Home Middle East First Timer’s Travel Guide To Visiting Oman (2019 Guide)

First Timer’s Travel Guide To Visiting Oman (2019 Guide)

by Chloe Gunning
Birkat Al Mouz, Oman
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Planning to visit Oman for the first time? Find out all the information you could need to make the most of your trip in this Oman travel guide.

I’ve just got back from the most incredible trip to Oman. It was my first time visiting the country, and excitement levels were high! Before leaving I found myself clicking on endless pretty photos of the country, saving locations, and wondering whether it would really look as pretty as the pictures.

With expectations flying high, was I setting myself up to be disappointed? I arrived in Muscat with six days ahead of me and a mission to see and do as much as possible.

Beach near Muscat, Oman

Beach near Muscat, Oman

I decided to pop together a huge travel guide to Oman, with lots of tips and advice for anyone visiting for the first time. So along with a few must-sees, you’ll find info below on safety, sim cards, wild camping, drone laws and more. It’s everything I wanted to know before I visited, and more! 

If there’s something in particular you’re looking for, click on the contents below, otherwise strap yourself in for a whistle-stop tour of my new favourite country in the Middle East! 

Is It Worth Visiting Oman?

Yes, 100%. That was easy. Next question?

Oman has a lot to shout about, but I feel its biggest selling point is the fact you can see such diverse landscapes in just a few days. One day I was on the beach, the next in the sand dunes in the desert, the next at altitudes of 2000m in the mountains. Culturally and historically there’s a lot to take in too, from ancient forts and stunning mosques, to bustling souks.

View from Rustaq Fort, Oman

View from Rustaq Fort, Oman

If you’ve never visited the Middle East before, I think Oman offers one of the best introductions to the culture, climate and landscapes. The people are really friendly too, and a lot of people speak some English, making it a lot easier to travel around than some of its neighbours.

View of Rustaq, Oman

View of Rustaq, Oman

How To Get To Oman

I flew direct from London to Muscat with Oman Air. The airline flies direct from London Heathrow to Muscat twice a day (and once a day from Manchester).  The flight takes just over 7 hours. If you book well in advance, you can find return flights from as little as £320 return.

You can check latest flight prices here…

 

From Muscat airport I’d recommend hiring a car (more on that coming up) or booking a guide for your trip. It depends on what you want to see and do, but there are some treacherous, off-road drives like Wadi Bani Awf, where I was relieved we were in the care of Ahmed from Desert Camels Adventure Tours.

Useful Tips For Visiting Oman

Best Time To Visit Oman

Oman has a warm climate all year round. It gets seriously hot in the summer months, so unless you’re a fan of 40+ degrees, I’d avoid June, July and August.

The best time to visit Oman is between October and April. It’s still lovely and warm, but temperatures are a lot more bearable, peaking around 30 degrees. I visited in November and thought it was perfect. It was warm and sunny during the day. Temperatures in Muscat were around 28 degrees, while up in the mountains (at altitudes of 2000m) it dropped as low as 8 degrees at night.

Exploring the sand dunes in Oman

Exploring the sand dunes in Oman

One of the biggest surprises during my trip was that it rained. In Oman! WOW – I was not expecting that at all. It was only fleeting, but pretty torrential! We were based in northern Oman, but I read that the south of the country has a monsoon season which runs from June to September. It’s great for the area though, as it helps the region’s fruit trees and vegetables flourish.

Is Oman Safe?

I travelled with my fiancé and a local tour guide, and felt very safe in Oman. If I’d been travelling solo, I also think I would have felt pretty safe, but it’s hard for me to judge. Oman is rated as one of the safest countries to visit in the world right now. Major crimes carry strict penalties, but as with any country there are occasional petty crimes. Just be alert, don’t put yourself in obvious dangers and stick to areas you where you feel safe.


Top Things To Do In Oman 

Oman is the perfect destination for adventure lovers and culture seekers. Coming up are my must-dos… from deserts and beaches, to wadis and epic mountains, you’ll want to pack a lot in! 

