Month: April 2018

Our Oman itinerary for nine days

Our Oman itinerary for nine days

Oman might not be the obvious tourist destination yet, but it’s definitely up and coming. Its proximity to Europe makes it the perfect winter destination for those in need of some sunlight, and the mix of desert, mountains and beaches in a relatively small area means that you can see many of the main attractions in just a week. Here’s our Oman itinerary for nine days spent in the north of the country. We could easily have stayed twice as long and seen the south as well!

Read our extensive guide to all you need to know when preparing for a camping trip in Oman

Our Oman itinerary

Day 1: A stopover in Doha, Qatar

The skyline at the corniche in Doha Qatar on a qatar airways layover tour

On the first day, or technically on the way there, we found ourselves with a lot of time on our hands at the airport in Doha, the capital of Qatar. We spent a few hours touring the city with Qatar Airways’ transit tour and got to see a few landmarks, as well as get a taste of the daytime temperatures on the Arabian Peninsula.

We arrived in Muscat in the evening, picked up our car at the airport and drove across town to the hotel we had booked for the night. We chose Mutrah Hotel in the older part of town, which incidentally is the oldest hotel in Muscat. I was a bit nervous about driving an unfamiliar car through an unfamiliar city after dark, so the location close to the main roads as well as a name that people we’d ask would know seemed reassuring. In the end, it all went really well. I won’t say that driving in Muscat at night is a walk in the park, but we lived.

The hotel was also really nice, the room was very large and very clean, and we were greeted with a mango juice by some very pleasant men at reception. After the long journey, the drive and finally backing the giant rental car into an awkward parking spot, I slept really well. In the morning we had the hotel breakfast buffet, which was pretty pricey at 4 OMR and honestly was nothing special. In retrospect we should’ve gone across the road to the SPAR supermarket instead.

Day 2: The roadtrip begins – Muscat to Sharfat al Alamein

Driving in Muscat in daylight was possibly more frightening than at night, but we made it to the Carrefour for the initial shopping trip before going on the roadtrip. We needed some gear, such as camping gas and something to sit on, having brought most we would need from home. We also needed a stash of food and water for the trip, which was exciting as we didn’t know at all what would be available. Turns out that store has pretty much anything you can imagine.

Just after noon we headed out on the expressway toward Nizwa. The road seemed very new and outside of Muscat there weren’t that many cars on the road. We drove for a few hours and made a quick stop in Nizwa. The souk was closed for the afternoon, so after a quick stroll around the area we got back in the car, away from the heat, and continued past Tanuf up on Sharfat al Alamein, just as the sun began to go down.

camping spot in sharfat al alamein oman

We camped near one of the viewpoints just below the top of the mountain, and in the morning we saw some spots that were possibly nicer, farther away from the road, but on the other hand windier.

The best camping spots in Oman, and how to find them

Day 3: A mountain hike, Jibrin fort, a look at Bahla and up on Jebel Shams

In the morning we had breakfast and packed up the tent. Some curious goats approached to look for things left behind, but I think they were disappointed. We were right at the start of a hiking trail that goes from the highest point of the road along the ridge, and we walked for about an hour past the viewpoints of the trail before turning back toward the road as the temperature started to rise.

The main attraction this day was Jibrin Castle, by many considered the best fort to visit in Oman. We had turned down a visit to the fort in Nizwa the day before as we learned that the entrance fee for foreigners was 5 OMR. In Jibrin, they only charged 500 baisa.

Jibrin castle supposedly the best fort should be part of any Oman itinerary

The fort in Jibrin is pretty big, and an audio guide in several languages is included in the entrance fee. We strolled around the different rooms and learned quite a bit about the former owners and the architecture. We were also lucky to leave just as several tour groups arrived, so I would recommend going before noon to beat the crowd.

In the early afternoon we started driving back toward the mountains, this time up on Jebel Shams. The road is only paved for part of the way, so we were really happy to have a good 4WD to go up the steep hills. We found a good camping spot very close the the canyon rim and had a couple of hours to admire the view before sunset.

camping spot between rocks on jebel shams oman

Day 4: The balcony hike and some relaxing time on Jebel Shams

We woke up early and went to the nearby village of Al Khateem to start the Balcony walk, a hiking trail that goes along the rim of the canyon. The views were spectacular, and I had to really make an effort to look where I was going, because the trail is very narrow and I didn’t want to fall into the canyon.

The hiking trail is well marked on the balcony walk jebel shams oman

When we got back it was around noon, and as we had decided to spend another night on the mountain, we drove down to Sama Heights Resort to have lunch. We had a look around the hotel, which looked really nice, with several different types of accommodation, ranging from tents to pretty sweet bungalows. We had egg burgers, which we really enjoyed, and they sold us some water bottles because as always on this trip, we were running out of water.

In the afternoon, we found a place to camp and set up our tent, then spent the rest of the day just relaxing.

More about Jebel Shams and the Balcony walk

Day 5: Into the desert

where the road ends and desert starts in wahiba sands Oman

We left the mountain in the morning for the long drive toward the desert. On the way, we made another stop in Nizwa to see the souk in action. What a difference! We didn’t do any shopping, but had a mint lemonade in the shade, just watching the people and the live animals of the souk.

