The Best Solo Road Trip In Oman
THE BEST SOLO ROAD TRIP IN OMAN
BY LOGAN NOLIN · SEP 2019 · TRAVEL
WELCOME TO OMAN
I landed in Muscat at 9:30 PM local time, grabbed a SIM card with Omantel, and made my way to my rental car. As I exited the airport, I was shocked by the blast of heat. 9:30 PM and still hot af.
I drove to the Hilton Garden Inn Muscat Al Khuwair and checked in. One of the benefits of the amex platinum card (which I HIGHLY recommend getting if you travel often) is complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status. I ended up getting late checkout, a room upgrade, and free breakfast.
2) My Route
4) Jebel Shams
5) Wahiba Sands
7) Wadi Shab
9) Things To Know
I chose to rent a car in Oman, which ended up being a great choice for me. Oman’s roads are in perfect condition and there weren’t a lot of public transportation options if you plan on traveling across cities. There are tours available that drive you to and from Muscat to other cities; however, they were pretty expensive and waste a lot of time taking you back to Muscat every night. Plus, you’d miss out on getting the chance to stop to chat with camels and goats.
There were mixed reviews on what navigation apps work in Oman. I initially used Waze and noticed halfway through that Google Maps not only worked, but often had routes that were hours faster. After saving me 2 hours on the way to Sur, Google Maps was my exclusive choice for the rest of the trip.
DAY 1: FORTS + JEBEL SHAMS
I started the day early by driving from Muscat to Nakhal Fort (58 minutes, 89 km). Unfortunately, Nakhal Fort was closed for renovations, so I popped right back into my car and headed to Al Rustaq Fort (49 minutes, 55 km).
Al Rustaq Fort was completely empty when I arrived. As I made my way up the stone steps, a man ran over to me, welcoming me and apologizing for the delay. He had been praying.
He introduced himself as Al and led me into a small office with a simple bed and started asking me questions about my life and what brought me to Oman. In between questions, he was filling me up with fresh dates that he had picked and Omani coffee. I purchased my entry ticket for 500 baisa ($1.30) and set off to explore the fort.
The architecture of the fort was incredible, with endless staircases and rooms. I walked around for a solid 45 minutes, literally getting lost, before nearly passing out in the heat and finding the exit.
I said goodbye to Al and hopped back in my car to head to As Sulaif Fort (1 hour 40 minutes, 128 km). Like Al Rustaq, As Sulaif was completely empty as well. I drove into the empty parking lot just as the call to prayer started playing on the speakers of a nearby mosque. I moseyed into the fort when a man suddenly appeared and welcomed me. I asked him to purchase a ticket and he told me that entry was free.
I walked up the stairs to enter the fort and was greeted by the beautiful ruins known as As Sulaif. I walked along the remnants of what must have once been a stunning fort.
After snapping some photos, I got back in my car and headed for the final stop of the night: Jebel Shams, Oman’s Grand Canyon (2 hours 24 minutes, 234 km).
The road to Jebel Shams is pretty terrible. I had researched the route before I left and heard mixed reviews on whether you needed a 4x4 vehicle to drive up the mountain. While it can definitely be done, I would have gotten a 4x4 if I had to do this trip over again. The last 7-mile stretch of “road” up the mountain took me nearly 2 hours, passing through giant puddles of water and enormous potholes.
The view; however, was truly breathtaking. The enormous mountains and valleys were stunning and the sun was setting as I was making my way up the mountain, filling the sky with color.
Once I got to the top of the mountain, I slept in my car…and ended up narrowly avoiding a robbery attempt at 3:30 AM. If I had to do this over again, I would sleep at the Jebel Shams Resort, where I ended up parking my car at the front gate of the resort after my scare.
DAY 2: JEBEL SHAMS + WAHIBA SANDS
I didn’t get much sleep on Jebel Shams, but it ended up being totally worth it as the sun rose over the mountains. I stood on the edge of a cliff and watched as the sky turned from purple and blue to orange and pink.
The drive down the mountain went faster than I expected and I was at the meeting point for the Desert Nights Camp around noon. I parked my car at the Al Maha gas station and grabbed some snacks inside.
Less than 10 minutes later, the shuttle driver arrived to drive me and two Dutch travelers to camp. The road faded and sand dunes appeared on either side of us. Slowly, the giant white tents of camp appeared.
Our driver dropped us off at our rooms. I was totally wiped out from the night before, so I collapsed on my bed and napped until it was time to watch the sunset.
Sunset on the sand dunes was so quiet and peaceful. There was a gentle breeze that blew the sand across the dunes, almost making it look like the dunes were breathing. I ran barefoot up and down the dunes, finding more dunes appearing as I went. I picked a spot on top of the tallest dune and watched the sunset.
Once the sky began to go dark, we drove back to camp and were served an incredible dinner of skewered meats, fish, breads, and curries. After eating, I walked back to my tent under the stars.
DAY 3: WAHIBA SANDS + SUR
I woke up early and oddly starving. I made my way to the restaurant tent and filled up on fresh fruit and waffles. I flagged down a staff member and asked them if I could go sand boarding. They told me the driver would be ready in 30 minutes.
I went back to my tent to brush my teeth and grab my GoPro. A soft knock on my door let me know that it was time to go. I got in the SUV and we blasted off and up the sand dunes. I learned that in order for the SUVs to drive on sand, they let air out of the tires until it’s around 20 psi. This increases the surface area of the tires on the sand.
We got to the top of an enormous dune (I had been hoping we were going to start on a tiny bunny hill) and the guide got out, waxed the board, and handed it to me. I’ll be honest, I was terrified. I have terrible balance…I’m always tripping over things. I decided to start slowly, sliding down the dune like a sled. There was no way in hell I was going to stand up for my first go.
