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Sultanate of Oman: Old World Arabia + Dubai with Chris Baker – February 2021


The yin to the United Arab Emirate’s yang, the mysterious and slow-paced sultanate of Oman is “old” Arabia, harking back to the days before the distorting lens of gaudy wealth turned much of the Arabian Peninsula into glitz and glamor. Utterly photogenic, Oman has everything fabulous that the Arabian Peninsula has to offer: Traditional and affable Arab and Bedouin cultures… colorful carpet-filled souks teeming with frankincense and spices… glittering gold markets… old Arabic and Portuguese forts… and abundant natural beauty, from rugged mountains and verdant wadis to vast expanses of sand perfect for camel safaris. Plus, Oman is safe!

We’ll visit when Oman’s wonderful winter climate is at its most perfect. Plus, we’ll stay at some of the region’s top hotels, including a luxury desert camp amid the dunes!  Join renowned travel journalist and National Geographic photographer Christopher P. Baker on this memorable one-of-a-kind photo tour, and…

◾Explore Muscat, the atmospheric capital city, with its spectacular mosque and souk, and where every building must feature a dome or arabesque window.
◾Photograph a traditional camel and cattle auction in Nizwah
◾Roam fertile wadis and rugged mountains
◾Visit the Arabian gulf’s only remaining traditional dhow shipyard
◾Enjoy an optional camel ride across the Sharqiya Sands
◾Marvel as marine turtles lay their eggs in the sands at Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve
◾Plus, end with two optional days in Dubai, where we’ll be guided by one of the region’s top award-winning photographers.


Day 1 (Feb. 7): Everyone will arrive and settle into our hotel in Muscat. In the evening, we’ll meet with Christopher for orientation, a set-the-scene slide show, then a welcome dinner.

Day 2 (Feb. 8): We begin by visiting the Mutrah fish market, where the day’s catch is delivered at sunrise. Then we’ll explore the famous and ūber-photogenic Mutrah souk—full of stalls selling frankincense, intricately embroidered hats, and antique khajars (curved daggers). In the afternoon we’ll head to nearby “Old Muscat,” set in a scalloped bay protected by old city walls and the Al-Jalali and Al-Mirani fortresses. At night we photograph the iconic Corniche waterfront, with its floodlit mosque and traditional dhows framed by jagged mountains at sunset.  Overnight in Muscat.

Day 3 (Feb. 9): This morning we’ll rise early to photograph Mutrah Fort and to roam the backstreets of Mutrah, Muscat’s oldest area. Mid-day will be at leisure to relax, perhaps by the hotel pool with its superb views over Qurm Beach. In mid-afternoon, we’ll visit the boutique Enfleurage frankincense distillery, with its old copper stills. For the golden hour, we’ll photograph Sultan Qaboose Mosque, with its stunning contemporary architecture, breathtakingly rich prayer hall, and the world’s second-largest hand-woven rug. Plus, we’ll shoot the magnificent new Royal Opera House by night. Overnight in Muscat.

Day 4 (Feb. 10): We’ll head inland to Birkat Al-Mawz, a semi-deserted 17th-century oasis town that’s the gateway to the Jebel Al-Akhdar mountains. Ascending via a spectacularly sinuous highway, we’ll arrive at the Anantara Al-Jalal Al Akhdar, a luxury hotel atop the Saiq Plateau. Its spectacular cliff-top location offers sensational sunset views over the Wadi Bani Habib from Diana’s Viewpoint. Overnight in Anantara Al-Jalal Al Akhdar.

Day 5 (Feb. 11): This morning we’ll hike Wadi Bani Habib, a palm-lined canyon with groves of apricots and pomegranates and abandoned hillside mud-walled hamlets. We’ll savor lunch at Anantara before descending to Nizwa, renowned for its colorful souq. We’ll also explore Nizwah’s 17th-century fort, pinned by a 40-meter-tall tower (well worth the climb for the photographs down over the palm groves). The nighttime photography in Nizwa is sensational: we’ll spend the blue hour exploring its dusty backstreets. Overnight in Nizwa.

Day 6 (Feb. 12): Up before dawn this morning to visit the Friday-only livestock market at Nizwah, where goats, cattle and other beasts of burden are sold off amid boisterous bargaining by bearded old men in colorful turbans and jalabas. In the afternoon we’ll travel on to Bait Al-Safah, a “living history museum” in Al-Hamrah, one of Oman’s oldest oasis villages—superbly photogenic for its Yemeni-style mudbrick buildings.

The photographic opportunities are sublime as women and men in traditional garb demonstrate domestic skills within the mud homes lit by pencils of sunlight streaming through windows high in the crumbling walls. We’ll continue the short distance to Misfat, a picturesque mountain village of terraced stone houses surrounded by date palm groves. Here we’ll stay in guest houses in the heart of this time-worn cliff-side village. Overnight in Misfat.

