AIA Tours: land

Oman & Zanzibar 2020

Tour Dates: September 26-October 14, 2020 (19 days)

Tour Leader(s): Trevor Marchand ,

This AIA Tour with seasoned study leader Trevor Marchand explores the historical monuments and cultural ties between two fascinating but seemingly disparate destinations—the country of Oman and the island of Zanzibar—physically linked by the Indian Ocean, and historically linked by trade.

Highlights

    • Visits to seven UNESCO World Heritage sites (Oman’s aflaj irrigation systems; early 18th-century Al Hazm Castle; the protohistoric archaeological complex of Bat, Al-Khutm, and Al-Ayn; the immense fort at the oasis of Bahla; the coastal, medieval trade city of Qalhat; and the Land of Frankincense; plus Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town)
    • Three nights in Oman’s capital city of Muscat, including a tour of its recently-opened Oman National Museum
    • Hasat bin Sult (a.k.a. Coleman’s Rock), site of Oman’s most significant rock art
    • Lunch at a local home in Al Hamra
    • Three nights in the ancient oasis town of Nizwa
    • A visit with a Bedouin family and an overnight at a lovely desert camp in Wahiba Sands, a 6,000-square-mile desert
    • Sur, where many of the trading fleets of Omani ships were built
    • Four nights in Salalah, including excursions to Sumhuram Archaeological Park, once an important conduit for the international frankincense trade network, and the 5,000-year-old fortress of Ubar
    • Four nights in Zanzibar, including visits to the Palace and National Museums; Unguja Ukuu, the oldest settlement on Zanzibar; and a visit to the ruins of the Mtoni Palace, constructed for the family of the first Sultan of Zanzibar after he left Muscat in the early 19th century
    • Opportunities to wander through lively souks in Muscat and Nizwa, Oman; plus take an evening cruise aboard a dhow and a spice tour in Zanzibar
    • Limited to just twelve travelers, plus a dedicated tour manager and Professor Marchand

Tour Prices per person (17 nights)
Double Occupancy (10-12 participants) $12,995
Single Supplement $2,545

Single room supplement will be charged when requested or required (limited availability). With fewer than 10 participants a small group surcharge may be applied.

Nakhl Fort, Oman © Oudshoorn

The Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman © operator

The Nizwa market, Oman © operator

St. Joseph's Cathedral, Zanzibar © tato grasso

A Red Colobus Monkey at Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, Zanzibar © Hasin Shakur

Itinerary


Saturday, September 26, 2020: Depart home

Sunday, September 27: Muscat, OMAN

Monday, September 28: Muscat: Mutrah Souk, Beit Al Zubair Museum, Al Alam Palace, Oman National Museum, Al Mirani Fort | Welcome dinner

Tuesday, September 29: Muscat: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Royal Opera House | PM at leisure

Wednesday, September 30: Seeb Fish Souq | Nakhl Fort | Al Hazm Castle | Rustaq Fort | Wadi Bani Awf | Balad Sayt | Al Hamra

Thursday, October 1: Misfat Al Abriyeen | Hasat bin Sult | Al Hamra | Bait Al Safah | Bat, Al-Khutm & Al-Ayn | Nizwa

Friday, October 2: Nizwa: weekly market & souk, Nizwa Fort | Samail village | Samail Hosn | Manal

Saturday, October 3: Castle of Jabrin | Bahla Fort and Friday Mosque | Salout Fort

Sunday, October 4: Birkat Al Mawz | Samad Al Shan | Ibra | Al Mudhaireb | Wahiba Sands

Monday, October 5: Dune driving | Wadi Bani Khalid | Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve

Tuesday, October 6: Sur fish market | Qalhat | Muscat | Fly to Salalah

Wednesday, October 7: Taqah | Sumhuram Archaeological Park | Mirbat | Wadi Darbat

Thursday, October 8: Tomb of the Prophet Job | Hanun | Ubar | Empty Quarter (Rub’ Al Khali Desert) | Wadi Dawkah

Friday, October 9: Salalah: Al-Baleed Archaeological Park & Museum | Museum of the Frankincense Land | Garden Farm | Al Husn Souq | Mughsayl Beach & Blowholes

Saturday, October 10: Fly to Zanzibar, TANZANIA | Stone Town

Sunday, October 11: Stone Town walking tour | Palace Museum | National Museum

Monday, October 12: Palace of Dunga  | Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park | Unguja Ukuu | Stone Town sunset cruise

Tuesday, October 13: Mtoni Palace | Kidichi Persian Baths | Maruhubi Palace | Spice Tour | Farewell dinner

Wednesday, October 14: Fly home

To be notified first when this tour is finalized, before it is open to the public, please call 800-748-6262 or email aia@studytours.org

View Detailed Itinerary

Saturday, September 26, 2020: Depart home
Depart home on overnight flights to Oman.

