The Frankincense Route
The Sultanate of Oman in the Persian Gulf presents an extraordinary kaleidoscope of natural and man-made beauty: deserts, mountains and beaches on the one hand; striking architecture, vivid textiles, intricate woodwork, jewellery and pottery on the other. This peaceful nation has been one of the major centres of Islamic culture for hundreds of years.
The Sultanate’s 300-year rule over Zanzibar has left its indelible mark on this Indian Ocean island also, not least in the exotic mix of Islamic and Swahili influences most notable in the island’s so-called Stone Town. Winding alleys lead between bustling bazaars, ancient mosques and grand houses with their brass-studded carved doorways. Zanzibar is unique in every respect, from its cuisine to its fruit and spices, furniture styles, fabrics and gorgeous hand-crafted artefacts.
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Depart Australia or New Zealand in the afternoon on suggested Emirates or Qatar Airways flights to Muscat. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your travel arrangements.
Overnight in flight.
Arrive in Muscat in the early morning. Transfer to the hotel and check-in.
In the late afternoon, enjoy a sunset cruise aboard a traditional dhow, followed by dinner at the hotel.
Today, explore Muscat with an orientation tour. Begin with a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a vast edifice of pale Indian sandstone which can accommodate 20,000 worshippers.
Continue to the Royal Opera House for a guided tour, followed by some free time in the Opera Galleria. Transfer to Muttrah, the port of Muscat, to see the 16th century fort and explore the lively Muttrah Souq, one of the oldest in Oman.
After lunch at a local restaurant, drive via the waterfront Corniche to visit the National Museum of Oman which opened in 2016, and consists of 14 permanent galleries displaying more than 5,000 artefacts.
Next, travel to the Al-Alam Palace, home to HM Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the ruler of Oman since 1970 (and the longest-serving ruler in the Arab world). A graduate of Sandhurst Military Academy in England and an avid fan of Western classical music, Sultan Qaboos came to power as a moderniser, and has overseen a period of sustained development for his country, whose neutrality he has maintained in the face of various Middle Eastern conflicts over the decades.
Return to the hotel, evening is at leisure.
The following nine days’ travel is in 4WDs.
Check out from the hotel and depart Muscat in 4WDs, travelling southeast along the spectacular rugged coastline to Sur, one of the most important Arabian ports of the Middle Ages.
On the way, visit Wadi Mia, Wadi Dayqah Dam and Wadi Arbayeen. Stop for lunch at the Bimmah Sinkhole, a spectacular limestone crater. Continue driving to Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab, precious sources of water in the harsh Gulf of Oman Desert.
Arrive Sur in the late afternoon. Join Jane for a talk followed by dinner.
(B, L-Picnic, D)
Because of its important maritime location between the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean, Sur has a long history of shipbuilding. In the morning, visit the Sur fish market and walk along the souq. Later visit the Sur shipyards where traditional dhows are still constructed, followed by a boat trip across the lagoon to the pretty whitewashed village of Ayja where many of the old merchant houses are still in fine condition.
After lunch, drive to the British excavations at Ras al-Jinz and Ras al-Hadd (subject to permission), which are in the process of uncovering the history of these important trading sites which linked the Indus Valley, the Arabian Peninsula and Zanzibar as far back at the Copper Age in 3,000 BC.
Return to Sur in the late afternoon, before dinner at a local restaurant.
In the morning, depart for Wahiba Sands, stopping at the natural oasis of Wadi Bani Khalid. Gaze upon the translucent blue waters of the Wadi, fringed with date palms and ideal for a swim.
Visit a Bedouin house and meet the locals to experience how they live.
In the late afternoon, arrive at 1,000 Nights Camp in the heart of Wahiba Sands, an expanse of some 10,000 sq km of desert. Enjoy the remarkable experience of a night in the desert, which starts with a golden sunset, continues with a densely-starred nocturnal sky and concludes with the soft light of a desert dawn.
(B, L-Picnic, D)
Rise early for a morning walk in the Wahiba Sands. The geography of the desert ranges from smaller dunes and wide flat areas to dunes of up to 100 metres in height.
