Italian team, have produced evidence of an ancient city with trade links as far afield as India and further east and Iberia in the west.

In the afternoon we continue to the coastal town of Mirbat. The ancient capital of Dhofar and of the Minjawis (a community of Persian merchants), Mirbat was an important town as early as the 9th century. It was known for its trade in frankincense, horses and slaves. We shall see some of its old houses, famous for their beautifully carved wooden doors and windows. If we are fortunate we shall also witness boatloads of fish arriving into the harbour. We shall also visit Dhofar’s best-known historic monuments, the tomb of Mohammad bin Ali al Alawi, who died in 1135 AD. This twin-domed mosque and tomb complex is a fine example of the region’s medieval architecture and recalls similar tombs in the great Wadi Hadramat, further south in Yemen.

We return to Salalah along the coastal highway, making a detour to Wadi Darbat. Some 7 kilometres beyond Taqah we view the dramatic cliffs which are covered by a spectacular waterfall during the khareef (June-August southeastern monsoon), spouting cascades of water amid a tangle of lush greenery. This cliff marks the entrance to Wadi Darbat, whose waters feed Khor Rawri below. Wadi Darbat is a national park with majestic views of waterfalls, lakes, mountains, caves (once used to shelter shepherds), wildlife and lush green vegetation. (Overnight Salalah) BLD

Day 14: Wednesday 24 October, Salalah – Al Mugsayl Beach – Al Qamar Mountains – Salalah
  • Mughsayl Blowholes
  • Frankincense Plantations & Sea-Cliff walk

This morning we drive southwest from Salalah along the coastline towards Mughsayl and the Yemeni border. En route we shall enjoy spectacular views of plains, mountain landscape and green pastureland. As we progress further west, the views towards the border become more and more breathtaking. The stark shapes of leafless frankincense trees (Boswellia Sacra) dot the landscape. Once traded as a commodity more precious than gold, and purchased in prodigious quantities by the Romans and Egyptians for their rituals, frankincense harvested in Dhofar is rated the best in the world. We continue to the 100-metre-high sea cliffs, where a gentle walk takes us through wooded countryside.  (Overnight Salalah) BLD

Day 15: Thursday 25 October, Salalah – Al Balid – Salalah
  • Frankincense Land Museum & Al Balid Archaeological Park, Dhofar UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Prophet Job Memorial
  • Al Balid Haffah Souq

Al Balid is the site of ancient Salalah, known as Zafar, from which the province of Dhofar gets its name. The city was visited by Ibn Battuta (the Arab geographer) and Marco Polo, who described it as “a great and noble and fine city”. The ruins, which date from the 10th to the 15th centuries when the city was settled as a port for exporting frankincense and Arab horses, include the remains of the ruler’s citadel, Great Mosque, madrasa, cemetery and a large enclosing wall with towers.

Within the site we visit the Frankincense Land Museum which contains two main halls. The History Hall traces the historical geography of the ancient Frankincense trail and the historical background of the Sultanate through a number of archaeological discoveries. The Marine Hall features an extensive history of Oman’s maritime trade and shipbuilding industry. Meticulously crafted replicas of the ancient boats and ships of the Omani maritime trade are displayed.

We also visit to the memorial of the Biblical Prophet Job (‘Nabi Ayoub’), perched high up in the mountains. The story of Job is recounted in both the Bible and Qu’ran.

In the afternoon we visit the Haffah Souq, Salalah’s traditional market famous for the sale of high quality frankincense and numerous other Dhofari traditional items. We also walk along Haffah Beach to see the Al Husn Palace, residence of Sultan Saidand, which stands at one end of the promenade. (Overnight Salalah) BLD

Day 16: Friday 26 October, Salalah – Dubai (Tour ends in Dubai)
  • Day at leisure
  • Evening departure for Dubai

Today is at leisure in Salalah, affording well-deserved opportunities to relax and rest by the splendid beach. Alternatively, one might indulge in some ‘last-minute’ shopping in Salalah or simply spend time in one of the hotel’s sumptuous lounges.

In the early evening, participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight with Emirates will be transferred to the airport for their flight back to Australia (via Dubai). BL

Accommodation

16-Day Cultural Tour of Oman

Accommodation will be provided in twin-share rooms with en suite bathroom in locally rated 4-5 star hotels. At Ras Al Jinz we spend 1 night in the Reserve’s lodge which offers en suite rooms or eco-tents. In the Wahiba Sands we spend one night at the Safari Desert Camp offering chalets with attached bathrooms.  Single rooms may be requested – and are subject to availability and payment of the Single Supplement. Further information on hotels will be provided in the ‘Tour Hotel List’ given to tour members prior to their departure.

