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Camping in the desert or on a mountain, snorkeling and diving in clear turquoise water and learning how to dune bash are just a few options. Strolling around ancient villages and taking pictures of old traditional wooden doors is also a possibility.
Oman is known for its hospitality and friendly locals so do not be surprised if someone offers you coffee/tea and desserts while you’re roaming around.
Many people come to Muscat, the capital, and then go south to the coastal areas. However, a place worth visiting with a museum, mountains and nature is Rustaq, just one hour north of Muscat.
Here Are the Top 8 Things to do in Rustaq
1. Wadi Hoqain
After it rains, this Rustaq wadi has pools of turquoise and cobalt blue water. To reach the swimming areas you will need to navigate your way around the rocks.
The path is easily marked with white, yellow and red painted flags to follow. While walking, you can admire the natural beauty of lush green trees and farmland all around. Once reaching the water you’ll find several pools to swim through. The distance ranges from 10 to 20 meters for each swimming section.
If swimming the whole way does not sound appealing, head to the right of the first pool. Follow the flags until reaching the farms. Just beyond the last farm, there is a path that descends to a small pool to swim in.
If you choose to swim in all the pools along the way the hike takes about three hours. It takes about an hour and a half to walk to the farms without swimming. The level is considered easy. Organized group hikes provide life jackets.
2. Ayn Al Kasfa Hot Spring
After hiking through Wadi Hoqain, make your way to the hot spring for a relaxing time in 85-90 degree water. This hot spring will make any aches and pains go away. Two locations make it easy to use.
First, there is a small section where men and women can go, also known as a family section. Then there is an area for men only. It is about 20 kilometers away from Al Hazm Castle or 43 kilometers from Hoqain.
3. Qasra Museum
Take a step back in time when entering this traditional style Omani mud clay home in Rustaq. The house was turned into a museum to preserve Omani heritage and culture.
Wander through the nine rooms with hanging clay water jugs, bright rainbow-colored rugs and even ancient wooden shoes. Upstairs is a room that was a small Quran school. At the end of your tour, stop inside the last room near the entrance to have some cookies, dates, and Omani coffee.
The museum is free and won second place for the Sultan Qaboos Award for voluntary work. The owner is immensely proud of the home which is a preservation of her great grandfather’s house.
The rooms are unique and full of character, allowing a chance to see how Omani’s lived in earlier times. The owner’s English-speaking nephew is sometimes there and is happy to share any information about the museum. It is best to go in the morning before it gets busy.
4. Al-Hazm Castle
This castle, built in the 18th century, displays traditional items such as wooden storage boxes with gold circles around them. There are also rooms highlighting a conventional living room. This type of room would have a carpet on the floor and pillows to lean on when sitting down.
Allow 45 to 90 minutes to tour the castle. When finished, stop by the garden and have some Omani coffee and dates. It is currently undergoing renovations, so it’s advised to check first before going.
5. Wajmah Village
Old, faded turquoise and light blue wooden doors with flowers and other decorations are everywhere in this Rustaq village, adding to its charm. It is easy to follow the yellow, white, and red-painted flags on the rocks to help with directions.
While walking around, stop to get a glance at the layered cement terraces across the way. On the other side, the lush green date trees keep this village hidden. You’ll also see clay water jugs hanging from trees, collecting fresh water from the mountain for a cold and refreshing drink.
This village does have stairs but it’s easy to walk around and explore. Remember to be respectful and dress appropriately. Men and women should cover their shoulders and knees. A four-wheel drive is necessary to get here and it takes around thirty minutes from Rustaq.
6. Bilad Sayt
This ancient village is in the mountains with views of layered terraces, lush green date trees, houses and farms all around. There are two options when coming here after parking the car.
One is to start hiking by following the yellow, white, and red-painted flags on the rocks. This hike is a bit of a challenge since some parts consist of walking on loose stones near the edge of the cliffs.
Also, some upper body strength is required to pull yourself up on the rocks. While climbing up, notice the brown layered wooden chip rock formations, with hints of light purple and shades of blue on them. It takes around five to six hours to reach the top of the mountain.
If hiking is not appealing you can walk around the village looking at the farms and traditional turquoise and sapphire-colored wooden doors. Or you can walk up to the watchtower. A guide is not needed to get to this village, but you will need a four-wheel drive. Alternately you can hire a driver for a private tour.
7. Wadi Bani Awf
Wadi Bani Awf, also known as Snake Canyon, is a more adventurous hike complete with abseiling and swimming. There are two paths to choose from. The longer of the two takes about five to six hours, depending on the group’s pace.
Once reaching the first abseil, it is about a twenty-meter dropdown. After which, it is time to jump in the water to swim to the next part of the hike. There will also be times when climbing around giant boulders is required.
There is a total of three abseil drops ranging from ten to twenty meters. and seven to eight pools to swim through. Depending on the water level, some parts may be walkable. The distance ranges from ten to fifteen meters.
The water can get cold in the cooler months so coming here between March and September is recommended. The rock formations and colors alone are a reason to visit this place.
This hike requires the help of a guide or leader. All groups provide life jackets, harnesses, and helmets.
8. Eat Lunch at a Local Rustaq Farm or House
Qabouli, consisting of meat and rice, is considered a specialty here. This dish has a taste of smoked barbeque with a mix of cumin and other Arabian spices. It usually contains caramelized onions, nuts, masala, Omani spice, cumin, and a hint of curry powder mixed in with the rice.
There are two places that visitors can try this dish that locals make. The first one is a local farm in Snake Canyon, which is at the end of the hike. The man who is preparing the food used to work in the military as a chef.
Another location is in Bilad Sayt at a local’s home inside the village. Typically, the meal is served inside the majlis. A majlis is a sitting room which is usually next to the main house where visitors stay. can arrange this for you.
If You Go:
Rustaq offers a variety of adventure activities like hiking a mountain or abseiling into pools of water. Alternately you can learn about culture and history while visiting, a castle, museum or ancient village.
There is always something to do for all tastes. Since it is only an hour from Muscat, make sure to try at least one or two activities suggested above.
For general information about Oman, visit https://www.experienceoman.om or @wheninoman.
Dollar Oman offers reasonable car rental prices. For private hiking tours and to arrange a local lunch, contact Ahmed Mohammed Al-Abri on Instagram @ahmed_nizwa. Other groups to check for hiking are @exploreandchallenge @cyr_adventures and @wadi.adventure.
It is common to eat food with your hands. Silverware is available, but for an authentic experience, try eating with your right hand. The best time to visit is between November to February before it reaches over 90 degrees. It is possible to travel during Ramadan; however, many places will be closed during the day.
Long-sleeved shirts and pants are best for hiking because of the intense sun. It is good to wear hiking boots, but running shoes are also acceptable. Bring an extra pair of clothes for after the hike if swimming is on the agenda.
Author Bio: Erin Coyle is a Travel Writers University member. Traveling with friends, solo and in group tours, the author has explored Southeast Asia, Zealandia, Europe, the Middle East, and South Africa. They are currently teaching English in a foundation program at a university in Sur, the Sultanate of Oman. Before this, they taught English at a university in Nanchang China for five years.