Oman is so much more than the capital Muscat. We rented a car during our entire stay so we would be able to see more of the country, and I am so happy we did that! We did two road trips from Muscat. On the first road trip we drove to the city Nizwa and explored the mountains surrounding the city. Nizwa is a popular weekend destination for people living in Muscat, as it is a short drive from the capital and offers great nature experiences. It is possible to see Nizwa and its surroundings on a day trip from Muscat, but we chose to stay in Nizwa for a night to have some more time.
The drive from Muscat to Nizwa took about 1,5-2 hours. The scenery along the road is stunning and almost worth the trip itself. Beautiful mountains surround you only a few minutes after leaving Muscat, and it continues all the way to Nizwa. The roads are very nice – new and modern highways make the drive a pleasure.
Nizwa fort and souk
The city Nizwa does not have many tourist attractions, but you should spend some time here anyways. Nizwa is a not a very big city with its 70.000 inhabitants. I did not see this number until after our trip, and I was quite surprised – I got the impression that Nizwa was more like a small village. This is probably because the city, as most other cities in the Gulf, does not have one city center – it is spread over a big area. Nizwa is one of the oldest cities in Oman, and was Oman’s capital in the 6th and 7th century.
Nizwa’s biggest attraction is Nizwa Fort, which was built in the 17th century. Climbing the fort gives you a beautiful view of the city and the mountains surrounding it (look at the picture in the top of this blog post!). There is also a small history museum inside the fort.
We visited the souks (markets) in the middle of the day, when we first arrived in Nizwa. Everything were closed and I could not see anyone, and I did not really understand why – I had read that it was supposed to be open that day. After talking to some locals I got to know that the souks are only open in the morning and in the evening, so we went back at 5pm. At 5pm, the streets were full of people. I was very surprised that I could not see any women at the market – only men. The fish market was the most interesting souk; it seemed like people were bidding over each other to get the best and biggest fishes. I felt like going back hundreds of years watching the men in dishdasha (the traditional dress) at the market – until they carried the goods to their SUVs and drove home. I love the mix between modern and traditional culture! We soon found out that most people do not do their shopping at the market, but at the local supermarket, Lulu, which is a huge supermarket – almost like a mall, with playgrounds, fast food chains etc. Something I noticed was that there were not a single clothing store in this “mall”, but seven perfume shops and six watch shops – it is obvious what kind of shops the Omanis like!
Up to the mountains
From Nizwa, we drove up to the mountains to see some Omani nature. Our route was Nizwa – Bahla Fort – Misfat village – Wadi Ghul – Jebel Shams – Nizwa. The drive itself takes about 3-4 hours, but we used almost a whole day. There are so many beautiful sceneries along the route, so we kept stopping all the time to take pictures.
Bahla Fort is on the Unesco World Heritage List. The construction of the fort began in the pre-Islamic era, so it is quite old! It has been rebuilt and restored several times the last centuries. The fort is huge, and to see every room and tower you need at couple of hours. We did not have time for that (and honestly, all the rooms look the same), so we had a quick look before we continued our drive. The view from the fort is amazing, as stunning mountain ranges surround it. I have read that Bahla Souk is worth a visit as well, but it was closed when we were there.
Our second stop, Misfat, is an old mountain village. The village is located on a mountain terrace with a stunning view of the entire area; valleys, mountain ranges, plantations and villages. I was surprised how green the village was, because Oman is such a dry country. The village is surrounded by gardens with palms, and it is like an oasis in the middle of this dry land. The village is known for growing dates. Misfat was empty for people when we visited; only a few old people sat in the shadow. We could hear kids playing and women chatting behind the windows, but the streets where surprisingly quiet.
Our next stop was Wadi Ghul, known as Oman’s Grand Canyon. It is a 1,5-2-hour drive from Misfat. The roads are pretty bad and bumpy some places, but most of the roads are paved and good. The roads are quite steep and winding as well. The scenery along the route is amazing though. The pictures do not justify the beauty of this area!
Along the road from Misfat to Wadi Ghul there were many valleys/canyons I found pretty impressive, but these were nothing compared to Wadi Ghul. It might not be comparable to The Grand Canyon, but it is still very impressive. Jebel Shams Resort is located a few hundred meters from the canyon’s lookout point, and it is a great place for a break/lunch before heading back to Nizwa. You can also stay here for the night if you prefer that.
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