  • Al Khasab, Musandam (2 nights): 4-star Atana Khasab Hotel – a resort hotel perched on a rock face overlooking the Musandam Peninsula. The hotel offers air-conditioned deluxe sea view rooms. www.atanahotels.com
  • Muscat (3 nights): 5-star Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz Carlton Hotel – a luxury resort designed in traditional Dhofari style, overlooking the Sea of Oman. The hotel offers air-conditioned deluxe sea view rooms.  www.ritzcarlton.com
  • Ras al Jinz (1 night): Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve – providing accommodation in air-conditioned rooms with en-suite bathrooms and Eco-Tents. www.rasaljinz-turtlereserve.com
  • Wahiba Sands (1 night): Safari Desert Camp – a permanent Bedouin style camp. Accommodation has been reserved in chalets containing either double or twin beds. Each chalet has its own bathroom with toilet and shower. www.safaridesert.com
  • Nizwa (3 nights): 4-star Golden Tulip Hotel – a comfortable, recently renovated, modern hotel built in the traditional Omani style; located 19kms from the town of Nizwa. www.goldentulipnizwa.com
  • Jebel Akhdar (1 night): 5-star Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort – situated on the Saiq plateau 2000 metres above sea level, offering breathtaking views of  the Jebel Al Akhdar mountains at sunrise and sunset. Premier rooms with canyon views have been reserved. jabal-akhdar.anantara.com
  • Salalah (4 nights): 5-star Crowne Plaza Resort Salalah – set amongst 42 acres of lush, landscaped gardens which lead to the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. The hotel offers air-conditioned rooms with sea view. www.crowneplaza.com

Notehotels are subject to change, in which case a hotel of similar standard will be provided.

How to book

 ASA RESERVATION APPLICATION FORM

Please complete the ASA RESERVATION APPLICATION and send it to Australians Studying Abroad together with your non-refundable deposit of AUD $500.00 per person payable to Australians Studying Abroad.

Passport Details

All participants must provide no later than 75 days prior to the commencement of the program a photocopy of the front page of their current passport.

Single Supplement

Payment of the Single Supplement will ensure accommodation in a single room throughout the tour. The number of single rooms available is extremely limited. People wishing to take this supplement are therefore advised to book well in advance.

Gallery Tour Map
Physical Endurance & Practical Information
Physical Rating

The number of flags is a guide to the degree of difficulty of ASA tours relative to each other (not to those of other tour companies). It is neither absolute nor literal. One flag is given to the least taxing tours, seven to the most. Flags are allocated, above all, according to the amount of walking and standing each tour involves. Nevertheless, all ASA tours require that participants have a good degree of fitness enabling 2-3 hours walking or 1-1.5 hours standing still on any given site visit or excursion. Many sites are accessed by climbing slopes or steps and have uneven terrain.

This 16-day Cultural Tour of Oman involves:
  • Visiting sites where you will encounter steps (eg. at forts), cobbled streets (mountain villages), rocky and uneven ground, slopes and steep walks.
  • Excursions undertaken in a convoy of 4WD vehicles (Land Cruiser or Ford Expeditions).  They include a number of long-distance journeys along winding coastal and mountain roads. Participants will be divided into vehicles taking between 3-5 passengers, in seating configurations that ensure that everyone enjoys a window seat.
  • Meals include a number of picnic lunches.
Other considerations:
  • 1 night is spent at the Safari Desert Camp, which offers accommodation in chalets with their own bathrooms.
  • 6 accommodation changes.
  • Dhow cruise to the fjords of Musandam.
  • High-Speed Ferry from Al Khasab to Muscat.
  • Domestic flight from Muscat to Salalah.
  • Visitors are only allowed to drink alcohol in licensed restaurants and hotels. Alcohol is strictly prohibited at the Safari Desert Camp and the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve.
  • You must be able to carry your own hand luggage.
  • Hotel porterage includes 1 piece of luggage per person. Porterage is not available at the Safari Desert Camp.

It is important to remember that ASA programs are group tours, and slow walkers affect everyone in the group. As the group must move at the speed of the slowest member, the amount of time spent at a site may be reduced if group members cannot maintain a moderate walking pace. ASA tours should not present any problem for active people who can manage day-to-day walking and stair-climbing. However, if you have any doubts about your ability to manage on a program, please ask your ASA travel consultant whether this is a suitable tour for you.

Please note: it is a condition of travel that all participants agree to accept ASA’s directions in relation to their suitability to participate in activities undertaken on the tour, and that ASA retains the sole discretion to direct a tour participant to refrain from a particular activity on part of the tour. For further information please refer to the Terms and Conditions section.

Practical Information

Prior to departure, tour members will receive practical notes which include information on visa requirements, health, photography, weather, clothing and what to pack, custom regulations, bank hours, currency regulations, electrical appliances and food. The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade website has advice for travellers: www.smartraveller.gov.au

Visa Requirements

A visa is required for most foreign nationals. ASA will assist tour participants in obtaining their visa. The current charge is approx $30.00 US, which is not included in the price of the tour as charges are subject to change at short notice. Note: passports must be valid for at least six months after departure from Oman. To process your visa application ASA will require a photocopy of the front page of your passport together with your completed visa forms no later than 60 days prior to your departure.