Sunday, September 27: Muscat, OMAN
Upon arrival at Muscat International Airport (MCT) there will be a group transfer (time TBA) to our hotel. Dinner is at leisure. Overnight at the 5-star Sheraton Oman Hotel for three nights.

Monday, September 28: Muscat: Mutrah Souk, Beit Al Zubair Museum, Al Alam Palace, Oman National Museum, Al Mirani Fort | Welcome dinner
This morning we explore the city of Muscat, capital of Oman, which has retained much of its traditional architecture and beauty while making great strides toward modernization. For many centuries the people of Muscat have provided, as they do now, the food, water, and cargoes for visiting ships. Explore Mutrah Souk, which has some good antique shops and an entire area that specializes in gold; then visit the private Beit Al Zubair Museum to see its collection of traditional Omani artifacts. After lunch we stop at the Al Alam Palace, ceremonial palace of Sultan Qaboos of Oman, before continuing on to the recently-opened Oman National Museum for a private tour of its highlights by a senior staff member (pending availability). Its permanent collection comprises about 12,500 artifacts from Oman dating back to the prehistoric era, and more than 5,000 objects on display across 14 permanent galleries are brought to life by giant screens and high-tech devices. Continue on to the 16th-century Al Mirani Fort (permission pending), a stunning landmark that guards Muscat Bay and played a pivotal role in the fall of the Portuguese. The fort is accessible only via a steep flight of steps and, as such, it served well as a prison for many years. Return to our hotel and gather this evening for a welcome dinner. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, September 29: Muscat: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Royal Opera House | PM at leisure
Start the day at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a superb example of contemporary Islamic architecture that can accommodate more than 20,000 worshippers and was formally opened in May 2001. Drive to the Royal Opera House Muscat, which opened in 2011 and was designed by the same architects as the Grand Mosque. Enjoy a tour of the opera house and view its very fine collection of rare instruments. After lunch at a local restaurant we return to our hotel for the balance of the day at leisure. (B,L)

Wednesday, September 30: Seeb Fish Souq | Nakhl Fort | Al Hazm Castle | Rustaq Fort | Wadi Bani Awf | Balad Sayt | Al Hamra
Depart Muscat early this morning for the Seeb Fish Souq, on the coast, before continuing west to explore the Al-Batinah region, the flat and fertile strip of land between the Hajar Mountains and the Gulf of Oman. This is the country’s breadbasket and most populous area. Drive to Nakhl Fort and walk through the fort and the village, with its date palms and traditional falaj irrigation system (part of the UNESCO World Heritage site “Aflaj Irrigation Systems of Oman”). Enjoy a boxed lunch in a picturesque location, and then drive to the early 18th-century Al Hazm Castle, one of Oman’s most magnificent castles. This UNESCO World Heritage site, while designed primarily for defensive purposes, features delicate architectural elements and unique engravings. Continue further inland to the reconstructed, 13th-century Rustaq Fort (Qalat al-Kisra). The present fort includes a tower that (tradition holds) was originally built by the Persians in A.D. 600. Transfer to 4×4 vehicles to drive along the Wadi Bani Awf, one of Oman’s most spectacular wadis, to the picturesque village of Balad Sayt. Continue by 4×4 to our hotel in the beautiful village of Al Hamra, one of Oman’s oldest villages, where we have dinner this evening. Overnight at the 4-star The View hotel. (B,L,D)

Thursday, October 1: Misfat Al Abriyeen | Hasat bin Sult | Al Hamra | Bait Al Safah | Bat, Al-Khutm & Al-Ayn | Nizwa
Set out early today for a drive to the fortress village of Misfat Al Abriyeen, in the mountains of Akhdar, where palm trees grow (irrigated by an intriguing canal system). Continue on to the site of Hasat bin Sult, the most important rock art in Oman. Often referred to as Coleman’s Rock, named after geologist Robert Coleman, it is the only rock art in all of southeastern Arabia that is sculpted in low relief. Return to Al Hamra and walk through the narrow streets to admire its well-preserved two- and three-story mud-brick houses built in the Yemeni style; and visit Bait Al Safah, a living history museum in a restored mudbrick house, where old Omani traditions such as weaving are demonstrated. After lunch at a local home, continue on to the protohistoric archaeological complex of Bat, Al-Khutm, and Al-Ayn, which represents one of the world’s most complete and well-preserved ensembles of settlements and necropolises from the 3rd millennium B.C. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Drive to the ancient oasis town of Nizwa, once the medieval capital of Oman, and check-in to our hotel. Gather for dinner this evening. Overnight at the 4-star Golden Tulip Nizwa Hotel for three nights. (B,L,D)

