The Sultanate of Oman to the east of the UAE and Saudi Arabia is still a little gem that is attracting more and more tourists, but is still a little hidden. We were going there in May, doing a round trip through Oman and were absolutely thrilled. Therefore I would like to share a few travel tips and our itinerary with you.
Things to know about a round trip in Oman
Driving in Oman
The car is the main means of transport in Oman, the single drives on my itinerary are all not too long, usually around 2-3 hours. The roads in Oman are well developed, especially the main roads. As soon as you drive into the mountains, however, you are going to find none paved roads where a four-wheel drive car is often recommended. We didn’t feel that a 4WD is necessary for the route to Jabal Shams, the gravel road there was in a very good condition with just a few potholes, but it was easy to drive. After Jabal Akhdar, a 4WD is mandatory and there are also checkpoints there.
Speed limit – speed cameras
If you have a bit of money to spare and don’t know what to do with it, you only have to drive a little too fast on the Muscat – Nizwa route and you’ll get a few speeding tickets. Joking aside, but seriously – the speed limit is often monitored by cameras and the route is paved with several speed traps. The maximum speed limit is 120km/h, on normal country roads the speed limit is 80.
In general, more is more. Oman is a very traditional country, even if it is more relaxed compared to other countries in the Middle East. Both women and men wear long clothing, most women wear the abaya and men the dishdasha. As a tourist, you can also wear shorter clothes, but I personally would have felt uncomfortable in them because they make you stand out. At least the shoulders and knees should be covered (in my opinion). In less touristy places, I always put a scarf around my hair. There are some places where you are kindly asked to dress appropriately and there is a strict dress code at the mosque in Muscat and even as a tourist you have to be covered here (including women’s heads). At bathing spots such as the wadis, it is recommended that you dress appropriately – leave your bikini at home and take a proper bathing suit with you, ideally you are also wearing a shirt and shorts.
Safety in Oman
One question I was asked a lot before and after my trip was how safe Oman is. And I have to say that I felt really comfortable everywhere and never had the feeling of being in danger anywhere, not even when I was travelling alone late at night. I would therefore recommend Oman as a destination for women.
How many days should I plan for Oman?
We had 8 full days on site (+ 2 days return flight) and had a great time, quite a tight programme at times, but doable. If you leave out a trip to the mountains, you can even explore many places in Oman in 7 days, if you want a little more time to relax, I would recommend 10 days. If you also want to explore the south or Musandam (above the UAE), you definitely need a minimum of 2 weeks. I am sure that you can easily fill 2 weeks in Oman, because the country is so diverse and offers so many highlights that you can definitely stay longer than we did. The many different wadis already offer so much as they are all unique and stunning and also the seaside is stunning
Round trip in Oman – our route and stops
As mentioned, we spent 8 days travelling around the north-east. We flew to Muscat, from where we started our round trip.
Birkat Al Mouz
The town of Birkat Al Mouz is on the way from Muscat to Nizwa. It is an oasis town and accordingly green, although it is quite barren all around. From the viewpoint at the transmitter, you have a great view of the small town and the ruins that lie on the hill. The ruins themselves can also be visited. To get to the viewpoint, enter “Overlook spot near Birkat Al Mouz” on Google Maps. There is a small car park along the main road, from where you have to walk a few metres to the top.
Nizwa is probably one of the highlights and should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Oman. In the former capital (in the 12th century) you feel as if you have landed in a dream of 1001 nights. The highlights in Nizwa are the souq (= market), the fortress, the gates on the city wall and everything around the old town.
How much time is recommended in Nizwa? At least 1 day, if you also want to visit Bahla and Jabreen from Nizwa, then at least 1 1/2 days. We travelled from Muscat on the first day with a stopover in Birkat Al Mouz, visited Jabreen Castle and Nizwa Fort on the first evening, Bahla Fort the next day and then drove into the mountains.
At the souq in Nizwa, you have to distinguish between the souvenir stalls and the original souq, where spices, food and drinks are sold. Take a stroll through the halls here to get an impression. What we didn’t get to see was the market where live animals change hands, where locals can buy virtually anything on four legs, from sheep to goats. Apparently, however, things are quite rough here, which is why many tourists are often a little shocked.
The fortress of Nizwa is a dream come true. We also had really nice encounters with the staff here, both when we bought our tickets and in the fortress. The Nizwa Fort is free to visit and you can learn a lot about the history with an audio guide. There are also daily demonstrations where the culture is explained. You can easily spend 2 hours at Nizwa Fort. We visited the fort at sunset and again early in the morning the next day and had a great time. PS: Be sure to visit the neighbouring gardens.