Clothing

It is important that women dress modestly, for example long skirts or dresses (below the knee) with long sleeves. Tight-fitting clothes must be avoided and although this is not strictly followed by Westerners, it is far better to adopt this practice and avoid causing offence. Shorts should never be worn in public and beachwear is prohibited for anywhere except the beach and hotel facilities (note: please do remember to bring your swimsuit as there will be a number of occasions where you will have the opportunity to swim). During visits to mosques women will also be required to wear a headscarf.

Luggage

This tour requires that you take a minimum of luggage and that your suitcase is suitable for rough conditions. Please consider:

  • The majority of excursions are undertaken using 4WD vehicles where your luggage will be carried in racks on top of the vehicle.
  • Strict luggage allowance applies to the domestic flight between Muscat and Salalah.
Alcohol

Visitors are only allowed to drink alcohol in licensed restaurants and hotels. Note: not all hotels included in this program are permitted to serve alcohol. The consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited in the desert (eg during our stay at the Safari Desert Camp).

Tour Price & Inclusions

AUD $12,480.00 Land Content Only – Early-Bird Special: Book before 30 September 2017

AUD $12,680.00 Land Content Only

AUD $2990.00 Single Supplement

For competitive Economy, Business or First Class airfares please contact ASA for further information.

Tour Price (Land Content Only) includes:
  • Accommodation in twin-share rooms with en suite bathroom in locally rated 4-5 star hotels. At Ras Al Jinz we spend 1 night in the Reserve’s lodge which offers en suite rooms or eco-tents. In the Wahiba Sands we spend one night at the Safari Desert Camp offering chalets with their own bathrooms.
  • Meals indicated in the itinerary, where: B=breakfast, L=lunch & D=evening meal
  • Transportation by air-conditioned coach and 4WD vehicles (either Land Cruiser or Ford Expedition) – seating either 3 in Landcruiser or 5 in Expedition (all participants will have window seats)
  • Airport-hotel transfers if travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flights
  • Porterage of one piece of luggage per person at hotels (not at airports, ferry terminals or at the Safari Desert Camp)
  • Lecture and site-visit program
  • Tour Reference Book (‘Oman’, Bradt Travel Guide)
  • Entrance fees to forts, museums & archaeological sites
  • Dhow cruise to the fjords of Musandam (Day 1)
  • High-Speed Ferry from Al Khasab to Muscat (Day 3)
  • Domestic flight from Muscat to Salalah (Day 12)
  • International flight from Salalah to Dubai (Day 16)
  • Bottled water during all excursions
  • Tips for the coach & 4WD drivers, Omani guide and restaurants for included meals.
Tour Price (Land Content Only) does not include
  • Airfare: Australia-Dubai, Dubai-Australia
  • Personal spending money
  • Airport-hotel transfers if not travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flights
  • Luggage in excess of 20kg (44lbs)
  • Travel insurance
  • Visa for Oman or UAE
Terms & Conditions
Deposits

A deposit of $500.00 AUD per person is required to reserve a place on an ASA tour.

Cancellation Fees

If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:

  • More than 75 days before departure: $500.00**
  • 75-46 days prior 25% of total amount due
  • 45-31 days prior 50% of total amount due
  • 30-15 days prior 75% of total amount due
  • 14-0 days prior 100% of total amount due

**This amount may be credited to another ASA tour departing within 12 months of the original tour you booked. We regret, in this case early-bird discounts will not apply. We take the day on which you cancel as being that on which we receive written confirmation of cancellation.

Unused Portions of the Tour

We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.

Will the Tour Price or Itinerary Change?

If the number of participants on a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates ASA reserves the right to amend the advertised price. We shall, however, do all in our power to maintain the published price. If an ASA tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all tour monies paid. Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of ASA make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes in due course.

Travel Insurance

ASA requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. A copy of your travel insurance certificate and the reverse charge emergency contact phone number must be received by ASA no later than 75 days prior to the commencement of the tour.

Final Payment

The balance of the tour price will be due 75 days prior to the tour commencement date.

Limitation of Liability

ASA is not a carrier, event or tourist attraction host, accommodation or dining service provider. All bookings made and tickets or coupons issued by ASA for transport, event, accommodation, dining and the like are issued as an agent for various service providers and are subject to the terms and conditions and limitations of liability imposed by each service provider. ASA is not responsible for their products or services. If a service provider does not deliver the product or service for which you have contracted, your remedy lies with the service provider, not ASA. ASA will not be liable for any claim (eg. sickness, injury, death, damage or loss) arising from any change, delay, detention, breakdown, cancellation, failure, accident, act, omission or negligence of any such service provider however caused (contingencies). You must take out adequate travel insurance against such contingencies. ASA’s liability in respect of any tour will be limited to the refund of amounts received from you less all non-refundable costs and charges and the costs of any substituted event or alternate services provided. The terms and conditions of the relevant service provider from time to time comprise the sole agreement between you and that service provider. ASA reserves the sole discretion to cancel any tour or to modify itineraries in any way it considers appropriate. Tour costs may be revised, subject to unexpected price increases or exchange rate fluctuations.

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