We continued driving toward Al Wasil, our goal for the day, watching the landscape change as we got closer to the desert. We even saw a dead camel by the road! We had booked a night with Desert Retreat Camp in Wahiba Sands, and met up with our guide at a gas station in Al Wasil to be escorted through the desert out to the camp. Driving on the sand was so much fun.

A tent at the desert retreat camp in wahiba sands oman

In the evening, we hung out with the camels, climbed the dunes around the camp, and had an excellent dinner. Staying in the camp also offered us a rare chance to shower, but we were immediately hit by a sandstorm so I’m not sure it really helped much.

All about our stay in Wahiba Sands

Day 6: Swimming in Wadi Bani Khalid and driving to the coast

After a morning walk in the desert to take even more pictures of camel babies, we packed up and drove off toward the paved roads. We went to Wadi Bani Khalid, a wadi where you can swim in a really beautiful setting. We spent most of the day there, swimming and relaxing in the shade. Coming down from the mountains means the temperatures will be higher.

More on how to visit Wadi Bani Khalid

Swimming at wadi bani khalid in Oman

In the afternoon, we drove toward the coast and set up camp in Qalhat, a town near Sur that was apparently a bit more happening in the 2nd century than it is now.

Day 7: A morning in Sur and finally some beach time

In the morning, we drove back to Sur. We strolled down the corniche and saw the lighthouse, then went to visit the fort. This fort is a lot smaller than the one in Jibrin, but it barely had any other visitors, and we got a guided tour of a few rooms, then got to stroll around on our own. I’d recommend it if you’re in Sur anyway, but it’s not worth going there to see it.

We’d seen a mall on the way into town, so we went there for some air conditioning and to shop for more food. It feels weird to come inside like that after a week of living outside.

camping spot near white beach between fins and tiwi oman

In the afternoon, we drove a bit up north along the coast to the beaches between Fins and Tiwi, and found a great spot to both swim and spend the night.

Day 8: Hiking Wadi Shab and drove to As Sifah beach near Muscat

We went to Wadi Shab, quite near Tiwi, which is another wadi popular with tourists and clearly signposted from the road. It costs 1 OMR to cross the first pool in a boat, and then the hiking trail starts on the other side. We walked for maybe a half hour before reaching some pools. There were lots of people swimming but it was a bit unclear whether this was allowed, and we were happy just resting in the shade for a bit before returning. The wadi is really beautiful, it looks like the mountain just opened itself up for us to go inside.

All about the visit to Wadi Shab

Hiking at wadi shab Oman

From there we drove northward for several hours to the beach town of As Sifa, very close to Muscat, where we had planned to spend the last night. It took us some time to find a beach away from other people, but we finally did and had a last swim in the sea.

Day 9: Visiting the mosque and the souk in Muscat before going home

We left the beach early in the morning and drove into Muscat to visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque which is open to visitors in the morning. It’s a beautiful building, and we spent some time looking at the elaborate decorations.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat Oman

After that, we went to the Mutrah souk for some souvenir shopping, since this was our last day in Oman. The souk was very busy with both tourists and locals, and we wandered around the maze-like alleys for hours. We bought some great shawls, and dates and other sweets to take home.

All about our one day in Muscat

Then the time had come to return the car to the airport and leave Oman. We never felt stressed or rushed, even though we did a lot in a short time, and I think that was thanks to the rental car that allowed us to stop and go as we liked without a schedule.

How to travel Oman on a budget

9 days in Oman a self-drive and camping itinerary
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The best camping spots in Oman

The best camping spots in Oman

There are no campsites as such in Oman, but wild camping is legal, meaning that you can pitch your tent pretty much anywhere away from houses. Since hotels are very expensive, this will save you loads of money. But knowing that you can camp anywhere doesn’t mean you’ll want to. Here are some amazing camping spots in North Oman that we made use of during our trip, along with driving directions.

Our nine day Oman itinerary

Are you planning a camping trip to Oman? Read our guide and get there well prepared!

Sharfat Al Alamein

Also spelled Shorfet Alalamin and lots of other different ways, this gorgeous mountain locations is right at the start of the hiking trail number 10h, going across the mountains. To get here, you drive from Al Hamra or Tanuf, depending on which way you’re coming, and Bilad Sayt is signposted on brown signs near Al Hoota cave. From there, the road is paved all the way up to the highest point of the mountain, which incidentally is where you’re going. You can get there in a 2WD, but you’ll probably have to park it by the road and walk a little bit to where you’re camping.

camping spot in sharfat al alamein oman

Up here, you have several alternatives. The most scenic ones, which require a little bit of off road driving, are located very near the end of the paved road. Take the turnoff to the Shorfet Alalamin hotel and continue past it. There is a camping spot very close to the hotel, but there are also some better ones if you continue for a bit. With a good car you can drive all the way. Quite a bit of trash left behind told us that this is a popular location. Another alternative, which we went for the first night as it was already getting dark, is the viewpoints by the road up. Almost at the top there are two really nice viewpoints. We parked the car by the viewpoint and went a little bit down to get away from the road.

We had cell phone reception and that spot is easily reached in a 2WD, but in retrospect we probably should’ve gone with the ones further up.