Restaurant & accommodation recommendations for Niwa
For food, I can recommend the Shawathin Cafe, which has a lovely roof terrace with a great view
The Majestic Burger, a little serenade outside the gates of the old town, was really local (at least for visitors). The price was definitely top here, the burgers were fantastic and it’s a little off the beaten track.
Where to sleep: I can really recommend the Antique Inn. A beautifully restored old building with a fantastic roof terrace and breakfast. Plus point for our high outside temperatures in May: there is also a small pool.
Half an hour from Nizwa is another fortress, Jabreen Castle. It also served as a residence and school for the teachings of Islamic law. There is also a library, many beautifully decorated ceilings, furniture, carpets and prisons, all of which are well signposted. The view from the roof and the towers is definitely great. The settlement that stood around the castle no longer exists; now you can see palm trees surrounding the castle.
How much time is recommended for Jabreen Castle? You can easily spend around 2 – 3 hours or more here (depending on how carefully you listen to the audio guide). The many winding corridors alone mean that you will be walking for a long time, as it is quite possible to get a little lost.
The city of Bahla, where another fort is located, was also once the capital of Oman, between the 12th and 17th centuries.
We thought for a while about whether we really wanted to visit a third fortress, but decided to go for it and found the UNESCO World Heritage Site definitely worth seeing. The 3 fortresses are somewhat different, Bahla is definitely the more rustic fortress as it was completely dilapidated and was only restored in the 1990s. The fort has been open to visitors since 2014, the rooms here are not furnished and many of the rooms are home to bats. Here too, the gentleman at the entrance was very friendly and explained a lot to us. Bahla Fort has 4 larger towers from which you have a great view of the city. I would also say that it is the larger fortress of the 3 mentioned.
How much time is recommended for Bahla Fort? 1 – 2 hours, there is definitely less to discover here than at Jabreen Castle because the rooms are not furnished.
Al Hamra & Misfat Al Abriyeen
The town of Al Hamra is the gateway to the mountains, so to speak, and we only stopped here for lunch. But what I can recommend if you’re on your way to the mountains is a detour to the mountain village of Misfat Al Abriyeen. We unexpectedly spent 2-3 hours here. The traditional houses, the partly completely dilapidated alleyways and the water canals and pools of the oases were absolutely fascinating. I can highly recommend a walk along the water channels, where there are also small bathing areas (separate for men and women). We found it all by chance as we walked through the alleyways to the end of the village, but I think the “Natural Pools” sign on Google Maps should lead you there. We then enjoyed lunch on the roof terrace of “Rogan’s Cafe”, which was the only one open anyway – the view was definitely fantastic, and the food was good too.
By the way: This is a very traditional place, where appropriate clothing (shoulders, knees covered) is emphasised.
Jabal Shams & Balcony Walk
Next, we headed into the mountains. Many Oman travellers skip this part, but we really loved it and I can really recommend planning enough time in Oman to visit the mountains. There are a few areas that are relatively well developed for tourism, Jabal Shams, the highest mountain range in Oman, and Jabal Akhdar are the best known places. At Jabal Shams, which we visited, you can look into a huge gorge, a breathtaking canyon and you also have the opportunity to hike along the so-called Balcony Walk in the gorge.
Where to sleep: SAMA Al Khutaim Heritage Home – perfect spot with awesome view and a nice small accomodation with good food.
A 4WD is often recommended for the journey here because the road is not tarmac and is uphill. We travelled in a normal car and didn’t really have any problems, as we are used to driving uphill and downhill on our mountain roads in Austria and the potholes weren’t extremely wild – but a bit more ground clearance would certainly have been wise. If you want to be on the safe side, you can also book a four-wheel drive car or take a tour (or perhaps a taxi?).
The famous Balcony Walk is a hiking trail that leads along the edge of the gorge without any significant metres in altitude. However, the route should not be underestimated – it takes between 1 and 1 1/2 hours in each direction and you need to be free from giddiness, as the path descends relatively steeply in places. At the end of the official path, you come to a small settlement on the slope. It’s absolutely crazy to see where people lived here in the middle of the steep mountain slopes. Here I can recommend walking on for about 20 minutes to find the small mirror lake with the cave. To do this, keep left after the settlement and after the mountain terraces, where a path marked with dots leads uphill to the cave. Be careful here – the signposting is not necessarily ideal, so keep your eyes open so that you don’t miss any of the dots!
