Oman Travelguide: A Roadtrip on a Budget
The middle east is known for many things, most
people who visited Asia had a layover in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, some even in Muscat. We all know about the oil, the money, the big gap between the rich and the poor, the lack of gender and sexual equality, a region where Islam is the main religion. But what that mean for people living there, what is the `middle east`and what countries are part of it? This Travelguide will be an interesting one, a mix of culture, religion, sightseeing, travelling cheap and economical as much as history. Prepare yourself, this will be a long one!
For better orientation, I divided this post into multiple section and provided you an overview, so you can skip the parts you`re not interested in and get straight to what you want to read.
Transport and Roads
How to safe money
How Religion affects a travellers life
Culture/ People / Rules
Travelroute & useful tipps
We started in Muscat and did a roadtrip around the north, which includes beaches, the desert and mountaints. If you access the map, you can find all the spots we visited, this route is easily doable for a 6-7 day trip. Some big supermarkets are also marked, in remote areas it is good to stock up so if there aren`t any restaurants or shops around, you got something to eat. If you got more time, there is also the possibility to drive all the way down to Salalah, but we would recommend at least 2-4 weeks if you want to travel through every part of the country. While it gets incredibly hot during the summer months, Oman is the perfect place if you want to escape the european winter. From november to february, the average temperature is around 25 degrees and the sea is even warmer! The local currency is the Omani Rial, 1 Rial is around 2.50 US Dollars.
A small fisher village with a harbor, it is known to be the hottest place in the country and they actually measured the hottest temperature during 24h worldwide in this place! There is a fort at the city centre, which isn`t accessible, but the town square is a great place for a picknick and if you drive aroudn the Harbor, there is another fort and a playground for kids.
This is probably one of the best known touristic spots in the whole country. The Bimmah Sinkhole is filled with salt water and still connected to the sea through caves, it is actually between 20m-60m Deep and can only be explored by professional divers! It appeared because the underground salt water made the ground collapse and formed what we now know as the sinkhole. The sinkhole itself is located in a small park, entry is free and there is a playground on the proberty. As everywhere, please dress modest if you want to go in for a swim, there are little fishs that suck on your skin but don`t do any harm. Some locals even jump down from the very top, it is really pretty place to go for a dip.
A wadi is a long canyon that is often filled with water after a strong rain, and Wadi Shab is one of the most famous ones. There is a parking lot with a small fast food truck, but I would recommend to bring your own picknick so you can enjoy it somewhere on the way. To start the hike, you have to cross the river with a boat, which costs around 2 rial per person. It is a 40-50 minute walk through the canyon until you reach the water, the path itself is clearly marked but you need to be able to walk on uneven terrain. I would recommend to carry small children for some parts where there isnt much space, but otherwise it is totally doable for kids to walk the short hike. After you reached the river, you have to walk/swim through it, there is no need for you to be an extremly good swimmer but you should be able to swim for around 5 minutes. At the end, there is a very tight entrance ( so if you`re claustophobic, don`t do it) to a breathtaking cave with a waterfall in it! You can even climb up and jump into the water, it is deep enough. The whole canyon is absolutely beautiful, so please take your garbage with you so that many more can enjoy it.
Wadi Tiwi is placed just next to Wadi Shab, but it is completly different. You have to drive into it with your car, there is one main road and there are many villages along the way. It is sometimes a bit difficult to drive through the narrow roads, but as it is quite rural there you can have a look into the traditional life of omani people. We decided to turn around after around 20 minutes, but you can go much further if you want to.
Wadi Bani Khalid
This oasis is situated close to the desert, in the mountains on the other side of the road that goes along the dunes. It actually is quite touristic, many tours can take you here, but it still is Nothing in comparsion to any other country. You can swim in the pools, just dress modest, there is also a path where you can hike deeper into the Wadi to a cave. Bring your own lunch, the buffet is way too expensive ( actually the most expensive food we had on our whole trip!) and isn`t special at all. It looks exactly how you imagine a oasis, such a magical place!
The Rimal al Wahiba is Omans easily accessible desert in the north. It is around 180km x 80km big, has some incredibly big dunes and can be entered through several small villages. To get in, you will need a 4WD and lower the tyre pressure, which can be done at one of the many tyre shops just before you enter the desert itself. Don`t listen to the guys at the gas stations who want to help you, the road inside of the desert is easily doable for a 4 WD and a normal driver, just don`t get too far off it. Same goes if you leave again, the gas stations should have air but they are all broken so you have to pay the nearby air shops,
Nizwa is both the second most visited town in the country and the most conservative one. Its not exactly big, the city centre with its souks is easily walkable in an afternoon and most hotels or supermarkets are based a bit more outside of town. Despite being famous among tourists, it is the opposite of overrun and has this beautiful chilled traditonal omani vibe Muscat lacks in many places.The old fort thoug is crazy overpriced and not worth it, a 30 minute drive away lies the Bahla fort which is bigger and costs less than 1/10 of the one in Nizwa. There are free parking spots at every entry point to the centre, if you`re looking for some crazy good turkish food, definately stop at the turkish restaurant next to the Tanuf Residency. You can also stock up at the Lulu or Carrefour for your journey into the mountains, back to Muscat or wherever it will take you next.
