One Week in Oman: A Self-Drive, Budget itinerary Guide.
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Trying to squeeze in as much Oman as you can on your all-too-short holiday break? Don’t sweat it- here is a road tripping, budget itinerary for those looking to hit the highlights in one week in Oman. Of course there is so much to see in Oman that it could keep you captivated for months on end, but if you have a mere one week in Oman to spare, don’t despair! You can see a nice chunk of the beautiful country in a short amount of time.
This is following Dan Flying Solo, my friend Jeremy and I’s itinerary when we spent one week in Oman in November of 2016 road tripping in the country. It will cover the northern part of Oman closest to Muscat. The crazy thing is: these stops are usual tourist attractions for those visiting Oman, however there’s so few people at them that you’ll feel you’re off the beaten path at many. #thebeautyofoman.
This is the map of Dan and I’s One Week In Oman Roadtrip. *Note that due to Google Maps only allowing you add 10 destinations to one map, I’ve had to cut off a few places from this map to show our full loop (which is STUPID, GOOGLE MAPS!) More detailed maps are included for each day below.
Need some inspiration? Read Dan’s 10 Reasons to Visit Oman Guide!
Day 0 Arrive in Muscat
Welcome to the modest capital city of Oman. Pick up your rental car*,**,*** and head on out! We arrived late night, so our first glimpses of the city were it’s dazzling lit up mosques. Plan to stay in a hotel tonight and get a good nights sleep (and shower) before taking off tomorrow!
*This is a change from what we actually did. We didn’t pick up our Landcruiser until the following morning. I’d do it the night before, so we could’ve gotten an earlier start the following day.
**I highly recommend a 4WD for this itinerary.
***We rented a Toyota Landcruiser from Mark’s Tours.
Day 1 Muscat, Quriyat, and Wadi Dayqah.
Grab any odds and ends in Muscat, stock up on food, grab a late brunch at a local eatery and set out for your one week in Oman road trip! There is a a Carrefour in Muscat where you can grab most anything you may need. Head southeast from Muscat toward Sur on Highway 17 to the picturesque fishing village of Quriat. Roughly an hour and 15 minutes later you’ll find yourselves on the narrow streets of the small fishing village.
After having a look around Quriyat and enjoying the beach, drive into and explore several nearby wadis (trust me there are tons in the Eastern Hajar!). Then from Quriyat take Al-Hasn Street to Wadi Dayqah to see Oman’s largest dam. After an afternoon of sightseeing in Quriyat, checking out wadis and a dam head back out toward the east when the road forks and follow the unnamed roads through wild Oman out to the coast. From here start looking for a beach to camp on.
Day 2 Bimah Sinkhole, Wadi Shab, Ras al-Jinz.
Get an early rise and continue south on toward Sur. Today you’ll be cruising with the Arabian Gulf on your left and the craggy Eastern Hajar Mountains on the right. Early in the drive you’ll run across signs for Bimmah Sinkhole. Don’t miss it!
The Bimmah Sinkhole is a small lake filled with amazingly clear turquoise waters in a limestone depression. Although the local legend holds that the Sinkhole was created by Hawaiyat Najm- meaning falling star. Regardless of mythical meteorite or limestone depression we can all agree, it’s beautiful. Not to fear for those not in prime physical condition: the surrounding municipality created Hawaiyat Najm Park around Bimmah Sinkhole, including a staircase to access the lake. Showing up to Bimmah Sinkhole early in the morning will allow you to have the Sinkhole completely to yourself, or at least close to it. Once you are done enjoying Bimmah Sinkhole, continue only a short distance south to arrive to Wadi Shab.
There is a parking lot just under the Highway 17 bridge. Park, take a good look around and wait for one of the small boats to take you across the river to the other side for 1 OMR per person. You’ll be dropped off at a small dock the opposite side of the river. After hopping off the boat, follow the trail along the river. You’ll walk along the bed of the canyon for a bit before the trail begins to climb up along the steep wall of the wadi with views down into the turquoise water. Eventually the trail leads back downward to a rock beach where you can jump in for a swim. This is an area popular with tourists and locals alike. If you’re adventurous and a decent swimmer you can swim up to a secret waterfall.
The Secret Waterfall:
*Only go if you’re confident in your swimming abilities.
