Our Four Week Oman Road Trip: A Travel Guide

In this blog you find our take on the ultimate four week road trip in Oman: a Travel Guide. This Oman Travel Guide was previously published in a slightly edited version as an interview on Magnificent World

We are Alette and Jeroen from the instagram account @thebookofwandering and we share our travel stories on our blog The Book of Wandering, sometimes in Dutch, sometimes in English. We both grew up in and around Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and we fell in love on the Wadden-island of Terschelling. Soon after, we looked for ways to travel together as far as possible for as little money as possible.

That brought us to Morocco by train, before cheap flights took over the world. Not knowing what to expect, Morocco blew us off our feet. It was one big adventure. We somehow had expected Spain would continue across the Mediterranean, but everything was different. We had left Europe. On this trip we caught the travel bug. A year later we were planning a three month trip to South America.

Rub al Khali, Empty Quarter, Oman
Rub al Khali, Oman

Bimmah Sinkhole, Oman
Bimmah Sinkhole, Oman

Why Oman?

The first time we heard about Oman was when we travelled to Egypt for scuba diving, years ago. Back then, it seemed far out of our reach to travel to Oman. We’ve been fascinated by desert countries ever since our Egypt travels. Driving through a desert on our own became a bucket list experience for us.

Rub al Khali, Oman
Rub al Khali, Oman

It is often difficult to travel independently in deserts. And then we discovered that that is exactly what Oman could offer us, especially as this time we found a way to rent a 4WD-vehicle to get us off the road and into the sands. Everything came together in 2019: our experiences in the Kalahari desert in South Africa, the Namib-Naukluft desert of Namibia, and the endless plains of Australia. And we just went for it.

Muttrah, Muscat, Oman
Muttrah, Muscat, Oman

As soon as we arrived, we really felt we were in a completely different place from what we are used to, both at home, and compared to any other place we had travelled. One late afternoon, we climbed Muttrah Fort, overlooking one of Muscat’s cliff-ringed bays, and heard the muezzin’s call to prayer. We saw the white city slowly turn to pink, purple and then dark blue. It really felt like this magical place surrounded by sea, mountains and an immense desert beyond. Now we were in Arabia.

With this Oman Travel Guide we want to show that it definitely is possible to travel and do a road trip in Oman independently.

Dolphin Bay, Dhofar, Oman
Dolphin Bay, Dhofar, Oman

A four-week road trip in Oman

We travelled around Oman for four weeks in December 2020 – January 2021 with our own 4WD rental car, wild camping along the way. We loved discovering wadis and swimming in their hidden fresh water pools. We did great hikes along wadis and had some of our best hiking in the mountains of the Western Hajar. We got offered dates and coffee while discussing Islam and Omani Culture at Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. We met villagers and came across Bedouin women in traditional ‘bird masks’ while visiting a goat market in Nizwa.

Rub al Khali, Oman
Rub al Khali, Oman

We camped on deserted beaches, in wadis and in the sand dunes of Oman, which was an adventure in itself. We discovered Oman’s history in impressive mountain forts, crumbling down mud brick villages and ancient tombs. We counted hundreds of camels along the way, especially in the south. We went off-roading in Wahiba Sands, on Masirah Island and along the Sugar Dunes, along hidden wadis and in the Rub al Khali. And we loved every minute of it.

Any Oman Travel Guide generally focuses on just the north of the country. And while most people visiting Oman stay in the North – and this region does have a lot to offer – we loved going on a roadtrip to the South along the coast and back North through the desert, seeing little visited and sparsely populated regions. The feeling of emptiness was unreal, also because it was supposed to be ‘high season’ for tourism.

Birkat al Mawz, Oman
Birkat al Mawz, Oman

The most special place for us in Oman is the Rub al Khali desert: The Empty Quarter. Rub al Khali is the largest continuous sand desert in the world (no, not the Sahara!). It stretches across the borders of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the UAE and Oman. It was special because there was not a lot of information to go on. We pieced together information from guidebooks, instagram posts, camping apps and Maps.me. And we asked around when we met guides or locals along the way.

Rub al Khali, Empty Quarter, Oman
Rub al Khali, Oman

Even then, we didn’t know if there was a real road into the sands: on Google Maps the road ended at the edge of the sand dunes. So we just tried. The Rub al Khali is not a place where any large tourist groups go or travel guides write about. It was just us, our car and the occasional Bedouin camp with a few camels, hidden behind huge sand dunes. For us it was extra special as we spent New Year’s Eve wild camping at the foot of a 600ft high sand dune.

Camels in the Rub al Khali, Oman
Camels in the Rub al Khali, Oman

Another favourite memory is waking up to a solar eclipse in Wadi Ash Shuwamiyah, one of the grand wadis of South Oman. We camped on a ridge overlooking a grand canyon. That morning the pink sun rise was actually a solar eclipse! We felt privileged to see this and have this magical place practically to ourselves.

