Oman and Punta Del Este
Obviously, I wrote this before the tragedy currently devasting Southeast Asia. Oxfam has told us the challenge in SE Asia is no longer a lack of funds (rather crushingly, it has been compared to donating blood after 9-11.) Now the challenge is the logistics of delivering aid. However not just there but in many other places all over the world famine and disease are an ongoing plight. We should never wait for dramatic disaster to know that need is constant. Please consider a donation to Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontiers), Unicef, and Oxfam.
Whether you went to Bhutan, Panama, Senegal, everyone left town for the holidays. Coming this Spring, we’ll have the scoop on a new book dishing the dirt about what really happens at hotels, a forecast on all the new bars and restaurants opening up, and a piece on what everyone’s wearing (think Safari and green, green, green!) – in the meantime, there’s still time to hop on a plane for somewhere good. I recommend these two “go now” destinations.
~ Syl Tang
Oman: closed to tourists until 1983, 80%+ of it desert, without paved roads until 1970… Oman is now being discovered for its gorgeous Muscat beach, lagoons and fjords. A mixture of the traditional (many Omanis do dress conservatively), that beach resorts are popping up on the 1000+ miles of coastlines, that women make up over 25% of the government chamber and that education is mandatory to age 16, are signs that Oman is becoming more like its neighbour Dubai than the more conservative Saudi Arabia.
Part of the GHM hotel group out of Singapore, our pick for hotel is the Chedi. Second choice is the bigger, more commercial InterContinental Al Bustan Palace. Both have private beach access to Muscat but the Chedi’s two stunning infinity pools overlooking the ocean is the best view.
Culture and Play
Capital Muscat is made up of Muscat, Mutrah and Ruwi. Check out the His Majesty the Sultan’s Palace, the Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum, Bait Zubair, and the harbour. Marina Bandar Al Rowdha has water sports and dolphin watching. Muscat is called the old port area and has gated walls. Mutrah, the main trade and residential neighbourhood is where to go for souvenirs. Ruwi is the business district. In the 16th century, the Portuguese occupied Muscat and the Mutrah, Miran and Jalali forts are worth a visit.
Though it’s not neighbour Dubai – yet- Omani jewelry and perfume is a reason to make a trip. Negotiate hard at the Old Mutrah Souq and you’ll likely get a 30% discount off the goods from what is known as the best bazaar in Arabia. This is the home of rosewater and frankincense so pick some up.
You will need a visa to visit Oman unless you are already going to the UAE or living in another Gulf country. Also foreigners are not expected to conform to dress code but I personally believe that it never hurts to show respect for the local custom and certain places still require being covered up showing feet and hands so dress conservatively – temperatures can be very hot so abayas, hejabs and kurtas are not a bad thing to pack.
PUNTA DEL ESTE, URUGUAY
It’s been called “the Hamptons of South America”, “Rio’s successor”, “St Tropez South” and is frequented by the likes of Athina Roussell and Natalia Vodianova...
Fly into the newly built airport - designed by famous local architect Carlos Ott from Buenos Aires. Another option is to fly into Montevideo, Uruguay's capital and drive to Punta, which is just about an hour away.
Skip the Conrad Hilton in favour of Cipriani Punta Del Este La Barra.
Eat and Drink
The place to eat is Il Baretto downtown. A second though not as chic choice is Los Negros. Then go out to Tequila and Cream (an outdoor bar in the nearby town of Jose Ignacio – where Roger Sanchez spins) which are the two spots of the moment. A Punta tip is that bars change owners nearly every single season so what's hot now is, just for now. You should feel right at home knowing next year you'll be playing at a whole new hot spot! In the a.m., have croissants with every one else just rolling out of bed at Medialunas Calentitas in the bar-heavy neighbourhood of La Barra – across a bridge from the main “punta.”
Go swimming in the Mansa as it’s called. It’s family- heavy but calm and gorgeous, if a bit cold. Also check out Carlos Paez Vilaró’s atelier in Casapueblo, which functions as both a gallery and hotel. He’s a known Uruguayan painter- sculptor and his house is a landmark of Punta. Best is having tea during the sunset on the terrace.
If you hop on a plane right now, you’ll be in time for the Lapataia Jazz Festival which runs this January from the 12th to 16th.
We’d also recommend:
1. Jaipur, India
2. Valparaiso, Chile
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