- Middle east
The Ultimate Backpacking Guide to Oman
Oman is one of the biggest surprises for me this year. I went into the country thinking that I would not enjoy it as it is so expensive and they don't cater to a solo backpacker like me. I was so wrong! Oman is a stunning country that offers a unique travel experience for solo travelers but it does require great planning if you want to do it cheaply and I have all the information you need to do just that here.
From ways to reduce cost, where is the cheapest place to rent a car, and sleeping spots for wild campers and car dwellers, here is everything you need to know to travel around Oman in 7 days on a budget.Table of Contents
- Oman Itinerary Map
- When to Go to Oman
- Where to Stay in Oman
- Internet in Oman
- Travel Insurance
- How to Get to Oman
- How to Get Around Oman
- Renting a Car in Oman
- Do You Need a Jeep?
- How to Navigate Oman by Car
- Total Cost for the Car Rental
- 6 Days Itinerary to Oman
Oman Itinerary Map
When to Go to Oman
Oman is essentially a desert and planning when to go is very important for you to have a great trip. The best time is around November where the temperature is becoming cooler, especially at night but the peak season has not started yet so everything is still cheap (car/gear rental) and not as crowded.
Where to Stay in Oman
Accommodation is the most expensive part of traveling in Oman, and if you want to travel on a budget, you will either have to rent a tent or do like I did, sleep in the car. Wild camping is legal in Oman and so you can sleep wherever you want, except in Muscat. In Muscat, I would recommend staying at one of these Airbnb. They are easily reachable by bus and much cheaper than any hotel in the city.
Muscat: Staying with Oorrig (Budget) - 20 USD/Night (Double Room) (Reachable by bus number 8 directly from the airport. Big house, great host and have some parking space) | Staying with Abdullah & Hilal (Budget) - 29 USD/Night (Double Room) (Reachable by bus number 8 as well directly from the airport. Great common area with a balcony access.)
Traveling here is quite expensive and not very budget-friendly but there are options. You can expect to spend around 50 - 70 USD per day per person for food, accommodation and transportation.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
Internet in Oman
Wifi is available in places like shopping malls and most Airbnb apartments in Muscat but if you want to follow this guide and drive around by yourself, I would recommend getting a local sim card so you can use an app to navigate through the country. You might also need to call your Airbnb host in case you can't find where it is.
Get a sim card from Omantel at the airport before heading into the city. A sim card for 1 GB and 3 GB with calls should cost you 3 OMR and 10 OMR respectively. I bought the 3 GB one and it was enough to navigate me through the country and keep contact with family and friends.
For more info about Oman sim card, you can read more here: Everything you need to know about buying a sim card in Oman.
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Oman, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
How to Get to Oman
Oman is located in the Gulf and there are several middle eastern airlines that provide a route for literally everywhere in the world with one transit. Go for Etihad, Qatar or Emirates if you are flying from the US or Europe. For a cheaper option, FlyDubai is a great budget alternative. You can browse through Momondo and Skyscanner to find the cheapest deal that works for your itinerary.
How to Get Around Oman
Oman is not equipped for the traditional ways of backpacking like staying in hostels and taking public transportation. The public transportation outside of Muscat is almost non-existent and the most beautiful places to see in Oman is often in remote areas and not accessible via buses.
For Muscat, you can take the red bus throughout the city. From the airport to all the Airbnb I listed above, you can take the bus number 8 directly. You can also use Google Maps to find which bus route to take if you plan to go somewhere else.
For traveling around the country, the only cheap way is by renting your own car and you will be happy to do so as I personally experienced how hot the desert was during the day, I was so happy to have an air-conditioned car waiting for me after seeing a place.
Renting a Car in Oman
Don't let the concept of renting and driving your own car put you off as renting a car in Oman is not that expensive (40 USD) and gas is dirt cheap (20 USD for a full tank). Now if you consider sleeping in a car or a tent, a daily budget of 60 USD is not that bad considering that you will be seeing more places in a shorter time because you have your own car.
Also, you don't have to be a strong driver to drive around Oman, as the roads are well-paved and with the right app, navigating is a piece of cake.
I rented their Toyota Yaris (1.5 Lt) sedan car for 16 OMR with 200km included per day for 5 days and I drove everywhere with it, no problem. You don't need an international driving license to rent (but try to stay out of trouble, please) unlike when you rent from international brands like Sixt or Europcar from the airport.
You can email them your plans and they will reply immediately with a quote, agree upon a pick-up/drop-off place, time and then you will receive the key. They also do free drop-off at Nomad Guesthouse so you can pick your car up from there as well.
Do You Need a Jeep?
I had mixed information about this before my trip but now that I have done it myself, I can clearly say, you do not need a jeep even if you want to go up to Jebel Shams. Most of the roads are well-paved except the 6 km stretch toward Jebel Shams, but even so, sedan cars can easily drive up there, if you go slow.
I am not the strongest of drivers, as I haven't driven for 5 years before this trip, and I still managed to drive up to Jebel Shams no problem. You can see the condition of the road from the photo above and you can be the judge. Just remember to drive slow and be sure you have a full tank of gas before heading up to Jebel Shams.
