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United Arab Emirates

The desert sultanate of Oman offers travellers a unique and authentic Arabian experience via an intoxicating blend of ancient traditions, rich culture and luxurious modernity. Set on the Arabian Peninsula, this beautiful and enigmatic country boasts spectacular coastlines; crowd-free, shifting desert sand-scapes; rugged mountains and lush wadis; traditional villages, and luxury spa hotels.

In 1970, Oman had three schools, 10km of paved roads and very few tourists. Since then, Oman has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts as its peace-loving Sultan, Qaboos bin Said, has returned the state to an age of prosperity and progression through careful planning and great sensitivity towards ancient values and traditions. The transformation of this ancient civilisation into a modern and luxurious travel destination has meant that Oman still feels like a real place with a proud sense of history. High-rise building developments are limited and heritage sites are being meticulously restored.

Oman's capital, Muscat, is set around a harbour with views of the mountains, desert and glistening Gulf of Oman. It is pretty, and progressive with a wide open beach, diverse markets, luxury hotels, and friendly locals.

Old Muscat is the Muscat of history. The old city can be explored on foot in less than a day, is dominated by the Sultan's palace, well-preserved Portuguese forts, and three beautifully carved original gates dating back to the 16thcentury. The modern city of Muscat which has grown around it has wide roads lined with date palms, well-maintained grass verges, low-rise buildings in spotless white, spacious parks and shopping malls. Its Grand Mosque is a jaw-dropping example of modern Islamic architecture. Muscat's fish market and many bazaars are well worth visiting, as is the Muttrah souk known as one of the best in the Arabian Gulf, with a maze of shops selling gold, silver, spices, frankincense, Arabian carpets and traditional handicrafts.

With a thousand-or-so mile of coastline, Oman's beaches are a major attraction. Beautiful white sand beaches, warm turquoise waters, secluded coves surrounded by jagged rocky slopes, and unlimited sunshine afford visitors excellent opportunities to swim, surf, windsurf, and dive. Endangered turtles can be viewed laying eggs on the beach at the Ras al Jinz centre, 200kms to the east of Muscat. As well as turtles, the sea around Oman is home to dolphins and whales, colourful corals, rays and a huge range of fish.

Oman's fascinating geology includes the rugged interior mountain ranges of Al Hajar and Al Jabal al Akhdar; lush wadis with pretty streams, and the dramatic Grand Canyon of Arabia; date plantations; fields that have been terraced into impossibly steep mountainsides; remote villages little changed in a millennia, and, of course, desert sand dunes.

The Wahiba Sands are easily accessible from Muscat and provide an insight into desert life. The tall dunes hide small Bedouin encampments, and a surprising array of wildlife. The dunes can be explored via 4x4 vehicles but the best desert experience is awarded to those who stay in a Bedouin-style tented camp. Sunset turns the bright sky a fiery-red and a humbling silence falls across the desert. Traditional Omani food (a fusion of east African, Arabic and Indian influences) is served under a night sky that is flooded with stars. As the dawn sun appears, the dunes turn a shimmering gold and lone camels can often be seen wandering in search of breakfast.

The best time to visit is late September to early April when daytime temperatures average 25C. Rain is fleeting and tends only to come in the middle of the winter as short, sharp showers. The cooler air also brings the mountain scenery sharply into focus. The rest of the year is oppressively hot, humid and hazy, particularly between May and August (with Dhofar being the only exception as heavy fog and light rain settles across this region from June to September).

Temperatures are considerably cooler in the mountains than on the coast.

Salalah has a very different climate in that it has a monsoon season, called the khareef.

Click here for our suggestions on events and places to go at various times of year