Dunes by Al Nadha in Oman

Dunes by Al Nadha in Oman

Visit A Wadi In Oman

A wadi is a valley or canyon, often created through epic mountains by a dried-up river. Some are fed by natural springs, which lead to incredible emerald green rock pools, surrounded by palm trees. There are also a few stunning wadis on Oman with waterfalls cascading through the landscape. As the country is so dry, they’re always a surprising sight – a bit of a desert oasis!

Wadis are great for hiking, canyoning, swimming or driving through on a road trip. The most famous wadis in Oman are Wadi Shab, Wadi Bani Khalid, Wadi Al Arbeieen, Wadi Al Hawqayn and Wadi Tiwi.

I headed to Wadi Bani Awf in the north of the country, a few hours’ drive from Muscat. The most famous spot within this wadi is Snake Canyon, a huge gorge which divides the impressive rocks. Adventure lovers can hike, climb and abseil their way through. I, however enjoyed a bumpy 4×4 ride through the landscapes, hopping out every now and then to take photos.

Snake Canyon, Oman

Snake Canyon, Oman

This is 4×4 off-road territory, and with extremely windy, cliff-edge roads with sheer drops below. Unless you’re really experienced at this sort of driving, I’d recommend hiring a guide to drive the route for you.

The views were utterly spectacular, with huge mountain backdrops and beautiful valleys below. There was barely any water in the wadi when we visited, but this isn’t always the case and we spotted one pool where a few people had stopped for a swim. 

Views of Wadi Bani Awf in Oman

Views of Wadi Bani Awf in Oman

Head Up To Oman’s Mountains

I was awestruck by the epic mountain views as we drove through Wadi Bani Awf . They included Oman’s most impressive mountain range, the Al Hajar Mountains. They’re the highest mountains in the eastern Arabian Peninsula, with Jebel Shams (Sun Mountain) being the highest peak at just over 3,000m.

Al Hajar Mountains, Oman

Al Hajar Mountains, Oman

I’d recommend visiting Jebel Akhdar, known as the Green Mountain, as it receives more rain and enjoys cooler temperatures – perfect for growing crops. One of the best spots to see the panoramic views of the mountains and canyon is  Diana’s Point within Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort. Sunsets are particularly spectacular from there too!

If you’re visiting other areas of Oman, and craving some mountain time, check out Samhan Mountain, Lion’s Jaws Gate and Jabal Al Qamar (Moon Mountain).

Explore An Ancient Omani Fort

You won’t drive far in Oman before spotting a fort or watchtower. I read there are over 1,000 in the country, and while some have been left in ruins, others have been beautifully restored to their former glory.

Spend a few hours at Rustaq Fort, one of the largest and most important forts in Oman’s history. Originally constructed in the 12th Century, it was restored and added to in the 16th Century when Rustaq was the capital of Oman.

Rustaq Fort, Oman

Rustaq Fort, Oman

It costs just £1 (500 baisas) to enter, and there’s lots to see. Climb up one of the four towers, venture inside armouries and libraries, peer over the turrets and take in the landscape below. It’s somewhere you’ll find yourself reaching for your camera over and over!

Others to add to your list are Nizwa Fort, which dates back to the 12th Century and Bahla Fort, which underwent a big restoration a few years ago.

Sample Some Local Omani Food 

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what Omani food is as the cuisine features influences from the Mediterranean, India and parts of Africa. However, I thought the food was delicious, blending a variety of tasty spices and a nice bit of chilli. If I had to compare to foods I’d eaten before I’d say most of the dishes were reminiscent of Indian or Turkish dishes.

Expect to eat lots of rice (usually seasoned with saffron, cumin, cloves, cardamom and onion), accompanied by grilled meat (lamb, chicken, goat). Towards the coast you’ll be able to find great fish and seafood too.

One of the most traditional Omani dishes is shuwa. It’s made by covering meat in a marinade of spices, then wrapping in banana leaves and baking in an underground oven. I tried it with lamb, and the meat just fell away; it was so tender. I also had lots of tasty curries throughout my trip. If you’re not keen on spicy food, I’d suggest you ask for it mild as some of the Omani food I ate had a serious chilli kick.

