Once In A Lifetime Journey

Best hotels in Oman for a luxury getaway

If you are an expat in the Emirates, Oman is a quick weekend getaway from Dubai. For those coming from Europe, Oman is a safe and peaceful country in a region that is constantly in the news for the wrong reasons. The World Economic Forum ranks Oman as number 4 in the safest countries in the world for travel. The epicenter of frankincense and ancient empires is a great place to explore the Arabian Peninsula without the flashiness of the Emirates. And you can do that while being pampered at some of the best luxury hotels in Oman.

Bimman Sinkhole

Luxury hotels in Oman can go from exclusive desert resorts set amid endless dunes under starry nights to oasis escapes, beach getaways, mountain retreats or down right Arabian opulence fit for a Sultan. For a relatively small country, there is no shortage of 5 star hotels in Oman. Sometimes too much is not a good thing so let me share with you my personal selection of Oman luxury resorts, most of which I have stayed at at some point in the past eleven years.

I first visited Oman in 2006, on a weekend trip to the Musandam Peninsula, the heel of the Arabian Peninsula that is hugged by the United Arab Emirates on all sides and which borders the Gulf Sea. There, on a luxury day, you can spot dolphins or go diving on a traditional dhow, a wooden boat.


Musandam Peninsula


It is this melange of old and new and the fact that the Sultan has kept Omanis’ traditions intact and well preserved that give the country a feeling of having stepped back into what Middle Eastern cities might have been before the oil rush and ensuing prosperity brought indoor skiing, penguins and the largest, tallest, heaviest, greenest everything.

Oman is heritage-rich, it is steeped in history and it still conserves the charming feel of a time gone by. An exclusive Omani hotel is the only missing ingredient for a true One Thousand and One Arabian Nights tale.


Where is Oman

Oman is located at the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, troubled Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Although most of Oman is a contiguous landmass, the small peninsula of Musandam, at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula heel and surrounded by the UAE, is also part of its territory.


Oman Map. Image by Daniel Hawkins

The majority of the country is made of arid and desert-like landscapes, a region former Bedouin traders traversed in their camel caravans to sell their produce in the far East: frankincense, silver and indigo among others.

The Empty Quarter, the world’s largest desert, is also partly inside Oman’s territory. But the country is not flat. There are mountains almost as high as The Alps and sea waters that are suitable for diving.


Oman Desert


The sea border gives Oman an oasis feel, greener and less desert-like than some other parts of the Middle East. The dramatic mountain landscapes give it a mesmerising look.

It is easy to get lost in the orange and yellow hues of the sunsets above the desert, when the dust in the air blurs the landscapes.

Where to stay in Oman and the best hotel in each location

Oman has no shortage of luxury hotels and resorts but in order to find them, you need to decide what type of holiday you are after.

You can chill at one of the beaches of Salalah or the coast of Musandam, enjoy a starry night in a Bedouin desert camp, breathe the mountain air, trek or climb the Jabal Akhdar or Al Shams mountains, enjoy the well-preserved culture and heritage in Muscat, explore historical routes and UNESCO sites like the Bahla Fort, etc.


Historical Oman

The country is one of the most interesting and less explored countries in the Middle East and, although it does not have the flashy hotels Dubai has, Oman enjoys its fair share of more sober and elegant luxury hotels.

In order to organise your trip and 5-star accommodation in Oman, let me tell you more about the main areas to stay in the country and the best hotels in each part of Oman.

First, here is a brief summary of each luxury hotel in Oman. Click on the booking site of your preference to see more rates, availability and photos. 


LocationHotel nameWhat we like about itNightly rates starting atSee photos and find out more
SalalahAl Baleed by AnantaraThe beautiful private villas, unique in Salalah, and the hotelÕs fleet of experienced and knowledgeable guides to show guests around the heritage rich areas$330

Wahiba Sands / The Sharqiya SandsDesert Nights CampLike train travel, the desert also calls me with a sense of magic and awe. You can also take a trip to the nearby oasis of Wadi Bani Khalid as, admittedly, after a day, the desert may be too monotonous.$305

Jabal AkhdarAnantara Jabal AkhdarThe pool villas with amazing views that make it possibly the most breathtaking luxury hotel in Oman$645

Jabal AkhdarAlila Jabal AkhdarThe location, absolutely breathtaking, and the great Omani menu offered at dinner that was more a feast than a humble meal. The stargazing telescope and astronomer was a nice touch$585

MusandamSix Senses Zighy BayThe arrival, on a tandem parasail with an experienced staff member, from above the mountain pass down to the beach. This has to be the most spectacular way to arrive at a resort. I also loved the romantic dinner restaurant at the top of the mountain from where you have the best views over the bay below and the stars for company$1,355