A 30-45 minute drive from Nizwa you can find the Bahla fort. It is absolutely huge, endless rooms to explore and the entry fee is only 0.5 OR! The money is used to keep the place in a good condition, and it really is. The village of Bahla has some cute lunch spots and if you`re driving the Jebel Shams, you will pass it anyway. Definately a must see and probably one of the forts that is most worth it.
The Jebel Shams are known for the famous arabian Grand Canyon. You can either take a tour from Nizwa or Muscat, or do it yourself. The road itself isn`t that bad, if you like a bit of offroad driving and aren`t scared of heights its easily doable. It is recommended to use a 4WD, but the smallest kind is enough and you won`t need a big Monster, we even passed some who went with a 2WD even though this may be a bit risky. You can either camp up there, sleep in the resort at the very top or just enjoy the view over this massive canyon.
Mattrah / Muscat
Muscat doesn`t really has a city centre, historically it grew in length and while it does have some nice places like mosque or the big mall inspired by the ones in Dubai, it isn`t really a place to stay for long. Old Muscat, Mattrah, is placed in a bay a 30 minute drive away from the mosque and has a souk, harbor and a beautiful sea walkway. This is probably one of the most touristic places in the whole country, the cruise ships arrive here and floods the streets with tourists. Don`t just go back the way you came from when in the souk, at the exit on the backside are some incredibly yummy streetfood stalls you can`t miss!
Sultan Qaboos Mosque
The big mosque is a must see and if you want to avoid the tourists, get their early. Its huge and the tourguides are waiting for their groups, some offer you to give you a free tour while they are waiting just because they love to show people around, thats how kind Omani people are.Its a great place to learn about religion and Islam, it is also the second biggest mosque on the arabian half island, after the one in Abu Dhabi.
There are many places in the area around Muscat, many are privately owned by hotels but some are public like Yiti beach. Be aware that there is no restaurant or market to buy food, so bring enough with you. There are two small villages on the way, but they are mostly abandoned. The beach itself is Beautiful, the water is really warm even in february and it is loved by locals and tourists. If you prefer a luxurious beach, there are quite a few more north but they aren`t for free. Yiti is perfect for camping at the beach and to enjoy the most beautiful sunset, but please take your litter with you and educate the locals to do the same.
Camping and accomandation
One of the best things about Oman is the fact that you can wildcamp wherever you want. The only place where it is forbidden is the area around Ris al Jinz because of the turtles, otherwise you can set up your camp anywhere. You can either bring your own tent or rent camping gear at one of the many companys in Muscat, or buy it either at Carrefour or Lulu Hypermarket.
Between Queriat and Sur, the whole coastline is perfect for camping and many locals will do so too. Its a stone beach with cliffs, but easily accessible from the main road and everyone will find a place to build up their camp.
Ras al Jinz / Sur area
There are beaches where you are allowed to camp, but stay away from the turtle reservation. Make sure to arrive early, especially in winter, as it gets dark at around 5-6pm and you won`t be able to find a nice place afterwards. The beach is seperated from the mainland by hills, we were to late and decided to camp on a plateu on the hills, but there are many great places around.Make sure you got a 4WD if you drive on the beach!
There is no need to book an expensive desert camp, you can easily do it yourself. With a 4WD, you can find a good spot by just driving a bit off the mainroad and set up your tent next to the dune. It is completly safe, there aren`t any dangerous animals in the Wahiba Sands, the only ones that will cross your path are goats and camels. The wind can be quite strong, so make sure to place your tent near your car and secure it .
Tanuf Residency Nizwa *
After three nights wildcamping, a shower is desperately needed and even though you can get a camping shower or just use a water tank, sometimes its nice to get an actual one. There is no such thing as public showers so you will need to stay in a hotel, there are no hostels in the country.
The Tanuf Residency Nizwa is placed on the mainroad into Nizwa, in the same building is a turkish restaurant with the best honey pizza and falafel I ever had! The staff is really helpful, rooms are big and clean with a seperate living room. Even though it is directly next to a road, you won`t hear anything and the bathroom is simple but has everything you need. After camping in the wild literally everything feels like a luxury! The breakfast is simple and nothing extraordinary but it will feed you well.
Probably the best thing about wildcamping is the possibility to do it on the beach, to watch the sunrise and take dip right after getting up. Yiti is the perfect place to do it, some tours even go their for camping but its such a big beach that there is place for everyone.
Transport and Roads
If you want to see Oman, there is no way around going by car. You can either go with a tour, do day tours from bigger cities like Muscat or Nizwa, or do it our way - rent a car and do it on your own.