Shuwa - a traditional Omani dish

Shuwa – a traditional Omani dish

One of the most popular fish eaten in Oman is hamour. It’s a type of grouper, and when cooked correctly, the white fish flakes away delicately. 

Dates are a popular snack or sweet in Oman, often served alongside a cup of coffee. If you want to try coffee with a twist, order kahwa. It’s the Omani style of coffee, usually spiced with cardamom and cloves. Yummy!

Grilled hamour and chicken with rice in Muscat

Grilled hamour and chicken with rice in Muscat

It’s worth noting that food is extremely affordable in local restaurants, but pricey in hotels. I loved the local food experiences I had, and would definitely recommend getting out of tourist restaurants and resorts and trying some traditional dishes. Omanis tend to eat with their right hand rather than use cutlery, but it’s not frowned upon to ask for a spoon or fork if you’d find it easier. I did! 

Stay In Some Unique Accommodation

There are plenty of incredible places to stay in Oman, with views that will seriously amaze you.

For something extra special, spend a night or two at the luxurious Dunes by Al Nadha, right in the sand dunes and only a one hour drive from Muscat. Accommodation is in large tent-style houses, with chic bathrooms, colourful fabrics and hanging lanterns. Think of high-end glamping, and then raise it up a few levels.

Sunrise at Dunes by Al Nadha

Sunrise at Dunes by Al Nadha

Inside our tent at Dunes by Al Nadha

Inside our tent at Dunes by Al Nadha

Start your day watching the sunrise over the sand, splash around in the infinity pool, hire quad bikes to reach the summit of the dunes, and enjoy a sand spa – a bizarre spa treatment that’s great for relieving aches and pains. This special resort definitely ticks the unique box.

The pool at Dunes by Al Nadha in Oman

The pool at Dunes by Al Nadha in Oman

Sand spa at Dunes by Al Nadha

Sand spa at Dunes by Al Nadha

Explore Muscat

Muscat isn’t like most capital cities. You won’t find skyscrapers or glitzy commercial buildings. In the centre you’ll find a few busy roads, but nothing on the level of Dubai. It feels like it has a clear identity, and flies the flag for Omani culture.

Start with a wander along the Corniche, enjoying views of minarets, ancient forts, super yachts and bright turquoise water.

Muscat Corniche

Muscat Corniche

Pay a visit to the Sultan’s Palace to see the pretty gardens and grandeur for yourself. Then head inside Oman’s National Museum to learn more about the country’s past.

Sultan's Palace (Al Alam Palace) Muscat

Sultan’s Palace (Al Alam Palace) Muscat

The National Museum, Muscat

The National Museum, Muscat

My favourite spots? Along with the pretty corniche with that bright turquoise water, I enjoyed ambling through Mutrah Souq, where you can buy everything from pashminas and silver teapots to spices and incense. Don’t miss Mutrah Fish Market for a real flavour of daily life in Muscat. You can watch the fishermen arriving with their latest catch, locals haggling for their dinner and weird and wonderful creatures from the abyss.

Mutrah Souq, Muscat

Mutrah Souq, Muscat

Mutrah Souq, Muscat

Mutrah Souq, Muscat

Muscat fish market

Muscat fish market

Take In Oman’s Spectacular Beach Views

Before visiting Oman I’d seen photos of stunning beaches, but as our trip was coming to an end, I felt like we were going to go home a little disappointed. That was until we took a drive south from Muscat and followed the coast. These views were close to the entrance of the Shangri-La Hotel – just WOW! Look at that view!

Beach near Muscat in Oman

Beach near Muscat in Oman

If you’re not spending much time in Muscat, you’ll find great beaches all over Oman. Check out the beaches at Al Mughsayl, Bandar Jissah, Khassab and Tiwi, along with those on the stunning island of Masirah. That’s somewhere I’d love to visit on a return trip.

Visit A Mosque In Oman

Oman is a Muslim country, so you’ll see mosques everywhere you go, even in the most remote areas. I’d recommend visiting Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat. It’s free to enter, and is open to visitors from 8 – 11am each day.

