Oman is the gem of the Arabian Peninsula. It’s easy to travel, overwhelmingly safe, boasts absolutely beautiful landscapes, and a strong culture. Oman is often overlooked by most travelers who typically head to more popular destinations like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. For those who have never visited a country in the Middle East, Oman should be your first stop. It’s clean, safe, friendly, and gorgeous.
I have put together a complete Oman travel guide to help you plan your next adventure and get the most out of your trip.
Introduction to Oman
Oman occupies a strategically important location and has long been sought after by empire builders. In the 16th century, Muscat was seized by Portugal, which held the city until 1650.
During the 18th century, the Al Busaidi dynasty expelled the Persian occupation and established Omani control over much of the Persian Gulf. They preserved power into the 21st century, and, during this time, Oman was not open to innovation.
In fact, significant modernization did not begin until after the coup in 1970 that brought Qaboos bin Said to power, at which point Oman rapidly began to develop an advanced economy. The once insular country now actively encourages tourism and attracts travelers from around the world
Travelers flock to Oman for two main reasons, its hospitality and unspoiled landscapes. At first glance, Oman appears to be mostly dominated by desert, however, it, actually, has three physiographic zones.
1) The long, narrow coastal plain known as Al Batinah that stretches along the Gulf of Oman.
2) The high, rugged Hajar Mountains that extend from the Musandam Peninsula to the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
3) An inland plateau that falls away to the southwest of the Hajar Mountains into the great Rub’ al Khali desert, which the sultanate shares with Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Oman Travel Guide – General Travel Information
The main entry point for most travelers is Muscat (which has an international airport, but is also the point of entry for cruise ships).
Getting around can be difficult and expensive without a car. Renting a car is the easiest option, and petrol is very cheap. Women can also drive without any issues.
Useful Tip: There are several military checkpoints throughout the country, especially in the south. Most of the time you will be waved through. In some cases, they will ask for your driver’s license and proof of registration, which will be provided by the rental company.
Best time of the year for traveling in Oman: I would recommend going in November when the temperatures are not too hot, and the hotel prices are low. There are several discounts during this time of year.
Visa: General visa information for Oman can be found here.
Language: Arabic is the national language, but most Omanis speak good to excellent English, particularly in major tourist areas and cities.
Currency: The currency in Muscat is the Omani rial (OMR).
Safety: Oman is a relatively safe country and serious crime is rare. The Royal Oman Police are notably efficient and honest.
Religion: The usual rules of respect when traveling in a Muslim country should be followed in Oman. Both men and women are expected to dress conservatively (shoulders and knees must be covered in public places). Alcohol is also forbidden, except inside resort hotels.
Oman Travel Guide – Top Places to Visit
Muscat is an ideal place for anyone in love with Arab architecture. The city has a mixture of monuments representing the Islamic culture and the urbanized vibe of today’s world. I spent roughly 2 days in Muscat, and, for me, that was sufficient to appreciate all the activities. Below is a list of the top sites to visit in Muscat.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque: Muscat is home to some incredibly beautiful mosques in the region, including the stunning Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Situated at the heart of the city, it is the only mosque in Oman open for people from different religious beliefs and values.
Royal Opera House of Muscat: The Royal Opera House of Muscat is the main center of arts and culture not only in the city but in the entire country. Built to represent Oman’s contemporary approach towards arts and culture, the Royal Opera House is a magnificent royal property that reflects Arabesque architecture.
Muttrah Corniche: Muttrah Corniche is a long stretch of the beautiful Oman coastline running across the city of Muscat. It is built around the main port of Muscat, which was redesigned by the government to turn industrialization into tourism.
Muttrah Souq (Muttrah market): Muttrah Souq is a congested market with local vendors selling in their small stalls all sorts of souvenirs, headscarves, bags, Arab style chandeliers, home decor.
Seeb is a coastal fishing city, located several kilometers northwest of Muscat, in northeastern Oman. This was my favorite city in Oman. It was less touristy and calmer than Muscat. While there are not as many attractions as Muscat, I really enjoyed my time here. I would recommend strolling through the markets and indulging in some delicious Omani food next to the coast. If you have a day to spare or want to get off the typical tourist path, I would highly recommend Seeb.
Nizwa is an ancient city in the Ad Dakhiliyah region of northern Oman. The centerpiece is Nizwa Fort, a castle with a huge cylindrical tower that dominates the skyline. This fort was built in the 17th century to defend the city’s position on a major trade route. It’s an excellent example of Omani fortifications and the well-preserved walls are awash with information and history.
