A road trip in Oman can provide the authenticity that other countries have now sacrificed on the altar of mass tourism. Unlike other nations of the Arab world such as the United Arab Emirates, Jordan or Morocco, Oman is still a niche destination, little exposed to mass tourism, where traditions are respected regardless of the presence of tourists and where you can still breathe a real air of authenticity.

You will see no skyscrapers here. No race for the tallest building in the world like neighbouring Dubai or the more fundamentalist Riyadh (recently opened to tourism). In Muscat, the country’s capital, in fact, no building can exceed 90 metres, which corresponds to the height of the main minaret of the Great Mosque named after the late Sultan Qaboos.

Road Trip in Oman, a still authentic country

Road Trip in Oman

What you need to know before leaving

The territory of the Sultanate of Oman consists of 70% mountains, 20% desert and 10% coastline. During a road trip in Oman, you will immediately realise that these percentages really do correspond to reality. Between an ascent and descent along the Hajar Mountains and a circumnavigation of the coast, you will discover that the mountainous terrain dominates much more than the desert. And then you will notice that all the buildings are painted white or peach-coloured, in compliance with a precise royal edict, as a solution against the excessive heat in certain months of the year. The temperature, in fact, is fairly constant all year round but from April to September it can reach well over 40 degrees.

Oman is a country where religion plays a central role and, in spite of Arab countries more accustomed to tourism, here on Friday, the day of prayer, everything really stops. Precisely for this reason, I advise against visiting the country during Ramadan. In addition, out of respect for local customs and traditions, it is advisable to avoid too skimpy and uncovered clothes. In some cases, it is also necessary to cover the head with a veil or headscarf. Oman is a much more modern country than one might think. Thanks to the initiatives put in place by the late Sultan Qaboos, it has radically changed its appearance over the last twenty years. The roads are wide and well-maintained (except for the dirt roads in the mountains) and hiring a 4×4 car can be a good solution to discover the country on your own. In addition, petrol costs about 0.20 euro cents per litre. A real dream for us Europeans. Finally, credit cards are accepted practically everywhere.

Road Trip in Oman, a still authentic country

A trip to Oman can only begin in its capital: Muscat or Mascate. The most interesting part is the Mutrah district where the Fort, the souk, the waterfront and the Presidential Palace are located. In the city’s modern area, on the other hand, the Great Mosque named after Sultan Qaboos and the Opera House are worth a visit.

Road Trip in Oman

Moving towards the Hajar Mountains, one comes across numerous trails that are perfect for all trekking enthusiasts. Not everyone knows that there is also a Grand Canyon in Oman. Less famous than the American one but perhaps even more fascinating. The highest mountain in the Sultanate is Jebel Shams, which offers fascinating and very adrenalin-pumping trekking routes. It reaches an altitude of 3,000 metres and its name is inspired by the fact that it is the first place where the sun rises.

Road Trip in Oman: the must-see Wadis

The presence of these great mountain ranges has led to the creation of small and large canyons called wadis over the centuries, thanks to atmospheric phenomena. There are hundreds of them, many of them crossed by watercourses, but some are more famous and definitely worth a visit on a road trip in Oman. All wadis have a name related to the family that has influence over the area. The most famous is certainly Wadi Bani Khalid. Specifically, the word ‘Wadi’ means the course or source of water, ‘Bani’ means ‘family of’ or ‘descendant of’ and ‘Khalid’ means, in this case, the name of the local family or tribe.

After leaving the car, you drive along a characteristic Falaj, an ancient irrigation canal, until you reach the first natural pool with emerald-green water. The more daring may decide to push on into the canyon gorge, carved out over time by water and wind erosion. Gradually, one discovers an increasingly fascinating landscape that leads to a small waterfall and another pool in which to bathe. Out of respect for the local population, it is advisable to bathe clothed in the first pool, avoiding bikinis for women and speedos for men, while one can put on a swimming costume in the more isolated one that is sheltered from the gaze of the locals.

Road Trip in Oman

Another place not to be missed is the Wadi Shab, perhaps even more impressive. Here the trek takes at least 45 minutes and you cross a truly scenic landscape of rivers, falaj and small waterfalls, surrounded by high cliffs. At the end you reach the canyon gorge with a series of pools to overcome to reach a cave that holds a wonderful secret. Not suitable for the claustrophobic.

Nizwa, Sur and the Omani Desert

A road trip in Oman must inevitably include stops at some iconic places such as Nizwa, the ancient capital, Sur, the city of the dhows, and the mythical desert. In Nizwa, you cannot miss a visit to the ancient fort dating back to the 9th century, one of the best preserved in the country. Its ancient souq is divided into multiple sections: from fruit and vegetables to ceramics, from souvenirs to meat and even the goat market held every Friday at dawn. If you happen to be in town that day, you absolutely cannot miss it. Don’t forget to buy some frankincense grain or oil, it is an aromatic resin that is a true Omani speciality.

Sur is one of Oman’s most famous coastal towns. It is home to the last surviving factory of the dhow, the typical boat used in ancient times in the Arabian Peninsula. But Sur is also the point of reference if you want to visit the Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve. Here, at dawn or late in the evening, you can witness the laying and hatching of turtle eggs. And at certain times of the year, one can even see hundreds of them scattered on the reserve’s beach. A truly touching and evocative moment, carried out with full respect for these splendid animals.

Road Trip in Oman

How to forget the desert! Despite what one might think, only a small part of the Omani territory is occupied by desert. The most famous desert area is called Wahiba Sands and stretches about 180 km from north to south. The suggestion is to spend at least one night among the dunes of fine golden sand, in one of the many tented camps available. Riding up and down the dunes in a 4×4 or balancing on a sandboard or riding a camel are all unmissable desert experiences on a trip to Oman!

Road trip in Oman: the Daymaniyat Islands

It is impossible to leave Oman without taking an excursion to the Daymaniyat Islands, a true natural paradise about 45 minutes by boat from Muscat. It is the perfect way to end a holiday in Oman among paradisiacal beaches, crystal-clear sea and snorkelling in search of unique corals and turtles. Remember that it is only possible to go down to the beaches of these islands from November to April because in the remaining months they are closed to tourists to allow the birds to breed.

Road Trip in Oman