We explored the Northern part of Oman on a 7-day self-drive trip. Our itinerary included impressive forts, stunning mosques and an overnight stay in the desert. We enjoyed cool swim stops in the wadi’s dotted around the country, spent an evening watching green turtles nesting on the beach and we ate some incredible Omani cuisine. A road trip in Oman was the perfect way to see this country.
Oman is very easy to self-drive as the roads are wide, new and well planned. The roads are not overly busy and locals are considerate drivers.
Oman is one of the safest countries in the Middle East and you’ll often feel like you have the place to yourself as tourism is still in its infancy here.
Petrol is cheap and public transport isn’t established here yet, so everyone has a car. Unless you are here on an organised tour, having your own car is key.
Most nationalities can get a 30-day visa on arrival. There is a desk located on the right side, just before you go through immigration at Muscat International Airport.
Visa costs 21 OMR ($54 USD) and can be paid by cash or credit card. You’ll receive a receipt of payment for the visa, you can then proceed through immigration. There are two ATM’s located opposite the visa on the arrivals desk which didn’t charge any fees to make a withdrawal.
Should you hire a 4WD in Oman?
Many people recommended that we hire a 4WD for our road trip in Oman. Yes, they are double the price of a standard 2WD car, however, it really depends on what you’d like to see and do during your time here.
We wanted the flexibility of taking the car anywhere we pleased, so we decided to spend the extra cash and rent a 4WD.
There were a few places on our trip that we were glad to have spent the extra money on a 4WD. The road to Jebel Shams was quite steep and there is a 7km unpaved part with loose gravel. It could be done in a 2WD, but the extra power of our 4WD made us feel much safer.
We also drove through the desert to reach our desert camp in the Wahiba Sands. The rest of the roads in Oman were wide and in excellent condition, perfect for larger cars.
Car hire recommended for a road trip in Oman
We hired a Toyota Fortuner through Expedia car hire for USD $311 for 6 days from the Dollar office at Muscat airport. We had a limit of 200km a day included in our rental agreement.
Any mileage over this is charged at 6 OMR per 100 km.
You drive on the right in Oman. All roads are very wide and all street signs are posted in English and Arabic. The speed limit is usually 120km/h or 60km/h in urban areas. It’s a good idea to stick to the speed limit as there are many speed cameras set up along highways.
Fuel stations are everywhere and they all have attendants to assist you. You can pay by cash or card. Most will have a shop and some have toilets.
Petrol is cheap—0.22 OMR (0.57 cents) per litre.
Driving to Jebel Shams
Buy a SIM card on arrival
Upon arrival, we bought an Omantel SIM card from the desk at the airport. There are a few different providers to choose from.
We paid 7 OMR ($18). Our Sim card included 2 GB of data (valid for 30 days). We chose a longer plan as we weren’t entirely sure if we’d stay in Oman a little longer, so we paid a few extra rials.
Most sim packs for 7-10 days can be purchased for 5 OMR. Make sure you turn off all your phone apps before you put the sim card in your phone so it doesn’t immediately use up all your data.
The data package is great and we used an app called ‘Waze’ to navigate us around in Oman as our Google Maps app wasn’t ideal for directions here, the turn by turn function wasn’t good.
Try and download the Waze application before your arrival in Oman.
Related Post: The best travel websites to save you money
Oman money & travelling costs
The current exchange rate is 1 OMR (Omani rial) = USD $2.60. The rial is divided into 1000 baisa.
Many things can be purchased on a card here, however, it’s a good idea to always have some cash with you.
We used an excel spreadsheet to record all of our expenses whilst in Oman.
Our overall expenses in Oman came to a total of USD $998 for two people for 7 days. This includes accommodation, car hire, petrol, food, sights, and miscellaneous items.
This doesn’t include our visa or flights. Depending on where you are flying from, I recommend that you search Expedia for the cheapest flights.
