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Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This Year

There is something very refreshing about choosing to visit a destination you know nothing about and therefore have very few, if any expectations of. Most recently this happened to me when I chose to go to Oman for my honeymoon, not the conventional choice, I know!

I didn’t know anyone that had been there, in fact most people looked at me completely blankly when I told them where I was going. It isn’t the kind of location that pops up on your Instagram feed on the regular either!

When you think of the Middle East, it is hard not to imagine glitzy high rise skyscrapers and attractions that regularly hold the title of “biggest in the world”. Oman is the complete opposite. Stoically understated in design, you will not find a single skyscraper here, in fact, no building is allowed to be higher than fourteen stories in order to preserve the stunning natural beauty of this Gulf country.

Visitors only really started coming here in the 1970s when Sultan Qaboos took over from his father, began to build some infrastructure and set about modernizing the country, before then flinging their doors open to the outside world. The country is now switching gears again in order to increase tourism; a new hassle-free visa process has been introduced for many countries and a huge new airport opened in Muscat in 2018.

A City Break in Muscat

Start your journey in the country’s capital, which will prove beyond a doubt that you don’t need height to have beautiful architecture; just visit the Royal Opera House, Al Alam Palace and Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a gift from the Sultan to the people to mark his thirty years of reign. Don’t miss exploring Muttrah Souq as well, thought to be one of the world’s oldest Arabian market places.

The real beauty of Oman comes when you leave the city though. It has some of the most diverse landscape of any country I have ever visited; dramatic mountain ranges, deserted white sand beaches and magical Arabian desert, all within a couple of hours drive of the Muscat.

Jabal Akhdar Mountains

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This Year Take a road trip to Jabal Akhdar, part of the Al Hajar mountain range, for some respite from the heat; up here roses, apricots and pomegranates flourish on the mountainside, where the temperature is around 15°C cooler. It is the views that really take your breath away here though; deep ravines, wadis with abandoned villages clinging to the sides and more greenery than you would have ever thought possible for somewhere in the Middle East (it’s no coincidence that Jabal Akhdar roughly translates to “Green Mountain”).

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This YearYou can visit in a day trip, but watching the sun set here is nothing short of surreal; the total silence around you only accentuating the experience, until all you can see are the glittering lights of the ancient city of Nizwa sparkling in the distance.

There are two knockout hotels up here, the Alila Jabal Akhdar and the Anantara; the latter is built around Diana’s Point where you can take in the views from the same spot as the late princess once did in 1986.

Wahiba Sands Desert

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This YearGetting to Wahiba Sands from Muscat is a very scenic journey in itself, the coastline is stunning and there are miles and miles of deserted and immaculate beaches.

Actually entering the desert is bit of a surprise; one minute you are bouncing along through a village and the next you take a turn and move immediately from road to sand (not sure what I was expecting?!).

Driving through the desert a very freeing and peaceful experience, until you started dune bashing. Here you can visit communities descended from the Bedouins (nomads who lived in deserts of the Middle East and North Africa) and learn about their lives and culture.

There are a few places to spend the night here. Wahiba Desert Nights Camp is on the more luxe side; your accommodation is an individual Bedouin inspired blend of tent and permanent structure, with hot water in the shower and air conditioning!

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This YearYou can occupy yourself with desert safaris, camel riding or star gazing, but honestly, the best thing is just to ride up to the top of the highest dune to watch the sun fall in the sky and the sand change from reddish-orange to a dark yellow. The temperature drops quickly, so return to your camp for a communal dining experience with live music and a barbecue.

Final Thoughts

Oman is a stunningly diverse country with a more understated vibe, which is probably one of the reasons it has flown under the radar for so long. Now is the time to come though; Oman’s continuing efforts to increase tourism means it is an easy country to visit and get around, but it is still so much quieter in terms of visitors. I went in October (shoulder season) and outside of the hotels, didn’t come across many non-locals at all.

Bonus: Top Tips for Visiting Oman

  • A visa is needed for most other countries and is easy to apply for on their e-visa site online. It is only valid for entry within a month of application though, so don’t get ahead of yourself and apply too soon (as I did).
  • As with other Middle Eastern countries, conservative dressing is required. This means shoulders and knees covered as a minimum and you are required to cover your hair when entering any of the mosques.
  • Oman is the safest country to visit in the Middle East with a very low crime rate and a very friendly and hospitable culture, so is great for female travelers.
  • Public transport is not commonplace in Oman and if you are looking to leave the capital, I would recommend getting a driver. You can hire your own car, but driving through mountains and deserts should only be reserved for the most competent and confident drivers.
  • As with other Middle Eastern countries, try not to visit between June and August where the temperature renders it difficult to step outside and many of the tour operators shut down for the season.