It’s absolutely stunning, and an incredible feat of architecture, with its 50m tall tower and five minarets to represent the five pillars of Islam.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

The inside is just as impressive as the outside, with one of the biggest chandeliers and handwoven carpets in the world. The extravagant chandelier in the men’s prayer hall contains 600,000 Swarovski crystals and weighs over 8 tonnes!

Chandelier in Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat

Chandelier in Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat

N.B. You’ll need to adhere to a strict dress code in order to enter the mosque, which you can find out all about in my guide to what to wear in Oman.

Omani in a dishdasha at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

Omani in a dishdasha at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

Try An Adrenaline Activity In Oman

Oman is a great destination for adventure lovers and adrenaline addicts. From quad biking, sand boarding and dune bashing in the desert, to climbing, abseiling, cliff jumping and canyoning in the mountains and wadis, and scuba diving and water sports on the coast, there’s something to suit everyone. 

I tried quad biking for the first time while staying at Dunes by Al Nadha. It was the perfect way to get to the top of the sand dunes and see our amazing desert resort from a different perspective.

Quad biking in Oman

Quad biking in Oman

If you’re looking for a real thrill, head to Jabal Akhdar and enjoy Oman’s highest via ferrata, which includes abseiling, zip-lining and manoeuvring along some sheer drops.     

 

Relax With Some Luxury 

The Middle East is home to some of the world’s most glamorous hotels. In Oman, resorts like the Kempinski Hotel Muscat offer 5-star luxury right on the beach. Enjoy dining at one of four restaurants (which includes excellent Thai restaurant Soi Soi), or enjoy cocktails and light bites at Zale Beach Club, right on the sand.

Kempinski Hotel Muscat

Kempinski Hotel Muscat

Meanwhile, 2000m up at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, you can wake up to impressive canyon views, enjoy premium middle eastern cuisine at Al Qalaa, and relax in the spa.

Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort

Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort

Views from Diana's Point at Pool at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort

Views from Diana’s Point at Pool at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort

Get To Know Oman’s Wildlife

I’ll admit right now, that I didn’t see a lot of wildlife on this trip, but I do think it’s a big reason to visit. During my trip we spotted lots of mountain goats, donkeys, a camel, a mountain fox, a small gecko and lots of birds.

Mountain goats in the Jabal Akhdar mountains

Mountain goats in the Jabal Akhdar mountains

However, there’s plenty more wildlife in Oman, particularly if you’re heading to these specific regions…

You can spot dolphins along Oman’s coast, with large pods of humpback dolphins often seen in the Musandam Peninsula. 

Oman is famous for its green turtles which nest along the shore each year. Head to Ras Al Jinz or the Dimaniyat Islands to see the babies racing towards the sea between May and September.

In the south, head to the Jabal Samhan Reserve near Salalah and you could spot one of the country’s endangered Arabian leopards.

Meanwhile, bird lovers should head to Masirah Island, where more than 328 species have been spotted.

Go Wild Camping In Oman

I’ve mentioned a few of the most luxurious places to stay in Oman, and now it’s time to tell you about the other end of the scale. Did you know you can camp ANYWHERE in Oman? Well, pretty much anyway. Wild camping is legal in Oman, so you really can find a bit of public land you like and pitch your tent for the night.

That means you can venture to the most beautiful spots in Oman’s mountains, kayak to a secret beach or even fall asleep under the stars in the desert at Wahiba Sands. I enjoyed reading this account of wild camping in Oman, as it really paints a picture of what it’s like, especially for a family!

Al Hajar Mountains, Oman

Al Hajar Mountains, Oman

Not only is it the most affordable way to explore Oman, you’ll have access to some of the country’s most stunning morning views. If you don’t fancy lugging tents and equipment from home, there are plenty of local companies offering camping rental, or tours that take care of everything for you.

Enjoy A Road Trip Across Oman

Honestly, just hop in the car and DRIVE! As you’ve heard, I just loved the variety of landscapes we saw during our week in Oman. Sometimes we were driving along a road and I’d shout STOPPPPP! Then I’d hop out of the car, take a few photos, then we’d continue onwards.