Swim up stream until you reach a giant rock pile. You’ll see see a narrow slot between the rocks. Swim through it. The narrow slot will eventually give way to a giant cave formed by large boulders fallen long ago. There’s a waterfall inside, and even a rope to hoist yourself up onto one of the boulders, where you can cliff dive into the deep cavernous pool. My regret: Not bringing a GoPro! This was the highlight of Wadi Shab in my opinion, I would have loved to share a photo with you. After spending an afternoon exploring the wadi make your way a little further down the coast to Ras al-Jinz and Ras al-Hadd.
Ras al-Jinz Beach is a Turtle Reserve. Every year thousands of turtles migrate to the Sultanate of Oman’s shores, the best time to see them being between July and October. We arrived in Oman in early November and saw hundreds of turtles the night we went out to Ras al-Jinz. Ras al-Jinz is a fishing village, but it is most famous for being the nesting site for one of the world’s largest concentrations of the endangered Green Turtle as well as being the official easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula.
When Dan, Jermey and I arrived we first came across a couple men working- they were collecting tiny baby turtles and putting them in a kids swimming pool. They worked for the Ras al-Jinz Turtle Center and were gathering the babies that were headed in the wrong direction. The babies would later be brought to the sea by the workers. The men working also told us that it would be best to use the red lights on our headlamps to search the beach for nesting turtles as normal light disorients the turtles*. Not long after we set out into the pitch black darkness we began to hear what sounded like someone digging in the sand. It was an enormous Green Turtle digging her nest to lay eggs. She was well over a meter in length- I’d never laid eyes on a turtle so big!
*Did you know that light confuses turtles? Nesting turtles are typically most active at night and instinctively they use light to find their way back to the sea. Long before humans came along brining light pollution in cities and towns, turtles relied on the moon light reflecting off of the ocean’s surface to find their way back to the water. This is why it is recommended to use red lights (many headlamps have this setting), the narrow spectrum of light red lights emit is less intrusive to the turtles #neature.
After our encounter with a nesting turtle we walked back down to the water, only to find that the sands were dazzling with glittering blue light as the waves crashed on shore. This is phosphorescent plankton! I have encountered phosphorescent plankton in Koh Rong, Cambodia; Gili T, Indonesia; Herathera, Maldives; and Puerto Rico- trust me there’s nothing else like it. I could kick around for hours feeling like a fairy surrounded by the shimmering greens and blues. We weren’t aware that Omani beaches were home to bioluminescence. Dan and Jeremy had never seen it before, so I showed them that going out into the water and kicking around will light the plankton up.
After playing around in the water we all walked back to the Landcruiser in our sopping wet clothes to take off to Ras al-Hadd to set up camp.
One thing to note is that you cannot camp on the beach at Ras al-Jinz because it is a reserve. However you can camp at nearby beaches at Ras al-Hadd and Finz. We opted to camp over at Ras al-Hadd.
Ras al-Hadd is just two miles north of Ras al-Jinz. We drove past the small village and drove out onto the sandy beach and set up camp just off the road and fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach. The next morning we did return to Ras al-Jinz to go watch the sunrise.
Day 3 Oman’s coastline, Fortresses and Wahiba sands.
Continue south from Ras al-Hadd along the coastline exploring the cliffsides and beautiful beaches. Oman has a lengthy coastline with beaches of varying sand colors from white to a iron-rich, burnt orange. Just pull off the road as you approach anything of interest and go check it out. We even made a stop at a nice powdery beach were we met a large group of Omanis siesta-ing for the afternoon. Of course they welcomed us with open arms. As you continue down the coast you’ll pass village after village and will stumble across numerous fortresses. (Some you can’t even track down the name of #ImACrappyBlogger).
Make your way to the village of As-Suwaih. As you near the south end of the town you’ll turn right. You will pass a petrol station on the road, continue to head west on the road for roughly 15km (10mi) where the road will end- at this point, turn left. Continue along this road until you go just past the villages of Fulyaj and Al Qutayirah where you’ll turn right onto Highway 35. Stay on Highway 35 until you reach the town of Balad Bani Bu Hassan. If you are looking for a break you can wander about the Jalaan Bani Bu Hassan Fort. There is a petrol station in the town here and it would be advisable to top up before heading into the super remote Wahiba Sands if you plan to head out very far into them. Head west on the dirt road across from Jalaan Bani Bu Hassan Fort and cross the Bani Khalid River and turn right after you cross the river. When the road forks, head toward the left to arrive at Fulayj al-Mashayikh village. Fulayj al-Mashayikh is your jumping off point into the Wahiba Sands.
