Oman travel guide: Complete 8 day itinerary – Everything you need to know about planning the perfect road trip through Oman.
Oman is a desert country located in the Middle East, bordering Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Famous for its countless sinkholes, wadis (valleys which fill with water), dessert and dates, Oman is a country that should be on your radar. However, Oman is also home to spectacular mountain highlands, breathtaking views, fairytale castles and historic villages. On top of that, Oman is super clean, super safe and Omani’s are amongst some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Infrastructure in Oman is great. The roads are new, (mostly deserted), well maintained and as fuel is cheap, Oman’s a great country to explore by car.
DAYS 1-2: Explore Muscat and its surrounds
Spend the first day or two exploring Oman’s capital Muscat and the surrounding areas.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Probably the most famous landmark in Muscat, the Sultan Qaboos Mosque is well worth a visit. The mosque took 6 years to build, covers an area of 416,000 square meters and holds up to 20,000 worshipers at a time. Made of 300,000 tones of Indian sandstone, the mosque is the second largest in the world. There may be ladies offering complimentary coffee and dates in one of the squares, where you can sit and learn about Islam and ask any question about Oman you have. Get there early to beat the crowds.
Entrance to the mosque is free. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque every day except Fridays, from 8:30-11:00 am. A strict dress code applies to men and women. Long sleeve tops must cover shoulders and elbows and long trousers or skirts must cover ankles and should be loose and flowing. Ladies will need to cover their hair with a headscarf. **Headscarves can be hired for OMR 2. If you have time, it’s worth catching the mosque at night too, as it looks amazing all lit up.
Located opposite the corniche, Muttrah Souq is a 20-25 min drive from the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. This busy bizare is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. You’ll find a mix of Indian and African locals selling touristy souvenirs, bags, carpets, gold and house hold items. The Souq opens Saturday -Thursday 8am-1pm & 5-9pm and Fridays 5-9pm.
A further 5-10 min drive along the corniche is Old Muscat, the original historical city of Muscat and current home to the ruling Sultan. You can see Al Alam Palace, the residence of the ruling monarch Sultan Qaboos and the most important of the six royal residences in the country. Surrounded by craggy mountains, there are several towers and a reconstructed city wall which used to protect the city.
Join a snorkelling trip, dolphin watching or sunset cruise
Just off the coast of Muscat lies the Daymaniyat Islands, home to an array of marine life and beautifully clear, turquoise water. Explore the underwater world with a 1/2 day snorkelling trip, go on a dolphin-watching cruise or relax with a sunset cruise. There’s a bunch of tour operators running trips to the islands, our pick was Daymaniant Shells. It is also possible to scuba dive off the coast of Muscat.
DAY 3: Muscat – Sur
After spending time in and around Muscat, take an early morning drive along the Coastal Road to Sur. The road is all highway and an easy drive. But you must make some stops along the way!
Approximately 90 mins drive from Muscat, lies the Bimmah Sinkhole. This is the perfect place to stop, have a swim and cool down. The turquoise water’s very inviting! It’s a popular swimming hole with locals and tourists alike and especially busy on the weekend days of Friday and Saturday. There is a male and female toilet block where you can change, along with a water fountain. Bimmah Sinkhole is inside a gated park complex locally known as Hawiyat Najm Park. There are picnic benches scattered around and a children’s play park. Entrance is free and the gates open at 8am.
Tip: There are signs upon entering asking visitors to dress modestly. Locals visit the sinkhole regularly, so you should respect local customs and cover up when swimming here.
From Bimmah Sinkhole, keep driving 20mins and you’ll find Wadi Shab’s car park. You’ll most likely need to take a small boat across a small river, from where you’ll need to walk 30-45mins across rugged paths and rocks to reach the swimming hole. It’s worth the walk as the waterhole is really beautiful, the water perfectly clear and is a great place to cool down. The dress code is more relaxed here.
The car park and entrance to Wadi Shab is free, but the return boat ride costs OMR1. The first boat departs at around 8am and the last boat back to the car park is at 5pm. Keep an eye on the time or you may find yourself stranded.
Tip: If you swim right down to the end (you’ll need to carefully climb over slippery rocks), you will pass through a very narrow gorge which opens up to a pretty waterfall inside a cave.
Continue along the coastal road until you reach the city of Sur. There is a large supermarket just outside of Sur where you can stock up on ice, food and drinks. If you have time, stop and check out the city. Make sure you allow enough time to find a place to camp!
DAY 4: Sur – Wahiba Sands
After an early breakfast, spend some time exploring Sur. This old East African trading port, has a pretty lighthouse, a fort and typical Omani architecture. Fishing boats line the shoreline and it’s a great place to get a feel of local life!
Wadi Bani Khalid
After exploring Sur, make your way to the desert, via Wadi Bani Khalid for a dip and a picnic lunch. There’s an area towards the rear of the site where tourists can swim in western swimwear.
From Wadi Bani Kahlid, make your way to Wahiba Sands and find a place to set up camp. Climb a dune to catch the sun setting and gaze at the milky way sparkling above.
Tip: If you plan on driving on sand dunes, make sure you deflate your tires at a local shop beforehand.
**Note: Some area’s in Wahiba Sands prohibit wild camping and there are signs advising travellers of this. There are numerous desert camps you can stay at should you have problems finding a place to camp.
DAY 5: Wahiba Sands – Nizwa
Get up early and watch the colours in the sky change from the top of a sand dune. After breakfast, drive along good roads to the town of Nizwa. This is a long drive and will take 2-3hours. There are large supermarkets in Nizwa where you can stock up on food and drinks.
Wander around the historic city of Nizwa. Visit the Nizwa Fort and the souq which is conveniently next to the fort. Nizwa fort opens 8:00am to 6:00pm everyday except Friday 8:00am to 11:30am/1:30pm to 6:00pm. Entrance is OMR5.
Head towards Bahla and find a campsite for the night. By doing this, you can easily visit Jibreen Castle early in the morning. If you have time, head into Bahla for views of the impressive UNESCO Bahla Fort.
There are some rocky hills you can scramble up for some nice views. Or if you’re up for it, go inside and have a look around.
DAY 6: Nizwa – Jebel Shams
After breakfast, drive to Jibreen Castle. Get there as it opens and you will most likely have the entire place to yourself. Tickets are only BZ500 to enter. Tip: If we had to choose only one, we would visit Jibreen Castle over Nizwa Fort. We personally found it more impressive and it’s WAY cheaper.
After visiting the Jibreen Castle, make your way to Oman’s highlands and tallest mountain, Jebel Shams (3009m). There are many picturesque places to stop along the way for photos. Enjoy lunch by the stunning viewpoint of Arabia’s Grand Canyon, Wadi Nakhr. After lunch, continue driving to the small village of Khateem (also referred to as Al Khitaym), the start/finish point of The Balcony Walk.
The Balcony Walk
The tiny village of Khateem is the beginning and endpoint of what is said to be one of the most beautiful hikes in Oman – The Balcony Walk. This 5 km hike, goes along the rim of Wadi Nakhr and is a great way to take in the breathtaking canyon views. For trail information click here
The narrow path gently winds its way downhill for much of the first half of the walk, meaning the return journey is predominantly uphill. Be sure to take plenty of water, hat, sunscreen and sunnies with you. Depending on time and weather conditions, you may choose to do the walk early in the morning. We would rate the walk as moderate and would allow at least 2 hours to complete the walk, although it could take a lot longer depending of your fitness levels and pace.
There is plenty of space to camp around Jebel Shams and it can get really cold at night. Make sure you have some layers to help keep you warm.
DAY 8: Jebel Shams – Muscat
If you didn’t have time to complete the Balcony walk yesterday, now is your chance! Be sure to head out early and take plenty of water with you. If hiking’s not your thing, start to make your way back to Muscat.
Misfat Al Abriyeen
The historical mud town of Misfat Al Abriyeen is worth a stop en route to Muscat. You’ll need to park your car just outside of the town as there are no roads inside the town. Take a wander through the old streets and crumpled buildings. If you have an extra day up your sleeve, stay the night here at a local homestay and learn more about Omani culture.
Continue onto Muscat and catch your onward flight.
Getting to/from and around
Muscat International Airport is located around 30km from Muscat and is the main airport in Oman. The airport itself is newly renovated and very modern. The arrivals hall has a few coffee places, phone kiosks, ATM’s and rental car booths. We picked up our 4×4 at Europcar at the airport. Taxi’s are available from the airport to Muscat city. Some hotels offer free shuttle service to/from the airport.
The best way to explore Oman is by hiring a car. Bus services are very limited and restricted to cities like Muscat. Car hire is actually very reasonably priced and even cheaper if you are sharing with other travellers. The roads are mostly in excellent condition and make for very easy driving. You could potentially follow the above itinerary in a sedan. But to be on the safe side, we definitely recommend renting a 4×4.
- Check to see if your rental car agreement includes unlimited kilometers. Some companies have a limited daily cap.
- Check to see if your rental car agreement covers you to drive off road. Most companies will not insure you if you have an accident and are not driving on a sealed road.
- Buy a sim card with data so that you can use Google Maps to navigate your way around the country. We got ours from the airport.
- MAPS.ME offers great offline maps and alternative to google maps. Be sure to download the map of Oman before you set off.
Camping in Oman
The beauty of camping in Oman, is that you can pull up and pitch a tent almost anywhere you please. The only places you can’t camp is on private property, directly within cities and villages or in wadis (for risk of flooding). Of course, when you are wild camping like this, you will not have access to showers, toilets and electricity. If wild camping doesn’t appeal to you, there are some designated campsites which have electricity and facilities, but are not free. Alternatively, you can stay in hotels.
- Download the app iOverlander for tips on camping spots
- If you are renting a 4×4 and the back seat folds down flat, you could easily lie your mattress in the back and sleep in the car – no tent required
Eating and drinking
Omani cuisine is a mix of Arabian, African and Indian food. In restaurants, you will typically find curries, kebabs, rice, breads and dates. If you’re camping, self catering is a great way to save the budget. There are huge supermarkets in every big city or town, which have a great range, allowing you to stock up on fresh produce each day. If you’re on a budget, take some supplies with you like cereal and coffee, as these items can be expensive. If you plan on BBQing, you’ll need to buy a few things to cook with (which are relatively inexpensive and easily found at the supermarket):
- Soft cool bag to keep ice, drinks and food in
- BBQ griddle with handles to cook meat/veg on
- Pair of tongs
- Picnic rug
- Wooden skewers
- Box of aluminium foil (to wrap and roast veggies in)
- Cans of soft drinks. We used empty cans to boil water for tea and coffee.
You need an alcohol license to buy alcohol in shops, except for the airports duty free store. You can’t drink in public places and alcohol is only available at licensed bars, mainly in Muscat and come at a high price.
- Laws were recently introduced which ‘prohibits the use of fire for BBQ in parks, public beaches, corridors, and green spaces, except in the sites and places designated for that purpose’. This mainly relates to the Muscat Municipality. A OMR100 fine will be given for anyone caught breaking this law and or littering!
- Save on buying charcoal by collecting firewood along the way
Getting an Omani visa
Most nationalities require an e-visa to enter Oman. You can obtain an e-visa through the Royal Omani Police website. A 10-day tourist visas costs OMR5, depending on your nationality and takes up to a week for approval.Print this out and have it handy when you enter Oman.
Money in Oman
The official currency is Omani Rial (OMR) which is made up of 1000 Baisa (BZ). ATM’s are available at the airport and in major towns. Oman is not a cheap country to visit, so it is important to cost your trip before visiting. Free camping and self-catering will save you a lot of cash and will help to make your trip very affordable.
Best time to visit Oman
The winter months of October-March are the best times to visit Oman. Temperatures range between 20-30°c. Temperatures in the summer months can get as hot as 50°c.
What to pack
There’s a few things that you will need for a camping road trip in Oman. Below are our recommendations:
- Lightweight easy to erect tent
- Self-inflatable mattress
- Sleeping bag (warmth will depend on where you go and what season you are travelling in. Jebel Shams got really cold at night)
- Lightweight pillow
- Good head torch
- USB adaptors and charging cables to charge your devices in the car
- Solar-powered battery packs are a great option for charging devices
- Spare camera batteries (IMPORTANT if you like photography)
- Swiss Army Knife
- ‘Keep cup’ or reusable cup
- Reusable plate/bowl and cutlery
- Bio-degradable wet wipes
- Dry shampoo (lifesaver)
- Antibacterial hand sanitizer
- Quick-drying towel
- Hat, sunnies, sunscreen
- Layers of clothing
- Lightweight towel
- Eco-friendly loo paper
- Small spade for your ‘bush toilet’
One of the first questions people ask about Oman is whether or not it’s safe. We can say from our experience that Oman was one of the safest countries we have ever visited. Crime rates are very low and the people in Oman are super friendly. The only thing that we found scary was driving in busy areas and at night. Omanis can be a little crazy on the roads and the road toll is really high! So you need to take care on the roads.
What to wear
Oman is a Muslim country and the locals dress very conservatively. You should respect the local culture and cover your knees and shoulders. Women will need to be fully covered, including their hair to enter mosques. Shopping centres have signs on the doors advising of the appropriate dress code to enter, as do certain sites. It’s always a good idea to look around and see what other people are wearing, and try not to stand out. As Oman is a desert country which is hot almost all of the time, wearing lightweight and loose clothing is the best option.
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