One of my favourite spots was Birkat Al Mouz, where if you look beyond the beautiful rows of palm trees you can spot ancient villages built into the rugged mountains.

Birkat Al Mouz, Oman

Birkat Al Mouz, Oman

From the rugged terrain in the wadis and mountains, to the stunning beaches, it’s such a beautiful country to drive around. Make a playlist, stock up on some tasty snacks and enjoy the views. 


What To Pack For Oman

With a range of temperatures and activities to think about, packing for Oman isn’t the simplest process. It’s especially important for women to consider the Arabic culture before visiting, as on the whole, it’s recommended to cover up shoulders, chests and wear something that covers below the knee.

Before my visit, I searched for information on what to wear in Oman as a woman, and didn’t find much that was useful… so I’ve popped together a handy guide to what to wear in Oman. It includes a packing list, and includes a few helpful tips for men too.


Useful Travel Tips And Information For Visiting Oman 

From whether to buy a sim card, to how to apply for a tourist visa, here are a few extra tips for first time visitors to Oman.

Sim Cards In Oman

My phone network charged high prices for data usage in Oman, so I decided it was best to buy a sim card on arrival. That way I’d be able to do research on the go, plan routes and update my social media channels.

As you come out of departures at Muscat Airport you’ll see several phone stores, including Omantel, Ooredoo and Renna. Our guide recommended we use Omantel, so we popped to the store, gave our passports (to register the sim) and paid on credit card. We went for a sim with 2GB of data, which cost 3 Rial (£6). It was more than enough data for a short trip, especially as most hotels had good WiFi. 

Omani currency

Omani currency

WiFi In Oman

All the hotels we stayed at had WiFi. It was a little slow in the desert areas, but worked well in Muscat and the mountains. As I had data via my sim card I didn’t try to connect to public WiFi in Oman, however I did see that some required an Omani phone number or address in order to register. 

It’s also worth noting that at Muscat Airport you’ll need a local phone number or a wifi code from customer services in order to connect to the public WiFi. This could make things a little complicated when you land, so I’d recommend downloading or printing all the info you need to get to your first hotel, before boarding your flight to Oman.  

Tourist Visas For Oman

To visit Oman, you’ll need to apply for a visa via the Royal Oman Police website. I applied for a 10-day tourist e-visa online, which was a reasonably simple process. I had to upload a copy of my passport and a recent photo, along with typing in my basic information. It was granted within 48-hours and cost 5 Rials (£10). If you’re staying a bit longer there’s also a 30-day visa available.

Oman Tourist Visa 26A

Top of my Oman Tourist Visa 26A

Car Rental In Oman

Renting a car in Oman is pretty straightforward, and we found the roads to be excellent. Thankfully there weren’t too many crazy drivers around either! To rent a car in Oman, you need to be over 25, possess an international driving license and have had your license for a minimum of one year. If you’re under 25, it may be possible, but check with the company first.

Due to the rugged terrain in some areas, I’d recommend renting a 4×4. There are some beautiful off-road areas in the wadis, mountains and deserts, so that extra control is really important.

I read that some car rental agencies don’t allow you to pass between Oman and the United Arab Emirates, so if you’re planning a day trip to Dubai or a visit to Abu Dhabi, definitely check out the rules before you book your vehicle. 

Driving through Wadi Bani Awf in Oman

Driving through Wadi Bani Awf in Oman

Drone Laws In Oman

Thinking of flying your drone in Oman? Think again! You can only fly a drone in Oman if it’s for a commercial shoot, for which you need to obtain a permit before arriving in the country. If you arrive in Oman without a permit for your drone, then sadly it may be confiscated by airport security. For me, that was too much of a risk so I left mine at home.

Laws like this are reviewed regularly, so it’s worth double checking the latest news before you travel. If in doubt though, leave it at home. Nobody wants to get held up at customs at the start of a holiday!

Experience Oman

Experience Oman

I hope this first timer’s travel guide to Oman is helpful in planning your holiday. Let me know if you have any questions below! 

I was invited to explore Oman by Experience Oman, but as always all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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