Wadi Ash Shuwaymiyyah, Dhofar, Oman
Wadi Ash Shuwaymiyyah, Dhofar, Oman

After watching the sun rise, we swam in a crystal clear pool filled by a trickle down waterfall surrounded by reeds and palm trees. This is one of those places hardly visited by tourists because it is just so out of the way. If you drive south along the coast you will pass it, but it is neither close to Salalah nor to Muscat.

On our four-week road trip in Oman we covered a lot of ground driving almost 5.000 km. We saw more than most visitors, but still haven’t seen everything. We’d love to come back!

Read more below in this Oman Travel Guide!

Top 10 Adventures in Oman

1. Hike the Balcony Walk and watch the sun rise near Jebel Shams.

Jebel Shams is the highest mountain of Oman. The Balcony Walk is an epic walk along the rim of Oman’s ‘Grand Canyon’, Wadi Ghul. Do spend the night here so you can see the sun set and rise. There are some very beautiful wild camping spots on the rim. But beware that the nights can be very cold in winter time. Alternatively, there are some camps with cabins nearby too. You need a 4WD to drive up the mountain: not mandatory but really recommended. Go very very slow if you are in a 2WD sedan. In some places the road gets very narrow, rough and unpaved.

Sunrise over Oman grand canyon at Jebel Shams
Sunrise over Oman’s grand canyon at Jebel Shams

2. Boat, hike and swim in Wadi Shab.

Wadi Shab is one of the most popular and accessible wadis from Muscat and one of a series of wadis along the northern coastline. You can only enter the wadi by boat. The locals ferry visitors across the water for a small fee. An hour’s hike up the wadi, you’ll find a series of pools where you can swim. If you dare, you can enter a hidden cave by swimming through a narrow gap in the rock.

Natural pools at Wadi Shab, Oman
Natural pools at Wadi Shab, Oman

3. Spend the night in the desert of Wahiba Sands.

With a 4WD vehicle you can drive into the dunes of Wahiba Sands by yourself, put up your own tent, and sleep under the stars. There are also plenty of guides to drive you and can teach you to do some dune bashing. Or, if you don’t have a 4WD, you can book a camp and have them pick you up from the edge of the sands. If you’re in for an adventure, you can drive all the way through the Wahiba Sands to the coast, taking about half a day.

Wahiba Sands, Oman
Wahiba Sands, Oman

4. Go for a swim at the stunning pools of Wadi Bani Khalid.

This huge wadi is tucked away in the mountains of the Eastern Hajar. The locals love to picnic at Wadi Bani Khalid. You will not be alone on weekends. A great opportunity for a chat if you like. But it’s not just the pools. The whole area is stunning and we definitely recommend exploring more villages in the date palm filled valley such as around Bidah.

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman
Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

5. Go off-roading on Masirah Island and in the Sugar Dunes.

Masirah Island is Oman’s biggest island and you’ll have to get a one hour ferry across from mainland Shanna Port. If you’re lucky you can see turtles or dolphins, and flamingos for sure. You can go beach hopping or pitch your tent practically everywhere on the island’s secluded beaches. And when you got all the way down to Masirah Island, it’s a no-brainer to go to the nearby Sugar Dunes, a patch of unique, bright white sand dunes. You have to drive across a super soft sand beach to get here and you can find a camping spot along the beach or inside the dunes.

Sugar Dunes, Oman
Sugar Dunes, Oman

6. Go beach hopping around Salalah.

Salalah is the capital of the southern Dhofar province of Oman. On palm-fringed Salalah beach the locals come out after work and enjoy family time at sun set. If you go further to the south along the coast you can see some even more stunning, secluded and quiet beaches at Fazayah and Shaat. Maybe with a camel or two taking an afternoon swim in the sea.

Salalah Beach, Oman
Salalah Beach, Oman

7. Climb the highest dunes of the world in the Rub al Khali.

If you have the opportunity to go on a trip to Rub al Khali, do it! It is a day’s driving getting there from Salalah with little in between. Find your own dune and camp under the stars.

Rub al Khali, Empty Quarter, Oman
Rub al Khali, Oman

8. Walk along falaj (irrigation channels) on the Saiq Plateau.

The so-called ‘green mountain’ of Oman – Jebel Akhdar – makes for an unexpected scene in a desert country. The mountains here are cultivated on terraces and you can do some great hikes here. We recommend the Villages Hike starting at the edge of the town of Saiq. To go up Jebel Akhdar you can rent a 4WD for the day, or arrange a ride. The road is perfectly fine and nicely tarred, but because of accidents in the past a 4WD is now mandatory.