If you are traveling with a few more people, then a jeep will be more comfortable for you but that will double the price for the car rental.
How to Navigate Oman by Car
Download Waze (Android | iOS) on your phone and you can easily navigate Oman by car. The app will let you know the fastest route to take, where the nearest parking lots are and when you will arrive, allowing you to plan your trip more efficiently.
Total Cost for the Car Rental
I rented for 5 days so it was 95 OMR in total. I had to fill a full tank of gas twice which cost me 16 OMR in total. I slept in the car so it is free. I exceeded the km limit by 200 as I got lost a few times so I had to pay 18 OMR more so in total, I paid for 129 OMR (335 USD) for the entire trip excluding food and entry fee.
For you, it will be around 100 OMR which is 20 OMR (50 USD) per day. I mean, it's expensive for a week if you compare to Southeast Asia but Oman is not Southeast Asia, and it would be a shame if you are here and didn't get to see anything.
6 Days Itinerary to Oman
Muscat (2 nights)
Muscat is the capital city in which you will begin your road trip. From the airport, you can buy your sim card, and if you are staying at both Airbnb places I recommended, you can take the public bus number 8 straight to your place. You have to tell your driver where you want to drop off and he will tell you the price which depends on the zone you are traveling to and it will cost you from 100 - 500 baisa (1,000 baisa = 1 rial) per trip. Make sure you have changed before getting on the bus.
Once you are settled in Muscat, you can spend your first night managing your car rental by emailing them and pick a place and time to pick up the car. The next day, you can get the car and start exploring the city.
There are several places to see in Muscat. One of the most popular places is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque but this place only opens from 8 AM to 11 AM, Saturday to Thursday and close to foreigners for the rest of the day.
Due to the limited timeframe, it will always be crowded no matter how early you are. I tried going as early as 8:30 AM and tour buses were already off-loading people at the mosque so do not expect you can avoid the crowds.
Thankfully, the mosque is massive and so you can explore at your own pace and enjoy this stunning architecture from any angle you want. The mosque is stunning in every way.
You can also witness one of the largest chandeliers inside one of the praying hall measuring at a whopping 14 meters high, holding over 600,000 Swarovski crystals, 24-carat gold plating and weighs a total of 8.5 tons. It was quite a sight to behold.
Another impressive architecture worth seeing is the Royal Opera House, an Islamic-Italianate-style complex featuring shopping malls, restaurants, gardens and opera concerts. The architecture itself is most stunning at dusk when they turn on the artificial lights.
Further away from the city center, there is a beautiful waterfront area called Mutrah Corniche, where you can go on a nice stroll, enjoy nice dinner and enjoy the view of the ocean.
Be sure to check out the Mutrah Souq nearby for some good old souq atmosphere of the yesteryears.
Last but not least, you can drive further east to check out the Al Alam Palace, Al Mirani Fort, and Al Jalali Fort. Unfortunately, these places are not open to the public but they are still impressive from the outside.
If you are looking for a nice place to have breakfast and a cup of coffee in Muscat, you definitely have to go taste the saffron ice latte at Sukkar Cafe in Al Kuwair. I still dream of the subtle saffron taste they put in my latte today.
Nakhal (same day)
Nakhal is the first place you will be visiting on your first day road-tripping around Oman. Only an hour away from Muscat, Nakhal is a small town where an impressive fortress called Nakhal Fort still stands. This fortress is one of the smaller but nicer and less crowded ones where you can learn a little bit more about the colonial past of Oman. The views on top are quite stunning to see and worth a climb to one of the towers.
The entrance is only 500 baisa and you can spend around 30 minutes to walk around the fort.
Rustaq (same day)
After Nakhal, you can drive west towards Rustaq, where you can check out the Al Rustaq Fort, another impressive fort, larger than Nakhal and not a single soul when I was there. The crisscrossing hallways that leads up to the top are quite fun to explore. I felt almost like Indiana Jones, discovering long lost civilization when walking along these quiet orange halls.
Ibri (1 night)
Last but not least, we go to Ibri and spend the night there. If you are looking for a spot to wild camp or sleep in the car, you can pull over off the highway before Ibri and drive into the desert to find a quiet spot to sleep. In case you are interested, this is where I slept on my first night.
The next day, start early and drive to As Sulaif Fort near Ibri. This is more of a ruin than a fort since it is not currently maintained but I think you will enjoy the stark difference between this ruin and all the forts you saw in Oman.
Spend 30 minutes and walk around the ruin before heading towards our next destination towards the mountains.
Bahla (same day)
Bahla is a small town right before the Jebel Shams mountain, a place where we will spend the second night at, making it a nice place to fuel up, and stock up some snacks for a night in the mountains.
Also, be sure to visit Jibreen castle and Bahla fort when you are there. Jibreen castle is one of the first forts to be renovated by Oman and it contains lots of history waiting for you to learn about. You can get an audio guide and walks from room to room as you learn about the story behind it. The entrance fee is 1 OMR and comes included with an audio guide.
