From camel rides and storytelling to dhow trips and turtle power, Oman’s richest experiences and activities are fun and accessible for adventurers big and small…
Children are doted on in Oman, so families travelling in the country will be greeted with genuine enthusiasm wherever they venture. Happily, the country’s richest experiences and activities are accessible for adventurers big and small, while local guides and operators go out of their way to accommodate your brood.
Here are some of our favourite family-friendly things to do in Oman...
Dhows off the coast (Dreamstime)
Omani fishermen still use wooden dhow boats to ply the rich waters of the Indian Ocean, navigating the rugged coast as their forefathers did. But an enterprising few have transformed their working vessels into day trip boats, complete with barbecues, fishing gear and giant pillows for lounging on.
Sign up for to sail from Muscat or Khasab (on the Musandam Peninsula) for a fun day of snorkeling, kayaking, fishing and dolphin-watching. The billowing white sails of traditional dhows have long been replaced by motors, but this is still a magical way to get around and you can be as active or as lazy as you like.
Muttrah Souk in Muscat (Dreamstime)
Whatever your heart’s desire, you’ll find it in Muttrah Souk, Muscat’s huge labyrinth of a market, which is laden with curiosities from all over the globe. Inquisitive kids will find much to do: sniffing mountains of fragrant frankincense, modeling deep blue lapis lazuli necklaces that could have belonged to Arabian queens, and swashbuckling with mini khanjars (traditional Omani swords).
While this activity has many educational merits, it can have a positive impact on your wallet, too. Omanis are so charmed by children that you’ll always have the upper hand when haggling, especially if you get your little ones to help.
Watch tower in the Al Hajar mountains (Dreamstime)
A verdant seam of land separates Oman’s untamed coastline and dusty inland deserts: the Al Hajar mountain range. Up here, as little as one hour from Muscat, terraced gardens hug the hills and orchards of date palms and pomegranates thrive.
From October to February, conditions are perfect for hiking and the flat, dry wadis (riverbeds) are a child-friendly alternative to the steep mountainside routes. Employ a local guide to help you navigate the winding river path, plucking fresh figs from the trees.
Green turtle on the beach (Dreamstime)
When green turtles nest, they always return to the beach they were born on, migrating hundreds of kilometres just to lay their eggs in the right spot. At Ras al Jinz nature reserve, a three-hour drive from Muscat, you’ll have a front row seat for this timeless ritual, as well as enthusiastic staff on hand to answer all of your kids’ questions.
Choose from night time (9pm) and dawn (4am) guided walks to witness dozens of green turtles waddling out of the sea and burrowing into the sand to lay eggs. You’ll have a good chance of seeing turtles on any night of the year, though June to August are busiest times, with dozens nesting every night. Two months later, the hatchlings emerge from the sand and scurry to the sea, an unforgettable sight, whatever your age.
Camel in the desert (Dreamstime)
In the vast and seemingly unchartered deserts of inland Oman, you’ll find a handful of hidden campsites. They are well-appointed, family-friendly digs, constructed in the traditional Omani style. Expect huge tents with fire pits and cosy handmade soft furnishings, but with all the mod cons that you need when travelling with children.
Spend your days on sandy safaris in hardy 4X4s, or wallow in your own swimming pool oasis. At sundown, camel rides will take you and the kids deeper into the desert to explore the dunes under a blushing sky. Fireside folk tales and ballads are the night’s entertainment, so that all thoughts of television and iPads are firmly forgotten.
Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah (Shangri-La)
While it’s easy to get around Oman with family in tow, sometimes everyone needs a break from the road for a few days. Take a leaf out of the locals’ book and head to a coastal retreat to blow off some steam. Families from Muscat flock to Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah hotel (30 minutes away), where the focus is on getting outdoors. The hotel has a natural turtle reserve, camel rides along the beach and lots of watersports to keep the kids busy.
Tots will love the lazy river, while older children can explore crystal clear coves in kayaks, go on turtle patrol with the rangers, or seek out dolphins on day trips from the dive centre next door.
Whale shark (Dreamstime)
The Daymaniyat islands are well known in scuba circles for their vibrant marine life and great visibility. Turtles and whale sharks patrol these reefs, alongside clownfish, sea horses, and shimmering shoals of tropical fish.
You don’t need dive gear though to experience the Daymaniyats’ riches. Local operators offer snorkeling trips too, whisking you to secluded spots where the wildlife is plentiful and the waters are calm. Seize the chance to swim through caves and coves that you can only reach by boat.
Wadi Shab (Dreamstime)
Cool down on hot days with a trip to Wadi Shab, a secluded natural pool in Al Sharqiyah, just a 90-minute drive from Muscat. The short walk from the visitor area takes you along a wadi, where you can dip your toes into cool, clear pools in the shade of fruit trees. It’s a wild spot for a picnic lunch.
At the end of a 40-minute hike, a deep watering hole awaits, a welcome reprieve when the weather is hot. It’s a popular swimming spot for all ages, and strong swimmers can explore the cavernous nooks of the pool. For a few coins, one of the local boys will guide you through the caves to a hidden waterfall that flows even when the weather is hot. There are some great wild camping spots nearby too.
Al Bustan Palace (Ritz-Carlton)
Oman has a rich verbal culture, with songs and fables that have been passed down through generations. Family-friendly hotels often gather their young guests together for story time with a local twist, from bedouin life and the escapades of Sinbad the Sailor.
Al Bustan Palace, a grand hotel on the outskirts of Muscat, offers all of the above, plus workshops inspired by the country’s traditional art and craft techniques. It’s also possible to take cooking lessons, using locally-sourced ingredients, such as bananas, dates and coconuts. It’s a great way to immerse kids in Omani culture, while they gain confidence in the kitchen too.
This article is supported by the Sultanate of Oman Ministry of Tourism in conjunction with DialAFlight (www.dialaflight.com) and Oman Air (www.omanair.com), but it is impartial and independent, just like all Wanderlust editorial.
Main image: Camels in the desert, Oman (Dreamstime)