Jebel Shams camping spots

We spent two nights in two different locations at Jebel Shams, and this is really the best location I’ve ever camped. To get to the camping spots you go to the end of the paved road at Jebel Shams Resort and continue on the sand road that goes beyond it. There are also a couple of gravel roads, but stick with the sandiest. If you’re not sure, just wait for a bit and see which one has traffic. The drive from there is very short, just a few hundred meters, and you’ll get to the canyon rim. The first spot is at a dead end viewpoint, where you can camp between some big rocks. This ensures that no one else pitches their tent right next to yours, and it also provides some shelter from the wind. This is where we slept the first night on the mountain.

Jebel Shams and the Balcony Walk

camping spot between rocks on jebel shams oman

The second spot is at the next turnoff, just below the viewpoint and rocks. At this one you’ll be sleeping on a flat rock, so it’s a bit harder than the dirt just above. This spot seemed to be used by groups as it’s a large area where five or more tents can be pitched together. You can walk all the way out to the edge here.

The third spot is at the next turnoff, a location that really only holds one car and one tent. This ensures a bit of privacy, but you’ll also be really close to the road.

The fourth spot is one more turnoff away, at a small road that ends by a tree. At this location a few cars and tents will fit, but we were lucky to be left alone on our second night on the mountain. Some areas are cleared already for tents, so you can just pick your favorite. You’ll be sleeping really close to the rim, but a bit away from the road.

isolated camping spot in jebel shams oman

At night you’ll see the lights from all of the other tents along the rim, but you’ll have enough distance that it doesn’t feel crowded. We also saw some people camping by the viewpoint along the paved road where some locals are selling bracelets from a makeshift stand, but I wouldn’t recommend that. The traffic out there is pretty heavy and you’ll be sleeping close to the road. Plus the goats are relentless there.

Wahiba sands

We felt really insecure about driving in the desert, so we stayed in an organized camp out there, called Desert Retreat Camp. They met us at a gas station in Al Wasil and guided us to the camp, and we also got a chance to shower and eat a meal that someone else had cooked out there. We were also hit by a bad sand storm in the evening, and I would’ve been scared in our little tent.

where the road ends and desert starts in wahiba sands Oman

All in all enjoyable, but on the way back we did see some good spots for wild camping. You get into the desert by driving southwest from Al Wasil, past the little fort following the signs pointing toward the various desert camps. Continue on the paved road for quite a bit until it ends abruptly, then drive on the sand. There is no cell phone reception out here, so don’t go deep into the desert and make sure you don’t get stuck or lost late in the afternoon as it gets dark very fast.

More about our stay in Wahiba Sands

camping spot outside qalhat oman

Qalhat

Qalhat was our first stop on the coast, where we really learned how warm it can get. We stripped the tent of its outer layer and slept without sleeping bags down here. The camping spot was by the sea, but not by the beach. To get here, you exit the highway between Sur and Muscat at Qalhat, drive down toward the sea toward the beach, then turn left past some weird fenced in things. Drive along the highway for a little bit on the gravel road, and then there will be a clearing by the cliffs. We heard traffic and saw the lights from the highway all night, but it was still okay. Not the best camping spot, but we’d really been spoilt on this trip.

camping spot near white beach between fins and tiwi oman

Beach between Fins and Tiwi

We’d heard of the White Beach in Fins and decided to go and check it out. To get there, you exit the highway at Fins, but just before you enter the village, turn right and follow a road along the sea that’s paved in the beginning but soon turns to gravel. The satellite view of your Google maps will really help here. After a while you’ll get to White Beach, which you can also search for on Google maps.

We weren’t that impressed though, and expected groups to get there as the weekend was approaching, so we kept on driving for a little bit longer. A very short distance south of White Beach we found some amazing little beaches with great campsites right next to them. The one we picked was at the turnoff to the left just where there is also a turnoff to the right that goes to a small, square building. I loved being able to go down and swim first thing in the morning!

camping in sifah beach oman

As Sifah beach

Our last stop was near Muscat, in a beach town called As Sifah. This was a bit tricky, as the sandy beach in town seemed full of people already, and some massive hotel has blocked off most of the town. We did in the end find a really nice rocky beach with several great camping spots, where we were all by ourselves.

To get there, drive past As Sifah as far south as you can get on the new, paved road. It ends abruptly and turns around, and just after the turn you’ll find a gravel road going down toward the beach. The beach is covered with round rocks, not sharp, but still not your typical paradise beach.

Be aware that many people from the city go camping on Sifah beach on the weekend, and some bring loudspeakers.

Here’s what we did in Muscat before flying home!

Pitching your tent in Oman the best spots guide driving directions
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Preparing for a camping trip in Oman: all you need to know

Preparing for a camping trip in Oman: all you need to know

The first thing you need to know is that Oman is the perfect place for a camping trip. Everywhere you go is unbelievably scenic, the roads are in excellent condition for the most part, and you will most definitely get an amazing and private camping spot at the end of each day. Additionally, with low crime rates and almost no dangerous animals around, what more could you ask for?

Our nine day Oman itinerary

Here’s pretty much everything you need to know when considering if camping in Oman is for you, or already decided that it is.

