Destinations

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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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!

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Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

We arrived at Henri Coandă International Airport in the evening and located bus 783 going into town. One was pulling out just as we arrived, but another one arrived shortly. The tickets were sold in a kiosk by the bus stop, setting us back 3,5 lei (about 1 USD) per person. There was a bus stop at Piața Unirii, from where we could walk to our hostel. It was Friday evening and people were already having cocktails in the outdoor patios of the restaurants lining the streets as we walked by.

The following morning we went out at around 10 am trying to score some breakfast, and to our surprise almost nothing was open, save for some clubs with guests who had clearly not stopped drinking since the night before. In the end we found a quite uninspired café that would serve us a croissant. The vacation could finally start!

The national history museum

We went off to visit the national history museum, Muzeul Național de Istorie a României, which is only partially open due to ongoing restoration work. Still, it had enough historical artefacts to keep us busy for several hours, and one area had costumes that you get to try on!

Palace of the parliament bucharest

Palace of the Parliament

After that, we went to check out the Palace of the Parliament, the world’s second largest administrative building once ordered by Ceaușescu. They offer tours in there, and there are several museums on the site, but since the weather was nice and we’d just been to one museum, we opted to just have a look from the outside instead.

On the other side of the big road was an Easter market, with loads of little stalls selling traditional foods and handicrafts. We strolled around it for a while and had a Hungarian langos with cheese.

Cismigiu park

In the afternoon, we walked over to the Cismigiu park, a quite big park near the old town, with walking paths, playgrounds and ponds. It was a really relaxing place, and many local families had come to spend the nice spring day there. Traffic can be a bit exhausting in Bucharest, and this was a great place to get away from it all for a bit.

Where to stay in Bucharest

We had booked two nights in a double room at Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel for the start of the trip. It was located smack bang in the middle of the old town, with loads of restaurants and nightlife nearby. When we came back at the end of the trip for one more night, we stayed at Hotel Opera right next to the Cismigiu park, which was a bit more fancy but still good value for money. I would recommend both for a night or two in Bucharest, although neither is as special as the other places we stayed on this trip.

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

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Nine days in Romania: our itinerary

Nine days in Romania: our itinerary

Going to Romania had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. Just kidding, who goes to Romania? No one I knew. As a matter of fact, all I knew about Romania, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, was that Dracula came from there. And that novel was mostly set in the UK anyway.

What I did learn was that flights to Bucharest were really cheap, so off I went for nine days in spring. And when I was there, I also learned that people do go to Romania! One segment in particular that goes there is older Spanish and Italian people who don’t speak foreign languages, because those who work in the tourism industry in Romania seem to speak EVERY language. Plus, with all the nice Italian food on offer, Italians must feel right at home.

Our itinerary for nine days in Romania

Where we stayed

Bucharest (1 night)
Sibiu (2 nights)
Sighisoara (2 nights)
Brasov (3 nights)
Bucharest (1 night)

Train travel in Romania

View over mountains from train window in TransylvaniaWe traveled by train between the cities, which was really convenient. The trains were of high standard, were quite punctual, and we could choose between several trains each day for our destinations. For all of these routes, except from Sibiu to Sighisoara, we booked tickets online in advance. I found the website easy to navigate, and all info is available in English. I received the tickets by emails as pdf files to be printed out.

For the local train between Sibiu and Sighisoara, we just showed up at the station and bought the tickets from a window inside. The person who was there at the time didn’t speak much English, but as we were traveling with the next train it was easy. If you are booking for a later train it would probably help to look up the time and write a note with the hours beforehand. All trains seemed searchable on the website, even those that weren’t possible to book.

Bucharest

Bucharest was not a charming city. We stayed in the old town, which is not a quaint and tourist-friendly place, but where all the clubs are. Still, we found enough sights to entertain us for a few days. There is some history, after all.

Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

Sibiu

Sibiu was a lovely small town with a great historical center, and lots of little things to see, such as the museum of pharmacy. We also strolled to ASTRA, the open-air rural history museum with real buildings from the past, located just outside of town, a perfect half-day excursion.

Cultural Sibiu, our introduction to Transylvania

Sighisoara

I’m really not one of those people who can’t walk through a quaint little town without stopping at every corner to take a picture. Oh, wait, apparently I am. Sighisoara is hands down one of the prettiest towns I’ve seen. We spent the better part of two days just strolling around a very small area, chilling on the square and drinking coffees at every place in town that sold them.

Sighisoara, what Pinterest was made for

Brasov

Moving on to Brasov meant getting used to traffic and city life again, but also to excellent dining, long walks both in nature and the city, and to finally get to see the famous Bran castle, also known as Dracula’s castle although there is in reality no connection other than that it’s scary enough.

