Oman Road Trip: An Epic Arabian Adventure

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This post contains everything you need to plan the ultimate Oman road trip.

Oman is an incredibly beautiful country with varied landscapes and warm, friendly people.  It’s one of the most peaceful, welcoming places I’ve ever visited.

Public transport is a bit lacking here though.  The best way to explore this amazing country is behind the wheel of your own car.

Wahiba-sands-sunset
Sunset in Oman's Empty Quarter

When you picture Oman, you probably think of endless rolling sand dunes, dotted with the odd camel.  True, Oman has a lot of desert.  And camels.  But there’s so much more here as well.

Think world-class beaches (that you can enjoy all to yourself), rugged mountains, giant canyons, mind-blowing Arabian architecture, extremely hospitable locals, and fascinating ancient cultures.

Oh, and also: thousands of kilometres of sweet open highway.

Yes folks, Oman is a truly epic country for a road trip.

Suggested Oman Road Trip Itinerary (2 weeks)

If you were really pressed for time, you could complete the following itinerary in one week, but it would be quite rushed.  I prefer to travel slowly, so suggest taking at least two weeks if you can.

Muscat

If you are arriving by air, your Oman road trip will probably start (and finish) in Muscat.

Muscat Oman
Dhows moored off the coast of Muscat

Sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and the Al Hajar mountains, the capital of Oman enjoys a great setting.  It’s clean, safe and well organised, with all of the facilities you’d expect to find in a modern, wealthy capital city.  

However, Muscat has also managed to retain the “old Arabia” vibe, and feels far more authentic than glitzy Dubai or Abu Dhabi, in the neighbouring UAE.

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Muscat by night

Due to the geography, Muscat is very long and thin, spreading out more than 30 kilometres along the coast.  It’s perfectly possible to get around using taxis and busses, but I’d recommend picking up your car as soon as possible, so you have the freedom to explore the city at your leisure.

There’s enough to see and do here to spend a couple of nights in Muscat.  Some of the top places to visit are as follows.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the most stunning places of worship I’ve ever visited.

Sultan-Qaboos-Grand-Mosque-Muscat
Awesome Islamic architecture at Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

The complex is huge, with landscaped gardens, vast courtyards, intricate mosaics, and an amazing blend of modern and traditional Islamic architecture.  

It’s beautiful, awe-inspiring, and definitely worth a visit.

Amazing shapes and beautifully carved stone

Non-muslims are allowed to visit in the morning (before 11am).  Go early to avoid the crowds.  You must wear clothes that cover your arms and legs, and women must cover their hair.

Mutrah

Mutrah is an attractive area of the city, with a long corniche curving around the bay.  Perched on a hill overlooking the natural harbour is an impressive fort, built in the 1500s.

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Mutrah Fort overlooks the corniche

Mutrah Souq is one of the oldest bazaars in the Middle East.  Here you can shop for traditional Omani crafts, clothes, trinkets, spices, and incense.

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Entrance to Mutrah Souk
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You can find most things here

Mutrah is a great place just to wander around, soaking up the atmosphere.  Then, sit in the shade and people-watch, whilst enjoying a cup of Arabic coffee, tea or a fresh juice.

If you’re looking to splash out on one meal during your time in Oman, eating at Bait Al Luban, near the Mutrah souq, would be a good choice.  Here you can enjoy very high quality, traditional Omani food (with a decent selection of vegetarian options), surrounded by beautiful Arabic decor and burning frankincense.

Old Muscat

A little further along the coast is the original historic city, known as Old Muscat. 

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Al Alam Palace - Home of the Sultan of Oman

Old Muscat is a great area to explore on foot.  It’s relatively compact, surrounded by thick walls, with gatehouses, an old watchtower and three impressive forts.

Here you can find the National Museum of Oman, plus Al Alam Palace, the ceremonial home of the Sultan of Oman.

If you end up falling in love with this fascinating city and would like to spend some time living here, check out this excellent guide to living in Muscat as an expat by A Way Abroad.

Bimmah Sinkhole

Driving time from Muscat: 1.5 hours

Bimmah Sinkhole is one of the most recognisable places in Oman.  It’s also a great spot for a dip.

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Bimmah Sinkhole - a perfect place to cool off

This large, naturally occurring sinkhole is about 30 metres deep, and is accessible via a long staircase.  At the bottom is a beautifully clear turquoise pool, where you can swim or just float about cooling off.  Watch out for the tiny fish which will try to nibble you as you bob around!