I made a separate guide about the spots where we camped and how to get there, so do make use of that if you are planning a camping trip in Oman!

Car rental and driving conditions

While it is possible to travel between the major cities with public transportation, you will need to rent a car to be able to get to the camping spots and all the interesting locations. And not just any car, if you can afford it, you should definitely get a 4WD. While technically possible to get to the top of Jebel Shams, drive a little bit into the desert, and park just a little bit away from your campsite with a high clearance 2WD, I would never have tried it.

We rented a Mitsubishi Outlander from the Thrifty office at the airport in Muscat, through Rentalcars.com, paying 213 OMR (about 550 USD) for 8 days. We figured it would be worth it, as this allowed for free accommodation. There are several car rental companies next to each other in the arrivals hall, and after doing the paperwork, we were directed to the other office in the parking garage right next to the terminal, where we promptly got the car and could drive off.

Technically, you’re required to have an international driving permit to drive in Oman. I have one, but I wasn’t asked for it by the rental company, and we were never pulled over by police.

The 4wd mitsubishi outlander we used for driving in Oman

Driving is on the right side, and roads are generally in great condition. There was some road construction and rerouting, but nothing very disturbing. In some places, like going up Jebel Shams and along the beach away from the towns, the roads were unpaved. Also, in the desert you’ll have to drive on the sand. With a good car, I’d say you don’t have to be a very skilled driver to get by in Oman.

Traffic in Muscat can get quite aggressive, and the roads are wide and crowded with some people overtaking on both sides and showing other types of reckless behavior. Take it easy and you’ll probably be fine. As soon as you get outside of the city, however, you’re going to have the roads pretty much to yourself. You’ll see some people driving very fast on the highway as well, but there’ll always be another lane for them to pass you.

road sign in oman telling drivers to look out for camels crossing

What you will have to look out for is animals on the road. There are lots of signs telling you to look out for camels, but while we did see a dead one by the road, the live ones kept away and moved quite slowly. We mostly had issues with the goats that don’t seem very bothered walking next to the highway or blocking the roads in large groups, sometimes deciding to cross just as you approach them.

Another thing is the speed bumps, that they seem to love. Even on roads where the speed limit is 80 kph, there may be speed bumps! Most of the time there are signs before, and most of the bumps are painted in yellow, but be a bit careful when passing a town on small roads, as they’re usually full of speed bumps and you don’t want to hit one of those at high speed in a rental car.

Gas is really cheap, I don’t know the liter price but we paid about 10 OMR for a full tank. There is always someone filling up for you, and you can tip them if you like but it didn’t seem expected. Most of the attendants we met didn’t understand any English except for “full tank” and “regular 91”, but that’s really what we needed so it was all good. One guy tried to give us 5 OMR too little back. This only happened once and it could’ve been an honest mistake, but I do recommend you count your change before you drive off.

Some examples of road conditions in Oman:

unpaved road still in good condition from Jebel Shams oman where the road ends and desert starts in wahiba sands Oman winding but paved road in Oman driving in the desert wahiba sands oman

Navigation

We got the Ooredoo SIM cards with a 10 day visitors’ package from the kiosk at the airport. It cost 5 OMR for 2 GB of data. If there are no lines, you could probably shop around as there are several other companies there as well. The coverage was better than I’d expected, I even had a signal at the top of the mountain.

We mostly used the phone for navigation with Google maps. This worked well for the most part, even though the driving directions wouldn’t always cooperate, we could still see the map, road and current location, and we could also use it to search for nearby gas stations and stores. You should know that there is a lot of road construction going on, so sometimes the map isn’t accurate, and also that mainly the paved roads are on the map, but you can still see the unpaved roads if you switch to the satellite view. This was particularly useful when we were looking for camping spots along the beach.

Road signs are written in Arabic and Latin alphabet, but there is no standard Latin spelling so you will see a lot of different versions of the same name. Exits and which lane to be in is clearly indicated. Most tourist attractions are clearly signposted with brown road signs, both in towns and along the roads.

Finding campsites

It really does help to have looked up some good camping spot alternatives before you head out. We managed to find some really great ones, but not without the help of Google and other travelers who went before us.

Generally, most of the good spots we saw were either up in the mountains or down by the coast. Along the coast you can camp at pretty much any beach, and see no one around. And along the mountain roads there are cleared areas for parking and admiring the view where it’s easy to pitch a tent, even though some of these are a bit close to the road.

Apart from the places by the sea, we didn’t have access to fresh water at any place we camped. This is something we’re not used to from home. We also sometimes drove long distances where we didn’t really see a good place to camp, although at the time we weren’t looking for one.

camping spot near white beach between fins and tiwi oman

One thing to keep in mind on the weekend (Friday and Saturday) is that some people come out to the beaches from the city and have very loud parties. We came upon one group when looking for a camping spot in As Sifah, and went as far away from them as possible, but we still heard music all through the night in the distance.

What I also would recommend is to use the satellite view of your Google maps app. We had so much use for that when looking for camping spots by the beaches, instead of aimlessly going down a dirt road. You’ll immediately see if the road is leading anywhere or not, and the cleared areas close to the road are visible.