MuscatThe Chedi MuscatPure indulgence across the property and a real sense of relaxation, as if time stood still. They also have villas spaced out in the property for an extra degree of privacy. Two of the pools are adults-only.$600

MuscatAl Bustan Palace (Ritz Carlton)
It's Arabic opulence with style and the breathtaking lobby and chandelier$610

MuscatShangri-la Barr Al Jissah ResortI like the hotel inside a resort idea where you can get a wider range of facilities and dining options from the common resort areas while booking the hotel that best adapts to your needs$235


Salalah

Often described as an oasis, Salalah is about an hour flight from Muscat or Dubai and is a breath of fresh air even when the summer temperatures in the Arabian Peninsula rise well above the 45 degrees Celsius. It is one of the few places you can escape to when the temperatures soar above acceptable.

Why visit Oman’s oasis town of Salalah

Salalah is basically a beach getaway with fine sand beaches and more greenery than would be expected in a country that is dominated by the Arabian desert thanks to the summer monsoon that allows the area to turn into a tropical paradise of bananas, coconuts and lush green.


Frankincense


But don’t think of it as just another beach and sunbathing haven. The area is also the place where frankincense originated and you can learn more about this amber sticky resin considered a precious commodity in ancient times and given a price higher than gold here. You can also go on dolphin and whale spotting tours, on heritage trips, cultural explorations and wadi excursions, especially during the wet summer months when the area transforms into a real oasis while the rest of the Middle East is baking hot.


Trade Route


Frankincense is still used today in many applications, specially in perfumes, cosmetics and to flavoured gum in the Middle East, but is mostly prized for its smell when burnt, for its purifying properties. You cannot visit Oman without being engulfed in its potent aroma from the many burning lamps across public spaces and hotels.

Frankincense was and still is so important for Oman that one of the country’s UNESCO site was named after it.

The Land of Frankincense is a site that groups Oman’s incense route including the park at Wadi Dawkah where frankincense trees grow, the ports of Al-Baleed and Khor Rori (from where frankincense bound for the Queen of Sheba was boarded onto wooden boats) and the caravan oasis of Shisr/Wubar. There is also a museum where the history of this tree and precious commodity is explained.


Salalah Beach. Photo by Juozas Salna licensed under CC 2.0

In Spain, frankincense is known for being one of the three gifts that The Three Kings or Three Wise Men, brought to baby Jesus when he was born. These Three Wise Men are the bearers of gifts in Spain as we do not exchange gifts over Christmas but on the 6th of January, on the day the famous Bible characters brought their gifts to Jesus.

This fantastic guide by The Times of Oman is a beautiful resource on The Land of Frankincense and talks to the four sites that make it up.

Best luxury Hotels in Salalah – Al Baleed by Anantara


Al Baleed


Al Baleed is without a doubt the most luxurious of all the properties in Salalah.

The hotel is inspired by the seaside fortresses of Oman and offers a range of accommodation options, from rooms to multi-room villas with pools and privacy right on the beach. The 250m stretch of beach in front of the hotel is private and has a host of water sports.

Organise any of the excursions to the nearby area and be accompanied by one of the hotel’s “gurus”. You can’t go wrong at Al Baleed, this is one of the most luxurious beach resorts in Oman and one of the best hotels in the country.

What I love about Al Baleed: The beautiful private villas, unique in Salalah, and the hotel’s fleet of experienced and knowledgeable guides to show guests around the heritage rich areas

Nightly rates for Al Baleed: $330

Things to know about Al Baleed: Al Baleed is not cheap, especially the private pool villas, but the price is probably justified.

Wahiba Sands or The Sharqiya Sands

Wahiba Sands also known as The Sharqiya Sands, is a desert area of 180km by 80km in Oman surrounded by dunes and the romance of a time gone by.

Why visit Wahiba Sands or The Sharqiya Sands

Apart from the romance of the desert, the area has also been recognised for its geological and scientific value because of the number of animal and plant species found by an expedition of the The Royal Geographical Society who gave the desert its name after one of the bedouin tribes they found at the time.

The desert is occupied by Bedouin tribes that live in the oasis area of Al Huyawah, at the edge of the desert to gather dates. A visit to Wahiba Sands is an opportunity to interact with them, especially the women.

You could visit Wahiba Sands as a day trip from Oman but I would highly recommend an overnight stay at a luxury desert camp even if just for the stargazing opportunities. As follows is the best luxury desert camp in Wahiba Sands.