Wahiba Sand (Sharqiyah Sands):
From Balad Bani Bu Hassan head northwest on the dirt road leaving the village, the road will dead end where you’ll turn left and continue along the dirt road until it ends. Take a minute to stop here and take a look out over the seemingly endless sand dunes. This is the Wahiba Sands.
*Driving on sand can be tricky. A 4WD is definitely recommended and sand plates + shovels to help you dig yourself out if you get stuck. Make sure you bring enough food and water in the event you do get stuck out there and must wait for help. The local Bedouin women cruise these sand dunes regularly and will check on you if they see you stopped somewhere along the tracks.
There are many routes into the Wahiba Sands to follow, the main thing to keep in mind is to stay on the dirt tracks and keep your speed up, slowing down will make you sink into the sand. Leaving from the dirt road you’ll eventually roll up onto a Bedouin settlement with a giant fenced in area full of goats. From here you can continue just about any direction. Start looking for a good spot you want to set up camp for a night in the desert, or if you want some amenities you can attempt to reach the Wahiba Desert Camp which located roughly 30km (20mi) from the end of the dirt road.
We opted to set up camp just off one of the dirt tracks right below a towering sand dune. Which of course we all scaled for sunset. The Wahiba Sands are a magical place, plus it doesn’t get much better than camping under the stars. If you’re into astrophotography or love stargazing the Wahiba Sands will be a delight. There is very little light pollution out in the Wahiba Sands, especially if you explore deep into the sand dunes so the night will be extraordinarily dark.
Day 4 Wahiba Sands, Wadi Bani-Khalid, Ibra, Izki.
You’ll probably be woken up to the sunrise out here in the Wahiba Sands as we were. Shortly after we had gotten up a little pick up truck came zooming down the dirt tracks. It was two local Bedouin women, they saw our vehicle and wanted to make sure were okay, and to lend some help if we were stuck and offer us tea. Of course this was all sorted out via hand gestures as none of us had a common language. Omani hospitality is one of the greatest aspects of traveling in the country.
We turned around and left the Wahiba Sands the same route we came in on. However there are many routes to get out of them, so you can always choose your own path. After you arrive back to the town of Balad Bani Bu Hassan continue northwest on Highway 23 for about 60km (40mi) to the turn off onto الرميل road which will take you to Wadi Bani Khalid- don’t worry it’s well sign posted in both Arabic and English.
Wadi Bani Khalid:
Wadi Bani Khalid is a series of pools and caves in the Eastern Hajar Mountains that are very popular with tourists and locals alike particularly on weekends. The pools are filled with crystal clear waters year round, which makes Wadi Bani Khalid popular as many wadis are bone dry come dry season. You can continue to hike up further into the wadi to find more pools and eventually a cave with an underwater stream. Swimming is a popular activity here, although note that conservative dress is the most respectful. Women should swim in loose fitting clothing- (I wore a pair of harem pants and loose t-shirt over my swim suit), however there were women swimming in bikinis here that were not hasseled by anyone. If swimming isn’t your thing you can always kick back and watch the local boys cliff dive.
After a nice afternoon soaking up some sun and exploring Wadi Bani Khalid, continue northwest on Highway 23 to Ibra.
Ibra is an old city that predates the calling of the prophet, with many of the ancient mud buildings still standing. Ibra has a souq to check out that is most bustling on Wednesday mornings. A unique feature to the Ibra souq is that there is a women-only souq on Wednesdays and men are not permitted (neither is photography). If you continue past the souq and turn right you’ll arrive in Al-Munisifeh, the ruined village of Old Ibra. This is the part of the city that is still stacked with the crumbling old mud buildings from days past. The area does eventually give way to parts of the old city that are currently being restored. The ancient mud buildings reminded me of Sana’a, Yemen in way, just without the icing like designs painted in gypsum. Another feature that made many of the old mud buildings stand out was the addition of colorful doors.
It will likely be getting dark as you leave Ibra, since it was a long day of exploring and driving today. I would personally recommend looking for a place to camp nearer to Ibra. We had opted to head to Izki to camp for the night to be a little closer to Nizwa in the morning. We had difficulty finding a good place to set up camp. We did find a strange lot outside Izki to sleep and woke up to what appeared to be a goat sacrifice, some old burnt clothing and a construction yard. Assuming with Oman being such a peaceful and safe country, I’d say it was just a spot where people dumped old crap they didn’t want anymore. There looks to be much more options for good camping nearer to Ibra as you actually aren’t too far away from the soft Wahiba Sands.