Cooking and eating

You’ll probably want to cook at least some of your meals at your camp, and sometimes you won’t even really have a choice. Gas canisters and camping stoves are sold at the hypermarkets, like the several Carrefours in Muscat. I also saw gas canisters at a couple of gas station shops, but wouldn’t gamble on it. The kind of stove that is sold is the Campingaz kind that punches through the canister, and that was also the kind of stove that we had brought from home. This kind of gas canister was the most widely available, although I did see the kind that you screw on at the Carrefour at Muscat Grand Mall.

Since we had the car all along, we didn’t really try to find lightweight food for camping. Instead, we bought a lot of canned Indian and Middle Eastern dishes that we ate with bread, which were all cheap, filling and tasty. For breakfast we had oatmeal and instant coffee. We bought most of the food at Carrefour in Muscat, and then topped up the stash at other supermarkets we came across. It’s easy to get Arabic bread everywhere, even at gas stations, so we always bought it fresh. Same with juices, we didn’t have a cooler so we bought all drinks except water when we came across some.

Water comes in 5 liter containers and we bought two at a time. We drank at least 3 liters per person and day, and even though we carried so much, we were close to running out several times. Make sure you always have more than you think you’re going to need!

We didn’t have access to fresh water at any of our campsites, so when we had finished our first 5 liter container of water, we simply filled that up with tap water at a gas station to keep for washing dishes and clothes. (We ripped the label off it to make sure we didn’t get it mixed up with the actual drinking water!) The giant paper roll we had with us also helped a lot.

Toilets and personal hygiene

You know the deal with wild camping and bathrooms, this is the gross section. The ground is often very hard so you can’t dig a hole, instead we walked a bit away from the obvious camping spots and covered our deposits with big rocks to make it nicer for the people who would come after us. We did see other people’s poop sometimes, but the hot and dry climate is really good for drying it quickly and the goats will eat the paper.

There are toilets at the gas stations if you want a proper one, and sometimes along the road we’d drive past a place advertising a public toilet. There were also toilets at the tourist attractions and malls. Some malls have really fancy bathrooms, an attraction in itself after several days of camping.

The best part about the toilets in Oman is that they come with the Asian standard butt shower, so we could wash ourselves thoroughly whenever we had the chance to stop by one instead of just wiping with paper, which is really quite gross when you think about it. This is really a life saver when you’re camping for over a week. We also used the butt shower in a mall bathroom to fill up an empty water container to do laundry.

Another life saver was the wet wipes we got from the supermarket. This is great for handwashing, but we also wetwiped our armpits in the mornings before putting on fresh deodorant!

Other equipment needs

The outdoor sections of the Carrefours in Muscat were so good. We did most of our shopping at the one on the expressway in Qurum City (very convenient to enter and exit on the way toward Nizwa) but we also visited the smaller one in the Muscat Grand Mall and one in the center of Sur.

We brought our own tent, sleeping bags and mats, but they are available if you don’t have your own gear to bring. They’re not expensive, tents started at 5 OMR for example, but quite bulky and didn’t seem to be of the best quality. If you’re particular about your gear, bring your own from home.

Aside from camping gas, wet wipes, a giant multipurpose paper roll, batteries and canned food, we got some other really great things from our initial shopping trip in Muscat.

The best one was a plastic mat to put on the ground by the tent. Most of the places we camped were dirty, sandy or rocky, and the plastic mat was not only a great aesthetic addition to our camp, but really did save our pants and a nice place to hang out after dark. This cost us 1 OMR and they came in lots of different colors and patterns! We also used this to cover everything in the trunk of the car during the day, so it wouldn’t be in direct sunlight, which also allowed us to lay wet swimsuits and towels out to dry. They also had a lot of different foldable chairs if you don’t want to or can’t sit on the ground, starting at 1 OMR for a stool type.

There were loads of different kinds of coolers, but we chose not to buy one as they were quite pricey. Do take your time in the outdoor section and you may find things that you haven’t thought of.

It gets dark at around 6.30 in the evening, so you’re going to need your own lights. We had a camping lantern for the tent and a headlamp each.

What to wear

When deciding what to wear in Oman, it’s not just the temperatures that you’ll have to consider. Oman is a traditional, muslim country, and as a visitor, you will have to be respectful to local culture. As a woman, you should cover your shoulders, preferably more, and not show any cleavage. You should also wear long pants or a skirt that goes below your knees. In mosques, women must wear a headscarf, but this is not expected in other places. Men should also cover their shoulders and knees, but a man wearing shorts may get some looks. I find that loose clothing is a lot better in warm temperatures, so I would recommend a thin long sleeved shirt made of pure wool and baggy pants or a long skirt.

When swimming, both men and women should wear at least a t-shirt, and women should cover the legs below the knees. Men can wear shorts, but not a speedo.

sign encouraging tourists to dress modestly when swimming in Oman

You will come across many tourists who don’t dress respectfully, which I think is a real shame. Especially in the wadis, many tourists wore bikinis despite the signs about being respectful to the local culture. I wouldn’t want tourists to be full-on nude when visiting my hometown even if they feel comfortable doing that at home, and that’s really the same thing when you think about it.

