It’s that time of the year: you are being assaulted by dozens of “Where to Travel in 2015” listicles.
Among them, everyone from Lonely Planet to Travel + Leisure to Afar to your local neighborhood travel blogger has them by the dozens. Or more. For 2014, New York Times had 52!
These giant lists overwhelm but that’s the point of them, a shock and awe strategy to get maximum impact, namely pageviews and share-ability.
Here at Skift, we’re all about getting to the point, focusing on what matters. In that spirit, we are only focusing on one big soul-satisfying place to visit in 2015, just like we picked Namibia for 2014.
Our criteria: a destination that mixes offbeat and adventurous — you don’t want to be frustrated with the difficulties of travel with too offbeat — but still doable as independent travel, with imprinted-on-your-synapses-for-life vistas that would light up the feed of even the worst Instagrammer on the planet.
So here’s our pick for 2015: The Sultanate of Oman. That small, ignored, slow, and laid-back Arab country an hour flight from the shiny cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha, along the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
Laid-back and slow in the tumultuous Arab world sounds like an oxymoron, but in Oman’s case, it happens to be true, due to its history on the crossroads of the sea-trading world; that pioneering culture brought in different influences from around the world. The current Sultan in the country, Sultan Qaboos is as benevolent a monarch as you would find in that part of the world and has been responsible for the country’s exceptional religious tolerance.
For travelers, Oman packs a lot in a small package, with desert, rugged coast and beaches, water sports and diving, forts-every-few-miles, green valleys, old school bazaars and old school Arabian hospitality. You can do a lot in a few days while staying in the capital city of Muscat, but a 10-day driving trip would be make for a perfect holiday.
Here’s how Lonely PLanet puts it, and from first hand experience we would say this is pretty accurate:
Oman doesn’t boast many ‘firsts’ or ‘biggests’ in a region obsessed by vanity. What it does boast, with its rich heritage and embracing society, is a strong sense of identity, a pride in an ancient, frankincense-trading past and confidence in a highly educated future.
For visitors, this offers a rare chance to engage with the Arab world without the distorting lens of excessive wealth. Oman’s low-rise towns retain their traditional charms and Bedouin values remain at the heart of an Omani welcome… Oman is the obvious choice for those seeking out the modern face of Arabia while wanting still to sense its ancient soul.
And for now, the tourist traffic isn’t heavy. About 2.1 million tourists visited Oman in 2013, according to government figures, up by 7.8% over the previous year. But that will rise, as the country has now committed to tourism being a big part of building more socio-economic opportunities to the citizens.
Getting to Muscat is easy, with flights from the hub airports of Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, and direct flights from other parts of Asia. Cruise traffic has also started to come into the country, though still in early days.
Luxury hospitality has moved into Oman in the last few years; Ritz Carlton, Six Senses and Shangri-La already have resorts here, with Aman and Four Seasons planning to open in the near future. And you know the tourism scene has arrived when you get a luxury eco-resort.
But that’s just one end of the traveler, rentals through HomeAway, Airbnb and other sites are an option as well, especially in Muscat.
These four videos below encapsulate the experience of traveling in Oman well.