Day 5 Nizwa fortress, Jebel Shams.
In the morning head toward Nizwa to check out the Nizwa Fortress and Nizwa’s Souq.
The Fortress is Oman’s #1 most visited national monument, so expect it to be fairly busy. The entrance fee is 1 OMR per person for admittance to the entire fort, hours are 9am-4pm Saturday-Thursday and 8am-11am on Fridays (Friday is a holy day in the Islamic world, if you don’t know already). On most days there will be stalls set up where you can try out all sorts of traditional Omani foods, and other stalls where you can see Omani handicrafts being made live and in action. The Souq is also worth wandering around to purchase spices, traditional clothing, and souvenirs. This is one of the best souqs to pick up an Omani Khanjar- the traditional daggers worn by men through the country (also called Jambiya in neighboring Yemen).
Don’t miss the date market in the souq. Delicious dates are grown all over the country and can be purchased here. Prices tend to be around 1 OMR per kilo roughly. This was also the place I was first introduced to the sweet Omani treat: Halwa. Halwa with a cup of Omani Arabic coffee (kawa) is a perfect breakfast if you ask me. If you happen to be headed to Nizwa over a Thursday or Friday, get up early and stop by the goat market. It takes place at the souq and begins at about 7am and continues until around 8:30am. Omanis come to see and buy goats and haggle away. After a morning spent (okay, maybe longer for some of you…) wandering the souqs and fortress of Nizwa head out west on Highway 21 toward Jebel Shams and follow the signage.
Jebel Shams and the Al-Hajar Mountains:
Jebel Shams is Oman’s highest peak, it rises from the Al Hajar Mountain range and is near Wadi Ghul, better known as the Grand Canyon of Arabia. If at this point you feel like you need the comforts of a hotel room, there are several hotels in and around Jebel Shams. However there are plenty of great places to camp. We camped on the plateau right next to Wadi Ghul.
Day 6 Wadi Ghul, Balad Sayt village, Al-Musnaah Beach.
You’ll likely wake up at sunrise as the light starts beaming through your tent. Get an early start because this will be a long day. It is best to start your hike down into Wadi Ghul early before the temperatures start to get uncomfortably hot.
The (W6 Route) Al-Khitaym to As-Sab hike is an easy gradual trek down into part of the canyon that brings you to the terraced abandoned village of As Sab (also known as Sab Bani Khamis). It starts at the village of Al-Khitaym- park your vehicle and walk past the couple tables of souvenirs the villagers have set up (Best to purchase any items on the way out) and continue along the trail marked with red, white and yellow. If you have a little more time and enjoy a challenging trek you can try the (W4 Route) Jebel Shams Summit Hike. Expect this hike to take you 10-12 hours roundtrip and is pretty steep and demanding. Read more information about the hike on Oman Tripper.
After spending the morning exploring the Grand Canyon of Arabia, brace yourself for a bone crushing adventure to some of the most picturesque bits of Oman. Head toward Al-Hamra and once you arrive take طريق الروضھ – الحمراء (The Mountain Road) which will bring you to Balad Sayt. The road begins paved but quickly changes to dirt road. It’s advisable to only go in a 4WD, the road is very windy, narrow and in parts can be difficult to navigate as you are driving down the steep edges of a canyon. The whole drive is extremely scenic and you’ll pass many villages as well as lemon and date crops on your way.
Eventually you will pass a football pitch in the middle of the valley- you can’t miss it. It stands out from the rocky cliffsides surrounding it. You’ll start seeing brown signs point you to Balad Sayt village, just follow the signs. Balad Sayt is what Dan described as the Cinque Terra of Oman with the colored stone and mud buildings rising up from the green terraces below. You can easily explore the village on foot- the streets are very narrow. There is a small shop where basic items can be purchased. There is a spigot in the town too along the main street in Balad Sayt where drinking water can be collected.
From Balad Sayt head back out onto the main Mountain Road and continue. You’ll pass several more small villages set in the impossible landscapes as the sun is setting over the canyon. The dirt road will eventually give way to Highway 10. A word of warning: In November 2016 there was road construction taking place on Highway 10, with little warning where you did have to get off the highway for a several mile stretch and drive on dirt roads again until you got past the construction.