Wadi Shab

Driving time from Bimmah: 30 mins

About 30 kilometres further along the coast from Bimma, keep an eye out for signs to Wadi Shab parking(If you reach the village of Tiwi, you’ve gone too far.)

Here you can do a short hike through a stunning canyon to some natural swimming pools, caves and a waterfall.

From the car park, you need to take a tiny boat across the river (costs 1 OMR) to reach the start of the trail.  Then it’s a roughly 45 minute hike to the pools.

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Swimming in Wadi Shab

The path is fairly straightforward to follow.  You need to scramble over some rocks in places, but it’s easily doable.  Look out for the falaj (a traditional Omani water irrigation channel) along the way.

At the end of the path, there are some pools where you can have a swim to cool off.  

If (*and only if*) you are a confident swimmer, you can swim to the far side of the pools, where there is a secret cave with a waterfall inside.  (I wish I’d brought a GoPro or other waterproof camera for this…)

Try to start this walk early if possible, to avoid the afternoon heat.  Bring plenty of water and a dry bag (if you have one) for your valuables.

Sur

Driving time from Wadi Shab: 45 mins

Sur is a pretty coastal town which makes an ideal place to spend the night after visiting Bimmah and Wadi Shab.

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Wooden dhows next to Al Ayjah Lighthouse

Sur is famous for its traditional shipbuilding.  On the beach, you can watch wooden dhows being built by hand, as they have been for centuries.

There is an attractive corniche with picturesque whitewashed houses, forts and a lighthouse at Al Ayjah.  

It’s a peaceful, pleasant place.  If you have time to spare, you could easily spend an extra day here wandering around, stopping for tea and chats with the locals.

Ras Al Jinz & Ras Al Hadd

Driving time from Sur: 45 mins

Ras Al Jinz is the easternmost point on the Arabian peninsula.  It’s also home to the amazing Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve.

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Nesting green sea turtle

This is one of the largest nesting grounds for endangered green sea turtles, as well as several other turtle species.  The best time to see them is between July and October, although they do nest here year-round.  

Access to the beach is restricted, but you can arrange a tour at the visitor centre.  

Don’t try to get onto the beach without an official guide  you could disturb the turtles and prevent the babies from reaching the sea.  Bad.

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Another amazing beach

A few kilometres north along the coast is Ras Al Hadd.  If you have a tent, this is an awesome place for a spot of beach camping.  Alternatively, the turtle reserve does have some accommodation, though it’s fairly expensive.

Do not try to wild camp at Ras Al Jinz – this is not permitted, and would disturb the nesting turtles.

Wahiba Sands

Driving time from Ras Al Hadd: 4-5 hours

The Wahiba Sands (also known as the Sharqiya Sands) is a desert in the far east of Oman. 

It’s an extension of the Rub‘ al Khali (or “Empty Quarter”), a vast sandy desert that occupies almost all of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula.  It’s a seriously huge place, spanning roughly 650,000 km², across large parts of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Oman.

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An endless sea of dunes

Endless shifting sands, towering dunes, camels and nomadic Bedouin people.  It’s peaceful, empty, and beautiful.  This is the epic Arabian desert in all its glory.  

A number of desert camps have been set up for visitors to spend the night in this incredible place.  They’re all fairly pricey, but worth it if your budget isn’t too tight.

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Traditional Bedouin tents at Desert Wonders Camp

Desert Wonders Camp is an excellent “budget” option.  A tent sleeping two costs approximately £75 ($100) per night, including a traditional Bedouin evening meal and breakfast.

There is virtually no light pollution out here, and the star gazing is incredible.  Climbing a sand dune by moonlight was definitely one of the highlights of my Oman road trip.

Most desert camps provide off-road transport to and from their locations.  You typically leave your car overnight at Bidiyah, which is accessible by 2WD.

Desert-Wonders-Camp
An atmospheric place to enjoy traditional Bedouin food, coffee and dates

What about wild camping??

Of course, if you have a 4×4 and your own camping gear, there’s nothing stopping you from wild camping in the Wahiba Sands.  For free!  

Just ensure that you have enough supplies.  A full tank of fuel plus lots of water being the most important, obviously.

Check out this article where I review the best tents for wild camping.

In short… One of the best tents that money can buy is the MSR Hubba Hubba 2-person tent.

Also be aware that phone signal is very patchy in the desert, and supplies are few and far between.  They don’t call it the Empty Quarter for no reason.  Don’t stray too far away from civilisation – deserts are (famously) hostile places, and not for the unprepared.  Have fun, it’s an awesome place.  But don’t be stupid.