Also, you’re going to need a hat or a head scarf to avoid sunburns. I bought a wide paper hat at the supermarket in Muscat for 1 OMR that was really useful. When you don’t have access to a shower for a long time, the head scarf will be your best friend.

When to go

I hear that Oman is the perfect winter destination for Europeans. We went in late March, which I think was an excellent time for camping. In the winter, it is apparently very cold at night in the mountains, but we had a pleasant 15 degrees Celsius at night. And by the coast it was warm, but not unbearable. I think after mid-April it’s not going to be possible to sleep outside anymore. If you want a pleasant camping experience both in the mountains and at the beach, I think March is it. And, I suppose its equivalent in the fall, October or November. If you have a good sleeping bag, you can definitely go in December or January as well, just prepare yourself for cold nights up in the mountains!

Visa and vaccinations

In early 2018 Oman changed its visa system, that previously allowed visitors from many countries to buy a visa on arrival. Now, you’ll have to apply for an Omani visa online in advance. This cost us 20 OMR each, and when we landed in Oman, we simply showed our passports and a printed visa, and we got through immigration in no time. It was still possible at the time, a few weeks after the change, to buy a visa on arrival, and we heard that they’ll set up computers to apply for a visa online before immigration. But there seemed to be lots of queueing involved, so I’d recommend you do the e-visa. You will need to upload a scanned copy of your passport and a recent photograph. Do check what they require from visitors from your country!

As always, check with your health care provider at home well in advance what vaccinations they would recommend for a trip to Oman. Make sure your routine vaccinations are up to date. We have the hepatitis A and B vaccine already, so we didn’t take any special jabs for this trip. Some also recommend a typhoid vaccine. Malaria and dengue are present, but at low risk, and we barely saw any mosquitoes. If you’re coming from a country where yellow fever is present, you will probably have to show proof of vaccination when you enter Oman.

Everything you need to know when preparing for a camping trip to Oman
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How to travel with only a carry-on

How to travel with only a carry-on

Everyone who’s traveled extensively has probably experienced this: you’re waiting by the luggage belt, and waiting, and waiting, and all of a sudden everyone else has taken their bags and left, but you’re still standing there as the belt slows down and comes to a halt. Without your bag.

We once waited a week for bag to be found, walking around Mexico City dressed in layers from the hostel’s lost and found box and wearing the same underwear a little bit too long. But at least that taught us exactly what to never check in. And I became a carry-on only evangelist.

Whenever we’re not carrying camping gear, we travel carry-on only. Nothing beats the feeling of getting of that plane and walking straight out of the airport without a worry in the world. When you think about it, even without being one of those people that everyone hates that take a way too large piece of hand-luggage, you can carry A LOT on board a plane.

The trick to fitting everything into a carry-on bag

I should really not be giving advice on this, because I’m one of those few underpackers that can never quite seem to fill a bag. I carry the weirdest shit, like that neat rock I found in El Salvador and just needed to take all around Central America, but still there’s always room for more. I do have a few tricks though. If you’re one of those backpackers who carry 65L on the back and 30L on the front and feel like you need to detox, look no further.

Don’t carry several of anything but underwear

I have one pair of trainers, one pair of thin canvas flats, and one par of flip-flops, unless it’s a hiking trip. I have one pair of hiking pants, one pair of loose long pants and one pair of shorts (unless we’re going somewhere religious, in which case I might as well leave those at home). I have one long sleeved shirt, one t-shirt and one tank top. I do bring two sports bras, and several pairs of underpants. I also carry a fleece hoodie and a raincoat if necessary, and then I layer up like there’s no tomorrow. Don’t bring more clothes than you could wear all at once in a pinch.

If I get bored wearing the same things all the time? Nah, not really. After being on the road for half a year I really struggled to pick an outfit for work every morning when I got back home.

Match it all

Don’t bring anything that doesn’t go well with everything else you’re bringing, color-wise. Don’t think outfits, because what if you spill on the only t-shirt that goes with a certain pair of pants? An added bonus is that you can get dressed in the dark.

And there is no need to bring five t-shirts if you’re only taking three pairs of underpants, because you’re going to be doing laundry before you’ve worn them all. Unless you’re washing up your underwear every night, which is super hardcore and admirable. I know I’m not there yet.

Choose colors and materials wisely

I was recently on a ten day camping trip in a hot and humid climate, and wore the same pure wool shirt throughout. It still smelled fantastic on the return trip (unlike my person). If you choose materials and colors that don’t stain or smell, you don’t have to change clothes as often as you would at home. Maybe you won’t be able to get through any trip without ever changing your clothes, but you definitely won’t have to bring a new outfit for each day. If you’re going somewhere dirty, like a big city or the desert, don’t wear white. If you’re wearing white, don’t order tomato soup.

Don’t buy anything that you can stand to leave behind

This is not the time to buy a t-shirt that’s pretty nice, or a second hand book that’s really cheap. You can do that at home. Get the things that there is no way you could ever find anywhere else. If you’re going to fit it all in your bag, you can only take the things you just know that you’ll regret not having brought back. If you’re not sure, you don’t need it. If it’s a souvenir t-shirt with a beer logo, you don’t need it.