Food in Oman
We found local food to be quite affordable in Oman. In general, a shwarma with bread, salad, and hommus cost 1 OMR. Pepsi costs 0.20 OMR, a coffee costs 1 OMR, and a local meal of rice, meat, and salad costs around 1.5 – 2.00 OMR. Expect to pay from 6 OMR for dinner in a nicer restaurant.
They say that the water in Oman is OK to drink. You can also buy bottled water in bulk if you choose. We bought a big 6 pack of water from Carrefour and had it in the car with us, it cost 0.625 OMR for all six bottles.
What to Wear in Oman
As Oman is a Muslim country, this means that everyone should dress respectfully. Women need to cover both their shoulders and knees and men are expected to wear t-shirts and long trousers.
For the majority of our trip, I wore loose-fitting clothing such as long-sleeved light shirts and long light cotton pants. The only time we needed to cover our hair was at the Grand Mosque in Muscat.
If you’re female and you plan to visit any other mosques, you’ll need to cover your hair. We always travelled with light scarves in Oman, very useful and also cheap to buy in the country.
Inside the Grand Mosque in Muscat
Best time to visit Oman
Winter is the best time to visit Oman as the summers are extremely hot. We didn’t really have a choice on our trip to visit every country, so we visited in mid-May. It was also Ramadan during the time we visited. We experienced hot days, around 35-41 degrees Celsius, the nights were very warm too.
As with previous trips, we booked our accommodation on booking.com. Prices in Oman are quite high for what you get, but there are some gems to be found. Remember that if you have a car, you can afford for your hotel to be out of town that little bit more.
We chose hotels that are comfortable which include ensuite, air conditioning, good WiFi, and free parking.
If you are on a tight budget, the cheapest option is to buy a tent and wild camp for free almost anywhere in the country. This is very safe and we’d certainly do it next time.
Our Oman Itinerary
- Nizwa – 2 nights
- Wahiba Sands – 1 night (desert camp)
- Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve – 1 night
- Muscat – 2 nights
Our road trip to Oman was for a duration of 6 nights/7 days and we covered a total of 1286 km.
When planning your itinerary, remember that as Oman is a Muslim country and the weekend is on a Friday and Saturday and many places will be closed on Fridays.
Our 7 Day self-drive itinerary in Oman
Day 1 Muscat – Nizwa (2 nights)
Time: 1 hr 45 min
The drive from Muscat airport to Nizwa was easy, driving on great roads through the desert. We stopped at the Carrefour supermarket (located about 15min drive from the airport) as we wanted some food and snacks for the next couple of days.
Our visit was during Ramadan, so nothing is open during the day for food options. We went to the H&M store to pick up a few simple light shirts for our time spent here.
I’d describe Nizwa as a big town that is very spread out. It’s a good location to base yourself for a few nights and do some day trips from here. The fort and souq area are interesting, great to capture some photos of food and people.
Sights – Nizwa Fort. Cost 5 OMR ($13 USD).
Marty and I at Nizwa Fort
Day 2 (Day Trip to Jebel Shams – via Bahla Fort, some small villages including Misfat and al Hamla)
Time: 4 hrs 18 min
We stopped at Bahla Fort in the morning. Cost 0.50 OMR each ($1.30 USD). Very impressive fort and the price is fair too.
Driving towards Jebel Shams, it’s worth your time to stop at Misfat al Abryeen. This is one of Oman’s oldest and most charming villages. We wandered through the small village with crumbling mud houses and striking coloured doors.
We found a small wadi (natural waterhole) where you could take a cool dip, the swimming sections are divided for both men and women.
Be sure to be dressed appropriately when visiting this village. There are signs everywhere to remind you to be respectful to the local people by dressing respectfully.
The town of Misfat al Abryeen
We then drove through the small village of al Hamra, some great little coffee shops and fruit juice places to stop at if you need a refreshment.
The road climbing up to Jebels Shams was quite steep in some places and there is a 7km unpaved part with loose gravel. You could manage this drive with a 2WD, but we were relieved to have the extra power of our 4WD.
Some great views once you reach the lookout point. You’ll pass by lots of long-haired goats along the way.
