Muscat’s Muttrah Souk is a labyrinth of ceramics, jewellery and camel-themed souvenirs. The best buys are butter-soft llama wool pashminas, leatherware and exquisite gold jewellery. Most stalls are open to bartering, but there’s less wiggle-room on jewellery, which is sold by weight.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, gleams from the tips of its four minarets and 50m-high gold dome right down to the white marble flooring. The men’s prayer hall (visitable by both sexes) is especially stunning, with vast Persian carpets and chandeliers the size of dune buggies. Male visitors should wear long sleeves and trousers, and women should cover from collarbones to below the knee, and bring a scarf to wrap your hair.
While grilled meats, hummus and flatbreads are heaped onto many a restaurant table, Muscat is primarily a city of seafood lovers. The stand-out dish is kingfish curry, chunks of gamey fish simmered in a broth of coconut, turmeric, ginger and garlic, but fish is usually scooped out of the sea and freshly grilled. Feast on catch of the day with a view of bobbing yachts at the marina’s Blue Marlin restaurant. Even the most ravenous travellers will be satisfied by platters heaped with grilled tuna, prawns, kingfish and a whopping lobster.
Then West of Muscat, the world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert extends across the Arabian Peninsula. Covering not only parts of Oman but neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, Rub’ Al Khali (the ‘Empty Quarter’) is an estimated 583,000 square-kilometres of uninhabited dunes. Photographers are spellbound by the play of light on these rippling hillocks of sand, solitude-seekers venture here to camp under the stars, but it’s increasingly a destination for adventure travel. Desert tours by 4WD tour meander off-road tracks through the Hajar Mountains before taking a spin around the dunes.