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A Rogue Road Trip Around Oman
The best things to do in Oman at a glance…
- Watch my trip video here!
- Road tripping around Oman as a brilliant way to experience the Middle East off the beaten track.
- Highlights: venturing through the endless Wadis, desert / mountain driving, and exploring ancient forts.
- 4×4 driving experience recommended, but not essential.
- Season: October – April.
- This itinerary: 10 days.
Exploring through a road trip is a magnificent way to see this beautiful country and hit all of the best things to do in Oman. We flew into the capital city, Muscat, and spent our first few days exploring the sprawling metropolis.
Muscat feels almost like three distinct coastal towns, that are partly separated by hills. Two days is more than enough time to see the main sights – the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Mutrah Souq and Al Alam Palace are a must. Sultan Qaboos is truly stunning – large enough to hold 6500 worshippers, it’s an incredibly impressive sight. Ladies, make sure you cover your hair and dress respectfully, covering up as much as possible.
Tip: Muscat taxis are incredibly expensive for non-Arabic speakers. Therefore, it’s definitely worth picking up your hire car straight away, which is the mistake we made – we thought we wouldn’t need a car in the city, but it cost us!
Next, we headed down the coast for about two hours to reach Binmah Sinkhole. This pristine blue vista is the perfect spot to swim and cool off after the morning’s drive. You’ll probably only need to spend an hour or so here, so we promptly continued our journey down the coast to Wadi Shab. Now this is really something – we hiked for hours between the beautiful rock faces, swimming in perfect pools along the way. We didn’t see other people for up to an hour at a time, and it felt like this little slice of heaven was totally ours.
Accommodation in Wadi Shab is difficult because it’s fairly remote. We stayed at Wadi Shab Resort, which was definitely worth the few extra $. We ventured into the local town of Tiwi for dinner. I must admit that here I did feel a little unsettled at times as a young female traveller, but it definitely didn’t put me off.
The next day we continued onto Sur, Oman’s second city. As a more industrial port town, we just used this as a stopover before carrying on to Ras al-Jinz, the incredible turtle reserve. Here, we experienced our first night of the trip in a tented camp, following a magical evening watching the giant green turtles lay, and young hatch. I’ve always been quite suspicious of tourist attraction turtle reserves disrupting the natural habits and environments of the animals, but I was so impressed with the care our guide took in ensuring they were not disturbed. Unfortunately no photos here, as the light would have been too invasive.
The next stop on our itinerary was Wahiba Sands – the vast desert in Northern Oman. The driving got serious here. We drove on the highways as far as Bidyah, before we had to rely on satellite coordinates to take across 60km into the desert. We made rookie errors here – we left the road at midday, in 50 degree heat, with less than a litre of water in the car. Down to our lack of experience with dune driving, we had some real problems traversing the desert – we got stuck, really really stuck, and I was scared. Luckily, we managed to find some phone signal to get in touch with the desert camp, who sent some guys to come help us. Not for the faint hearted! That said, this could have all been avoided – nearly all the camps provide a service where they’ll meet you at the road and drive with you to the camp. It was all worth it in the end, and we spent a phenomenal night riding the dunes, feeling so far away from all civilisation.
Tip: We deliberated for weeks in the run up to our trip whether we’d need a 4×4, rather than a normal saloon hire car. I must admit, to do the adventure justice, a 4WD is 100% necessary.
After our hairy entry to the desert, we had a smooth exist to continue our journey to the mountains. I never thought I could go from endless sand to thunderous mountains in just a few hours, but it all seems possible in Oman.
Jebel Shams, often called the Grand Canyon of the Middle East, was the highlight of the trip for me. Driving down the single-track roads required the ultimate teamwork of navigator and rally driver, with exhilarating drops into the canyon below at every turn. Hiking the Balcony Walk was stunning – the photos speak for themselves.
The final stop on our rogue road trip took us to the very traditional town of Nizwa. With ancient forts in abundance, and beautiful streets to explore, it’s a great stopover from Jebel Shams on the way back to Muscat. If you can time it so that you’re in town for the Friday morning Goat Market, that’s even better – you can observe locals trading goats and camels as if you’ve gone back hundreds of years.
Oman really is beautiful. Watch our video for more inspiration here. Go before tourism starts to really take hold!