It’s December; a time I usually find myself hibernating under multiple layers, harbouring snacks under my duvet and attempting to control my shivering fingers enough to roll up a cigarette.
Yet, this year I find myself stepping outside and instantly being hugged by a warm layer of comforting heat.
Oman is located in the heart of the Middle East, neighbouring Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
I am well aware that peaceful is by no means the first thing that usually pops to mind when people think of the Middle East, but Oman is undoubtedly one of the most relaxed and peaceful countries I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.
It comes as no surprise to me, or anyone else who has ever stepped foot in Oman that it has just been voted the seventh most welcoming country towards foreigners in the world by Expat Insider.
Foreigners in Oman make up 39% of the population, perhaps being the reason Oman seems so Westernised.
By Westernised I mean you can still have a cheeky bevvy and you can still wear your bikini on the beach with no problem – there are even some cool clubs and bars out there.
However if you are looking for just a boozy holiday I suggest you go elsewhere, or stick to Europe, as Oman has so much more to offer.
Nearly all Omanis speak English so you’ll have no trouble getting around without a guide. As long as you respect the country, you will be welcomed with open arms by the people of Oman, and you’ll be able to enjoy the miles of empty, litter-free beaches, incredible food and everything else the country has to offer.
I met a taxi driver with my sister on my first day who perfectly exemplifies the warmth and generosity you will experience here.
The driver asked where we were from and if we were enjoying the country, he then asked us if we’d like to do a bit of sightseeing free of charge on our way to the beach.
We gratefully agreed but first he insisted on stopping by a little shop where he kindly bought us Omani tea to try.
Omani tea, also known as ‘karak’, is pretty similar to English tea in taste and colour but with an extra twang.
It’s a sweet, milk drink but with ginger, clove and cinnamon.
After enjoying our tea we were taken all round Muscat (the capital of Oman), through Muttrah, driving past the Sultan’s impressive, lit-up yacht, before arriving at Oman Dive Centre (a beach famous for its breathtaking view).
As we pulled up to the beach the cabbie pulled off his traditional head gear, wrapped it around my head and taught us about Omani clothing.
If you are looking to go on holiday and explore a new and exotic country, Oman is the place to go.
One word of warning though – don’t go in the summer unless you want to experience 50 degree Arabian heat. You’ll either find yourself freezing inside with the ferocious air conditioning, a necessity in most buildings, or scorching in the unbearable sun.
Even the Omanis flee during the summer. The best time to visit is either in December, when it’s around 26ºC during the day and cooler in the evenings, or during the Easter period, if you’re wanting to top up the the tan where it’s around 30-35ºC.
The first thing I’d advise you when travelling to Oman is arrange a visit to one of Oman’s many stunning wadis, preferably on arrival.
The best way to describe a wadi is a natural Oasis created by rain water – the one I went to is called Wadi Arabieen but there are plenty of others you can visit which are as equally as beautiful, such as the Wadi Al Shab and Wadi Al Rawdha.
Be sure to leave early as the best spots can be found a short trek away. Be assured that however much walking, climbing or swimming you have to do, you will not regret it.
Not only will your Snapchat story be on point, but once you arrive you can have a picnic and slip into your bikini to bathe in the lukewarm water.
One thing you can’t miss out on in Oman is the mouth-watering food – traditional Omani food is made up of various asian cuisines.
It is a combo most evidently of Lebanese and Indian food but if you have the pleasure of eating in an Omani home you may also see some East African influences – Zanzibar used to be under the reign of the Omani Sultan (the King).
Some of my relatives live out in Oman and I visited them for dinner; nine dishes were bought out which were similar to Lebanese mezzé and I immediately tucked in, stuffing my face with delicious flavours.
Little did I know, this giant mound of food was just the starter, there were still another seven dishes to be consumed! I managed to politely taste a few of the mains and learnt my lesson.
The ‘fish and chips’ of Oman is probably a standard chicken or lamb shawarma – a wrap with meat which is marinated and slow cooked in pepper, cardamom, garlic and lime juice served with tahini sauce.
If you’re looking for something special to Oman you should try Shuwa – meat which is marinated and cooked underground for 2 – 3 days!
The amount of time spent cooking the meat means the spices it is marinated in go right through to the bone! Like Christmas dinner, Shuwa is a dish only really eaten on special occasions like during Ramadan and Eid.
If you’re looking to do something a little more adventurous however and need your adrenaline fix, you should check out Bowshar in Muscat where you can rent out a quad bike or beach buggy for the day and go dune bashing.
Ride as fast as you dare up and down the dunes, then relax and take in the breathtaking views at sunset.
Oman is the ultimate chill out zone, everyone is relaxed and things move at a very slow pace so you’re almost forced to do the same which is ideal if you are looking to get away from the rat race.
However, if you do decide you want to do some intense clubbing and shopping half way through your trip, Dubai is just next door – it’s home to some of the world’s largest shopping centres and impressive clubs.
Images by Reemaz Al Lamki, Nabila Al Busaidi