The downsides to carry-on only

Of course, there are some sacrifices you’ll have to make when you won’t check your luggage in. I’ve left behind the best ever mosquito repellant, because I can only take tiny bottles of liquids. We can’t carry a good sunblock from home, and instead we have to hope that we find one on our destination that is not labeled whitening and doesn’t cost a fortune. We can’t shop a lot, and certainly nothing bulky. I carry one book only and then I trade it when I’m done, but sometimes you end up finishing a book at a hostel where only several copies of Shantaram and The Dice Man is on offer. I’m sure we’ve all been there.

You’ll still have the option of checking something in on the way back

If my ticket allows for it, I will sometimes check a bag in on the return, if I’ve done some shopping that won’t fit in a carry-on. It’s not as much of a pain to wait for a missing bag once I’m home again, as it won’t mean I risk missing part of my vacation.

How to pack everything you need in a carry-on bag
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A Dracula basecamp in Brasov

A Dracula basecamp in Brasov

We left the fairytale village of Sighisoara and went back to the reality of urban life in Brasov, a large city by comparison. The train ride from Sighisoara took less than three hours and cost around 65 lei (17 USD) per person. This leg was bookable online, so we already had the tickets in hand and were ready to board.

Where to stay in Brasov

We stayed at a place called Casa Iacob, a bit larger than the other guesthouses we’d stayed at but equally nice. There is a restaurant where we only had the included breakfast (abundant and tasty) but I’m sure they serve other meals as well. The room was airy and very clean, no complaints here. The location was great, not right in the center but tucked away in a quiet side street and still within walking distance from everything. I can’t recommend Romania enough for the standard of accommodation. This country is really overflowing with properties that rate 9+ on Booking.com!

Bran Castle, Draculas castle outside Brasov Romania

Visiting Bran Castle as a daytrip from Brasov

When we’d decided to go to Romania, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula as preparation, and learned that the book is mostly set in the UK and also that Bran Castle in reality has no connection whatsoever to Dracula. Either way, Bran Castle is a must visit when in Brasov.

Buses to Bran leave from Autogara 2 in Brasov, a bit away from the city center. The bus leaves often and takes about half an hour. The bus we went on had air fresheners hanging from literally all over the ceiling, like that scene in Se7en, which added a scary touch to the trip.

The castle itself is really just a castle. The location is really cool, it’s built on a cliff with lots of forest around, but the interior is pretty standard medieval stuff. Still, it was a nice visit and it was fun to walk around and look into all the different rooms. My favorite thing about the whole visit was the market outside, which is a huge tourist-oriented market of souvenirs and handicrafts.

Hiking from Brasov to Poiana brasov

A mountain hike over to Poiana Brasov

The forests around Brasov are really something else. Not only are they dense and deserted, they are also home to 800 bears. Yeah, that’s a lot. We read up on what to do if you meet one (hint: don’t climb a tree) and set out toward the next town, Poiana Brasov.

The trail starts by going up to the top of Mount Tampa just next to Brasov center, following a path where lots of locals were jogging. Seemed like excellent exercise. At the top of the mountain you can walk up right behind the huge Brasov sign. The trail from there toward Poiana Brasov is clearly marked, and also appears on Google Maps if you’re carrying a phone. The walk took a few hours but wasn’t too strenuous, apart from the first bit up the mountain.

Poiana Brasov is a ski resort of sorts, that looked deserted at the time. We found a restaurant that was open and served excellent food, then took the bus the short hop back to Brasov. All in all an excellent hike, and we didn’t see a single bear.

A free walking tour of the city

We joined a Walkabout Free Tour, one of those city tours that are available wherever there are students and tourists in the same place. We absolutely loved this one, which took us to most of the little sights in the city and gave us some history as well. They meet up every afternoon in Piata Sfatului and the tour lasts for over two hours. Don’t forget to tip your guide if you enjoy it!

The restaurants are so awesome

What I loved the most about Brasov was that around every corner was a little restaurant which served up amazing food. We looked some up on TripAdvisor, but mostly we just walked around the little alleys around the main squares, reading menus and popping our heads in to check the places out. The quality of food is SO high compared to what you have to pay for it. Don’t miss this fine opportunity if you’re in Romania!

Planning a trip to Romania? Check out our nine day itinerary!

A few days in Brasov Romania to visit Dracula's castle
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Sighisoara, what Pinterest was made for

Sighisoara, what Pinterest was made for

The trains from Sibiu to Sighisoara leave several times a day, but the local trains aren’t possible to reserve online. Buying a ticket was no problem when we showed up at the station, but make sure you have some time if lines are long. The station in Sighisoara is not in the prettiest part of town, but a short walk from there you can take the long and winding stairs up to the old part of town, and once you’re in there, you’ll forget about the rest.

Cultural Sibiu, our introduction to Transylvania

Sighisoara is probably one of the prettier towns I’ve seen. All the little houses are painted in different colors, and it feels like being transported to a different time. It’s quite touristy, but in a controlled way, and most tourists seemed to come in on a daytrip, meaning that in the morning and late afternoon we had the place to ourselves.

Square in old town Sighisoara Romania

What to do in Sighisoara

To be honest, there isn’t so much to do in Sighisoara, which is part of the charm. There is a small tourist office in a basement in the center, but when we went there to inquire about guided tours, we were informed that the guide was away on vacation so no tour could be arranged.