While the roads are actually tarmac and in great condition most of the time, there are some places like the desert, the Jebel Shams or some more remote villages that require a 4x4. If you want to take a tour into the desert and one into the mountains from Nizwa, you should be fine with a small car but if you wanna be flexible I highly recommend paying the extra money for a bigger car. For example, if you choose to visit Wadi Damm and want to drive back to Nizwa or Bahla, the road just stops at one point and you are left with something that can`t even be considered a real gravel road that goes down the mountain. Without a AWD, we would have been lost there.
- Parking is free everywhere, if its not just drive a bit further and you`ll find a free spot
- Be careful with the road bumps! They are everywhere and sometimes even in a 60km/h zone so you have to hit the breaks quite often
- Keep your car clean, you can get fined if you drive a dirty car, no joke!
- Getting your car washed Costs around 4 Rial, but they clean it by hand and both the in/outside
- Goats or Camels often cross the road, so be Aware especially in villages or in the countryside
- Gas is incredibly cheap, for around 60l you pay may 20 USD!
Omani food is a vegetarian/vegan dream. You will find all kinds of food in Muscat, but if you wanna experience the real deal, go to a small traditional restaurant on the countryside. The mostly offer either fish, chicken or vegetables and you`ll get crazy big portions for around 2 Rial per person! Maybe you get lucky and a local family will invite you for lunch or dinner, this happend to us at the beach and it was the best food we tasted on our whole trip. Most meals involve rice, some kind of curry and a special kind of bread that is used as cuttery. Instead of a fork or your hand, you can use the bread and the locals are happy to show you how to do it right.
Don`t miss out on the famous desert options, they got these amazing treats that taste like nothing you ever had before and you can find a bakery that sells them in every town or village.
If you want to cook while camping, be aware that it will be more expensive than eating in local restaurants/shops and that many things are imported if you buy them in the huge hypermarkets. If you`re looking for vegetables or fruits, make sure to get them at the markets. Sadly a big amount of what they sell is important from the other part of the world like South America or Australia, which is crazy cause they produce them in Oman too!
A lot happened in the country during the past 50 years. Omanis now have free health care, the infrastructure is based on western standards in many places, most Omanis own new cars and there are highways or tarmac roads nearly everywhere in the country. Oman has the highest rate of people who can write and read in the arabian world, over 97% men and 91% of women went to school, which is free for everyone too! 30 years ago, it was the complete opposite and the majority was analphabetic. The main language is arabic, but cause of the immigrants there are many people from India, Iran or different african countries. Its incredibly easy to communicate in english and locals are mainly well trained.
Oman is considere an absolute monarchy, the Sultan is the leader and people love him. In the 1970s/80s there were rebellions and the current Sultan took over from his father, which led to a change of the system and brought the wealth, security and high standard of living they have today. There are some Things that are still a bit critical, like the use of the death penalty, press freedom or female circumcision in rural areas. The main reason why Oman got wealthy so fast is the same as in most other arabian countries - oil. You will see the signs of several oil companys and its also the reason why gas is so inexpensive. Even in very rural areas there are villas and luxurious houses wherever you go, Oman is around the size of Germany but only inhabits 4.3 million people which is half of Switzerlands population!
Religion & Culture
Oman is an arabian country and islamic. Local women often wear headscarfs or burkas, but especially in their homes or at the beach they get rid of it sometimes. Tourists should respect the culture and religion, for example to follow the rules if visiting a mosque and many mosques aren`t accesible for non muslims. People are happy to talk to you about their religion, about their every day life and how religion affects it, so feel free to ask them if you got any questions!
As a tourists, please respect the local dressing rules:
- cover your shoulders, clevage and knees
- women don`t need to wear a headscarf, only in mosques
- please don`t swim in a bikini, boardshorts and an oversized t-shirt are way more appropiate
As this is a global problem, but due to the fast economical boost Oman recently went through it became a big issue there too. I want to talk about it to help other travellers to act more aware and encourage locals to improve their behaviour.
If you drive for five minutes, you will see plastic bags flying around everywhere, sometimes you`ll even see locals throw them out of their driving cars or just leave it at the spot they held their picknick. Wherever you go, at every attraction and even in the desert, at the beach or at camping spots there are huge piles of trash. If you shop at the Supermarket, you will most likely get 2-3 plastic bags and they will act surprised if you refuse to take them or bring your own. While you can`t drink tab water there, please buy the big containers and not tons of small bottles as it may still create waste, but much less. You can easily spend hours roaming the desert or beach collecting trash and plastic, so please may take half an hour everyday to do this and always take your own stuff with you. The safest way to get rid of it is at a hypermarket where they have bigger bins you can use, the guys who empty the bins at the beach just throw half of the inside in the sand so even while there are bins and people are encouraged to use them, it isn`t really effective.
If you got any question, leave it in the comments and I`m happy to help!
Maybe your future trip will bring you to Oman, if so make sure to tag us on Insta, I would love to see!