Although Nizwa isn’t a food destination per se – common meals include fresh salads, hummus, Arabic flat bread and a simple chicken stew -- food plays an important role in the area’s history and heritage.
A Date in NizwaNizwa is an important center for Omani date farming – the dried fruit is a staple in Oman as in the rest of the region, and plays an important part in the local culture. Nizwa farms some forty varieties of dates, and when you climb to the top of the city’s major tourist attraction, the Nizwa Fort, you can see large stands of deep green palm date trees.
In fact, dates played a role in the defense of Nizwa. As the city was the capital of Oman during the turbulent sixth and seventh centuries A.D, the Nizwa Fort was designed with various ingenious methods of repelling marauding invaders. Among these were “murder holes”, slots through which defenders could pour boiling date syrup on the heads of attackers as they entered the stairs.
Nizwa Cattle Market and SoukNear the Nizwa Fort is the Nizwa Souk, a market that is still very much in use by locals and therefore not yet flooded with tchochkes made in China.
On Fridays, Omanis come from many miles away to visit the so-called “Cattle Market”, actually more of a general livestock market. In addition to cows, you’ll see flat-bed trucks filled with camels, and plenty of goats.
The cattle market is a round space, allowing sellers to lead their animals for sale in a slow circular walk, where buyers sit in the middle and along the edges, shouting out a price as they feel moved to do so. If a deal is reached, the transfer is made immediately – the animal is either led away via a rope, or in the case of a pair small goat kids, scooped up one other each arm.
Bear in mind, this is not prettied up for tourist viewing: there are cows and goats groaning, the faint smell of manure, plenty of flies, and working men in their traditional white robes – called dishdasha --- drenched in sweat.
Speaking of sweat, you’ll want to arrive as early in the morning as possible – to beat the heat of the day, and the whole thing is pretty much wrapped up by 11 a.m.
The rest of the souk is mostly dedicated to the needs of locals during their marketing. Even on a busy day, the vibe is calm – there are virtually no aggressive merchants and touts trying to relieve you of your money. There’s a fish souk (pictured above), a vegetable souk, a gun souk, a pigeon souk.
There are a few shops selling keepsakes and souvenirs, especially objects and jewelry made of silver, a metal for which the area is known. (Especially nice, although not to put in your carry-on luggage silver khanjar, or ceremonial dagger, part of a traditional male outfit.) Silver is sold by the weight, and the shopkeepers are seemingly not that interested in negotiating. Another unusual aspect of the shopping environment – except for a few Western tourists, the shoppers are male.
Plan Your Trip to NizwaAlthough you can easily make Nizwa a day trip, there’s enough to do out in this area that an overnight worthwhile. (Other attractions include Wadi Ghul, considered Oman’s “Grand Canyon”, and heading a bit further afield, dune bashing in the desert of Wahiba Sands and swimming in the Wadi Bani Khalid.)
For an unusual experience, stay at The View, about 45 minutes from Nizwa, which is some 4,500 feet above sea level perched on the Jebal Shams mountain. The rooms are tents on platforms, with indoor, private bathrooms. Make sure you ask for a tent on the outer row so you get the view you’ve cone from and not the interior tents, and bear in mind that there’s no alcohol served on the premises. Read Trip Advisor reviews of The View .
In Nizwa itself, consider hotels SAHAB and The Golden Tulip. Read reviews of these hotels, and the handful of others in this area.