A Dracula basecamp in Brasov

Some of my favorite guesthouses in Europe

Accommodation is cheap in Romania compared to Western Europe. On average, we paid around €30 per night for really nice double rooms with breakfast at small and homey guesthouses. The standard was really unbelievable. I would highly recommend Casa Timpuri Vechi in Sibiu and Pension am Schneiderturm in Sighisoara. But it was hard to choose, and probably hard to really go wrong, as the review scores for guesthoses in these towns on Booking.com are through the roof.

Being a vegetarian in Romania

I eat cheese and eggs, and in Romania I ate a lot of that. I think I really would’ve struggled as a vegan, as far from all restaurants could offer a single meat free dish that wasn’t a plate of lettuce. The traditional Romanian dishes didn’t work for us, but luckily the Italian influence is strong and the quality of food in general was amazing. We had some really fancy pastas that didn’t seem like the last resort as Italian food often does where vegetarian food is scarce. In Brasov in particular we found some really nice and vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and we also did manage to try a more traditional dish, the mămăliga, a polenta-like baked dish with a fried egg on top. It tasted a lot nicer than it was presented.

Mamaliga, Romanian food

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Being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka

Being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka

What’s it like to be a vegetarian in Sri Lanka?

When I decided to go to Sri Lanka, I didn’t know a lot about the country. I had previously been to South India several times and had a pretty good idea of what that is like, so I thought this little island just off the tip of India would surely be a lot like that. As a vegetarian foodie, I was expecting a treat. But when I started researching a bit before the trip, I found so many blogs and reviews saying that the vegetarian food in Sri Lanka is no good, mostly bland and uninspired, and that a vegetarian in Sri Lanka will struggle. With this in mind, I was a bit worried.

But this could not have been more wrong, being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka was a breeze. It turned out to be one of my favorite food destinations, with all places we went to being able to serve up delicious vegetarian meals. Every night gave us the opportunity to try a new and exciting vegetable. Now, I’m terrible at taking pictures of food, something that seems to come naturally for so many. My excuse is that I’m always really hungry at dinnertime, so when I come up for air and think of the camera, the plates are mostly empty.

Eat at your homestay!

There’s nothing like a home cooked meal at the end of a long day of adventuring, and we took the opportunity to have dinner and breakfasts at several of our homestays. It was always delicious, and our hosts really made an effort to show us the best of Sri Lankan cuisine. Our homestay in Tangalle, that I can’t seem to stop raving about, was the best of it all, serving some of the best curries I’ve ever had. Maybe in part because the cook was a vegetarian herself. Most nights I had to take out the phone at some point to read the Wikipedia page of the vegetable I had just tried for the first time. And our hosts were always amused, one “oh, you’ve never had wood apple before?” or “you just take regular bitter gourd and fry it with chili!” after the other.

All about our stay in Tangalle

Sign for Roti hut in Tangalle

What is there to eat?

In the evening, and sometimes at lunch, most restaurants serve “curry”, which is like an Indian thali. Lots of rice, and lots of different bowls of other things that you can’t even begin to guess what they are. We never came across a restaurant that didn’t have a vegetarian version of this. Generally, most restaurants had several vegetarian options, even along the coast where most people seem to eat a lot of fish. We never had to ask for a special meal, which can be annoying when you don’t speak the language.

Another favorite was koththu, or kottu, or another spelling almost like that, depending on which sign you read. It’s a lot like fried rice, but with sliced coconut roti in the mix, making it more creamy and filling. My favorite one was served in Galle

For breakfast, there was a lot of roti with daal, fried eggs, and my favorite: the egg hopper! It’s like a thin bowl-shaped pancake with a very soft boiled egg in the middle. Generally, there were so many eggs and so much bread that we couldn’t finish all of it.

There is also plenty of Indian food, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise. My favorite vegetarian Indian restaurant was in Kandy

What about vegans?

I’m not a vegan, so I’m not sure of this, but it seemed as breakfasts are largely vegan if you avoid the eggs. The coconut rotis and daals are vegan, and the hoppers are made from coconut milk and rice flour. Now, I’m sure there are lots of recipes to these, so always ask to make sure. The evening curries we had were also all vegan. Generally, dairy and eggs aren’t used that much it seems.

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? See our two week itinerary for inspiration!

Vegetarian curry served on lotus leaf
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Is Colombo worth your time?

Is Colombo worth your time?

When we landed in Sri Lanka, we went straight to Kandy instead of going into Colombo. The roads are excellent, so outside of rush hour it doesn’t take that long, but we felt like it would just feel hectic to go in and spend the night just to leave again. Another option would’ve been to stay in Negombo, at the beach, for a couple of days at the beginning of the trip. But we were eager to get things started. In the end, however, we wanted to see Colombo before going home.