Depart Wahiba Sands for Nizwa, En route, visit Al-Mudayrib to admire its city gates and ornate wooden doors (many carved in Zanzibar), and the ruins at Ibra and Munisefah, settlements which were built with wealth that flowed from the Zanzibari trade. Arrive in the oasis city of Nizwa, which was the capital of Oman in the 16th and 17th centuries and was a centre of trade, religion, education and art. Today Nizwa is renowned for its superbly restored 17th century fort, the old village packed tightly around the fortress walls and its souq famous for superb silver work.
In the late afternoon, drive through the picturesque village of Birkat al-Mauz to the Jebel Akhdar (‘Green Mountains’), part of the Al-Hajar mountain range. The Jebel Akhdar mountains are famed for fruit orchards laid out in terraces and irrigated by aflaj, traditional water systems.
This morning, enjoy a short walk between the picturesque villages of Al-Aqur and Al-Ayn.
The afternoon is at leisure to relax in the hotel or join local guides for a variety of optional activities including trekking, goat herding, caving and viewing local rose and pomegranate farms (not included in tour price; additional cost applies).
After breakfast, drive to the village of Al-Ayn renowned for its well-preserved 4,000-year-old beehive tombs.
Following lunch, continue to The View eco-resort located at 1,400 metres, in the foothills of the Al Hajar Mountains, the highest mountain range in the eastern Arabian Peninsula.
Enjoy a full-day excursion to Jebel Shams (‘Mountain of the Sun’). At around 3,300 metres, Jebel Shams is the highest point in Oman and the whole of eastern Arabia. Beneath it lies the breathtakingly beautiful Grand Canyon of Arabia, a series of jagged valleys and rugged escarpments disappearing into the distance. The famous Balcony Walk takes visitors along a narrow track just beneath the cliff top, providing stunning views into the canyon and across to ancient ruins clinging to the rock face.
On the way back from Jebel Shams, visit the lovely village of Misfat, with stone houses perched on a cliff edge.
After breakfast, depart for Jibreen Castle, making a stop on the way at Bahla Fort. Built as a defensive stronghold, Jibreen is perhaps the finest of Oman’s castles, with its superb wood carving, stucco and painted decoration hinting at Moghul influence.
After lunch, continue to Al-Hamra, a town built on a tilted rock slab which contains some of the oldest extant houses in all of Oman. Constructed centuries ago, many of the traditional houses of Al-Hamra are roofed with palm fronds and extend over as many as four storeys.
Return to Hail al-Shas in the late afternoon.
In the morning, depart Hail al-Shas for Muscat. Arrive at Muscat Airport in time for an afternoon flight south to Salalah (included in tour price).
In the late afternoon, arrive in Salalah and transfer to the hotel. Dinner is at the hotel.
With its lush tropical vegetation and pristine beaches, Salalah provides a strong contrast to the desert landscapes of northeastern Oman. Between 1932 and 1970, Salalah was the capital of the country. Explore Al-Husn souq and the historic port of Al-Balid with its superb Museum of the Frankincense Land.
In the afternoon, visit the newly excavated ruins of Khor Rawri (formerly known as Sumhuram) which was one of the main centres for the trade in frankincense, spices and precious stones, and then Mirbat, ancient capital of Dhofar. The Tomb of Mohamed bin Ali al-Alawi is an example of the region’s Mediæval architecture. Also explore the prehistoric cave paintings near Mirbat.
Enjoy a full-day Safari to the edge of the Rub’al-Khali (Empty Quarter), Arabia’s legendary desert of seemingly endless sand dunes. Drive towards the ‘Qara’ mountain range and enjoy the spectacular views of the Salalah plains. Continue to the UNESCO World Heritage site the fabled ‘Lost City of Ubar’. Return to Salalah in the afternoon stopping at Wadi Dwaka known as the ‘Frankincense Wadi’ a site of naturally grown Frankincense trees (Boswellia spp.).
Enjoy a morning at leisure to savour your final day in Oman.
Check out from the hotel and transfer to Salalah Airport for your flight to Muscat, connecting with a night flight to Zanzibar.
(B, L or D)
Arrive in Zanzibar in the early morning and transfer to the hotel (rooms available at time of arrival). The morning is at leisure.