Useful Tip: In general, Nizwa is an excellent city to make as your base for exploring the surrounding region, including Nizwa Fort, Bahla Fort, Jebel Shams, and Jebel Akhdar (see below for more details). There are plenty of affordable hotels, restaurants, and there is a shopping center where you can pick up snacks for day excursions.
Bahla Fort is one of four historic fortresses situated at the foot of the Jebel Akhdar highlands in Oman and the country’s only UNESCO-listed fort added in 1987.
The fort is believed to have been built between the 12th and 15th centuries by the Banu Nebhan tribe who inhabited the area at the time and were known for controlling the trade of frankincense during this period.
As part of the complex, there is also a citadel oasis adjacent to the fort and an ancient wall spanning 13 km, part of which is still standing. The majority of the oasis is in ruins, but the structure and some of the houses are still standing.
Jebel Shams is the tallest mountain in Oman and is part of the Hajar mountain range. With a 4×4 you can drive close to the summit, for incredible views over the impressive canyon.
Useful Tip: I would recommend a 4×4, rather than a sedan. The roads are quite rough, and there are rapid ascents and descents. You will need the power of a 4×4 to help you control the breaks.
There are several days hikes in the area, and you can camp at the summit. No trip to Oman is complete without exploring the Hajar mountain range, it is definitely a must-see!
Jebel Akhdar is another high mountain peak in the Hajar Range. It lies at the central section of Al Hajar range and is accessible only by four-wheel drive.
The range is mostly desert, but, at higher altitudes, receives around 300 mm of precipitation annually. This allows the growth of shrubs and trees and supports agriculture. In fact, Jebel Akhdar translates to Green Mountain in English, which is derived from greenery and sweeping landscapes in the area.
An old stronghold on the inland side of the mountain is Birkat al-Mawz, or Pool of the Plantains. You can explore the area and walk around the ruins.
Masirah is your typical desert island – a rocky interior with a gorgeous rim of sandy beaches. Masirah Island, which lies off the east coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, was originally used as a staging post for trade in the Indian Ocean and as home to fishermen.
Today, Masirah is home to flamingos and herons that populate the coast by day and ghost crabs that march ashore at night. The island is also an important hatching ground for loggerhead sea turtles, and the critically endangered humpback whale migrate to the waters surrounding the island.
Useful Tip: There is a single road that circles the island, and can be completed in one or two days. While hotels are starting to appear, I, personally, camped on the beach and was rewarded with beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The ferry goes back and forth between the mainland and the island throughout the day, but I would recommend taking the earliest boat as the lines can become quite long.
Wadi Shab was easily one of the top highlights on my trip to Oman. This narrow canyon is home to crystal clear blue water pools and even a secret waterfall inside a cave. The hike along Wadi Shab is pretty straightforward, but it is important to have proper shoes as you will be climbing over boulders and hiking on some paths that can be slippery.
Below are some tips for visiting the wonderful desert oasis.
Wadi Shab is about 1.5 hours from Muscat, and if you leave early in the morning you will avoid any traffic. The “Wadi Shab Parking” is clearly marked on Google Maps and Maps.me. If you don’t have access to one of these, the exit for Wadi Shab is well marked along the highway.
To get to the beginning of the Wadi Shab hike, you must take a very short boat ride across the very wide river. The boat ride costs 1 Rial per person and this must be paid in cash. After you cross the river, you will begin the hike to pools (everything is clearly marked, and you can’t miss the trail). It is roughly an hour, depending on how many pictures you take.
When you arrive at the pools, you will see a very shallow pool, but as you continue to swim towards the canyon the pools become much deeper. In the end, there is a waterfall where you can slide down or jump off a ledge.
Caution: The pools do become deeper, and if you are not a strong swimmer please proceed with caution. You can hang on the sides of the canyon, and there are places where you can take a small break.
My Experience Traveling in Oman
Oman was a country that surprised me. It is not a destination that is often discussed among travelers or vacation goers for that matter. I found the landscapes to be stunning, the food delicious, and the people were very kind. I spent 10 days driving around Oman, and I wish I would have spent 2-3 weeks. There are really endless things to do and explore in Oman.
Enjoy This Post? Pin It!
Check Out My Other Travel Guides
Hope you enjoyed my Oman Travel Guide and found it useful. Here are some of my other travel guides that you might find interesting.
- The Ultimate Guide to Northern Argentina
- The Ultimate 2 Week Myanmar Itinerary
- Fun Things to Do in Guatemala
- Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico
Have questions about Oman Travel? Are there any sites in Oman that are on your must-see list? Send me a message in the comments below!
Interested in more travel tips & tricks? Check out my other posts for more travel tips.