Friday, October 2: Nizwa: weekly market & souk, Nizwa Fort | Samail village | Samail Hosn | Manal
This morning we visit the weekly Nizwa market. The animal souk at this Friday market is an opportunity to witness Oman’s traditional manner of selling livestock. Walk to Nizwa’s souk, which specializes in finely-crafted metalwork, and then visit the 17th-century Nizwa Fort, which for 300 years was the primary seat of the Imamate, serving as a combination palace, seat of government, and prison. Explore the Al Aqr quarter, where we will see (from the outside only) two of Nizwa’s historic mosques, the Shawadhna Grand Mosque and the Grand Mosque of Sa’al, each with distinguishing features. After lunch in Nizwa we drive to Samail village, which was home to Mazin bin Ghaduba, companion of the Prophet Muhammad and the first Omani to embrace Islam. He built the town’s first mosque in the 7th century and, as a result, there are now around 300 mosques in the valley. Located on a hill just next to the main road is the massive Samail Hosn (Castle of Samail), with high walls; heavy, dark, wooden doors; and inner buildings made from traditional mud bricks. Visit the Tomb of Mazin bin Ghaduba, an open-air tomb with beautiful mosaic tiles in traditional Islamic colors, and then return to Nizwa by way of the village of Manal, where we stop to view the exterior of the Ibadi Mosque. Gather for dinner in Nizwa this evening. (B,L,D)

Saturday, October 3: Castle of Jabrin | Bahla Fort and Friday Mosque | Salout Fort
Take a morning drive to the 17th-century Castle of Jabrin. The Omani have done an excellent job of restoring this site, and it provides a good sense of medieval Oman, with displays inside of various household items and furnishings, plus spectacular, hand-painted ceilings and beautifully-executed woodcarvings. Continue on to the oasis of Bahla for lunch at a local restaurant and then a visit to its UNESCO World Heritage site. The immense fort, with its walls and towers of unbaked brick, and its stone foundations, was recently restored and opened to visitors. Its oldest parts were built as early as 500 B.C. Adjacent to the fort is the Friday Mosque, one of Oman’s oldest, and we have requested permission (TBD) to visit its interior. End the day with a drive to Salout Fort, considered one of Oman’s oldest forts. Since 2004, archaeological excavations have identified key Bronze and Iron Age sites in the area surrounding Salout. Return to our hotel in Nizwa and gather for dinner this evening. (B,L,D)

Sunday, October 4: Birkat Al Mawz | Samad Al Shan | Ibra | Al Mudhaireb | Wahiba Sands
This morning we set out from Nizwa for a series of interesting stops along the way to our camp in the Wahiba Sands. First visit the lovely village of Birkat Al Mawz, which provides a superb example of the falaj traditional irrigation system (another part of the UNESCO World Heritage site “Aflaj Irrigation Systems of Oman”). Walk through date and banana plantations and admire the mud-brick homes, many of which are being abandoned as people move into concrete structures outside of the village. Continue on to the fort at Samad Al Shan, set amidst date palm groves dotted with fruit orchards. Although not well preserved it must once have been a formidable structure. Drive to Ibra, one of the oldest cities in Oman and once a center of trade, religion, education, and art. Ibra enjoyed great prosperity during Oman’s colonial period, as the aristocratic locals set sail for Zanzibar and sent money home for plantations and luxury residences, still in evidence in the old quarter. Continue on to the village of Al Mudhaireb, dominated by its rectangular fort, and visit the “sabla” houses with Zanzibari carved doors. After lunch at a local restaurant we drive onward to the Wahiba Sands, a 6,000-square-mile desert where the ever-changing patterns of the dunes are a photographer’s delight. We will be welcomed for a memorable visit with a Bedouin family. Overnight at the 5-star Desert Nights Camp. (B,L,D)

