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Oman is one of the few Arab countries that ever distinguished itself in its history as a major seafaring nation. Most of Oman lies along the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, and the proud seamen of Oman colonized the coast of East Africa as far Zanzibar and even further south.
Since the discovery of massive oil deposits, Oman has seen spectacular economic growth and modernization. The country has kept faithful to its Islamic traditions, however.
Even so, Oman has managed to create a relative open society, more open to influences from the outside than other Gulf countries. In 1970 when the current Sultan took over the government in a bloodless palace coup, Oman was barely out of the Middle Ages. Now, a mere 30 years later, women drive, can be elected -- or appointed -- to the Majlis as-Shura, Oman's quasi-parliament, which advises the Sultan -- and run many successful businesses around the country.
The Gulf has been an important waterway since ancient times bringing the people who live on its shores into early contact with other civilizations. In the ancient world the Gulf peoples established trade connections with India; in the Middle Ages they went as far as China; and in the modern era they became involved with the European powers that sailed into the Indian Ocean and around Southeast Asia. In the Twentieth Century the discovery of massive oil deposits in the Gulf region made the area once again a crossroads for the modern world.
In Oman, high mountain ranges running parallel to the coast effectively cut off the Interior from the rest of the country. The highest peak, Jebel Shams (Sun Mountain), is just over 3,000 meters, and is a favorite destination of locals, expatriates, and tourists alike. It's also a good place to go to escape the stifling heat of the summer.