Where to start hiking: Google Maps W6 Balcony Walk Trail
Attention! This part of the gorge is in the sun in the morning, so it is advisable to do the hike in the afternoon, especially in the warmer (summer) months.
How much time for the balcony walk? With breaks, photos and a visit to the cave, I would plan around 4 hours (without travelling to the starting point).
The ruins of Tanuf are another place where you can find a ruined settlement with mud buildings. There is also a wadi here, but you definitely need a four-wheel drive car or have to hike, which is why we skipped it. We found the ruins a nice short detour.
The town of Ibra tends to be less frequented by tourists, although it is actually perfect as an overnight stop. We had therefore planned our stay there and visited the old town centre of Ibra. There is also a small museum here, which is run with a lot of love and which I can definitely recommend. The old town centre of Ibra is generally worth a detour.
Attention! Getting to the old town is a bit tricky – unfortunately Google Maps takes you somewhere in a (at the time) dried-up riverbed, where we ended up parking, but that’s not necessarily correct. As a Google Maps location, Old Ibra Al Minzifah should work, but always stick to the larger main roads, even if the satnav sends you to smaller streets, I think you just have to give it a wide berth…
How much time do I need for Ibra? We stayed for 1 night and visited the old town in the late afternoon/evening.
Wadi Bani Khalid
The wadis were our absolute highlights in Oman. I have rarely seen anything so cool. Wadi Bani Khalid is one of the 2 most famous wadis and also the most accessible. It is important that you enter “Wadi Bani Khalid, Muqal” in Google Maps so that you get to the correct starting point. You drive through a few small mountain villages before arriving at a large car park. There are also toilets there, which you have to pay for. You then walk for about 15 minutes over hill and dale to the lower, larger pools of Wadi Bani Khalid. There is also a café and all sorts of things here, but I would recommend going further up to the upper pools, where the water has found its way through the rocks. The water is so clear, turquoise and definitely invites you to take a dip. We were there for a few hours, jumped into the water again and again and had a lot of fun. After the upper pools, you can walk a little further, and there are also 2 beautiful small pools further up, where we were completely alone that day. Further up there is a (rather unspectacular) cave, where we turned round.
Dress code: Appropriate clothing is important in the wadi, and there are also signs indicating this. I had packed a neoprene shirt especially for the trip and somehow forgot it in the heat of the moment, which is why I ended up wearing my bathing suit, as you can see in the photos. You can tell that they turn a blind eye to tourists here anyway, out of respect for the culture I would at least not recommend a bikini for women and maybe just wear a T-shirt and shorts over the swimming costume.
How much time do I need for Wadi Bani Khalid? We were here for several hours, I think the average visitor stays between 2-3 hours.
The Wahiba Sands Desert is around 12,500 square kilometres in size and can be visited by tourists. There are many camps and resorts here where you want for nothing. We decided to spend a night in the desert as I had always wanted to do this anyway and it was a really good decision. Logically, you can only drive into the desert with a 4WD car, but most camps offer a (chargeable) shuttle from Al Wasil or other locations. We stayed at the Desert Nights Resort (just under €100 for 2 people/night) and really liked it. It is of course completely touristy and has little to do with a real experience of how the nomads live in the desert in Oman, but that wasn’t our point that day and the dunes at sunset, the beautiful accommodation and the good, local food were really fantastic.
Many of the camps also offer various excursions, such as camel rides or similar, but we didn’t take advantage of this. At the Desert Nights Resort, a free trip to the dunes at sunset is included, which really pays off because climbing the dunes is always really strenuous.
Tip: If you are travelling with a roof tent, you can also drive into the desert yourself and spend the night somewhere.
How much time do I need for the Wahiba Sands Desert? We had planned 1 night and arrived at the camp on the first day at around 3.00 p.m. and left the next day at around 10.00 a.m. However, the Wahiba Sands can also be visited as a day trip.
The harbour town of Sur on the coast of Oman really appealed to us personally. With its white houses and many small towers on small hills, this place reminds us a little of Greek islands and we were immediately enamoured with the Mediterranean flair of Sur. Worth seeing in Sur are the Al-Ayjah Lighthouse, the (very) small fort Al Ayjah Castle, the viewpoint at the Al Ayjah Watchtower and the small souq. There are also other forts and you can see the dhow, the traditional boats in Oman. We think: You have to be in Sur in the evening and enjoy the city at sunset; you have a beautiful view of the city from the viewpoint.
Restaurant recommendation: If you want fresh fish, I can recommend the Sahari Restaurant.