Best luxury hotels in Wahiba Sands: Desert Nights Camp, a night in a Bedouin camp


Wahiba Sands


At Wahiba Sands you can enjoy the best part of a desert resort with all the comforts of the 21st century, including proper brick walls holding a tented roof at an affordable price.

The 39 tents are spread over a large area and 11 km inside the Omani desert but you are free to wander the expansiveness of the endless desert. The luxury huts are air conditioned and comfortable. Here you will not be bothered by the cliche belly dancing shows but can enjoy the space in the peace and quiet and hopefully, the blanket of stars above your head, as the dark sky, clear of light pollution, will show you.

This is a charming but not over the top luxury Omani resort and you will find more heritage than flash. Food at breakfast and dinner is from a buffet.

What I love about Wahiba Sands: Like train travel, the desert also calls me with a sense of magic and awe. You can also take a trip to the nearby oasis of Wadi Bani Khalid as, admittedly, after a day, the desert may be too monotonous.

Nightly rates for Wahiba Sands: $305

Things to know about Wahiba Sands: The resort can only be accessed by a dirt track that crosses the desert so you will need a 4×4. If you don’t have one, you can get the hotel to pick you up from the entrance to the desert.

Jabal Akhdar Mountains

Jabal Akhdar, translated as The Green Mountains, is a mountain range above Nizwa that is known for trekking, hiking, climbing and for many villages that have remained untouched by times. The park has only recently opened to tourism and two luxury resorts have already graced it with their presence: The Anantara and the Alila.

Why visit The Jabal Akhdar Mountains


Jabal Akhdar

Temperatures in Jabal Akhdar are significantly lower than down below, in Nizwa, so you could be reaching freezing point in winter, as I recently discovered. The landscapes are desertic and the area is practically untouched with just a few hiking paths marked by the Omani Tourism authority with three painted lines.

Jabal Akhdar is known for its water, extracted from streams and underground reserves, that keep the area green and favourable for agriculture. In springtime, the mountains turn pink and red with the blooming or the damask roses, native to the area, which cover it with a carpet of petals. Water and oils are extracted from these roses that are used in cosmetics and perfumes.


Jabal Akhdar falaj system


The villagers here have mastered the art of leveraging the falaj system (water channel) to irrigate terraces of pomegranates, walnuts and damask roses. These falaj snake through the fields and keep the soil moist and green.

Best luxury hotels in Jabal Akhdar: Alila Jabal Akhdar for minimalistic rustic luxe

Alila Jabal Akhdar is a stunning property located at the edge of a cliff with views over a magnificent canyon and the setting sun with a local stone and material design that blends in with the surroundings. It is the best luxury hotel in Jabal Akhdar, although Anantara Jabal Akhdar is a close second.


Alila Jabal Akhdar


I stayed there at the end of Autumn and was surprised by the cool temperatures. This is because Alila Jabal Akhdar is located 2,000m above sea level in the middle of the beautiful mountain range.

The rooms at Alila Jabal Akhdar are a blend of classic Omani and Middle Eastern touches over simple clean lines. Almost all face the sunset and come in various categories, from regular deluxe rooms all the way to two-bedroom villas with their own private pools. You can read my detailed review of Alila Jabal Akhdar here.


Alila Jabal Akhdar dining


Do not miss some of the hotel’s excursions in the area and, if you are an avid climber, book one of the climbing tours including the local Via Ferrata.

What I love about Alila Jabal Akhdar: The location, absolutely breathtaking, and the great Omani menu offered at dinner that was more a feast than a humble meal. The stargazing telescope and astronomer was a nice touch

Nightly rates for Alila Jabal Akhdar: $585

Things to know about Alila Jabal Akhdar: It can be really really cold in the winter and the dryness does not help, so dress accordingly

Best luxury hotels in Jabal Akhdar: Anantara Jabal Akhdar for Omani design


Anantara Jabal Akhdar


Anantara Jabal Akhdar is located in as much a stunning setting as the Alila Jabal Akhdar resort and is a close second in the best luxury resorts in Jabal Akhdar mountains. It is said that the resort includes Diana’s Point, a place were Lady Diana sat to read while Prince Charles painted in 1986.

Anantara Jabal Akhdar is about 15 minutes away from Alila Jabal Akhdar perched above three of the main villages in Jabal Akhdar and is considered the highest hotel in the Middle East. The views are equally impressive.


Anantara Jabal Akhdar suite


While Alila is more neutral in its Omani architectural accents and its intention to blend in with the surroundings, Anantara is decidedly Omani down to the patterned sofas, the arched doors and the many art pieces. It feels like a busier option than sleek and minimalistic.