Monday, October 5: Dune driving | Wadi Bani Khalid | Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve
After breakfast at the camp we will experience the thrill of dune driving in the desert. Continue on to Wadi Bani Khalid, a beautiful oasis comprised of small, pretty villages among the mountains. Walk to the deep pools of the wadi, and take some time to enjoy the beautiful turquoise pools or take a swim. Drive onward Ras Al Jinz, a fishing village on the eastern shore of the Arabian Peninsula. Ras Al Jinz Beach is world renowned as a nesting place for the endangered green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), and this is the only official place where the public can watch the nesting process of these amazing sea giants. The Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve, an eco-tourism project, was established in 2008 to help conserve the fascinating and amazing nesting processes of these giants of the marine turtle world. In 2017 a renovated museum was opened, and it includes displays documenting some of the surrounding archaeological sites that date back 6,000 years. Excavations have uncovered the remains of some of Oman’s ancient wooden boats and, in 1982, the discovery of a Bronze Age potsherd from northwestern India. After dinner, a guide will take us to try to see female turtles return to their beach to lay eggs. (Please note that the main nesting season is June through August and, at other times of the year, there may not be turtles every night.)Overnight at the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve (Carapace Rooms). (B,L,D)

Tuesday, October 6: Sur fish market | Qalhat | Muscat | Fly to Salalah
This morning we drive along the coast to Sur and visit the bustling fish market to see the catch of the day and learn about the town’s shipbuilding traditions. Many of the trading fleets of Omani ships were built at Sur, whose boatyards are still active today. We will have the opportunity to see them at work, using traditional methods: without plans and with only simple tools (adze, bow drill, saw, and hammer). Continue driving to the ancient city of Qalhat, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a coastal, medieval trade city that was destroyed by an earthquake, where we visit (permission pending) the Mausoleum of Bibi Maryam. Drive along Wadi Tiwi to Muscat, where we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Transfer to the airport for our one-hour flight to the city of Salalah. A city that was built around the ancient port of Samhuran, along the frankincense trade route, Salalah is not only Oman’s second largest municipality but also a royal stronghold for Oman’s past Sultans and birthplace of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Overnight at the 5-star Salalah Rotana Resort for four nights. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, October 7: Taqah | Sumhuram Archaeological Park | Mirbat | Wadi Darbat
Get an early start this morning to explore the fishing village of Taqah and its castle, behind whose giant timber doors are reception rooms, sleeping quarters, shady courtyards, and even a tiny prison. Continue driving eastward to Sumhuram Archaeological Park, site of what was once one of the major ports of southern Arabia and an important conduit for the international frankincense trade network. After lunch at a local restaurant, visit Mirbat, an important town as early as the 9th century for its trade in frankincense, horses, and slaves. Visit the twin-domed, 12th-century Tomb of Mohamed bin Ali, a fine example of medieval Omani architecture; and Wadi Darbat, with its thick botanical cover, natural springs, and caves. Return to our hotel, where we have dinner this evening. (B,L,D)

Thursday, October 8: Tomb of the Prophet Job | Hanun | Ubar | Empty Quarter (Rub’ Al Khali Desert) | Wadi Dawkah
This morning we drive north to the Tomb of the Prophet Job (Nabi Ayoub), nestled among green mountains. According to the Old Testament, Job is also a Prophet of Islam. His tomb is simple and modest, yet awe-inspiring. Continue on to Hanun, a depot along the frankincense routes, and the nearby, 5th-century B.C. triliths (groups of three stones perched together to form a steep pyramid). Drive farther north to the ruins of the fabled “lost city” of Ubar, a 5,000-year-old fortress city that was once at the center of the frankincense trade and is now the focus of exciting archaeological excavations. Experience dune driving in the Empty Quarter (the Rub’ Al Khali Desert), the largest continuous sand sea in the world. The surface of the desert is covered by reddish-orange colored sand dunes, which reach around 820 feet high, and several lake beds. En route to our hotel we make a final stop at Wadi Dawkah (part of the UNESCO World Heritage site “Land of Frankincense”), a typical frankincense-growing area where about 5,000 trees are currently being cultivated and, when transplanted, will help restore natural balance to areas of the wadi that have suffered environmental damage. Dinner is at our hotel this evening. (B,L,D)

