It is difficult to imagine that Sur has a population of 60,000 inhabitants. The fourth largest city in the country, after Muscat, Nizwa and Salalah, it is built along the lagoon formed by the Fulayi wadi estuary. The flat, sandy, ochre-coloured soil stretches for 12 miles around and the Hajar Ash Sharqi Mountains rise against the horizon which is veiled in the day by the haze of heat. These mountains culminate at a height of 6,560 ft, if you go up north towards Muscat, but near Sur they are much less high, causing the traveller to look in the direction of the sea.
The city of Sur actually looks onto the sea. Its old town, which is separated from the rest of the metropolitan area by the branch of a lagoon, is instantly recognisable by its lighthouse and rows of white houses that seem as though they haven't changed for several centuries. At high tide, fishing boats sail on the lagoon and you can get back to the old town within a few minutes. At low tide, the only solution is to take a vehicle (car or bus rental) and follow the route that bypasses the lagoon; the journey takes a good quarter of an hour.
Opposite the historic area of Sur is the traditional shipyard. Here, repairs are carried out on wooden dhows (small Arab sailing vessels) which are still used by some fishermen, and which are still produced to perpetuate the tradition. The Omani ruler, Sultan Qaboos, has ordered an 82 ft long sambouk named "Al Massara" (happiness), which has taken 9 months work, with at least twenty workers on site. The wood needed for construction was imported from Malaysia, as Oman does not have enough timber on its territory.
Observe the sea turtles that come to lay their eggs all year round on the beaches of Ras Al-Hadd and Ras Al-Junayz and go on a ?turtle tour' led by a naturalist guide when you get there. Tours begin after sunset, when sea turtles invade the beach to lay their eggs, (they then leave early in the morning). The best time to see them laying is from August to November, and when it's a full moon, as it obviously makes observation easier.
In the old town of Sur, take a stroll to the renovated lighthouse and follow the path to the seafront before continuing your walk among the houses where you can observe the footpaths and alleyways which have retained their typical appearance. If possible, visit the traditional shipyard (opposite the old town) where repairs are carried out on wooden dhows which are still used by some fishermen and which continue to be produced to perpetuate the tradition.
Along the coastal road that goes back in the direction of Muscat (a 4x4 is necessary), there are several sites which deserve a sightseeing tour. Firstly, Qalhat, a huge field full of ruins, with a monument or ?shrine' which is dedicated to saint Bibi Maryam. Located on a cliff overlooking the sea, the city of Qalhat was very prosperous in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the past it has attracted many travellers, among them Marco Polo, who stopped there on his return from China by boat.
Avoid doing a one day trip (far too quick) or a seaside stay (no excursions). The region of Sur is particularly rich in natural sites (deserted coves, rocky parades), oasis villages and unusual adventures, so camp for a night in the desert of the Wahiba Sands and plan to stay at least 2 to 3 days in the region.
Try a traditional meal from Oman. People generally eat it with their hands (right hand to serve) and it is often taken in a small private room, seated on mats and leaning against cushions. On the menu, you will find dishes of rice with fish or meat, which are based on Indian curries but without the hot spices. To finish the meal, coffee (flavoured with cardamom) is served in mini-porcelain cups (containing barely a mouthful of coffee).
Incense, floral water, powders of fragrant wood, silver jewellery, traditional coffee services, khanjars (daggers with a curved blade) and various fabrics. These are all the things which await you during your visit to Muscat in the small shops of the Muttrah souk. Preferably go there in the morning, when it is a bit livelier.
Very suitable as a milestone hotel in which to spend some days ...