Oman offers landscapes from sandy beaches and rocky cliffs to vast sand deserts and mountain ranges to mangrove swamps and wetlands. And each of these landscapes is home to a mix of animals, many of which you will only find on the Arabian Peninsula.
I was lucky enough to call Oman home for a while and enjoyed many encounters with the local animals, some wild and others not terribly so. Here are some of my favorite animal experiences -- there’s something for every animal lover. All will give you the chance to get closer to some of the fabulous creatures that call Oman home and to learn something about the nature, culture, and traditions of Oman.
1. Watch For Turtles
We were out on a day trip having a picnic on White Beach, a truly lovely beach with notably white sand, when my daughter shouted that she had seen a turtle. We could not see anything, but on our after-lunch dip, the turtle suddenly swam up close to us.
Turtles still breed in abundance along Oman’s coast, and many beaches are cordoned off to protect them, but you can chance upon them just like that, away from any settlements in the waters off secluded beaches. It was a marvelous experience to see one up close with its head above the waves, seeming as interested in us as we were in it.
But to make sure you do see them, it might be best to go on an organized overnight tour to a sanctuary. The main turtle season is late spring to late summer -- the months when it gets rather hot and sticky. Luckily, the best time to see them is at night when it is cooler.
2. Laugh At The Joie De Vivre Of The Dolphins
The waters just off the coast of Muscat are full of fish, and where there are shoals of tuna, there are dolphins. You can spot numerous species locally, but the most fun to watch are the spinner dolphins, which leap out of the water in front of you, spin around, and plunge back into the waves, really enjoying life.
There are daily excursions that depart from Qantab Beach, just past the old town of Muttrah, and sail down the rugged coastline past islands, forts, and the Sultan’s Palace. This is a popular attraction and an easy early morning trip that will delight everyone in your party.
There are many tours, and not all are equal. Be wary of those that guarantee dolphins, since they tend to chase the shoals and stress the animals out. If you observe behavior that is not dolphin-friendly, please do speak up.
3. Swim With The Marine Life Of The Indian Ocean
Along the Indian Ocean’s coast and around the rocky cliffs and islands, you’ll find lots of marine wildlife, and it is accessible to scuba divers as well as snorkelers.
The Daymaniyat Islands Nature Reserve, some 25 miles west of Muscat, is an underwater wonderland. Nine islands are surrounded by clear water teeming with reef fish, turtles, and even whale sharks. Its inaccessibility has ensured the environment remains pristine. Unless you are an experienced captain, have access to your own boat and diving gear, and have a permit to get close, it is best to go on an organized snorkeling or diving trip with permits and gear provided.
Be sure to bring along a disposable underwater camera to capture a selfie with a turtle!
4. Marvel At The Goats In Trees
Goats in trees? Yes! Just like in northern Africa, you’ll find tree-climbing goats in Oman. Sometimes one, sometimes a couple -- I have seen up to 12 goats in one tree! It must have something to do with desert countries, where green plants are not typically found on the ground. And wherever there is a small village with trees, your chances of seeing goats in those trees are very good indeed. I have spotted them along the main road from Muscat to Nizwa, along the Rustaq Loop, on the way to Al Sawadi Beach, and on the Musandam.
Pro Tip: Go for a drive on a Friday morning when the villagers are at Friday prayers, and turn off the main road toward one of the smaller settlements. The goats tend to sneak out and about when there is nobody watching. So, keep your eyes peeled!
5. Experience The Camel Market In Sinaw
The most popular way for tourists to encounter a camel is to ride one up and down the beach or maybe even in the desert. Personally, I do not like that sort of tourism, because not only is it not great for the animals, but it also has little to do with the country’s culture. It is a staged event for visitors. In Oman, as in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula, camels are animals that are very much valued and used for numerous purposes, from transportation to milk and meat. A select few are even used for racing.
Visiting the Friday camel market in Sinaw, a 2-hour drive from Muscat, will immerse you in the hustle and bustle of a place where everybody comes together to buy and sell camels. The market is very popular with Bedouins. You will see mothers and babies and large, strong male camels, and you will see the nearly white, slender, and hugely prized racing camels that go for unbelievable sums. It is a thrill to experience this authentic market -- it’s noisy, smelly, dusty, and exhilarating.
The best way to get there is to drive yourself or to hire a local driver. You could also go on an organized day trip to nearby Nizwa and arrange a small detour with your guide.
6. Try And Spot The Endangered Oryx
The Arabian oryx is an animal with deep roots in the local culture. Legend has it that the large antelope with its two very straight horns is behind the myth of the unicorn, since, when seen from the side, it does appear to have just one horn.
Sadly, the oryx is in dire need of protection, since the last truly wild oryx was killed back in the early 1970s. Since then, reserves have sprung up everywhere -- one was even listed by UNESCO, only to be removed soon after because of poaching by locals.
Following the delisting, laws were put in place to protect and care for the oryx in the various reserves, such as the Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve. It is difficult to get into the reserve and to spot one of these rare animals, but it is worth a try. You can either drive there or book a tour with an experienced driver. It’s best to talk to the concierge of your hotel, since a government permit is needed to get into the reserve. They will be able to advise you on how best to get there and gain access.
7. Bird-Watch In The Al Ansab Wetland
Love birds? Then this is the place for you. Sheltering more than 290 species of birds, many of them migratory and others calling the wetland home all year round, this is a birder’s paradise. Located right in Muscat, between two highways, the wetlands are a protected area on the land of Haya Water, the government wastewater department. That might not sound terribly inviting, but the birds seem to like living in a place with five lagoons and more than 100 Omani trees and shrubs providing shelter. From marine birds to eagles and songbirds to waders, there are birds aplenty to see.
You’ll need to book ahead to gain access. The best time to visit is first thing in the morning, before it gets too warm. The reserve opens at 6:30 a.m.