If you are wanting to stay here the night rather than returning to Nizwa, as we did, there are only two places to stay at the top of Jebel Shams. Jebel Shams Resort and Sama Heights Resort. Both are quite pricey.
Best prices can be found through booking.com. If you’re on a budget, you can also choose to wild camp for free.
There are no other restaurants or shops on the mountain. Make sure you have enough petrol for the drive.
Where to Stay in Nizwa
Most of the hotels in Nizwa are about a 10min drive from the center, but you drive everywhere anyway. Our hotel, the Tanuf Residency Hotel was perfect. a new hotel and a good price for Oman.
A great room, new beds, and bedding, wifi connection is fantastic, air-conditioning, TV, fridge, and kettle. The rate was 22 OMR ($57 USD per night), which included a buffet breakfast.
Tanuf Residency Hotel
Where to Eat in Nizwa
There’s a Carrefour in town, so you can choose to self-cater. We wanted to try the local dish ‘shuwa’, which is slow-cooked lamb or chicken served with fragrant rice. We read some reviews and blogs and found this place – Arab World Restaurant. This place is clean and quite simple, however, the food was fantastic!
We paid 3.40 OMR total for 2 full meals (1 x chicken shuwa and 1 x lamb shuwa). Each meal was served with vegetable soup, a small salad, and the main meal. They served us a fresh mint tea to finish, a nice touch.
That’s only USD $4.40 each. It was one of the best meals I’ve eaten in a while.
Eating a ‘shuwa’. The local traditional meal
Day 3 Nizwa – Wahiba Sands Desert (1 night)
Distance: 192 km
Time: 2 hrs 30 min
We left our hotel in Nizwa just before midday and drove straight to the desert. We found a great rate through booking.com and stayed at Sama Al Wasil Desert Camp.
The rate was 29.5 OMR, roughly $77 for the night. This rate included dinner and breakfast. We arrived at 3.00 pm.
Should you drive into the desert?
We made the decision to drive the 15km into the desert to reach our camp, however, we got stuck in the sand on the way. Lucky for us, the manager passed by us in his 4WD and helped us out.
It’s a tough climb with loose sand. If you’re not an experienced driver, I’d recommend taking the hotel up on their offer of a pick up from the Al Maha petrol station which is 15km from the desert camp. Even if you have a 4WD, perhaps it’s a safer option to leave it parked there and take the pick up to avoid any problems.
Once we arrived, we checked in and they served us dates, cardamon-infused coffee, and oranges on arrival. Our room was very nice, clean, and comfortable beds with a separate bathroom. The rooms had air-conditioning and a ceiling fan too.
Al Wasil Desert Camp
There was a little patio out front with cushions to sit and enjoy the tranquillity and views. We climbed the sand dunes and watched the sunset over our camp. It was very quiet, with only two other guests besides us.
We ate dinner in the evening. Lots of food. Chicken, rice, vegetable curry, boiled potatoes, hummus, yoghurt dip, and bread. We finished with custard for dessert and coffee and tea.
The next morning, I woke at 05:00 and it was already a little light outside, but the sun hadn’t risen yet. I hiked up to the dunes again and watched the sunrise. Perfect. We enjoyed a good breakfast, showered, and checked out.
Day 4 Wahiba Sands Desert – Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve (via Wadi Al Khalid and Sur) 1 night
Distance: 235 km
Time: 3 hrs 30 min
We ate breakfast and departed the desert at 09:30. We drove around 1.5hrs to Wadi Bani Khalid. These are awesome rock pools and they’re surrounded by beautiful date palms. There’s a couple of small ascents in the car to reach the wadi, but nothing major.
There’s a big car park for you to park up and it’s free. Walk 5 minutes into the complex. You’ll find a restaurant and coffee served here if you need it.
There is a sign directing you to walk about 1km to the cool rock pools and little slides. Great fun and beautiful here!
Wadi al Shab
Feeling refreshed, we drove around 2 hours to the coastal city of Sur. We experienced great roads along the way. We stopped at Carrefour in Sur. It’s big, awesome toilets and free showers for women! We picked up some food, then we drove into Sur and explored.
