Oman certainly isn't the first Middle Eastern destination that springs to mind when you think of planning a family holiday in this region, with Dubai, Abu Dhabi and even Jordan all being more likely contenders for a family break.
However, Oman is a great choice if you're jetting off with the children, as the country has made a real effort to cater for families in recent years. The following are a few of its top family-friendly attractions.
There has been a genuine focus on developing family-friendly hotels and resorts in Oman, not to mention the fact that its cultural and historical heritage makes it worth exploring for any inquisitive traveller, whatever their age.
For children Oman is great because they'll get a fabulous educational trip without forgoing some downtime on the beautiful Arabian beaches, something that the little ones always look forward too. Likewise parents will love taking in the culture and seeing their little ones participating in the whole experience. And isn't it great when children can learn something while having fun abroad and bring something home other than sand on their shoes?
Land of Frankincense
The Land of Frankincense is located in the Dhofar province of Oman and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As its name suggests, this region is renowned for the production and trade of frankincense, once a very valuable commodity.
Families can go on a tour to the Oasis of Shishr, a medieval fortified town that once was an important stop for caravans transporting incense, or alternatively, you can visit Wadi Dukah, a valley where frankincense trees still grow.
The Mutrah Souq is one of Oman's oldest markets and it's a great place to head to for a spot of souvenir shopping - as well as somewhere fantastic that will bring Oman's culture to life for the kids. The market stretches deep into the heart of Mutrah in a maze of alleys lined by all manner of stalls selling everything from silverware and traditional cloth to shoes and Omani sweets.
Retaining the chaotic character of a traditional Arab market, this trip will be really fun for little ones as they peruse over numerous Omani and Indian artefacts. As a matter of fact many people head to the Mutrah Corniche just to visit this lively souq, so you really can't go wrong with a visit there.
Turtle nesting beaches
There are several beaches along Oman's extensive coastline where turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Green, loggerhead, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles all come to nest in the country's beaches and, depending on the time of year that you visit, you may be able to watch in awe as the adults come out of the sea to make their nests, or as the babies hatch and head for the ocean. A truly thrilling experience for the little ones!
July to October is the peak season for turtle watching, with dawn being one of the best times to observe them as this is less stressful for the animals than being illuminated by flashlights in the dead of the night.
Some of the beaches from which you can observe turtles nesting in Oman include the shores of Muscat and Ad Daymaniyat Islands, where the hawksbill turtle nests, Masirah Island, where you'll find the olive ridley turtles and the loggerhead turtle, with the latter also nesting in the shores of Dhofar and the Ad Daymaniyat Islands. You really have a choice of beachside retreats to stay in and watch the turtles, and luckily for you there are also plenty of family-friendly hotels built right on the shoreline.
Aside from the excellent accommodation options for families, there's a lot to see and do here that's great for adults and children alike, which makes this a fantastic choice for a family getaway with a difference.
Best family hotels in Oman
The number one, most outstanding family hotel in Oman is undoubtedly the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa in Muscat, repeatedly rated the country's top retreat for families who post their reviews on TripAdvisor. It caters wells to children and youngsters of all ages, without leaving out the parents. Children have an ample range of entertainment options with a dedicated kids club, an Adventure Zone, a children's pool and lazy river, a Splashpad, a games room, mini golf, numerous activities as well as camel and pony rides. For parents the resort's adults-only areas are the ideal place to relax and enjoy each other's company while the kids are having fun in a safe supervised environment.
Another top hotel for families outside of Muscat is the Hilton Salalah, with a children's play area, waterslide and kids club as well as some fantastic facilities and activities for all age groups. That goes without mentioning the endless white sand beach stretching in front of the resort and the sub-aqua diving centre!
And in the future - Amazing Theme Parks
Oman is expected to open the doors of its first ever indoor theme park by 2016, welcoming children and adults of all ages to a world of splashing fun. Currently under construction, the new Majarat Oman family theme park will be located within the boundaries of the Al Sawadi Beach Resort and will feature a water park as well as indoor attractions.
The new and ambitious project will spread along 25,000 square metres and will cost an estimated $100 million. It will be divided into different zones each with a different theme. Parents and children alike will be able to enjoy the thrills of numerous adventure rides while a range of food courts will satisfy all appetites and cravings. As a unique feature, the new theme park in Oman will also provide entertainment options for visitors with special needs.
Oman, a great family destination that keeps on giving
While we've listed some of the top attractions and places to visit in Oman for families, we're nowhere near having covered them all.
Some other fantastic attractions to include in your itinerary (if you stay long enough) include dolphin and whale spotting, visiting spectacular wadis and teaching youngsters about the local culture and heritage.
Amazing dolphin encounters can be had if you book the experience on the Muscat coast with various tour agencies offering dolphin-watching and interacting trips. You and your family could even enjoy a swim with the dolphins adventure that you will never forget. There are many species to spot, from the more common, long-beaked dolphin and the spinner dolphins to the more rare and less frequently spotted Risso's dolphins, bottlenosed dolphins and humpback dolphins (found at the other end of the country.
As for whale-watching well, prepare for a spectacular show as the Oman Whale and Dolphin Research Group has registered sightings of three species of cetaceans. You can gaze in awe as groups of sperm-whales, humpback (true Omani residents) and blue whales swirl, jump and splash about at a distance of about a kilometre from you, gracefully submerging and re-emerging before your eyes. Families of all ages will no doubt love the experience and it's very easy to book a boat trip to see these large cetaceans, and in case of the humpback whales you don't even need to be there in a particular season, as these don't migrate and can be found off the Omani coast all year long.
When it comes to wadis, in Oman there are over 20 to visit, but some clearly stand out among the others and some are more suited to families. This is the case of Wadi Bani Khalid and Wadi Shab, where kids can take the plunge and swim in an oasis surrounded by rock walls as well as explore an exciting cave. In fact all wadis in Oman are accessible to children, you only need to watch out for them not slipping on the rocks, but there are no steep climbs and it's generally very safe for all family members.
So, there you have it, my full list of top family activities to experience and places to visit during your holiday in Oman. Now you can see why the kids don't need to be left home when planning a visit to the sultanate, and what's more they might enjoy the experience even more than adults – one thing is for sure, a fun time is guaranteed for all!