Friday, October 9: Salalah: Al-Baleed Archaeological Park & Museum | Museum of the Frankincense Land | Garden Farm | Al Husn Souq | Mughsayl Beach & Blowholes
Spend the morning discovering Salalah, the “garden city” of the south and a tropical paradise. Make an early morning visit to the Al-Baleed Archaeological Park, the Dhofar region’s main settlement from the 8th to 16th centuries, where we will use golf carts to explore the site. After a visit to the Al-Baleed Museum we continue on to the neighboring Museum of the Frankincense Land, which chronicles human settlement in the area since 2000 B.C. with an emphasis on maritime trade and traditions. This region is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage site “Land of Frankincense.” At the Garden Farm, view groves of coconut, banana, papaya, and vegetables, and then stop to see the exterior of the beautiful Shanfari Mosque, with its exquisite artwork and stained tiles. Continue on to the Al Husn Souq, where there are frankincense crystals of Dhofar, typical Dhofari frankincense burners, cattle, colorful cotton headdresses, and local jewelry for sale. After a sunset visit to the Mughsayl Beach and Blowholes we will enjoy dinner at our hotel. (B,L,D)

Saturday, October 10: Fly to Zanzibar, TANZANIA | Stone Town
Transfer to the airport for our flight to Zanzibar, a small island off the cost of Tanzania. Arriving here is like being transported back hundreds of years. For centuries a center of intense maritime activity, Zanzibar attracted people from many nations who left behind a hybrid culture characterized by distinctive stone architecture; rich, eclectic cuisine; and a diverse population descended from migrants, traders, conquerors, and slaves. After clearing immigration and customs formalities, transfer to our hotel in historic Stone Town, where we have dinner this evening. Overnight at the 5-star Zanzibar Serena Hotel for four nights. (B,L,D)

Sunday, October 11: Stone Town walking tour | Palace Museum | National Museum
Take a morning walking tour of old Stone Town, a chaotic labyrinth of streets lined with whitewashed, coral-rag houses and magnificently carved, brass-studded doors. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Begin at the late 19th-century St. Joseph’s Cathedral, built by French missionaries with tiles and stained glass imported from France. There will be an opportunity to attend mass today, for those who are interested. Stop at the Old Dispensary that was built by a wealthy Indian merchant and restored by the Aga Khan Foundation. We have arranged a meeting here with a group of local artists. Also see the 19th-century Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ, the first of its kind in East Africa, built to commemorate the end of the slave trade. The cathedral was built over the site of the old slave markets and several of the holding cells still remain intact. After lunch at a local restaurant we visit the Palace Museum, which served as the Sultan’s residence until the dynasty was overthrown. Nearby is the National Museum, originally built as a ceremonial palace and now exhibiting the dhow culture of the Indian Ocean, Swahili civilization, and the history of Stone Town. Return to our hotel and enjoy a lecture by Professor Abdul Sheriff, a leading figure of the Stone Town Preservation Society. Dinner is on your own tonight. (B,L)

Monday, October 12: Palace of Dunga  | Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park | Unguja Ukuu | Stone Town sunset cruise
Drive this morning to the interior of the island to visit the 19th-century Palace of Dunga, formerly the home of the traditional ruler of Zanzibar. Head to the southern end of the island to see the exterior of the Kizimkazi Mosque, one of the oldest Islamic buildings on the East African coast. Preserved Kufic inscriptions suggest the mosque was originally built in 1107 by settlers from Shiraz, Persia. After lunch at a beach restaurant, travel north to Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, the largest remaining stand of near-natural forest on Zanzibar. In addition to the endangered Zanzibar red colobus monkey (Procolobus kirkii), a nature trail through the forest also reveals more than 50 species of butterflies, 43 species of birds, bush babies, African civet, Ader’s duiker, mongoose, geckos, chameleons, and more. On our way back to the hotel we will stop at Unguja Ukuu, the oldest settlement on Zanzibar and the traditional seat of royalty. At sunset, cruise along the Stone Town waterfront aboard a dhow. Dinner is at our hotel this evening. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, October 13: Mtoni Palace | Kidichi Persian Baths | Maruhubi Palace | Spice Tour | Farewell dinner
Today set out to explore the ruins of the early 19th-century Mtoni Palace, constructed for the family of the first Sultan of Zanzibar after he left Muscat to make Zanzibar his home. Continue on to the ruins of the 19th-century Kidichi Persian Baths, also built by the first Sultan of Zanzibar; the ruins of the later 19th-century Maruhubi Palace, built by the third Sultan of Zanzibar to house 99 members of his harem; and the nearby dhow building yards. After lunch at a local restaurant we embark on a spice tour, which will provide opportunities to see and taste spices and tropical fruits such as cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, turmeric root, jackfruit, rambutan, and star fruit. Return to our hotel to freshen up before our farewell dinner with entertainment by a Zanzibari Taarab music group. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, October 14: Fly home
Transfer this morning to Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ) for flights homeward. (B)

 


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