Most of our time was spent just chilling in the square with one of many cups of coffee, enjoying the sunshine and listening to the people chatting away around us. All other activities included climbing hills.

Climb the hill to Vila Franka

The easiest hike out of town is up the hill to the camping and restaurant Vila Franka. You follow the road on the other side of the train tracks, but there is no traffic so it’s still nice. It’s a pretty steep walk up there, but it’s worth it for the views.

We sat down at the outdoor patio of the restaurant, overlooking the village down below. We ordered a coffee and a papanasi, the decadent Romanian dessert that is essentially a fried cheese donut swimming in whipped cream and jam. If that sounds a bit nasty, lemme tell you it’s really not.

View over Sighisoara, Romania

Climb the hill to the old graveyard

To get up to the Church on the Hill, Biserica din Deal, you climb the covered, tunnel-like staircase, Scara Şcolarilor, from the old town. From up there you have an okay view over the town, but the trees do cover most of it. The church charges an entrance fee (for real) and we opted out, instead we walked over to the old graveyard on the back of it. That was a really nice place to stroll around, looking at the old headstones, located in the middle of a forest-like area.

Climb the clock tower

Inside the clock tower, by the entrance to the old town, there’s a history museum that I would recommend. From the top of the tower you’ll get a good view over the center of the old town, and every floor has a little exhibition of historical artefacts. It does get quite crowded in there when a busload of tourists drop in, so try and time your visit well.

Pension am Schneiderturm Sighisoara Romania

Where to stay in Sighisoara

We stayed at Pension am Schneiderturm, and if you ask me, so should you. It’s one of the nicest guesthouses we have ever stayed at. The house dates back to the 18th century and is built on the city wall, and in the room we got, the bed was actually built inside the old city wall! Pretty cool. The host told us everything we needed to know about what to see and do around town. In the evening he offered us a glass of local wine before going out to dinner, and we got a shot of palinca that actually didn’t taste so bad. The breakfast was also made up of various local foods, and I think I managed to try all different kinds of cheese even though it was a struggle. We really loved this place!

… and where to eat?

We were told that the restaurants up in the old town are priced for tourists, while the restaurants down the hill are for regular folks, which seemed pretty accurate when we looked at the menus. Just down the hill from the old town there ‘s a small square with several restaurants, offering some traditional Romanian meals but also a lot of pizza and beer. Plus wifi. The vegetarian options were somewhat limited, but hey, it’s countryside Romania, and we did get a fried cheese with fries.

Planning a trip to Romania? Check out our nine day itinerary!

Sighisoara, Romania, picturesque village
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Cultural Sibiu, our introduction to Transylvania

Cultural Sibiu, our introduction to Transylvania

We went to the station Gara de Nord in Bucharest, the main train station to catch our train for Sibiu at 10 am. The ticket cost 60 lei (around 15 USD) each for the six-hour journey.

Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

We were seated in a compartment with six seats, not the most comfortable but nice in that old fashioned kind of way. The train actually passed by Brasov, that we were later to visit, on the way there. The landscapes were amazing, always with a backdrop of snow covered mountain tops. At the stations, vendors would pass through to sell weird little things, my favorite being a glow in the dark crucifix which I obviously bought.

A relaxed historical center

When we arrived in Sibiu we went straight to our guesthouse, where we were greeted by the lovely host and escorted to our room. We were pretty tired after the long journey, but really wanted to get out and see the town, and more importantly, find something to eat.

Like in Bucharest, there was a big Easter market in the main square, although this one was a little bit more dormant. The weather was so nice and people were sitting outside all the restaurants having drinks and snacks. We strolled around the squares, checking out the churches and trying to get an overview of the town.

old buildings in Romania

What to do in Sibiu

Astra museum of folk civilization in Sibiu RomaniaASTRA museum of folk civilization

The highlight of our visit to Sibiu was the open air museum ASTRA, a large area showing old buildings to give an idea of what life was like in Romania a long time ago. You can reach it by bus, but it’s only a few kilometers outside of Sibiu city center so we walked there along a very nice bike path. The museum area itself is very big, and walking around most of it took us several hours. There are hundreds of buildings but you can’t enter most of them. Still, they’re nice to look at, too! Afterwards, we were too tired to walk back to town, so we bought bus tickets in the museum reception and went to the bus stop just across the road. Very convenient.

The museum of pharmaceutical history

The pharmacy museum is part of the Brukenthal museums, and is housed in an old pharmacy building. It showcases old equipment for making medicine, bottles and scales and such, which is quite cool. It’s a very small museum so try to get there when no tour group is coming in.

Where to stay in Sibiu

We booked our stay at Casa Timpuri Vechi, which had outstanding reviews on Booking.com. It’s located close to the main square, Piața Mare, with everything in the historical center just a few minutes’ walk away. We loved these guesthouses in old buildings in Romania, I can’t even imagine why anyone would pay more to stay at a Ramada in the new part of town. At this place, I especially liked that our room opened to the outside, so we could come and go as we liked without passing a reception area.

Planning a trip to Romania? Check out our nine day itinerary!

what to do in sibiu, transylvania
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