The Sultanate of Oman boasts of natural wonders and rich cultural heritage that attract tourists from around the world. It is known in the Middle East for its modern outlook, much like the neighbouring United Arab Emirates, combined with an authentic charm rooted in tradition. However, tourists continue to have reservations about safety while travelling to countries in the Middle East. While the wave of violence borne from the Arab Spring has drastically reduced since 2010, some countries such as Yemen and Syria still carry precautionary warnings for travel. Although Oman is located in this turbulent area, it is one of the few countries in the region that remain welcoming of Western culture.
Due to Oman's location, there are slight degrees of political tension. Unlike other countries in the Middle East, the Omanis haven't protested for a new political regime, rather improvements in living conditions and creation of more jobs. There have been protests in the country, but most of them have been peaceful. Nevertheless, it is probably a good idea to avoid large demonstrations of any sort here, especially in border areas which can be dicey. There have been reports of harassment and arrests of dissenting voices, especially as an amendment in the penal code in 2011 allowed for the arrest and detainment of individuals without an arrest warrant. Keep an eye out for public gatherings, especially during mid-day.
For the most part, the country is safe for travellers. Acceptance and tolerance are the pillars of Islam, and thus, most Omanis are approachable and pleasant. In fact, the country received a zero rating on the Global Terrorism Index in 2013 and 2015 indicating high levels of safety. Crime rates are low, although the occasional instance of theft and opportunistic burglary like bag snatchy are reported. As with any country, it's best to stay alert. Be responsible for your belongings and don't leave them unattended.
The Omanis are friendly people who are proud of their country's rapid progress in the last four decades. Once an underdeveloped nation in the 1970's that had little contact with the outside world, it now boasts of a high-income economy due to tourism and trade. Much of this is attributed to the Sultan Sayyid Qaboos bin Said Al Said. Any criticism against him, even jokingly, is considered taboo. Maintaining a good reputation is significant here and it is important to keep in mind while interacting with the locals. It is best to avoid making any remarks about the country, the government or local officials. Similarly, displays of anger such as gesturing impatiently or loud arguments are not well-received. The Omanis are calm people, and showing anger publicly could be grounds for filing a complaint. Although Oman is a Muslim country, it doesn't mean that alcohol isn't available in the country - hotel establishments with liquor licenses such as the Shangri-La, InterContinental and Grand Hyatt serve alcohol to patrons. Moreover, liquor licenses can be obtained from the Royal Oman Police. The legal drinking age in the country is 21 years old. Keep in mind that public intoxication, however, is illegal. During the month of Ramadan, these freedoms are curtailed. Eating, drinking, smoking, and playing loud music in public spaces during daylight is forbidden. Anyone who is caught breaking this law can be arrested.
Aside from this, the locals are very warm and friendly. They are likely to stare, but it comes from a place of fascination and not insult. It isn't uncommon for taxi drivers or tour guides to strike up a conversation or, if they like your company, invite you home to meet their families. They take great pride in hosting you. If you do take them up on their kind offer, keep in mind that it is considered rude to arrive without a gift of some sort, and remember to take off your shoes before entering the house.
It is advisable to dress modestly to avoid hurting the sentiments of the local people. In Oman, it's impolite to wear skimpy outfits in public, regardless of gender. Women should ideally cover their chest, thighs, midriff and shoulders, although they do not need to cover their heads unless they are about to enter a mosque. Men should avoid shorts and sleeveless t-shirts. Ripped clothing and slogan t-shirts with provocative slogans or images should probably be avoided.
Although Oman has an abundance of beautiful beaches, this dress code extends to swimwear as well. While two-piece swimsuits can be worn in private beaches, it's best to cover up as soon as you leave the swimming area. In public beaches, it is best to wear full-length swimming outfits. Bikinis, speedos, and revealing swimwear shouldn't be worn.
Travelling by road is the most common mode of transport and Oman has a variety of highways along its cities and desert areas. But there are safety hazards involved, for drivers are known to be rash and ignore road rules. In some parts of the country, roads are in poor condition. Road accident rates are quite high in the country compared to the population. Also, keep an eye out for camels as they are known to stray onto roads.
There are long stretches of roads in the desert areas with no help in sight. It's best to keep spare tires and other supplies on hand in case of emergencies. Always keep extra bottles of water in the car for these instances, especially when exploring the desert areas. Oman, like many countries in the Middle East, is prone to flash floods. It's especially dangerous to be in these abandoned stretches during that time. In case of rain, head to the high ground and follow the advice of local authorities. Many travellers have gotten lost in the desert during these rains, some even drowning from high levels of water.
Women and Couples
Female travellers have a great deal of freedom in Oman. However, as an interaction between the genders is relatively minimal, simple interactions with locals can be misinterpreted. Outside of urban areas like Muscat and Salalah, it is advisable to not smile or stay too close to the opposite gender as this can be deemed flirtatious behaviour. In public transport, it is better to avoid sitting next to male co-passengers.
While taking photographs with locals, its important to ask their permission first. This is especially true for Omani women who might be upset at being photographed without their consent. This extends to physical touch. If a local does not offer first, it s better to avoid it. Despite its flexibility to tourists, Oman is relatively conservative with regard to relationships. Couples should minimize public displays of affection to avoid catching attention as this kind of behaviour is considered impolite. It is illegal to live together or share a hotel room with a member of the opposite sex who is not a spouse or relative, though the more posh hotels turn a blind eye to this.
As with all countries in the Middle East, the Omani government does not condone LGBT activities. Homosexuality is illegal here. According to Article 33 of the Omani Penal Code, erotic acts and relationships between individuals of the same sex is a punishable offence of six months to three years in jail.
But, unlike its neighbours, Oman is more tolerable. Unless individuals display outright homosexual behaviour or announce it, they probably won't be bothered during their travels. Unlike unmarried heterosexual couples, they can easily rent hotel rooms in the country. There is an underground scene for the LGBTQ community which is discreet and low-key. Although some might disagree with the belief and traditional nature of Oman, it is us who are being allowed into their country and culture. So, it is important to respect their wishes and sentiments. Oman is a fairly safe country for travellers. As long as these basic guidelines are followed, it should be a hassle-free trip for all involved!