Day 7 (Feb. 13): Spend the morning photographing in Misfat, In the afternoon, we’ll visit Wadi Ghul, called the “Grand Canyon of Oman” for its 3,000-foot-tall sheer-faced walls. Then we’ll head to Bahla to explore and photograph the massive 800-year-old city battlements and fort; and the Aladawi pottery potteries, tucked in the narrow backstreets and where terra-cotta vases and other earthenware are hand-crafted in traditional manner.  Final night in Misfat.

Day 8 (Feb. 14): Today we’ll drive to the legendary Sharqiya Sands (formerly Wahiba Sands) via the town of Sinaw. Here we’ll explore the exotic souk, where colorfully adorned Bedu (bedouins) trade goats and other livestock. Sinaw souk is also famous for its craftsmen skilled at making classic khajar curved daggers.

We may also visit Ibra, with its abandoned old mud-house quarter; and a souk where traditional wooden doors are still made. Driving into the sands proper, we’ll thrill to two nights camping amid the dunes in a luxury barrasti (tented camp) like something straight out of 1,001 Arabian Nights. We’ll dine alfresco beneath the stars, experience a traditional Bedouin dance and musical entertainment, and even drive away from camp to photograph the Milky Way. Overnight in eco-tents.

Day 9 (Feb. 15): This morning, enjoy a camel ride to a Bedu camp, where we’ll lunch with a Bedouin family—a chance to interact closely with the women, dressed in exotic abeyas (robes) and beaked half-face burqas (many adorned with glittering jewels). Returning in late afternoon, photograph the camp’s Arabian Oryx and Arabian gazelle; relax by the swimming pool; or partake of optional activities offered by the desert resort. Overnight in eco-tents.

Day 10 (Feb. 16): We hope to watch a camel race in the desert before departing for the gorgeous mountain oasis of Wadi Bani Khalid—a chance for a refreshing plunge in natural freshwater pools. We arrive beside the Indian Ocean at Al Ashkarah, a fishing village known for hanging sardines out to dry; and for its cuttlefish and squid dishes. After lunch, turn north to drive the short distance south to Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve. This is one of the region’s most important nesting sites for the Green turtle. This evening we’ll take a guided beach walk in hopes of watching turtles nesting. We’ll overnight in the reserve’s luxury eco-tents.

Day 11 (Feb. 17): This morning return to Muscat via the Qurayat-Sur coast highway, along the scenic base of the Hajar Mountains. Arriving at the ancient fishing village of Al-Ayjah, we’ll explore the old town (where houses feature elaborately carved doors and lotus-pillar porches) and neighouring Sur, with its fascinating Maritime Museum (recalling Sur’s once-mighty prowess as a maritime port). Our photographic highlight here will be witnessing boat-builders at work in the dhow shipyard—the only one of its kind still remaining in Oman. Then continue north via Wadi Shab, a palm oasis with pools and ancient aqueducts. We’ll arrive Muscat in late afternoon. This evening we’ll enjoy a slideshow of everyone’s favorite images before our farewell dinner. Overnight in Muscat.

Day 12 (Feb. 18): Participants are transported to the airport for flights home or will join this trip’s extension.

-Optional Extension to Dubai-

Ext. Day 1: Our group will fly from Oman to Dubai. The afternoon is free to explore Dubai at leisure, perhaps taking in the world’s largest aquarium, or the souks of Deita (including the glittering Gold Souk and the fantastically fragrant spice souk) and the streets and wharves of the old trading port. This evening we’ll be joined by local award-winning photographer Anique Ahmad, who’ll guide us to his favorite places to photograph the cityscape and contemporary architecture at sunset, during the “blue hour,” and into the night from atop several of Dubai’s preeminent skyscrapers. Wow!  Overnight in Dubai.

Ext. Day 2: This morning we’ll drive the short distance to neighboring Sharjah, an exquisite city-state with a sinuous corniche, fantastic souq, beautiful mosque, and a fascinating waterfront where we’ll photograph the dhows and fishers against a backdrop of stylish modern buildings. Or, we’ll head west to Abu Dhabi to photograph the Sheik Zhayed Grand Mosque, considered the world’s most beautiful (as well as its largest) mosque. We’ll be accompanied by a beautiful Arab lady in traditional costume, guaranteeing fantastic portraiture and situational photos against a quintessential Arabian background. This evening we’ll dine in style at a magnificent buffet beneath the Burj Khalifa—the world’s tallest building, before (or after) heading up to Burj for a bird’s-eye view of Dubai. This will be a sensational and memorable experience!  Our final night in Dubai.

Day 2 (Feb. 8): Today all will be transported to the airport to catch flights back home.