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 spices… glittering gold markets… old Arabic and Portuguese forts… ancient Yemeni-style mud architecture… 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. The tour ends with two days in Dubai, and the final day one of the region’s top award-winning photographers will guide us to his favorite places to photograph the contemporary architecture at sunset. We’ll also explore Muscat, the atmospheric capital city, with its spectacular mosque and souk, and where every building must feature a dome or arabesque window. Other trip highlights include:
◾ Photograph a traditional cattle auction in Nizwah
◾ Roam fertile wadis and rugged mountains by 4WD vehicle
◾ Visit the Arabian gulf’s only remaining traditional dhow shipyard
◾ Enjoy a camel ride across the Sharqiya Sands
◾ Marvel as marine turtles lay their eggs in the sands at Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve
◾ Thrill to a trip aboard a traditional dhow as we explore the fjord-like coast of the Musadam Peninsula
Day 1 (Feb 11):
Participants arrive and settle into our hotel in Muscat. Meet with Christopher in the evening for orientation, plus a set-the-scene slide show, then a welcome dinner. Overnight in Muscat.
Day 2 (Feb 12):
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 gold market and adjoining souk—full of stalls attended by Omanis wearing jalabas and intricately embroidered hats, and selling antiques, carpets, and classic Arab 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 13):
This morning begins by visiting Sultan Qaboos Mosque, with its stunning contemporary architecture, breathtakingly rich prayer hall, and the world’s second-largest hand-woven rug. Then head inland via the fishing village of Al-Seeb (where we may stop to photograph fishermen mending nets) to Birkat Al-Mawz, a semi-deserted 17th-century oasis town that’s the gateway to the Jebel Akhdar mountains. Here we’ll hike Wadi Bani Habib, a palm-lined canyon with groves of apricots and pomegranates and abandoned hillside mud-walled hamlets. Our luxury hotel tonight has a spectacular cliff-top location, with sensational sunset views over the Wadi Bani Habib from Diana’s Viewpoint. Overnight in Nizwa.
Day 4 (Feb 14):
Up early 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. The market adjoins Nizwah’s souk, famous for its craftsmen skilled at making classic khajar curved daggers. 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). In the afternoon we’ll travel on to Misfat, a picturesque mountain village of terraced stone houses surrounded by date palm groves. Here we’ll stay overnight in guest houses in the heart of this time-worn cliff-side village .
Day 5 (Feb 15):
A trip highlight is our morning visit to Bait Al-Safah, a “living history museum” in AlHamrah, 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. Then on to Wadi Ghul, called the “Grand Canyon of Oman” for its 3,000-foot-tall sheer-faced walls. In the afternoon, we’ll head to Bahla to explore and photograph the massive 800-year-old city battlements and fort; and the potteries (tucked in narrow backstreets) where terra-cotta vases and other earthenware are hand-crafted in traditional manner. Overnight in Al Hamra.
Day 6 (Feb 16):
Today we’ll drive to the legendary Sharqiya Sands (formerly Wahabe Sands) via the town of Sinaw. Here we’ll explore the exotic souk, where colorfully adorned Bedu (bedouins) trade goats and other livestock. Sinaw also has many well-preserved old mud houses. 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 the desert camp.
Day 7 (Feb 17):
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 the desert camp.
Day 8 (Feb 18):
We hope to watch a camel race in the desert before departing for the gorgeous mountain oasis of Wadi Bani Kalid—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 turtle reserve’s luxury eco-tents.
Day 9 (Feb 19):
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 neighoring 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 and spend the night there.
Day 10 (Feb 20):
Early morning transfer to the airport for our mid-morning flight to Khasab, in the Musandam Peninsula. We’ll arrive in time for lunch in this beautiful little town, famous until recently as a center of piracy and today still a center for contraband-running across the Straits of Hormuz. Or: Transfer to Shinas and take the afternoon ferry to Khasab. We’ll explore the lively souk, then you’re free to roam at leisure, including the surrounding hills where you can photograph shepherds, palm groves and the 17th-century Portuguese fortress. Our hotel has a sensational oceanfront location. Overnight in Khasab.
Day 11 (Feb 21):
The peninsula’s coastline is called the “Norway of Arabia” for its many khors (desert fjords) studded with ancient tiny villages. Today a highlight… a dhow safari through the Musandam khors, including a visit to the landlocked ancient village of Kumzar and Khor ash-Sham. There’ll be time to swim and snorkel, and photograph the dolphins that frequent these waters, before returning to Khasab. Overnight in Khasab.
Day 12 (Feb 22):
This morning drive along the cliff-hugging coast road to Tibat, offering spectacular views over the Straits of Hormuz. We cross into the United Arab Emirates, beginning with the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, with a stop to visit the former pearl-diving hamlet of Jazirat Al Hamra. This ghost town is slowly being brought back to life as a fascinating artistic venue. We’ll then spend time in 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. It’s only a short distance from here to Dubai. This evening we’ll enjoy a slideshow of everyone’s favorite images, then dine beneath the Burj Khalifa—the world’s tallest building, before heading up to Burj for a bird’s-eye view of Dubai. Overnight in Dubai.
Day 13 (Feb 23):
Today 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. The evening we’ll be joined by local award-winning photographer Anique Ahmad, who’ll guide us to his favorite places to photograph the contemporary architecture at sunset and by night. Overnight in Dubai.
Day 14 (Feb 24):
Guests are transported to the airport to catch their flights home.