Planning a trip to Oman turned out to be quite a pain. I have travelled to quite a lot of countries and none, not even Iran and China, were so difficult to plan. The main reason for this is that Oman is far less touristy and, therefore, the information about it is quite scarce, if you don’t count a few blogs and some useless fb groups. The only type of information you will find on those is how beautiful the country is and how kind the people are, which is often true but not useful information for planning a trip there 😊
Oman has a lot to offer from the mountains and canyons to dessert and wadies (canyons created by rivers), beautiful beaches and forts (almost all cities have had a fort here. This was a result of tribal divisions historically).
We encountered a lot of kind people. Here are a few examples of it:
- One Omani guy – Saud – driving a 4×4 saw us on the road in Al Hamra waiting for a taxi or any other transportation. He stopped and asked how could he help. Even though he wasn’t going the way we wanted to, he just took us from Al Hamra to Misfat Al Abryen, which is about 20 minutes drive uphill. We were quite confused by this at first and based on our previous experiences were waiting all along that he would ask money for this. However, it turned out that he did this for us totally for free, just to show us around.
- One Omani woman saw hubby twisting his ankle. He came over to us and brought a French spray, which she said helped her a lot last time she was in the similar situation. She sprayed it herself on his foot, didn’t even give it to me. This was quite a big deal for an Omani woman to approach a stranger, a man.
- In Sur we stopped on the street in the shade to catch our breathe and find our way. One man came out of a shop nearby with 2 water bottles and gave them to us to help us in heat.
We also encountered quite a lot of unfair treatment of migrants. As in other gulf countries, Oman has a lot of Asian migrants, from what we know minimum 20% of the whole population are Indian and Pakistani migrants, who as you would guess came here to survive and make ends meet with the least favourable jobs. Omani nationals have privilege over them in everything, including even on the bus.
In Oman, people’s daily hangout spaces are the malls. It may sound surprising to many, but you may have seen similar in UAE. Most food places are located in malls, people meet here, walk around and socialize here. On the first day when we arrived and decided to walk around the central areas of Muscat in the evening, we felt that the city was empty. We met very few people on the street, including on the promenade. After this we headed to a shopping mall for food (as we didn’t find any food places elsewhere), which was full of people. After the first day we were no longer surprised by this.
Best one-week itinerary for Oman
Day 1 – Muscat – forts, souq, palace;
Day 2 – Sur and surrounding areas – if you are driving from Muscat, see Bimmah sinkhole and Wadi Shab.
Day 3 – Wadi Shab – or if you drove here from Muscat, then on this day see Sur itself and head to nearby beaches, like Al Hadd.
Day 4 – Head to Nizwa – if you are driving, you can see the Wahiba sands and Ibra on the road. You can even spend a night in the dessert, if you like camping. However, in case you don’t have your own tent, the accommodation here is terribly expensive.
Day 5 – Nizwa fort, Bahla fort and Jabreen castle
Day 6 – Al Hamra, Misfat Al Abryen, Jebel Shams. You can do all 3 in one day, if you don’t plan to hike in Jebel Shams, otherwise, include more days here.
Day 7 – Birkat al Mouz, Jebel Akhdar. Similarly to Jebel Shams, you have hiking places here, so if you would like to do this, include more days.
Day 8 – return to Muscat. You can also plan a boat trip to Daymaniat islands.
There are also other interesting places I would have liked to see, but they are more remote and difficult to get to. For instance you could visit villages Wakan and Bald Sayt. There are also night tours to see the turtles, which come out of the sea near Al Hadd to lay eggs.
Oman has a visa free regime for 103 countries. If you are a national of one of them, you can travel for 14 days. You will need to have a hotel booked and a return ticket. Besides, insurance is needed.
Getting to Oman
There are flights from GCC countries to Oman. The Omanair is quite organized airline in our experience. However, if your flight to Dubai is cheaper, you can take a bus from there to Muscat. There are 2 bus companies and it takes about 5-6 hours, if there is no significant traffic or delays on the border.
When to visit Oman
The best period is winter. We travelled at the beginning of November and it was still very hot. Summer would certainly be unbearable.
Safety standards in the country are very high. There are very strict laws in place. If you don’t head to completely remote areas alone and follow minimum safety standards, you shouldn’t encounter any problems. Also, unlike some Arab countries we have visited, you won’t be gawked at or catcalled.
Money exchange in Oman is quite straightforward. At the airport the exchange rates are terrible and with a commission on top of that, so getting money from atm was better for us.
The country is certainly very expensive. If you are on a budget, you will find some cheaper donner places or could eat supermarket food.
We found Ooredoo in the airport and bought one week 2 GB internet for 3 rials.
What to wear
There is no official restriction on clothes in Oman, however you won’t see anyone with shoulders or knees uncovered. In fact, locals wear traditional clothes most of the time: women are fully covered in black, while men wear white.
I do suggest you have your knees and shoulders covered to be more comfortable. In mosques, you would be required to be covered down to the ankles and up to wrists. They are particularly strict at Sultan Qaboos mosque. I was wearing long sleeve dress and put trousers under for going into the mosque, which was not greatly comfortable, but much better than renting their clothes on the spot (I have had that experience in Iran and those clothes are suffocatingly warm).
I definitely suggest to carry warmer jackets with you, as any shopping malls or buses are terribly cold.
I usually look for food places before travelling and note most popular cheap places that are considered tasty by locals. Oman was challenging in this sense too, it was practically impossible to get any good suggestions, except a couple in areas, where we would not end up, unless we went specifically. So we had to wing it and find whatever was around. None of those places were good though. We tried the chain donner places, small cafes, places inside shopping malls (btw most places inside shopping malls are British, Canadian, etc, hardly ever local), but couldn’t recommend any of those. Afterwards we just switched to supermarket food.
Oman is certainly not a country for backpackers. There are almost no hostels or cheap accommodation. The only way to travel very cheaply here would be to have your own tent.
The hotel infrastructure is slowly developing. You will find hotels with prices starting from 50-60 USD in Muscat, Sur, Nizwa, as well as some nearby villages.
In Muscat areas around Mutrah and Qurum are too expensive. If you would like to find more reasonably priced hotels, I suggest to look at Al Khuwair area near Sultan Qaboos highway. Al Gubrah is also fine. We stayed at Wyndham Garden hotel, which I certainly recommend (we paid in the range of 60-70 USD on 3 different times).
In Sur best would be to find a hotel nearer to the seaside. We stayed at Sur Plaza, which was quite good, but far from everything.
In Nizwa you have two options – either to stay near the Nizwa fort and souq or near the Grand mall. If you choose first, you will be closer to attractions, but it will be difficult to find food places anywhere nearby, so we had to go towards the Grand mall every evening.