Wadi Shab, Oman
Egypt and Oman have been selected as two of CNN Travel’s top 19 places to visit in 2019. Egypt is known for being home to Giza’s colossal pyramids and Great Sphinx, as well as Luxor's hieroglyph-lined Karnak Temple and Valley of the Kings tombs. However, one of the main reasons the website that covers everything to do with travel chose the country that links northeast Africa with the Middle East is the recently unearthed Mummies, sphinxes and tombs.
The lesser discovered Middle Eastern destination, Oman, made it onto CNN Travel’s list for boasting a varied terrain that includes golden dunes, epic mountain ranges and waters teeming with dolphins and turtles. Whether it’s hiking copper-coloured cliffs, swimming through caves with waterfalls or camping in the desert, travellers are spoilt for choice when it comes to activites. Plus, there’s the newly expanded Muscat International Airport, with its $1.8 billion passenger terminal.
Nile River Night View
With sand-covered tombs, rigid pyramids and towering Pharonic temples, Egypt brings out the explorer in us all. The country dates to the time of the pharaohs and millennia-old monuments can be found along the Nile River Valley, including the iconic pyramids in Giza and the Great Sphinx. In fact, culture vultures will find magnificent sites in many parts of the country, from Luxor’s Karnak Temple and Valley of the Kings tombs to Cairo’s Ottoman landmarks, like the Muhammad Ali Mosque and the Egyptian Museum, housing a trove of antiquities. Then there’s the ancient Egyptian temple of Abu Simbel standing on the shores of Lake Nasser too.
While there’s been a slump in Egypt’s tourist trade lately due to security concerns and political upheaval, there’s been an effort to put the country back on the tourism track. For example, 2020 is expected to see the exciting opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum.
"While the sand has been settling on deserted classic monuments, Egyptologists have been brushing it gently aside elsewhere to discover a litany of exciting finds, many of which are now being opened to the public," Barry Neild writes in the CNN Travel article about the top places to visit. "Mummies, sphinxes, tombs and fresh pyramid mysteries have all been unearthed over the past year, as Egypt proves time and again it has many more secrets yet to be revealed." The recently opened 4,000 year-old Tomb of Mehu is one of the must-sees and the ancient Saqqara necropolis complex can be conveniently found nearby.
Ayn Khor Waterfalls in Salalah
Oman offers an abundance of natural beauty, making it one of the most attractive destinations in the region. To start with, there’s the country situated on the Arabian Peninsula’s spectacular peaks. "The Hajar Mountains, with stunning views over steep canyons, can be explored by horseback or on foot, and can be combined with a visit to the ancient city of Nizwa, with its fort and legendary souk," Maureen O'Hare writes in the same CNN article.
Then there are those wind-blown deserts, including the dunes of the Wahiba Sands that are inhabited by Bedouins. "The evocatively named Empty Quarter is the world's largest sand desert and can be ventured into with guides for your own Lawrence of Arabia adventures," O’Hare writes. "Sharqiya Sands offers resorts and camps and activities such as camel-racing, sand-skiing and 4WD dune-bashing."
Plus, of course, there’s the pristine coastline, perfect for scuba diving or swimming. According to O’Hare, Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve is where green turtles come to nest and there are dolphin-spotting opportunities all over the country, including Muscat, the port capital.
Wadi Bani Awf
What’s more, visitors are still able to sense the ancient soul of Arabia in Oman. The towns still have their traditional charms and Omanis have held onto values like ensuring guests are welcomed warmly. As well as its huge, modern Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat is home to the authentic, old waterfront Muttrah quarter, with a labyrinthine souk and busy fish market.