Why You Should Plan A Trip to Oman This Year

Guides Middle East

Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List

Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List

If you’re tired of the long winter nights and bitterly cold temperatures at home and are planning on escaping for some winter sun but unsure of where to go, why not head to Dubai? The winter months of December to February are actually the best time to head to Dubai, when temperatures are enjoyable and all the tourist attractions are open (several actually close during the blistering hot summer months)! Read on to discover why Dubai is the perfect winter getaway!

Perfect Weather

Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List

Winter temperatures in Dubai are in the comfortable mid-twenties (around 80 degrees Fahrenheit) during the daytime. This is an ideal temperature for when you’ll be out and about exploring or simply relaxing by the pool! The residents in Dubai love winter too — in fact it is their favorite time of the year! You know how you wait all year long for summer to arrive? Well that’s exactly how residents of the UAE are — it’s just they wait all year long for winter to arrive!

Beach Season

Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List

Winter means beach season in Dubai! The scorching temperatures in the summer months mean it is too hot to even lie on the beach, and getting into the sea offers no respite from the heat as it feels like getting into a hot bath! But during the winter, the water temperature is perfect! Dubai has several free public beaches, with JBR and La Mer being the most popular. Both are trendy beaches with many restaurants, shops and cafes around. You’ll also see lots of funky wall murals dotted about the place which are totally Instagrammable!

Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List

Dubai’s beach clubs come back with a bang in the winter months after the majority of them close during summer. Many of the beach clubs have ‘Ladies Days’ in the winter months where females can get discounted pool and beach access as well as huge discounts on food and drinks which are perfect if you’re here on a girly trip! There are lots of pool parties and all-day brunches where you pay for entrance and then you can avail of unlimited food and drinks — these are always fun and you need to experience it at least once when you are here! Beach clubs such as Blue Marlin, Barasti, Nikki Beach and Zero Gravity are always popular.

Shopping

Dubai is great for shopping, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas when the shops in Dubai’s malls put on huge sales. This carries on throughout January each year as the Dubai Shopping Festival takes place, meaning many items in all the shops are heavily reduced! From designer wear to electronic items, you’ll find a whole host of things you can get at ridiculously discounted prices — sometimes up to 75% off! Not only this, but there are lots of live concerts featuring international stars and many fireworks shows throughout the Dubai Shopping Festival period. This is the largest shopping festival worldwide and people from all over the world flock to Dubai for it, so make sure to check it out if it coincides with your trip!

Christmas and New Years Eve

Even though Islam is the official religion of the UAE, Dubai is a multi-cultural city with a sizable amount of Christian expats living here. Therefore, you’ll see lots of Christmas decorations and celebrations happening and even many Christmas markets around, including at Habtoor Palace, JLT and Madinat Jumeirah. If you’re lucky enough to be in Dubai for New Years Eve, you’ll be treated to the most amazing fireworks show too!

Desert Safari

Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List

The unbearably hot temperatures in the summer mean visiting the desert during the summer is a no-no. However, winter is the perfect time to discover the desert! There are many companies that can take you out for an evening desert safari, where you can go dune bashing, sand-boarding, ride a camel or hold a falcon amongst other exciting traditional local activities!

Enjoy all the tourist attractions

Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List

Why Dubai Should Be at the Top of Your Winter Travel List

Some of Dubai’s attractions such as the Dubai Miracle Gardens actually close for several months during the summertime. However, if you head to Dubai in the winter you’ll be able to enjoy all Dubai has to offer! Dubai has several theme parks and waterparks too that are best enjoyed in the summer! Whilst tourist attractions such as visiting At The Top at Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Frame and The Lost Chambers Aquarium at Atlantis The Palm will be a lot busier in the winter as this is the peak tourist season, if you get there early places won’t be too crowded.

Safety for female solo travelers

As penalties for crimes in the UAE is very severe, crime levels are very low and Dubai is one of the safest cities in the world. In my almost 4 years living in the UAE, I never felt intimidated walking alone in Dubai as a solo female. Dubai is a very suitable holiday destination for female solo travelers.

Getting to Dubai

With direct flights to over 85 different countries, Dubai is a very accessible city to visit. And with many nationalities being granted a free 30 day visa on arrival to the UAE, it means that even last minute trips to Dubai are possible!


Dubai is a fascinating city and it is certainly most enjoyable during the winter. I hope you get to visit this city during the cooler months and get to really experience it at it’s best!

Africa Asia Australia Australia / New Zealand Europe Middle East North America Travel Planning

The New UNESCO World Heritage’s Sites We’re Dying To Experience

Every year at its annual meeting, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee unveils new additions to its epic list of significant cultural and natural sites. This year, the committee added 29 sites to its powerful list… which has got us totally inspired to revisit our bucket list. Pretty awesome, right? Here are some of the new UNESCO World Heritage Sites we’re chomping at the bit to see for ourselves!

India: Jaipur City, Rajasthan

India’s northern fortified city was designed years ago to be a commercial capital, and its grid-like city planning is proof. Jaipur’s organization creates uniformity throughout its public squares, residences, temples, markets and stalls. But its grid plan with different districts actually pre-dates the Western idea of city layout!

Australia: Budj Bim Cultural Landscape

Located in the country of the Gunditjmara Aboriginal people, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape is one of the planet’s most expansive aquaculture systems. Through oral tradition, historians have been able to understand that the creation of this complex system goes back centuries. The system allowed the Gunditjmara people to call this location home for over six thousand years… but it’s believed to have been thirty two thousand years old/

Myanmar: Bagan

The sacred site of thousands of temples, stupas, monasteries, frescoes, sculptures, and archeological gems – Bagan is a wonder. It’s incredible architecture and collection of ancient Buddhist art illustrate the power of the Bagan empire.

Iraq: Babylon

Babylon is home to the Hanging Gardens (one of the seven wonders of the world). But, the surround villages and the ancient city also once housed the world’s most influential ancient empires. Rulers like Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar sat within the city walls as emperors, forever changing the world’s history.

Italy: Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano a Valdobbiadene

Prosecco anyone? The “ciglioni” checker board designed rows of vines dates all the way back to the 17th century. You’ll find lots of small plots of land with the design atop the area’s rugged terrain. (P.S. if you love a good glass of vino – check out this round up of destinations for wine-lovers).

United States: The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright

You know a Frank Lloyd Wright design when you see it. Frank’s iconic Fallingwater in Pennsylvania or the modernist Guggenheim Museum in the heart of NYC spotlight his “organic architecture” style. Each of his eight buildings scattered across the USA blurs the boundaries of indoors and outdoors, making a strong impact on the many architectural designers that followed his legacy.

Iran: Hyrcanian Forests

Iran’s Hyrcanian Forests date back to 50 million years ago. Yep, you read that correctly! This ancient forest area covered most of the Northern Temperate region of the planet many moons ago. The biodiversity within the forests now is staggering. 180 species of birds and 58 mammal species have been recorded within its dense woods.

Iceland: Vatnajökull National Park

This volcanic region of Iceland covers 14% of the island! Within the national park, visitors can find ten volcanoes (eight of which are subglacial and two of which are the most active on the island). The amazing volcanic action creates incredible landscapes, including river systems, growing canyons, massive waterfalls and more.

Japan: Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group: Mounded Tombs of Ancient Japan

The burial mounds of all shapes and sizes found above the Osaka Plain are tombs for the elite. Archeologists have found weapons, armor, ornaments, clay figures in the shape of homes, humans and more within the funerary system.

What do you think? Find some new destinations to add to your bucket list? Every traveler should get familiar with UNESCO’s listed destinations and sites. It’s beyond inspiring to learn about their mission. (P.S. you can check out the whole list of the new UNESCO World Heritage Sites, if you’re interested in learning more!)


Have you visited any of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites? What was your favorite?

Middle East

Tips for Traveling to Iran as a Woman

The picture painted of Iran in the west is one of tyranny and repression. An Islamic state in the grips of Sharia law, a land where women are silenced and hidden. A faceless ‘other’. The people of modern Persia don’t reflect this reputation. In reality, Iran is brimming with spirited, confident women. Renowned for their hospitality and their charm, every second person you meet in Iran will insist upon welcoming you warmly into their homes. For solo female travelers the Middle East can seem daunting, but following these tips for traveling to Iran as a woman will help you integrate amongst the incredible women you will meet in Iran.

Tips for Traveling to Iran as a Woman

Sometimes your hijab falls off

By law, all women travelling or living in Iran are required to wear a hijab at all times. Annoying for a day or two, you’ll quickly get used to the scarf, particularly if you invest in a light silk one, or any other breathable material. While it is a legal concern, the majority of people in Iran are far more lax than the law dictates.

The first time my hijab fell off, I was taking a picture of the immaculately decorated ceiling of Loftollah mosque. I panicked, conscious that I was flouting the rules in a place of worship. I was quickly assured by some local girls next to me, who laughed and said that it happened all the time. That there was no need to be stressed about it. Iranian women came to terms with the occasional impracticality of the scarves long ago, and they won’t chastise you for making mistakes.

You should always cover your head, arms, legs and chest while in Iran. It’s an element of their culture, and if you are choosing to visit their country you shouldn’t disrespect that, regardless of personal beliefs.