Bahla fort is another great place to explore. The fort is larger than any of the forts around and you can spend hours discovering new sections, rooms, and towers. Unfortunately, there is no information that you can read about at this fort so you will have to explore by yourself, and due to its large size, there are no shortage of hidden rooms waiting for you to find.
After you are done with Bahla, start heading up the mountains towards Jebel Shams but do not go up yet. At the foothills of the mountain, you will find an ancient village called Misfat al Abriyyin. Be sure to stop there before heading to Jebel Shams.
The village is full of traditional mud houses, agricultural terraces, and stunning alleyways giving it a drastic contrast between the hyper-modernity of Muscat and the people living outside it. The mud village reminded me of the pre-Islamic village called Abyaneh I explored in Iran.
If you want the best view of Misfat al Abriyyin, you will have to stop before the village and go east instead of north to another cliff that has the view of Misfat al Abriyyin from afar. This is the exact location where I took the photo above. You can park your car somewhere nearby and walk towards the cliff facing the village and you should be able to see the view shown above.
Jebel Shams (1 night)
Jebel Shams is one of my favorite places in Oman. From Misfat al Abriyyin, it is about an hour and a half drive up the mountains to the top where you can see the Oman version of the Grand Canyon.
There was a lot of misinformation out there when I was researching the road condition up to Jebel Shams but after I did it, I can assure you that a normal car can go all the way up to the Grand Canyon viewpoint. Only 6 km of the way up is unpaved and mostly are in passable condition. Just drive slowly, and you will soon reach the paved parts again.
Once you arrive at the viewpoint, you will see why it is worth coming all the way up here. The canyon is just breathtaking.
The air up there is also cooler, making it a great place to camp or sleep in your car. For the best spot with the view of the canyon, I would recommend you sleep at the Jebel Shams View Point 3 in the location shown in the map below:
From the viewpoint, you can walk up the hill south of where you park to the highest point and you will be able to see Bahla, all the way from Jebel Shams.
It is also the perfect place to have a nice cup of coffee in the morning if you have your own stove and coffee, which you can also rent from Nomad Tours.
Nizwa (same day)
After seeing all the forts around the country, Nizwa fort seems insignificant except its impressive round tower but other than that, I would say, not worth the entry fee (6 OMR, the most expensive of all). What is nice in Nizwa is the market around the fort, which sell all kinds of souvenirs, local snacks, and plenty of places to have nice coffee.
Unfortunately, we have a long drive ahead of us as we will be heading to Sur which is almost 300 km and it will take us almost 4 hours to get there so be prepared for a long drive.
Sur (1 night)
When you arrive in Sur, you can either go straight to Al Hadd to witness the sea turtles at the Ras Al Jinz reserver and find a nice spot to sleep by the beach along the way. As it was off-season when I was there, I decided to sleep in Qalhat by the beach so that tomorrow, I could be the first at Wadi Shab, one of the most impressive wadis in Oman.
Wadi Shab (same day)
In order to enjoy this beautiful Wadi in its entirety, you have to be there as early as 7:30 AM to avoid the crowds coming from Sur and Muscat. Once you are there, you can take a local boat (1 OMR) to the trailhead where you can start hiking towards the Wadi Shab.
You will be glad that you start in the morning as most of the trails will still be under the shade and so you can enjoy the scenery a little better.
You can bring your camera with you but there is this last part where you will have to swim to a cave to see the hidden waterfall so if you don't mind hiding your camera somewhere in the bush when you swim then do it, or you can just take your GoPro if you have one.
After you hike for an hour, you should arrive at a pool where you are allow to swim. You can also stick right and continue hiking up to see the canyon from above but if you want to reach the cave this is where you will have to start swimming. The start of the pool is shown below:
Be sure to bring a flip-flop for the swim as some parts are shallow and covered in rocks and it will be easier walking through that part with a flip-flop. You can't swim all the way through, you will have to walk through this part to get to the cave.
Keep in mind that you must be a strong swimmer in order to reach the secret cave as the water gets deep towards the cave and you will have to go through a small crack in the canyon to reach the secret cave with the waterfall.
The waterfall flows heavily in that cave so you will have to swim against the current to reach an area where you can get up and sit. It's really beautiful but I wouldn't recommend if you are not a strong swimmer and you are not comfortable going through a really small area of the cave.
If you are not a strong swimmer, you can still swim and the shallow end of the pool which is really nice especially after a hike in the sun. Also, if you have been sleeping in the cars for 3 nights, this is the shower you need. 😆
Bimmah Sinkhole (same day)
The Bimmah sinkhole is another nice place to go swimming. It is located in a park off the highway in between Muscat and Sur and makes it a nice place to stop before heading back to the city. Even if you don't feel like swimming, the sinkhole itself is a nice place to relax under a tree and rest for a bit.
Muscat (1 night)
After swimming in those pools, you are probably exhausted so it is time to head back to Muscat and enjoy your last day in Oman before heading home.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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