Follow Highway 10 to where it intersects with Highway 11 where you could either turn right to reach the city of Rustaq and look for camping or turn left and continue to the coast and search near Al-Musanaah for camping on the beach.
*If it is raining or has rained recently DO NOT ATTEMPT THE MOUNTAIN ROAD. It does flood with water back in there. If you are unsure ask locals in Al-Hamra or At-Tabaqah Village if approaching from the opposite direction.
Day 7 Seeb, Muscat.
This is your last full day in Oman! Give yourself a little time to check out the city of Seeb just north of Muscat before heading back to the capital. Once back in Muscat you can freely spend the day however you like. We had opted to check out the Mohammed Al-Ameen Mosque and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Another great option is to head over and visit the Muttrah District with its souq, fish market and bay parks.
Grab some coffee in the morning at a cafe or if you wanna splurge head to the Millennium Musanaah Beach Resort where you enjoy a coffee right next to the beach. Head on out to Seeb first to visit the emerald-green-adorned Al-Zulfa Mosque.
Al-Zulfa Mosque, Seeb:
Al-Zulfa Mosque is more commonly known as Royal Guard Oman Mosque. It was built in 1992 and is open to non-muslims.
Grab a quick lunch in Seeb before making your way back to Muscat to do some final sightseeing and to grab any times you may want to bring home with you.
Mohammed Al-Ameen Mosque:
Mohammed Al-Ameen Mosque was opened in June of 2014 making it one of the newest mosques in Muscat. It is also referred to as the Bawshar Mosque as well as the Bahwan Mosque depending on who you ask. The mosque is easy to locate as the entire outside is bright white set against the dusty mountain backdrop outside the city.
Sultan Qaboos Mosque:
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque’s construction began in late 1996 and was not completed until 2001. It’s a lovely spot to catch a final sunset over Oman before you depart, and once the sun finally drops below the horizon the mosque’s lights will be turned on- you can see its dazzling dome across the city.
Dan and I’s flights departed middle of the night, so we headed back to Muscat Airport around 10pm to return the Landcruiser and check in. If you do not fly out until the following morning there are several hotels situated near the airport. You can search hotels.com or get $25 off your first booking with airbnb.com here.
-Conservative dress is best. For men trousers that at least cover the knee and a t-shirt is perfectly fine in many settings. For women long, loose fitting trousers or long skirts and a loose fitting top are most respectful for sight seeing.
-Dress for visiting mosques: Women should have on a loose, floor-length skirt or trousers and loose fitting long sleeve top. Many mosques open to non-muslims do not require the headscarf for women, although it is most respectful to wear one. Men should be in long sleeves and long trousers.
-Swimming for women: Outside beach resorts that cater toward foreigners it is best to just swim with clothes on.
-May through September are the hottest months and daily temperatures can sizzle well above 30ºC/85ºF and even to 40ºC/100ºF+. If wanting to road trip in Oman you may want to reconsider if planning a visit in the months of June, July and August.
-English is widely spoken in Oman, however learning a few words of Arabic can be helpful such as: hello=salam or salam-aleykum, thank you=shukran, yes=na’am and no=la.
-The most current exchange rate as of July 2017 is 1 Omani Rial to $2.50 US Dollars or $1 USD to 0.39 OMR. The abbreviation used for Omani Rials is OMR.
-Most shops in Oman have signs outside that clearly state what is sold in the shop and are always written in Arabic as well as English. If it says ‘Sale of foodstuff’, they literally will be selling food, drinks and produce.
-Alcohol is not widely available in Oman, being an Islamic country. Foreigners can purchase alcohol in duty free stores upon arrival at airports, and drinks can be bought at hotel bars catering toward foreigners at a high price, of course. Each visitor can bring in 2 liters of alcohol when arriving by air.
-Want to visit by organized tour? You can! Check out Viator for Oman tours.
-There are hotels available in Sur, Ibra Nizwa, Jebel Shams, along the coast and more, as well as desert camps in the Wahiba Sands if you decide you need a night off of tent camping.
-Muscat (sometimes referred to as Seeb Airport as well) and Salalah have international airports.
-It is possible to drive to or from the UAE to Oman- just check with your car rental company about if you are allowed to drive in both countries.
Who wants to visit Oman?
More and more people are getting wind of how amazing Oman is. And I forgot to mention: Oman is the safest country on the Arabian Peninsula. If you’ve never visited anywhere in the Middle East, Oman is a great first time welcome. Get here before everyone else does!