After lunch, enjoy a tour of Zanzibar’s famous Stone Town, including the spice market. Mostly built in the 19th century, Stone Town displays the eclectic mix of architectural influences which defines the Swahili Coast: from indigenous East African to Arab, Persian, Indian and European. For centuries, the area of Stone Town served as a trading hub for the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman (which governed Zanzibar), producing cloves in the hinterland, importing frankincense from Oman and trading all manner of other spices – and even slaves – from the broader Indian Ocean region, leading to Zanzibar being labelled the ‘Spice Island’.
When Zanzibar separated from Oman, Stone Town became the capital of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, and the town still remains the seat of government for Zanzibar, which has a semi-autonomous status within Tanzania.
In the morning, take a tour of the Dunga Palace, the last seat of the Wawinyi Wakuu, the rulers of Zanzibar’s main island before the advent of the Omani sultans. Also explore the Unguja Ukuu, an archaeological site which has yielded up coins, ivory, rings and glassware from India, the Far East and the Southern Mediterranean, testifying to the ancient Zanzibarbarians’ extensive trade networks. Visit tiny Changuu Island, once a coral mine and prison for rebellious slaves, now a home for Aldabra giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea) relocated from the Seychelles.
After lunch, visit the Beit al-Ajaib (the ‘House of Wonders’) on the Stone Town seafront. A converted palace of the Zanzibari Sultan, it now contains a museum of Swahili and Zanzibari culture.
Greet the evening with a cruise aboard a traditional dhow, as the coastline of Zanzibar slips by under the sinking sun.
In the morning, visit the ruins of the Maruhubi Palace, built in 1882 by Sultan Barghash to accommodate his large harem. It burned down 17 years later, but its large stone columns still remain. Continue to the ruins of Mtoni Palace, the oldest of Zanzibar’s palaces, built in 1828 by Sultan Seyyid Said for his primary and secondary wives and hundreds of children. Then visit Stone Town’s Persian Baths, so called because they were built for Sultan Barghash by architects from Persia.
After free time for lunch, wander through a spice plantation where workers harvest cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon and pepper berries in much the same way as their forebears have done for hundreds of years.
In the evening, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner in the company of Jane and fellow travellers.
Tour arrangements conclude after breakfast.
Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including late check-outs and private airport transfers.
*Prices do not include the Value Added Tax which Oman proposes to implement during 2018, at a percentage to be confirmed; Renaissance Tours reserves the right to update tour prices should VAT be implemented.
**Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
22 November 2018
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.
Emirates + Fly Dubai, or Qatar Airways
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Australian passport holders require a visa to visit Oman, which may be obtained on arrival at a cost USD 55 per person. New Zealand passport holders do not require a visa to visit Oman.
Australian and New Zealand passport holders require a visa to visit Tanzania (for Zanzibar), which may be obtained on arrival at a cost of USD 50 per person.
(Visa prices are correct at time of publication.)
Travellers to Tanzania (for Zanzibar) require evidence of having received a vaccination against Yellow Fever. Your travel doctor can provide a Yellow Fever vaccination (and certificate thereof).
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally located 4 and 5 star deluxe hotels (or best available) with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner)
- Airport transfers on arrival in Oman and departure in Zanzibar
- Return Economy Class flights Muscat – Salalah – Muscat
- One-way Economy Class flight from Muscat to Zanzibar
- Lectures and talks throughout with your tour leader, Jane Hutcheon
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation in Muscat and Salalah on comfortable air-conditioned coaches, and nine days’ travel by 4WD
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport porterage
- Visas for Oman and Tanzania (for Zanzibar), obtainable on arrival
- Yellow Fever vaccination for Tanzania (must be obtained prior to departure)
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry, taxis, minibar, room service etc.
Muscat – Shangri-la Al Bandar *****
Sur – Sur Plaza ***+
Wahiba Sands – 1,000 Nights Camp (Sheikh Tent)****
Jebel Akhdar – Anantara Jabal Akhdar Hotel ****+
Hail al-Shas – The View Camp ****+
Salalah – Crowne Plaza ****+
Zanzibar – Park Hyatt *****
NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted