Getting a little off track on our 6-day road trip in Oman was a wonderful way to see this diverse and beautiful country and it wowed us on so many levels.
Imagine driving through a dry, baron, desert country. It’s hot, anywhere from 30°- 45°. The roads are some the best you have ever driven on and there are very few other cars around. You can see rustic coastline out one side of your window, and Arab style architecture out the other. Then suddenly, there’s a cluster of lush green date palm trees and nestled in the middle is an incredibly clean, clear, beautiful waterhole. Add dramatic, rocky highlands, castles, stunning mosques, pristine sand dunes and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet… Welcome to Oman!
We had read so much about this a little travelled country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and we wanted to visit before it became ‘too discovered’. We spent a lot of time researching the best and cheapest way to travel Oman and discovered that travelling independently, was by far the most viable option. Once we established that we could wild camp almost anywhere we pleased, we knew we could see Oman on a seriously low budget. We discovered that hiring a car was actually quite cheap, however, a 4×4 was double the price of a small rental car. So we roped our good friends Gary and Daina into joining us on a 6-day adventure through one of the most interesting countries we have visited and split the cost of the car rental for our 6-day road trip in Oman.
We all flew into Muscat together from England. We scored an incredibly cheap deal with Pegasus Airlines, stopping briefly in Istanbul. The downside of our ridiculously cheap flight was arriving at 2.40am. After collecting our bags, we grabbed a sim card and some cash before collecting our pre-booked rental car. By 4.00am, we were off in complete darkness, with Gary designated primary driver for the road trip in Oman.
Bleary-eyed, we slowly drove from Muscat down the coastal road, straight to the Bimmah Sinkhole. We tried to find coffee en-route but to no avail. The sun had just popped up as we parked the car and we realised the sinkhole wouldn’t open for an hour. That was until a super sweet man came and spoke to us, opened the gates and welcomed us inside. He offered us dates and coffee and even said we could have a sleep within the grounds if we wanted! Certainly not the welcome we expected but one we were very happy to receive. As the sun emerged, we had the pleasure of enjoying the stunning sinkhole all to ourselves.
Popular with locals on weekends and tourists all the time, we were feeling pretty pleased we had arrived early. Struggling to keep our eyes open, we headed down the stairs to the water. Although a little cold for Daina and myself, Gary bit the bullet and jumped into the turquoise water, shortly followed by Chris. It was at that moment that we all learnt, the Bimmah Sinkhole was in fact saltwater. Legend has it that a meteor created the sinkhole.
TIP – For anyone wanting to visit the Bimmah Sinkhole, arrive early. The gates open at 8 am. Avoid the weekend days of Friday & Saturday, as it gets really busy with locals. Girls and boys should respect the local culture and dress modestly. We would recommend girls in particular cover up in this location.
Our next stop was the famous Wadi Shab, only a short drive from Bimmah Sinkhole. Having not eaten, we searched for food en-route, but like our earlier coffee endeavours, we weren’t successful. We ended up grabbing some unappealing snacks and water at Wadi Shab’s car park to tide us over. From the car park, we took a short boat ride to the other side of a small waterway. From there, we walked around 45 mins to reach the waterhole.
The temperature was rising and by the time we arrived, we had worked up a sweat. Although it was only 10am, surprisingly, there was a reasonable amount of tourists already paddling around in the water. Gary, Chris and myself braved the unexpected freezing water, while Daina guarded our belongings. We paddled right down to the end, over rocks and through a narrow gorge, to reach a pretty waterfall.
TIP – The rocks were incredibly slippery (I found out the hard way when I slipped and smashed my knee). The small stones that form the riverbed are difficult to walk on. Water shoes are advisable!!
After our refreshing dip, we made a plan for the rest of the day. Visiting the neighbouring and reportedly equally stunning Wadi Tiwi was initially on the agenda. However, time was ticking and we were all hungry. So we pushed on towards Sur, stopping at a huge supermarket on the way where we stocked up on food, drinks, ice, etc. As we had a week of camping ahead of us, we grabbed a few BBQ essentials.
Finding a campsite around Sur took a little longer than expected. We actually drove further past Sur, before finding a great spot along the coast, just what we’d been hoping for . We set up our tents, watched the sunset and cooked our first Omani BBQ. By 7pm, we were all in bed after a long first day on our road trip in Oman.
After some much-needed sleep, we woke early the following morning. We had breakfast, packed up camp and moved onto our next destination, Wahiba Sands. Heading back towards Sur, we stopped to check out the town a bit more, stocking up on supplies before we left.
We also made a detour to Wadi Bani Khalid along the way and by the time we arrived, it was around 2pm. The car park was almost full and we were a bit worried the wadi would be really busy. But unlike Wadi Shab, Wadi Bani Khalid covered a really large space. So it never felt too busy.
Swimming in Wadi Khalid was a lovely way to cool down in the 35° heat. And just like our previous swimming hole experiences, the water was crystal clear.
If you like wildlife, keep your eyes peeled as there’s plenty of colourful birdlife about, like this Indian Roller.
By 4.00 pm, we were off in search of a desert campsite in Wahiba Sands. Finding a good spot to pitch our tents took a bit of time.
With the sun about the set, we ran up the nearest large dune, to get some sunset pics. Puffing and sweating, we had just taken our cameras out, when a small sandstorm suddenly blew in. And so down the dune we went.
But the conditions weren’t much better on the ground, with sand flying everywhere. Setting up camp was a nightmare. Our tents constantly threatened to blow away and building a fire was painful. But after constructing a wind barrier out of rocks and wood, we eventually got our fire going. Eventually, the wind eased and we, with sand in our hair, clothes, tents and sleeping bags, we stayed up late gazing at the star-studded sky, before hitting the sack.
TIP – 4×4 dune bashing is a popular past time for many locals and tourists. Driving on dunes takes a reasonable amount of skill. If you’re going to be driving on thick sand, you’ll need to have your tires deflated first. Remember to inflate them once you leave the dunes.
We were up early the following morning. Still covered in sand, Chris and I climbed back up the sand dune and from the top, we could see dunes for miles. Watching the light change as the sun rose was a highlight for us. It was so quiet and calm, quite the contrast to the night before.
Leaving Wahiba Sands and the friendly four-legged locals, we drove along the immaculate roads to Nizwa. As we travelled further north, the flat sandy landscape evolved into a hazy, rocky, mountainous backdrop.
Being Friday and the Muslim day of prayer, Nizwa was very quiet. A lot of the shops and the fort were closed when we arrived. But the fort reopened after lunch, so we paid the hefty entrance fee and went inside for a look around. Dating back to the 11th century, the fort is one of Oman’s major tourist attractions. However, during our visit, there were only a handful of other people inside, which was insane! On the plus side, it made for a relaxed visit.
From Nizwa, we headed towards Bahla, to visit the Jibreen Castle, scaling a rocky hill for a view of Bahla Fort en route.
We had an inkling the Jibreen castle would be closed already, so we weren’t surprised to see the doors locked when we arrived. So we decided to find a campsite nearby and visit the castle the following morning. After finding a secluded spot to camp off the main road, we witnessed a colourful sunset and had another BBQ dinner under the sparkling sky.
We returned to the Jibreen Castle early the next morning. Unlike Nizwa Fort, the entrance fee to the castle was very cheap. We spent time looking through all of the rooms, terraces and turrets. Again, there were only a handful of people visiting which still surprised us. Although similar to Nizwa Fort in many ways, we all left feeling more impressed by the Jibreen Castle.
Our next destination was Oman’s highlands and the country’s tallest mountain, the stunning Jebel Shams. We made a lot of stops along the way, admiring the dramatic rocky mountainous views and small abandoned village of Wadi Ghul.
Here along with Wahiba Sands, was where we really appreciated our 4×4. Only partially sealed, the road was windy and bumpy. We could imagine the difficulties a regular sedan may have venturing on some of those roads.
After a few hours, we reached the viewpoint over Wadi Nakhr, also known as Arabias Grand Canyon. We found a shaded spot by the canyon, where we stopped for lunch.
Continuing on from our scenic lunch spot, we reached the small village of Khateem (also spelt Al Khitaym). After changing into some comfy clothes and shoes, we commenced what has been described as one of Oman’s most beautiful walks – The Balcony Walk.
And beautiful it was! Following a marked (red, white and yellow) narrow path cut into the side of a cliff and around the rim of Wadi Nakhr, we were in awe of the canyon views. Despite a small protest from Gary, we followed the path as far as we could, passing the tiny village ruins of As Sab. At that point, we were rewarded with full views of the canyon. Reaching the end of the tail and after a short break, we turned around and made our way back uphill to Khateem. That was certainly the more strenuous direction of the hike, with more complaints from Gary.
TIP – In total, The Balcony Walk is around 5 km and took us a little over 2 hrs, but could take a lot longer depending of your fitness levels and pace. We totally recommend taking loads of water, and sun protection especially if you’re hiking in the middle of the day (not recommended). That sun gets hot!! But, if you like a scenic hike it’s a ‘must’ for any road trip in Oman.
It didn’t take us long to find a spot to camp. Sheltered from the wind, we built a big fire and cooked our BBQ dinner.
Looking at the stars in the perfectly clear night’s sky was another highlight. We woke in the middle of the night to the sound of footsteps outside our tent. Chris bravely ventured into the cold to investigate, only to find some donkeys roaming around! Phew!! We woke again early, around 5am, freezing cold. Huddled together, we eventually got out of bed when we discovered Gary had a fire going. As we warmed up by the fire, we were momentarily ambushed by a large heard of goats. Despite the herd moving through our campsite quickly, we inherited a straggler who even joined us for breakfast!
After packing up camp and saying goodbye to our new found friend, we made our way back to Muscat. We had originally booked a half-day snorkelling trip in the Daymaniat Islands with Daymaniat Shells. Sadly, our plan of exploring Oman’s underwater world was killed by a weeks forecast of rough weather and rain. With extra time up our sleeves, we made a detour to one of the oldest villages in Oman, Misfat Al Abriyeen. We wandered around the mud village for a short while, searching for a picturesque viewpoint. But we ended up getting a bit confused and after walking around in circles for a while, we gave up.
Driving towards Muscat we passed several beautiful forts and watchtowers. Unsurprisingly, as we neared Oman’s capital, the traffic got increasingly busy.
Our first task was to find somewhere to camp. We eventually found a spot by the beach which was perfect. But it was too early to pitch our tents. Regulations also prohibited us from lighting a fire by the beach, so we treated ourselves to some tasty kebabs. We then went down to the beautifully lit up Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque to take some night shots. But our photoshoot was cut short as the heavens opened.
Adamant the ‘shower’ would pass, Chris persevered whilst the rest of us scampered to the car. Determined to keep our camping dream alive, He was insisting on camping in the rain. But eventually, he too scampered back to the car, admitting defeat. The rain was too heavy and our tents were far from waterproof. Before we knew it, we were in a nice apartment, enjoying our first shower in a week, lounging on a real bed and drinking gin! Not the worst way to spend our final night in Oman.
After a glorious nights sleep, we reluctantly got out of bed early. We wanted to visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque as it opened, before it got too busy. Despite arriving just after the mosque opened, it didn’t take long before the hoards started pouring through the gates! We had a tiny gap to capture the beauty of the mosque, without having to share it with the world. So we spent an hour or so floating around taking photos.
The mosque took 6 years to build, covering an area of 416,000 square meters. It holds up to 20,000 worshipers at a time. Made up of 300,000 tones of sandstone, it was absolutely stunning.
After enjoying some complimentary coffee and dates in one of the squares, we wandered around the grounds.
Once we’d seen all we wanted at the mosque, we headed back to our hotel, packed up our things and checked out. Our onward flights were not until the early evening. So with several hours to kill, we drove down the coast to Muttrah to check out the Souq. When we arrived, many of the stalls were closed as it was the middle of the day. So we moved on to Old Muscat. We wandered around the main square outside the Sultans residence before Chris ran up a hill searching for a birds-eye view of the town.
In the meantime, the rest of us gave our 4×4 a quick tidy in anticipation of its return. Although a nice area, there wasn’t too much to see in Old Muscat. We had a bite to eat as the realisation set in that our Omani adventure was coming to a close. Before we knew it, we were at the airport, saying our goodbyes and on our way to Bangladesh.
Our road trip in Oman was everything we were expecting and more. Being able to wild camp almost anywhere we wanted, gave us the freedom to really explore and get a little off track. We didn’t see a lot of other tourists, but it’s only a matter of time before that changes. Our advice? Get in quick!! Check out our Oman 8-day guide for our full itinerary, tips and loads of info!
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