Sur is a great coastal town, whitewashed, little streets, beach with people exercising, lots of small fishing boats there too. We drove around, then watched the sunset.
What to eat in Sur
We went to a simple place called ‘Al Sharad’ for dinner. It’s located downtown, near the beach, just behind Sur Sea Restaurant.
It’s a cheap and cheerful place, but quite busy. You will find lamb and chicken shwarma cooking at the front of the shop. We chose the chicken shwarma plate served with bread, hummus, and salad for 1 OMR each. It was a tasty meal.
Where to View Turtle Nesting
The drive took 45min to Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve to watch turtles laying eggs on the beach. This cost 7 OMR each. There’s a restaurant here with good coffee for 1 OMR each, a museum and toilets etc.
Turtle tour started at 9.30 pm (can be earlier so check before), no flash photos allowed, but take your camera or iPhone and be sure to keep the flash off.
The walk is 15min towards the beach, you just follow the guide. We spent the next 35-45min watching five different turtles digging holes, laying eggs, and then returning to sea. An awesome experience.
We decided to sleep in the car at the beach car park with a few sarongs along with the windows for a little privacy and the windows rolled down a little.
The coastal city of Sur
Day 5 – Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve – Muscat (via Wadi al Shab, Sinkhole) 1 night
Distance: 270 km
Time: 3 hrs 15 min
We left the car park early and drove back through Sur to reach Wadi al Shab. There is a small car park here. Pay the guys at the river 1 OMR per person return to have them drive you 30 sec across the water so you can hike towards the Wadi. It’s a decent hike, I’d recommend wearing running or hiking shoes rather than flip-flops.
We passed by lots of irrigation pipes and then different rock pools as we climbed over rocks to get there. It’s a journey time of 45min total and it’s hot.
Once you reach it, you’ll know. It’s totally worth it. It’s a good idea to take an old pair of sneakers or aqua shoes to walk across rocks and explore the rock pools. Take lots of water and maybe some food as it’s pretty isolated.
After spending about 2 hours here, we walked back to our car and drove towards Muscat, stopping at Bimmah Sinkhole on the way. This is another awesome swim stop, only a 5min walk from the car park.
All roads to Muscat are fantastic and the speed limit is 120km p/h. We booked 2 nights at the Golden Oasis Hotel.
The rate was 13 OMR (USD $33) per night, incl breakfast. Bargain! It was clean and comfortable, the wifi was fast too.
Day 6 Muscat – Grand mosque & sights
Distance: 90 km
Time: 1 hr 30 min
The Grand Mosque in Muscat
Today was all about exploring Muscat. It’s free entry to the Grand Mosque which opens from 08:00-11 am. Ladies must be fully covered, including your hair. Make sure you take along a scarf or a sarong.
The mosque is stunning, spend at least an hour or two here.
We then drove to the Corniche, parked here, and explored the Souk. We drove to the Sultan’s Palace, took photos from the front which is free. The palace is located only 6min drive from the Corniche (promenade). We returned to our hotel and rested for a few hours.
We ventured back out in the evening and ate an incredible buffet dinner for 12 OMR at a beautiful restaurant called Bait Al Luban. A La Carte meals start at 6 OMR.
This meal was absolutely delicious.
Driving along the Corniche in Muscat
Day 7 Last Day: Muscat – Airport
Return to the airport- 34min drive from our hotel on great roads, 120km p/h all the way.
Total Spent on Petrol
We travelled 1286km and spent 35 OMR (USD $91) on petrol. Now that’s a great deal. When returning the car, make sure it is clean throughout and clean enough on the outside to see if any damage, or else they’ll charge you.
We paid 5 OMR airport fee to drop off the car and another 5 OMR as we were 86 km over the mileage allowance.
I’d recommend that you pick up the Lonely Planet Guide Book if you plan to do a road trip in Oman. You’ll find many great tips and information about some of the sights in this guide.
This is essential for any trip, so make sure you’re covered – we have an annual comprehensive plan with World Nomads.