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 with 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 to Morocco we definitely caught the highly contagious travel bug. A year later we were planning a three month trip to South America.
Inspiration to Visit Oman
The first time we heard about Oman was when we travelled to Egypt years ago on an incredible scuba diving adventure. Back then, it seemed far out of our reach to travel all the way to Oman. We have been fascinated by desert countries ever since our Egypt travels. Driving through a desert on our own became the ultimate bucket list experience for us both.
It is often difficult to travel independently in deserts. But then we learnt that Oman could offer us exactly that – 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 desert in the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia, and the endless rugged plains of Australia. And we just went for it.
As soon as we arrived, we really felt like we were in a 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 Mutrah 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 we were in this magical place surrounded by sea, mountains and an immense desert beyond. Now we were in Arabia.
A Four-Week Road Trip in Oman
We travelled around Oman for four weeks in December 2019 – January 2020 with a 4WD rental car, wild camping along the way. It was amazing to discover wadis and go swimming in hidden fresh water pools.
Both of us took 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. Then we met villagers and came across Bedouin women in traditional ‘bird masks’ while visiting a goat market in Nizwa.
Camping on deserted beaches, in wadis and in the sand dunes of Oman was an adventure in itself. We discovered Oman’s history in impressive mountain forts, crumbling down mud brick villages and ancient tombs.
Hundreds of camels were counted along the way. We went off-roading in the Wahiba Sands, on Masirah Island, on the Sugar Dunes, along hidden wadis and in the Rub’ al Khali. And we loved every minute of it!
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 lesser visited and sparsely populated regions. The feeling of emptiness was unreal. Also because it was supposed to be ‘high season’ for tourism in Oman.
Favourite Place in Oman: Rub’ al Khali Desert (The Empty Quarter)
The most special place for us in Oman was the Rub’ al Khali Desert: otherwise referred to as The Empty Quarter. The 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.
Even then, we didn’t know if there was a real road into the sands: on Google Maps the road stopped kilometres before the sand dunes. So we just tried.
The Rub’ al Khali is not a place where 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 sand dunes. For us it was extra special as we spent New Year’s Eve camping at the foot of a 600ft high sand dune.
Another favourite memory was waking up in Wadi Ash Shuwamiyah to a solar eclipse. We camped on a ridge overlooking a grand canyon. That morning the pink sunrise was actually a solar eclipse! We felt privileged to see this and have this magical place practically all to ourselves.
After watching the sunrise, we swam in a clear pool filled by a 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 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 would love to come back to Oman one day!
Top 10 Adventures in Oman
1. Balcony Walk and Sunrise 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. We recommend spending the night here so you can see a magical sunset and sunrise. There are some extremely beautiful wild camping spots on the rim. But keep in mind that the nights can get cold in winter time.
Alternatively, there are some awesome 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 perilously narrow, rough and unpaved.
2. Boat, Hike and Swim in Wadi Shab
Wadi Shab is one of the most popular wadis from Muscat and one of a series of wadis along the northern coast. You can only enter the wadi by boat. The locals ferry visitors across the water for a small fee. An hour’s hike up, you will 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.
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 are in for an adventure, you can drive all the way through the Wahiba Sands to the coast, taking about half a day.
4. Go for a Swim at the Pools of Wadi Bani Khalid
This huge wadi is tucked away in the mountains of the Eastern Hajar. The locals love to picnic here. You will not be alone on weekends. This is a great opportunity to meet locals 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.
5. Off-Road on Masirah Island and in the Sugar Dunes
Masirah Island is Oman’s biggest island and you will have to get a one hour ferry across from mainland Shanna Port. If you are 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 get 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.
6. Beach Hop 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 sunset. 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 – take an afternoon swim in the sea.
7. Climb the World’s Highest Dunes at Rub’ al Khali
If you have the opportunity to go on a trip to Rub’ al Khali Desert, do it! It is a day’s driving getting there from Salalah with little in between. Find your own sand dune and camp under the stars for an incredible experience!
8. Walk along Falaj 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 in the surrounding area.
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.
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 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 prayers.
10. Spot Camels at Wadi Darbat near Salalah
You cannot leave Oman without seeing a camel. And you can see them everywhere along the east coast. But in the south the numbers of camels are greater. And Wadi Darbat, near Salalah, offers the chance to see them wade through water looking for fresh grass on the other side.
11. See the Sunset at Mutrah’s Corniche
Maybe the easiest to visit of our Top 10 – hey wait, that is 11 now… – is Mutrah Corniche. This place is beyond picturesque. Climb Mutrah Fort to hear afternoon prayers and see the sunset on the mountains.
Need to Know Before you Go
Best Time of Year to Visit Oman
Stating the obvious, remember that this can be a hot desert country. Travelling in the winter months (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.
Flash floods are common and you don’t want to be carried away by rapidly flowing muddy water. 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 rain and greenery. We will have to come back for that! All that said, Oman is a very dry country.
Hire a Car and Go on a Road Trip
You do need a car if you want to travel independently around Oman. Or you will have to hitchhike everywhere or take a tour. Public transport outside the cities is sparse. Even in cities, there are very few buses and the cities layout is built for cars, not for walking or public transport.
It can happen that you want to get to a supermarket 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 camping, drive up Jebel Shams, or go off-roading through the desert? Then you really need a 4WD. We recommend that you do.
Accommodation Options in Oman
It was amazing to go 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. 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 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! 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.
How to Dress Suitably 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.
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.
Thanks for reading our Oman travel guide! We hoped it has inspired you to visit one of the most remarkable countries of the Middle East. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or would like more info!