The pool villas at Anantara Jabal Akhdar have better views than the ones in Alila Jabal Akhdar because they are closer to the edge, scary if you are afraid of heights.

Anantara Jabal Akhdar offers plenty of activities in and out of the resort.

What I love about Anantara Jabal Akhdar: The pool villas with amazing views that make it possibly the most breathtaking luxury hotel in Oman

Nightly rates for Anantara Jabal Akhdar: $645

Things to know about Anantara Jabal Akhdar: Like at Alila Jabal Akhdar, it can be really really cold in the winter.

Musandam

Musandam is a small peninsula in Oman which is surrounded by the Gulf Sea and the United Arab Emirates so it is not connected to the rest of Oman.

Why visit Musandam

Musandam is more easily reached from the UAE than from Muscat, making it an easy weekend escape for expats from the Emirates.


Musandam


Musandam’s rugged mountains, reminiscent of the Al Haja range where Jabal Akhdar is, are stunning and totally mesmerising. Daring goats dangerously jump from narrow mountain ledges that appear too thin to hold their weight. The landscapes are unique and arid, in a peculiar way that only Oman can master. They are as harsh as they are beautiful.


Musandam Peninsula


As the Musandam Peninsula borders the Gulf Sea, water activities, including diving and dolphin and whale watching in season complement some of the driest places on Earth.

Musandam’s Six Senses Zighy Bay – The best luxury beach resort in Oman

Nothing beats the exclusiveness and privacy of the Six Senses Zighy Bay resort, this has to be one of the best 5 star hotels in Oman if not the number one (I still have a soft spot for The Chedi too) if only because of its completely breathtaking location, on a half moon bay, below a mountain escarpment.


Private villa at Six Senses Zighy Bay

I visited Six Senses Zighy Bay twice, first when it had just opened with a soft opening and second in 2016 when I returned again to enjoy its glorious location.

I am a big fan of Six Senses resorts. I love their atmosphere, the fact that no matter where you are you can tell you are at a Six Senses, their eco-friendly and sustainable approach and their always fabulous food. Not to mention that their villas are always fantastic. I stayed at the Six Senses in Chengdu, twice at the Six Senses in Con Dao, Vietnam and at the Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives and they were all great.


View of Zighy Bay


Six Senses Zighy Bay is designed to mimic an Omani village and each room is on its own villa with high stone walls, private pools and large spaces with Omani heritage touches. There is a main common pool but the sea, right in front of the resort, is a great alternative. The resort is the only construction on the entire bay, safe for a small village with local fishermen and the location could not be more dramatic.

While staying at the Six Senses Zighy Bay, make sure to join some of the tours around the area where you can learn more about Omani culture and explore the area. I highly recommend their sunset trip which takes you to a viewpoint where a blanket would be placed on the floor and sparkling grape juice and canapes will be offered as you watch the sun go down in one of the most incredible locations, all to yourself.


Solo dining at Six Senses Zighy Bay


What I love about Six Senses Zighy Bay: The arrival, on a tandem parasail with an experienced staff member, from above the mountain pass down to the beach. This has to be the most spectacular way to arrive at a resort. I also loved the romantic dinner restaurant at the top of the mountain from where you have the best views over the bay below and the stars for company

Nightly rates for Six Senses Zighy Bay: $1,355

Things to know about Six Senses Zighy Bay: Located on a bay named after its hot temperatures, Zighy Bay can be extortionately hot from May on when temperatures can well exceed 45 degree Celsius. Make sure to visit in the right season when you can enjoy the daily activities, the beach and the many visits to local villages and sights.

Muscat and the surrounding Gulf of Oman


Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Muscat is a blend of old and new, although the old seems to prevail. Walking the narrow lanes of the Mutrah Souq you can observe the sacks of colorful spices neatly piled up, filling the air with the smell of the Orient. The narrow lanes of Muscat feel as if the chaos and noise of the rest of the wealthy Middle Eastern cities have not yet come to the Omani capital. You may see the odd Ferrari, but it is nothing like Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi.


Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque chandelier

Why visit Muscat and the surrounding Gulf of Oman

Make sure to visit the the Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace and the Sultan Qaboos mosque and admire its huge Swarovski chandelier. Learn about the country’s peaceful trading past at the Bait Al Zubair museum where you can admire the jewelry and costumes that are also on display at other monuments like Nizwa Fort and Jabreen Castle, which I have written guides to here and here.


Old Muscat

Take a stroll on the harbour at sunset and get mesmerised at the ancient traditional dhows that are laying side by side next to the superyacths of the rich and famous.

Although it is not as extravagant or developed as Dubai, there are a few luxury hotels in Muscat, so let me sort through the noise and recommend the best options.

