American travelers’ current reluctance to visit the Middle East, egged on by media hype about danger and Islamic fear-mongering, has left Oman almost entirely to the young Europeans now flocking there.
Our loss is their big gain. I just spent seven days kayaking the along the Straights of Hormuz, some 20 miles from the Iran border, and trekking on the Ru’us Al Jebel mountain plateau on Oman’s Musandam Peninsula. My verdict? Pack your bags and go if you can. The intense heat and bone-dry terrain do add up to one of the most inhospitable places I have come across (the best months for travel are October to April), but it is also one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have been—and has the potential to stay this way.
While Dubai chases mass tourism, Oman’s far-sighted and enlightened Sultan embraces a different tourism model—one that affirms traditional culture and nature. The result is a welcoming country more focused on ecotourism than high-rise resorts.
On my trip, I met Paul Oliver, a former British backpacker and mountain climber, at his stone house in Dibba, a small fishing enclave on Oman’s north coast. He had the good fortune to run out of money here more than a decade ago during an overland journey to India. He stayed and founded Absolute Adventure and a green-travel charity called Gulf for Good. Together, with his ace desert guide Ram Sundar, they offer “leave no trace” journeys into Oman’s backcountry, where it is still possible to find old Arabia and experience the genuine hospitality of desert villagers.
Having just returned from Oman, I have found myself answering a lot of questions from curious people back in U.S. The big one: How dangerous was it? My answer is simple—I am already planning my next trip there, this time to the remote southern coast and the Wahiba sands of the Empty Quarter.