The ride was exhilarating and I found myself actually cheering out loud as I was zooming down the dune. I got to the bottom and the driver zipped down to collect me and take me back up to the top. (Thank GOD because the hill was massive and I would have died climbing up.) By the third time, I was feeling a little more brave. I stood up on the board and actually made it about halfway down before wiping out into the sand.
A little while later, I was back at camp and checking out. The shuttle took me back to my car and I started the journey to Sur. As I got closer and closer, I could feel the temperature change and began to taste the salt in the air. A group of palm trees lined the road, framing the entrance to Ras al Jinz turtle reserve.
I checked into my room, and took a short nap before grabbing dinner in the cafe. Included in the room rate is breakfast and both the 8:30 PM and 4:40 AM turtle tours. After dinner, it was nearly 8:30 AM, so I made my way into the waiting area that was filled with people. There were at least 150 people waiting for the tour, but luckily they start the tours with only the hotel guests.
We were packed onto a bus and shuttled down to the ocean. Only red lights are allowed, but we honestly didn’t need them with the full moon shining overhead. We were walking around the beach when we suddenly came upon a green turtle laying eggs. The turtle had dug a massive hole and was laying tons of eggs into it. After laying her eggs, she began to cover the eggs with sand. I was unprepared for this and got a mouthful of sand swept into my face.
DAY 4: SUR + WADI SHAB
After getting back to the hotel, I slept for a bit before it was time to wake up for the morning tour. Again, we made our way down to the beach and were lucky to see 11 turtles making their way back to the ocean. The massive lines you see in the sand are track marks from the turtles slowly pushing themselves into the ocean. Emphasis on slowly.
We walked back to the hotel, had breakfast, and again I was off to Wadi Shab.
To access Wadi Shab, you have to cross a small lake. There is a local group of people that operate boats that take you from the parking lot to the start of the wadi. Round trip tickets cost 200 baisa ($.50).
Once you’re dropped off at the entrance, there is really no clear path marked among the lush greenery. I followed these large black tubes, which carry drinking water from the wadi. Eventually, you have to climb up some rock to follow the path. There are no safety bars or anything separating you from the edge of the path and a 40 ft drop down into the crystal clear water.
After climbing countless rocks, I finally made it to one of the most scenic points. You can carry on further, swimming though a narrow crevice to get to a hidden waterfall, but I didn’t want to leave my stuff at the edge of the water unattended.
I didn’t really encounter too many people until I started making my way back. Once I got back to the parking lot, I saw that it had quadrupled in size. My advice to anyone planning on visiting this wadi is to go early!
I made my way back to Muscat and met up with Vincent and Celine, a Dutch couple I had met in the Desert Nights Camp. We drove to Muttrah Souk and walked around. Most travel guides I read made it sound like this was an absolute must to see. It reminded me of literally any other market I’ve ever been to. Lots and lots of similar stalls selling the same cheap souvenirs. We ended up getting hungry and leaving for dinner at an Egyptian restaurant in The Cave, a complex that had multiple restaurants. The night we were there there was a band playing live music.
I think we were all wiped because after grabbing ice cream, we decided to call it a night.
DAY 5: MUSCAT
I woke up around 7:30 AM and drove to Sukkar Cafe to pick up a coffee. I had seen photos of the cafe online and really loved the general vibe. I ordered an iced saffron latte which was absolute heaven.
Once I was sufficiently buzzed, I drove to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Note: the mosque is only open for non-muslim visitors Saturday-Thursday 8 AM - 11 AM. …so if you’re planning on visiting on a Friday or after 11 AM, you’re going to need to reschedule.
This mosque is enormous. You could easily spend a couple hours roaming around the grounds. And the place is so large that you hardly ever see any other tourists. I wandered around the grounds and eventually made my way into the men’s prayer hall, which is home to the second-largest chandelier in the world. The swarovski crystal chandelier weights 8.5 tons and has 600,000 crystals.
A couple hours later, I made my way back to my hotel to take advantage of the free breakfast. They had literally any breakfast item you could think of, with waiters walking around offering smoothie shots. I mostly drowned myself in fresh fruit and freshly squeezed orange juice.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around Oman, walking along the corniche, and even going to back to Sukkar Cafe to get a rose lemonade.
My flight home was scheduled to depart at 1:55 AM the following morning, so I made my way back to my hotel and had a quick nap before heading back to the airport.
THINGS TO KNOW
Getting an Omani visa is simple. Oman has an e-visa that you can apply for here: https://evisa.rop.gov.om. I paid 5 OMR ($13) for a 10-day visa, but they also have longer visas if needed.
Driving in Oman is super easy. They drive on the right side of the road and all of the roads were in great condition. It’s worth noting that you need to be very careful about speeding in Oman…which is very easy to do as a lot of the roads have a 45 MPH max. Along the major roads, there are speed cameras setup nearly every couple of miles, so be careful!
The internet in Oman is pretty great. I got a SIM card through Omantel and always had service, aside from on top of Jebel Shams and deep in Wadi Shab. One weird quirk about Oman is that video calling is banned. I tried FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp Messenger…nothing worked. However, this can easily be fixed by using a VPN.
I had read that Oman was a pretty conservative country in terms of dress. Throughout my road trip, I was always in a t-shirt and long pants. The only place I wore shorts / swimming trunks was on the beach for the turtle tour and while hiking Wadi Shab.
HI, I’M LOGAN
I’m a designer and traveler, currently based in the Windy City. In 2013, I graduated from the University of Westminster, London. I met so many lifelong friends while living abroad, and it happens to be where I developed an unquenchable thirst for travel.
When I’m not collecting stamps in my passport, I like brewing cold brew, writing music, and eating copious amounts of sour candy.
FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM: @LOGANNOLIN