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!
Our Oman itinerary
Day 1: A stopover in Doha, Qatar
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day 5: Into the desert
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.