Where to stay in Colombo…

We booked two nights at the cheapest upscale hotel we could find, the Renuka City Hotel. It did seem quite fancy after two weeks on the road, with a gym (that we didn’t use) and a pool out on a terrace overlooking the sea, and a bar (that we did use) with excellent service. It was right on the Galle Road, meaning that our bus from Galle dropped us right outside, and access to public transportation to get around the city is excellent. The area also seemed really safe, and we walked a lot, even into the old town. So if you enjoy walking, you can really get around most of the places a tourist might want to visit in Colombo on foot.

… and where to eat

When we arrived at our hotel, we looked on Google maps for all the places nearby, and we found a lunch place just around the corner called The Curry Pot. It was very cheap, less than 200 LKR, and you point to what you want and get it served on a lotus leaf! It sounds unbelievably hipster, but most of the other customers were business people on their lunch break.

Being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka

Curry served on lotus leaf

Gangaramaya Temple, filled with Buddhas

One of my favorite things to see in Colombo was the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple. The grounds are huge, and everywhere you go there are Buddha figures in all shapes and sizes, gathered from around the Buddhist world. My favorite was a room with huge statues in bright colors. The ticket includes a separate temple out on the lake nearby, and while that is not quite as impressive, it’s really nice to be out there watching the busy city from a distance.

Buddhas at Gangaramaya Temple

Shopping in the Pettah

The bazaar district of Pettah is Colombo’s original shopping area, one of those where similar shops are gathered in one street so that you know exactly where to go for light bulbs or padlocks. It’s a multicultural area, very busy and crowded but not in a threatening way. People simply don’t care about the tourists as they go about their business, which is quite refreshing. Even if you don’t want to buy anything it’s worth strolling around to enjoy the ambience of the place. Just make sure you’re not that one annoying tourist who blocks the road when taking pictures!

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Here’s our two week itinerary

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A day and a night in colonial Galle

A day and a night in colonial Galle

Don’t ask me how it happened, but near the end of the trip, we realized we had one more day left than we thought. So the night before we were to leave Tangalle and head toward Colombo with a brief stop to see Galle, instead we booked a night there. And what a great decision that was, as the bus ride was a bit longer and less comfortable than we had expected.

Away from it all on the beaches of Tangalle

Our homestay in Galle

The bus station of Galle is just outside the old citadel, a short stroll or cheap tuktuk ride around the cricket stadium and you’re there. Hotels in Galle seemed to be quite pricey compared to other places we’d been, but there are cheaper options even inside the citadel. We chose to stay at Thenu Rest Guest House, a homestay with a couple of rooms on the top floor in a family home, with a restaurant and tea shop out front. The room was large and bright, and there was an outdoor space with sofas between the guest rooms. We especially loved the relaxed and filling breakfast outside, watching the town wake up. So much better than just a quick stop on the way to Colombo!

Is Colombo worth your time?

What to see in Galle

Galle was like no other place we’d seen in Sri Lanka. The old citadel was built in the colonial times by the portuguese, and all the buildings are low and white, the streets narrow and not much traffic. It’s possible to get up on the old city wall and walk around it. From up there, we saw a swimming school for the local kids. There is a small beach, but I think it’d be nicer to make the short trip over to Unawatuna for visitors who crave some beach time. It’s also possible to look down into the cricket stadium from up the city wall, if you’re not prepared to go inside to watch a full game.

We enjoyed strolling around the old streets, popping into the little shops and galleries. Much of the old center is set up for tourism, but we did need to get some souvenir and postcard shopping done so we quite enjoyed it. Especially after dark, the places lit up and there was music in the streets, and we got some very expensive ice cream and just looked at everything. Pretty neat.

Kids playing cricket in Galle

The best kuththu I had

There are so many restaurants in Galle that look really good, and I could’ve stayed longer just to try some more of them. It should be said that we didn’t find any really cheap places in the citadel, so be prepared to splurge.

Being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka

We had lunch at a nice-looking place called Galle Things Roti, part of Galle Fort Hotel. The food was not too expensive, but drinks, water included, were about the same as food for some reason. We had a kuththu and a roti dish, and both were really really good. I would highly recommend this place for the food, but service was not good. There was one guy waiting tables and a few more cooking behind a counter, but the waiter could not have been less interested in doing his job and the others seemed to try and cover for him whenever they weren’t too busy in the kitchen.

Street in Galle

Would I recommend a stop in Galle?

Sure I would! Although, if you’re on a short trip and won’t be seeing much of Sri Lanka, you should know that this town is nothing like the rest of it. We felt like it was nice to eat westernized food and shop for souvenirs at the end of our trip, having recently recovered from a light food-poisoning, but it is a bit of a shock coming from out in the sticks. I did really appreciate that we still managed to get the homestay experience inside the citadel.

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Here’s our two week itinerary!

Lighthouses in Galle, Sri Lanka
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