The dress code differs in different cities

Iran is a huge and diverse country, and the cities are no different. Be aware of the common devoutness of the city that you’re heading to, and dress accordingly. For instance, in the capital city of Tehran, a light hijab hanging loosely over your hair is perfectly acceptable. Women in Tehran are glamorous, wear designer clothing and will have no problem with you not being heavily shrouded. If you head from here to the nearby city of Qom, or north to Mashhad, the story is entirely different. You will need to cover any sign of hair with a cap or bandanna, underneath your hijab. You will also need to wear a chador through much of these cities, a very large piece of material that covers your body entirely. Be sure to research your intended destination before you set off, and if you’re ever in doubt just pay attention to what the Iranian women are doing. Follow the locals.

Men stick with men, women stick with women

There are many situations in which the genders are separated in Iran, and generally in the Middle East. In the basement coffee/shisha shops there are different rooms for different genders. This offers a wonderful opportunity for meeting local women, and for understanding how men and women behave differently in their own spaces.

Greet people correctly

Typically speaking, men will greet other men by shaking hands, but will not shake hands with women. They won’t touch women generally, which I don’t think is a bad thing when compared with the wandering hands of many men in the west. There is no problem with men and women talking, laughing, hanging out in public. Don’t take it personally that they won’t shake your hand, it’s a mark of respect.

There is also different rules for knocking on doors. On many doors in Iran you will see two knockers, one intended for women, one for men. This is common in more religious households, so that women can answer the door to women, and men can open the door to men. It would be considered improper for someone to usher in a person of the other gender in more traditional homes.

Generally speaking, the rules for traveling to Iran as a woman are fairly simple. Follow other women, trust their knowledge and their intuition- there’s is no better guide.

Middle East

Lessons From Iran: Learning Not To Judge

We live in an age where we are so pressed for time, we need to make snap judgements. All too often those judgements come from outside us: We believe what we are told to believe – by the media, by our peers, our families. All too often these judgements cloud our travel decisions, too. They affect our ideas of where we want to go, where is “safe”.

Sometimes the most rewarding travel destinations of all are left off our bucket lists because of the negative image spread about them across the media. For me, there’s no country that’s a better example of this than Iran.

Despite its rich culture, Iran is a country that few people make it to.

A country that has been cut off with bureaucratic and political red tape since the end of the ‘70s for all but the most persistent American and British travellers (in particular), the process of traveling to Iran is not simple for many travelers. The visa process is nuanced to say the least and requires a good deal of patience (mine arrived two days before I was supposed to fly).

For a hot moment in 2016-2017, it looked like things were improving for tourism to Iran – sanctions were being lifted and visitor numbers were increasing to discover the secret beauty within.

At the beginning of 2018, with the new US leadership, that all changed. Travel to Iran is still possible – even for Americans – but you may have to be part of a tour and be willing to put some effort in for your visa.

So why should you visit?

Iran is home to some of the finest architecture in the world. Its mosques in Shiraz and Isfahan will quite literally blow your mind with their intricately decorated domes and shades of blue, the Persian gardens and shrines to sufi poets will instill tranquility, and you’ll be welcomed by some of the warmest people I’ve ever met.

Rather than worrying about safety you’ll find your main concerns in Iran are what to say to all the friendly people who approach you and want you to have tea with them, practice English with their kids and want to know what you think of Iran.

Visiting Iran was a true lesson in how wrong my assumptions were. As a Brit, I fell under the mandatory tour requirement. (All British, American and Canadian citizens have to take a tour in Iran). I was a little nervous. Would I have to be accompanied at all times? Would I be watched? Would I be restricted in my movements and have to watch out for unwanted male attention in a country where women are known for having to cover up?

Sitting in my hotel room in Tehran, waiting for my tour to start, the phone rang. It was my tour guide – Mina – my surprise when I heard a young woman’s voice at the other end of the phone must have been noticeable. And that was just the beginning.

Throughout my time in Iran, I was pleasantly surprised to see a buzzing coffee and cafe culture in Tehran, headscarves pushed so far back they struggled to grip elaborate hairstyles, and some of the most stylish women I’ve seen anywhere. Today, 70% of Iran’s medicine and engineering graduates are women.

Beyond the dazzling architecture, delicious food, cultural scene and ever-present chai stops, what stood out to me most in Iran was the kindness of the people. People were curious, and their hospitality overflowed, beyond the customary Taar’of (the Iranian civility code). Even as a group of 12 people we were invited to countless homes and families stopped us at historical monuments just wanting to chat.  

If you believe in the type of travel that brings people closer and overcomes perceptions of politics and governments – Iran might just be the most rewarding travel experience ever.

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