While the grandeur and extravagance of other ports in the Middle East is dazzling, Oman’s capital city offers the cruiser an entirely different experience. Muscat is one city that has stuck to its traditions.
Muscat has been a key trading port between the west and the east for hundreds of years due to its location on the northern coast of Oman. The frequent trade and foreign arrivals meant that it attracted settlers from other regions, helping the development of Muscat as a major port city.
From the modest old region of the town surrounding the port to the carefully planned modern section which lies behind a mountain rim, every aspect of this city speaks of a destination that never abandoned its roots and values. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, visitors are drawn to this authentic Arabian Gulf city.
Cruisers can expect a dignified and friendly welcome by locals. When it comes to dress codes, they are important and enforced, but anywhere that requires certain attire will typically have necessary items available to borrow.
The port is located in the old part of the town, providing an incredible backdrop for the cruise ships and private yachts that moor there.
The cruise terminal is quite basic, with only a shuttle that will take passengers to the port gates. From there it is an easy walk to the Corniche (the promenade that runs along the waterfront) and souks.
At the Corniche, you will find multiple restaurants and cafés, as well as shady places to rest.
How To Get Around
Once you get past the Corniche, the layout of Muscat does not lend itself to foot travel. You can generally find a maxi taxi, known by local expats as ‘baisa buses’. These tend to be cheaper than their orange and white counterparts, but if you can put on the air of an experienced traveller, you can generally haggle with the driver until a reasonable price is reached.
Travel times from the port:
It is a 10 minute walk to Muttrah Souk (or Souq).
It is a 10 minute journey to the Royal Opera House
It is a 20 minute journey to Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
Currency – The currency in Muscat is the Omani Rial (OMR). The minor unit is called the Baisa (bz). Notes come in 50﷼, 20﷼, 10﷼, 5﷼, 1﷼ and bz100, bz200 and bz500. Coins come in bz5, bz10, bz25 and bz50.
Time Zone – Muscat runs on Gulf Standard Time (GST), which is 4 hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
Weather – Muscat has a hot, arid climate, meaning it has very long and hot summers and warm winters. The cooler season is from November to March. June through September is typically extremely hot and humid. August is the hottest month in Muscat, with temperatures reaching an average high of 42.9 degrees Celsius. January is the coolest month, with an average high of 24.1 degrees Celsius.
Muttrah Souk – About 1 kilometre from the port shuttle drop-off point, you will find the Muttra Souk, which is the old Arab market. If an authentic and traditional experience is what you’re after, this is the place to be. You will get to bask in the sensory nature of these markets – the tantalising smell of incense and spices will draw you into the narrow alleys where merchants present their goods. Omani people tend to be gentle in nature; tourists are not likely to be harassed to purchase goods in this souk. While many organised tours don’t allow for much time to be spent here, it is usually easy to return on your own afterwards.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque – This breathtaking mosque is a feature of most tours around Muscat. Set in the modern part of the city, the structure has enormous proportions: more than 20,000 people can gather to worship. It is important to comply with the dress code when visiting – if you go with a guide, check with them to ensure adherence. The mosque is open to non-Muslims every day except Friday, between 8am and 11am.
Royal Opera House – The Royal Opera House is known for excellence, both for its design and its performances. Tours are available for about 2 Rials per person, and as part of this, you will be paired with a knowledgeable guide who will show you the highlights and provide you with interesting facts about the building. Even those not particularly interested in music will be able to find enjoyment from the beauty of the Royal Opera House.