Saiq Plateau, Oman
Abandoned village on Saiq Plateau, Oman
Terraces on Saiq Plateau, Oman
Saiq Plateau, Oman

9. Check out Nizwa and its goat market.

Maybe one of the most touristy places in Oman, Nizwa is still worth visiting. If you go really early, especially on Fridays, you can find yourself in the middle of a bustling goat market. Afterwards you can explore Nizwa fort and the souq until the sights close and the town quiets down for Friday prayers.

Goats, Nizwa Goat Market, Oman
Nizwa Goat Market, Oman

10. Spot camels at Wadi Darbat near Salalah.

You cannot leave Oman without having seen a camel up close. And you can see them pretty much everywhere along the east coast. But in the south the numbers of camels are greater. And green Wadi Darbat, near Salalah, offers the chance to see them wade through water looking for fresh grass on the other side.

Camels at Wadi Darbat, Oman
Camels at Wadi Darbat, Oman
Wadi Darbat, Oman
Wadi Darbat, Oman

11. See the sun set at Muttrah’s corniche.

Maybe the easiest to visit of our Top 10 – hey wait, that is eleven… – is Muttrah. This place is beyond picturesque. Climb Muttrah Fort to hear afternoon prayers and see the sun set on the mountains.

Muttrah, Muscat, Oman
Muttrah, Muscat, Oman

Key travel tips for Oman

So great that you’ve been reading up till here! We’ll be finishing this Oman Travel Guide with a few practical tips for travelling in Oman.

When to Travel in Oman?

Stating the obvious, remember that this can be a hot desert country. Travelling in winter (November – February) is the best season for most travellers. Our biggest surprise was that we actually had rain on more than one occasion. For that reason it is always best to check the weather forecast before you go camping in a wadi.

Flashfloods are common and you don’t want to be carried away by rapid flowing muddy water with sleeping bag, tent and your car. The south even has a tropical climate and has a monsoon season in summer! People from around the whole region come to Salalah during the Khareef to experience the rains and the greenery. We will have to come back for that! All that said, Oman is a very dry country.

Camels, Masirah Island
Camels on Masirah Island

Car or no car in Oman?

In our view, you do need a car if you want to travel independently around Oman. Or you’ll have to hitchhike everywhere or take a tour. Public transport outside the cities is sparse. Even in cities, there are few buses and the cities lay out is built for cars, not for walking or public transport. It can happen that you want to get to a super market across the road, but will have to walk two kilometres because you cannot cross it.

The trick is to know what you want to do and what you need for that. Do you want to go wild camping, drive up Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar, or go off-roading through the desert? Then you really need a 4WD. We recommend that you do.

Wahiba Sands, Oman
Wahiba Sands, Oman

Where to Sleep in Oman?

It was an amazing experience to be wild camping in Oman. We would recommend wild camping for everyone. Spots on hidden beaches and deep inside sand deserts were our favourite. Oman has hardly any camp sites. One relaxed camp site we did find was Masirah Beach Camp, a simple camp started for kite surfers.

Cabins at Masirah Beach Camp, Oman
Cabins at Masirah Beach Camp, Oman

At Masirah Beach Camp you can stay in simple huts or cabins, put down your tent on the beach, and join breakfast and dinner. We did stay in apartments too for the occasional luxury of a shower, standing up while cooking, and a real bed. High up in the mountains, we stayed in a mid-range luxury mountain camp despite the incredibly beautiful wild camping spots. The nights can be so cold!

Camping in Wahiba Sands, Oman
Camping in Wahiba Sands, Oman

If you are not a camping person or don’t have a 4WD we still recommend spending at least a night in the desert of Oman. The Wahiba Sands offer the easiest access and the most camps and facilities. A good thing to know about staying in Muscat is that the city stretches along 20 or 30 kilometres of coastline. Best is to stay in or near Muttrah, which is one of the prettiest parts of town.

Birkat al Mawz, Oman
Birkat al Mawz, Oman

What should I wear in Oman?

The normal dress for Omani men is the dishdasha, a long white gown with beautiful details on the collar, with the kummah, a cap. On occasion they wear beautifully embroidered mussar, the traditional head scarf. Women generally wear abayas with a hijab, some wearing the niqab (covering the face). For visitors, you don’t need to dress like the locals, and women don’t have to wear a head scarf, except when visiting a mosque.

Nizwa, Oman
Nizwa, Oman

As this is a conservative country, it is the custom to swim with your clothes on. For women, that means at least a t-shirt and long pants. Bring some quick drying harem pants or something like that. For men a t-shirt and shorts will do for swimming. The locals will appreciate this. Away from the swimming holes and beaches it is very much appreciated to wear long pants or a skirt covering your ankles and shirts with minimally ¾ sleeves for women. Long pants and covered arms are preferred for men too. 

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