Nizwa

Driving time from Bidiyah: 2-3 hours

The inland city of Nizwa is one of the oldest in Oman, and used to be the capital in the 6th and 7th centuries.

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View over Nizwa from the fort

Nizwa has long been a regional hub for trade, education, and religion.  It has a relaxed, chilled-out vibe, and is very atmospheric.  Another great place just to be, exploring and soaking up the culture.

Nizwa Fort dominates the centre of the city.  It’s well worth a visit, and contains a brilliant museum devoted to the history of Oman.  From the top of the main tower, you get a fantastic view over the city, its vast date palms and surrounding mountains.

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The giant main tower of Nizwa Fort

The other main point of interest in town is the Nizwa Souq.  This large bazaar is another great place for shopping.  Here you can buy a range of traditional handicrafts, pottery, foods, spices, coffee pots, and high quality silver jewellery.

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Typical quiet street in Nizwa

Jibreen Castle & Bahla Fort

Driving time from Nizwa: 45 mins

There are many other impressive fortresses and ancient fortified towns in the Jebel Akhdar region.  

It would take weeks to visit them all.  For a flavour of this amazing region, check out Jibreen and Bahla, which are two of the most accessible, after Nizwa.

Jibreen-Castle
Jibreen Castle - a giant sand castle

Jibreen Castle (also spelled “Jabrin” or “Jabreen“) is one of the prettiest fortresses I’ve ever seen.  Its straight edges and smooth, flat sides give it the look of an enormous sand castle.

The ruins of Bahla Fort are also definitely worth visiting.  This giant medieval complex was built around (and to defend) an oasis, and is a UNESCO world heritage site.  The traditional Omani mud brick town of Bahla is super atmospheric, shaded with palm groves and encircled by thick stone walls.

Jebel Shams

Driving time from Bahla: 2 hours

Rising 3,000 metres above sea level, Jebel Shams is the tallest mountain in Oman.

Jebel-Shams
The Balcony Walk - follow the signs painted on the rocks. Don't fall off the cliff.

There is an awesome 3.5 kilometre hiking trail up here called the Balcony Walk, through the Grand Canyon of Oman.  It’s much cooler at the top of the mountain than in the valley, and the views are fantastic.  

Possibly not one for those with a fear of heights though.  The path snakes along the edge of some pretty vertical drops down into the canyon below.  Sturdy footwear strongly recommended (plus lots of water, obviously).

The trail starts from Al Khitaym, which your GPS should be able to find.  From here, look out for the red and white paint markers on the rocks.  For more info on this route, head over here.

It’s technically possible to get to Jebel Shams in a 2WD, but a 4WD is highly recommended for this.  The road up the side of the mountain is unpaved, steep and windy in places.  As a minimum, you’ll want a vehicle with high ground clearance, to reduce the chances of wrecking your hire car.

Return to Muscat

Driving time from Jebel Shams: 4 hours

Head back to Muscat at your leisure.

Arabian-architecture-Muscat
Beautiful Arabian architecture in Muscat

For those with more time, I’d also recommend taking a look at Nakhl and Rustaq Forts, on the way from Jebel Shams to Muscat.  These are both fascinating and world-class examples of medieval Islamic architecture, surrounded by mud brick villages and lush oases.  The latter is one of the oldest fortresses in the country.  It was first built by the Persians, and pre-dates Islam.

Car Hire

Hiring a car in Oman is fairly straightforward.  There is a good range of options at Muscat airport.  It’s best to pick up a car from here when you arrive, as you’ll probably want it to get around the city.

Click here for the latest prices and more details.

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You don't need a 4x4 to do an Oman road trip!

Bear in mind that not all hire companies permit off-road driving.  If this is something you’re keen to do, double check this point.

Holders of driving licenses from many countries (including the UK, U.S. and EU) don’t need an international driving permit to hire a car in Oman.

Expect to pay approximately $30 USD per day for a 2WD, and $80-100 USD per day for a 4WD, depending on the model.

2WD Or 4WD?

It’s perfectly possible to do an epic Oman road trip in a 2WD.  All of the places in this post (except the Wahiba Sands beyond Bidiyah, and Jebel Shams) are accessible via paved roads, most of which are in excellent condition.

Oman-road-trip-off-road-driving
Exploring the desert off road - 4WD definitely needed here

That said, Oman is an awesome country for off-roading.  Having a 4WD allows you to take on some of the country’s stunning off-road driving trails.

