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