How much time should you plan to spend in Sur? We had 1 afternoon/evening and that was perfect.
Our second wadi highlight in Oman was Wadi Shab, but you have to earn it with a hike. I would even say that it was THE Oman highlight for us. The car park at Wadi Shab is located underneath a bridge. There are lots of small boats here that will take you to the starting point of the hike for just a few OMR. We were there early in the morning and caught the second boat of the day – you can find boats here from 7.30 am to 5 pm. From the starting point, it’s about 45 minutes straight ahead and uphill between the high walls. You definitely have to wear closed shoes here, you can’t do the route in flip-flops. At the beginning of the hike, we came across donkeys and some farmers working here. Later it became quieter and we walked through the gorge to the first pool.
There we put our things down and from then on we waded and swam through the water until we reached the last section after about 15 minutes, from where we entered a cave. You really need to be a good swimmer here, because the distance to the cave, where you have to swim continuously, is quite a few metres, there is a waterfall and a relatively strong current in the cave and you can only hold on to the walls here, but can’t find a good foothold. You can climb up the side of the waterfall and then jump back down, which was great fun. The cave was simply amazing! I can still see it in front of my eyes, it was the highlight of Oman for me. We return via the same route.
How much time should you plan for Wadi Shab? At least 3 hours, more. The boat trip, then the hike there & back 1 1/2 hours, swimming, having fun 😉
Just around the corner from Wadi Shab is Wadi Tiwi. However, as you need a four-wheel drive car here, I can’t tell you any more about it, but we have met travellers who really liked it there, so for the sake of completeness we have listed it here.
Fins Rocky Beach / Hidden Beach
This beautiful white part-pebble/part-sand beach is worth a short detour. You won’t find any shade here to make it last longer in summer, but I was briefly in the water and please take a look at these colours….
We weren’t sure whether we would like the Bimmah Sinkhole, as we had heard and read in advance that it wasn’t really worth a detour. But we thought it was really cool. This sinkhole, a hole where the ground has given way, is located in a beautiful park that was almost too perfect. You can climb down the many steps into the sinkhole and take a dip. The water is salty, as the sinkhole is connected to the sea via a tunnel. You should adhere to the dress code here, as there are always lots of locals around.
How much time do I need for the Bimmah Sinkhole? Maybe 1 hour, we were longer because we were chatting with people, but from the car park you only walk 5-10 minutes until you are in the water.
Did you know that you can go snorkelling in Oman, that the water is crystal clear and that you can see lots of turtles? We were completely amazed, because our snorkelling trip to the Ad-Dimaniyat Islands was simply fantastic! For me, this is definitely a must-do in Oman, I have rarely seen so many turtles as here.
It can be booked via Getyourguide
How much time do I need for the excursion to the islands? The excursion takes half a day or a full day. We travelled for half a day and that was perfect.
Muscat, the capital of Oman, is usually the starting and ending point of a round trip in Oman, as the international airport is located here. Muscat is a large city and offers some highlights, but what I personally missed a bit was a town centre in the new part of the city, everything is a bit of a jumble.
The old town centre of Muscat, which is a little way out, is beautiful. Here you will also find the Al Alam Palace, one of the buildings used by the Sultan for ceremonies, such as when international politicians visit Oman.
Highlights in Old Town:
- Al Alam Palace
- Al Jalali Fort
- National Museum of Oman
- Al-Mirani Fort & die schöne Moschee davor (siehe Foto unten)
- Muscat Gate & Museum
- Old Muscat City View – ein schöner Aussichtspunkt, wo es allerdings keinen Parkplatz gibt.
- Riyam Censer
- Mutrah Corniche
- Souq – wobei hier die Verkäufer relativ lästig sind, kompletter Kontrast zum Nizwa Souq
Muscat is also home to the only mosque that foreigners are allowed to visit, the Sultan Qabus Grand Mosque. There is a strict dress code here – everything must be covered, including the hair (e.g. with a scarf). Entry is free and there are more than enough parking spaces. The mosque is really impressive and should definitely be on your itinerary when visiting Oman.
The Muscat Opera House with its adjoining shopping centre is also very impressive. In my opinion, you can save yourself the professional guided tour of the opera, we waited ages for it and in the end the “guided tour” only lasted just under 10 minutes and you don’t visit anything that you couldn’t see without a guided tour…
The Mohammed Al Ameen Mosque is very impressive, especially in the evening
That was my contribution to Oman. Have you ever been to Oman? Please leave me a comment if this article has helped you plan your trip or if you have any feedback.