If this is something you’re into, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Oman Off-Road.  This excellent book contains loads of suggested routes, including GPS coordinates, points of interest, and a wealth of information and tips.

If you’re planning to do much wild camping, especially on deserted beaches and in the desert, a 4WD will also give you a lot more flexibility.

Either way, it’s up to you.  My recommendation is that, if your budget can stretch to hiring a 4×4, go for it.

Driving Tips

Most major roads in Oman are paved and in great condition.  Fuel is cheap – one of the advantages of being a petrostate.

Road signs are written in both Arabic and English, and traffic drives on the right.

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Seriously, watch out for camels!

All of the main GPS/navigation apps (Waze, Google maps, etc.) work in Oman.  Cell phone reception is patchy outside of the main towns and cities.  It’s a good idea to download offline maps in advance (e.g. Google maps offline), especially if heading off road.

Avoid driving at night on minor roads.  Animals (including camels) can come out of nowhere!

Driving-in-Oman
The awesome Omani open road

The speed limit on major highways is 120 km/h.  It’s 90 km/h on most rural roads, and 40 km/h in urban and residential areas.  

Roads are often deliciously empty, but don’t be tempted to speed.  The Royal Oman Police are famously professional and honest, but they will pull you over for speeding, and there are many (unmarked) speed cameras dotted around.

Where To Sleep

Hotels can be quite expensive in Oman.  There are many high-end, luxurious resorts, especially in Muscat.  

Wooden-door-Oman

You won’t struggle to find decent mid-range options in the major destinations noted in this article.  Check out booking.com for deals.

If you’re travelling on a budget, Airbnb can also be good in most of these places.  Though options tend to be more limited at weekends and during holidays.

Camping fans, rejoice.  Wild camping is permitted throughout most of Oman.  Just be considerate and respectful when deciding where to pitch your tent.  Make sure you have enough water, and take all of your rubbish away with you.

Best Time Of Year For Oman Road Trip

The best time of year to do an Oman road trip is between October and April, when daytime temperatures are pleasant (around 25 degrees Celsius).  Evenings and nights can get fairly cold in the Wahiba Sands and in the mountains, so you’ll need warm clothing for these places.

If you’re okay with higher temperatures (30-35 degrees), May and September can also be good times to visit.

Dead-wood-in-desert-Oman

In the summer, temperatures on the coast frequently exceed 40 degrees Celsius.  Inland it’s even hotter, up to 50 degrees.  This makes sightseeing (and doing virtually anything else outside) pretty difficult and unpleasant.

July to October is turtle-hatching season.  So October may be the best month to visit if this is something you’re keen to experience.

Getting To Oman

Various airlines fly to Muscat, including Oman Air, British Airways, Emirates, Qatar and Etihad.

Oman-road-trip-Muscat

If you’re interested in driving to Oman from Dubai (or Abu Dhabi), check out this article.

Visas For Oman

You will probably need a visa to enter Oman.

Mountain-in-Oman

Tourist visas on arrival are issued to citizens of many countries.  These cost 20 OMR and are valid for 30 days.  You’ll need at least 6 months’ validity remaining on your passport.

Certain nationalities can apply for an Omani eVisa in advance, which speeds things up on arrival.

** I always use, and strongly recommend, iVisa.com.  Their online visa processing service is quick, secure, and easy to use. **

Cultural Considerations

Oman is a conservative Islamic country.  People here are super friendly and welcoming, but be considerate of the local culture.  

Most Omanis wear long, loosely fitting clothes.  You don’t strictly need to do this, but it’s best to avoid anything skimpy or particularly tight-fitting.  

Ideally, clothes should cover your shoulders and knees (for men and women).  Investing in a pair of lightweight cotton trousers will help to keep you cool and comfortable, without attracting any strange looks.

Sultan-Qaboos-drawing

Women – you only need to cover your hair in mosques and at other religious sites.  Sometimes you can borrow a headscarf at the entrance, but not always.  It’s worth carrying a light scarf or similar with you for this purpose.

Whenever visiting mosques, ensure you cover your arms and legs (and hair for women).  

If invited into somebody’s house, it’s customary to take off your shoes.  Just ask if you’re unsure.

Alcohol is only available in licensed hotels and restaurants.  It’s illegal to drink alcohol (and to be drunk) in public.

Finally, never insult the Sultan!

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I hope this article has been interesting and useful.  Are there any other places you’d recommend visiting as part of an Oman road trip?  Let me know in the comments.

** Love road trips?  Me too.  Check out some of my other road trip-related posts, including:

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