Best 5 star hotels in Muscat: The Chedi Muscat, a luxury institution


The Chedi Muscat

When I first moved to Dubai in 2006, The Chedi Muscat was the ultimate weekend getaway. It was the easiest and most convenient way to spend a weekend in the luxury the hotel brand is known for. I can testify to that.

The Chedi Muscat is an institution, known to anyone who has spent any time in the Middle East. The Chedi is beautiful, elegant, minimalist and indulgent. And their service is excellent. You can relax by one of the three mirror pools facing the beach, or dip your toes into the sand. The dark wood used throughout, so typical of Arabian construction and design, contrasts with the seaside location just enough to provide a cooling atmosphere.

The hotel’s restaurants are also fantastic and the rooms have been designed with a touch of the Arabian Nights with wooden cut-out partitions and lanterns drawing romantic patterns on the walls.

What I love about The Chedi Muscat: Pure indulgence across the property and a real sense of relaxation, as if time stood still. They also have villas spaced out in the property for an extra degree of privacy. Two of the pools are adults-only.

Nightly rates for The Chedi Muscat: $600

Things to know about The Chedi Muscat: Although the hotel is located in Muscat, you may not find any incentive to explore the city and leave its luxuries behind. The beach in front of the resort is not the best, but the pools are fabulous

Best luxury hotels in Muscat: Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz Carlton Hotel


Al Bustan Palace


Originally an independent hotel built to host the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in 1985, the Bustan Palace was then acquired by Ritz Carlton in 2011 but not much had to be changed from the original design to align with the luxury brand’s ethos.

The resort claims that “this Muscat resort’s sole desire is to make each guest’s journey as much about the moment as it is about the destination” and they are probably very good at it.

From the moment you step in, the 38m high atrium greets you with an extraordinary chandelier and the look and feel of a luxuriously appointed hammam with beautifully intricate tiles and carved wooden doors.

Al Bustan Palace is located on the longest stretch of private beach, 1km long and it features a huge Six Senses spa.

The hotel is undergoing renovation and will reopen at the end of 2018.

What I love about Al Bustan Palace: It’s Arabic opulence with style and the breathtaking lobby and chandelier

Nightly rates for Al Bustan Palace: $610

Things to know about Al Bustan Palace: The hotel is slightly old so, despite being kept in top notch condition, it used to feel a bit dated, so the renovations ongoing in 2018 will surely give it the refresh it needed. It is also removed from the main urban areas so you will need a taxi to explore Muscat.

Best luxury hotels in Muscat: Shangri-la Barr Al Jissah Resort, a family resort


Shangri-la Barr Al Jissah Resort


I attended a company offsite at the Shagri-la Barr Al Jissah Resort and I still have vivid memories of the beach sunrise as we partied into the morning and saw the sun come up.



The resort’s location at one end of a crescent beach is dramatic and spectacular, more so because of the man-made tunnel that provides access across the mountains. This sprawling property is made of three hotels: Al Waha (The Oasis), Al Bandar (The Town) and Al Husn (The Castle). Check out this video for a look at the resort, totally stunning.

I called it the best family resort because, although a lot of the resorts in the list of the best hotels in Oman have amenities for children and entertainment options, Al Waha is entirely focused on the little ones and has something for all the rest of the family members too, regardless of age. The hotel states that it is designed like “a traditional Dhofari, from the southern region of Oman”.

Al Husn is the opposite, fully devoted to adults, with a no-children policy and a private stretch of beach. Here, the minibar, the afternoon tea and the evening cocktails and canapes are all complementary. Al Bandar sits in the middle, with a village-like feel with several courtyards, fountains and shaded areas. Al Bandar is where we had our conference as the resort is geared toward that segment.

There is a spa with a Turkish Hammam, tennis courts, lots of water sports available and several swimming pools as well as the sea. There are also 20 restaurants on site.


Shangri-la Barr Al Jissah Resort

What I love about Shangri-la Barr Al Jissah Resort: I like the hotel inside a resort idea where you can get a wider range of facilities and dining options from the common resort areas while booking the hotel that best adapts to your needs

Nightly rates for Shangri-la Barr Al Jissah Resort: $235

Things to know about Shangri-la Barr Al Jissah Resort: The size of this resort may make it slightly impersonal. It also lacks in the charm of some of the other great hotels in Oman mentioned in this guide

New luxury hotel opening soon in Oman

After the recent openings of Anantara Jabal Akhdar and the Kempinski Muscat, two new Jumeirah resorts are expected to open in Oman’s coast, at Bar Al Jissah’s Bay.