As explained in my blogs about Oman , doing a road trip through this magnificent country is highly recommended.
The main reasons:
- Respectful and cultured locals
- Majestic desert landscapes
- Awesome food (Kebabs and Middle-Eastern Desserts! Yum!)
- Turquoise beaches
- Beautiful sand dunes
- Eye-popping wadis
- Pristine forts
- Historic Culture
Following are some suggestions, based on our experiences …
Please note my master Travel Tips …
Renting a vehicle
For most of the areas you wish to visit, a 4×4 is not required. We managed just fine with a regular sedan. We did not visit Jebel Shams and Balad Sayt this time. If you do, then 4×4 will be required.
Because our overall trip was from Muscat area to Salalah area and we did not intend to drive back to Muscat, I had to pay 150 USD extra for the drop-off being in another city. Considering the time we saved and the overall convenience, I think this was money well spent.
Please take pictures of the vehicle before you start and mark any scratches or other issues in the rental vehicle slip itself, just in case there is a dispute later.
For those who have driven in the Western Hemisphere, it is no big deal. Other than the town centers of Muscat, Salalah Etc., traffic was quite sparse and it was truly a pleasure to drive in Oman.
The stretch between Al Wasil and Salalah (“Empty Quarter”) has frequent sand storms. Amazingly, vehicles (probably because locals are used to it) drive at 90+ Km/Hr even in the sand storm. One aspect to look out for is the sand dunes on the road itself! A couple of times, I sent the car flying over a sand dune, because I mistook it for passing sand (in a sand storm). So, be careful and refrain from thinking that you are on a Formula 1 Race Track 😉
(Our rental car started giving beeps whenever I went over the typical highway speed limit of 120 Km/Hr. Not sure if this feature is standard or it is just for rental cars)
Make sure you have adequate supply of drinking water. We kept multiple 1 liter bottles of water handy.
Though I had downloaded Waze GPS App, based on some online recommendations, we managed fine with Google Maps (in offline mode). I had downloaded maps for Muscat, Salalah Etc. before we started the trip.
If you are travelling with children, like we did, it is best to keep a stock of fruits, energy bars, chips Etc. Kids can get cranky 🙂
Keeping kids engaged
Because the drives are long, it is best to prepare the kids by painting a picture of what the drive is going to be like and also keeping them interested in the amazing scenery on the way. Previously downloaded (on the phone, for example) music and video games (though it is not easy on the eyes, while on the road) can be used as well.
Almost all Petrol Pumps (Gas Stations) have restrooms. Since we stopped regularly for petrol, we got to use the restrooms regularly. Many of the restrooms are in “Asian Style”, and not “Western Style”, so be prepared.
Petrol is quite cheap in Oman. We ensured that our petrol tank was never less than 40%, because we did not want to get caught with an empty tank.
Oman has this concept of roundabouts at various junctions. Please note that vehicles already in the roundabout have the right of way. Be careful when you enter a roundabout as there could be oncoming vehicles (E.g. Huge trucks!).
Doing the road trip in stages
Our longest single day drive was from Duqm to Salalah. We broke our overall Muscat to Salalah trip over several days and had booked hotels in between. I would highly recommend some of our hotels:
The Crowne Plaza is right next to the sea (at Duqm) and has a very good breakfast spread.
I have been to several countries in the Middle-East. I can categorically say that Omani people are the nicest people I have come across in the Middle-East. When I spoke to my friends who have been living in Oman for 20+ years, they all echoed this sentiment. I can recall at least 20 instances of interactions with local Omani people, from which I came out being impressed with their humility and decorum. I would not be surprised if it has to do with the Ibadi culture, as Ibadis form 75% of Oman population. Ibadi school of Islam is dominant in Oman and is different from the Shia and Sunni forms.
Attire & Local Customs
Please keep in mind that Oman is an Islamic country and it is best to refrain from shorts and other dresses which expose a lot of the body. If you are visiting during Ramadan, like we did, please be aware of the customs during Ramadan. For example, we diligently ensured that we did not drink or eat in the open during daytime.
I am not particularly a “Sunscreen” guy, but I wished (after the trip) that I had used the sunscreen that was with me 🙂 I had tanned by several notches!
I highly recommend carrying an umbrella. There were many a walk where I was grateful for the umbrella, which protected us from the direct and intense Sun.
We did not venture out much during this window, for obvious reasons. It is quite hot and draining during this time-frame and we mostly stayed indoors.
We managed fine with our VISA/Mastercard Credit Cards and also occasional ATM withdrawals from banks like Bank Muscat.
Wow, the kebabs and meat dishes were just YUMM! On some days, we had packed kebabs (from previous night’s dinner) and Kuboos for lunch. We parked at some scenic spots and had a nice lunch, enjoying the views.
Two of the most common and popular souvenirs in Oman are the Frankincense and Halwa. Omani Halwa is unique and we brought back several packs and varieties of Omani Halwa for family and friends. Khanjars are also nice in Oman.
As soon as we landed in Muscat, we bought OmanTel Simcards from their counter in Muscat International Airport (MCT). We did not face any issues with it during our entire trip. The local numbers came in handy while contacting hotels and staying in touch with family and friends. There are several packages you can choose from and we chose a Voice+Data package costing 5 OMR each.