The moment was finally here – we were gonna make a run for it. By ‘it’ I mean Oman of course. That underrated Arabian Gulf country nestled between Yemen and the Arabian Sea, which we only really knew about after a friend of ours moved there and started posting incredible photos of blue skies, azure seas, and crystal clear rock pools. But, whether from London or Berlin, it was kind of expensive to fly there for a short trip. But then in April when we booked our flight to Cape Town from Berlin via Doha, we immediately recognised our opportunity.
And we really only had to ask ourselves three basic questions:
A short one-hour flight from Doha, conveniently located en route? Yes please.
Visa on arrival for South Africans? Sign me up.
Three days of heat and sunshine after moving to Berlin in January? Overdue.
So we are here to tell you: You need to put Oman on your bucket list (friends and family especially because we are so tempted to move to Muscat). We would love to take two weeks to drive around Oman. Heck, we would actually legitimately love to move to Oman. But we had three nights, and we made the most of it. And this is what this post is about. All of this magic is possible over a weekend.
….Okay, a long-weekend.
THE ULTIMATE 3-NIGHT OMAN ROAD TRIP ITINERARY
*Disclaimer: we chose to maximise our time outside of Muscat, so the below itinerary won’t serve you too well if you’re staying in the capital. (We have exactly one recommendation for Muscat, and it’s to stay at this place on the beach)
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The Omanis unequivocally and unanimously love their king, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. His face is all over the place. He’s been king since the 1970s, when he took over from his father who was such an isolationist that people weren’t even allowed to wear sunglasses. And, get this: when he took over there was only 6 miles of paved road in the whole country, and no cars.
Which is crazy, because Muscat is a car-centric city. There are some public buses that serve the corniche, but mostly people drive in the biggest American 4×4’s you’ve ever seen.
But YOU DON’T NEED A 4-WHEEL DRIVE TO EXPLORE OMAN. Because Sultan Qaboos, who we love, had all the roads paved, so.
Oman is multicultural. Not to the extent of some of the other gulf countries, but there are a lot of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in Muscat and the other big towns, so expect lots of curries and biryanis next to your hummus and flat bread. All good news.
Muscat is big and modern and houses 50% of the Omani population. Most of the other towns are small, rural, far more traditional, and very small. Expect tea shops, small convenience stores, basic restaurants, and Islamic toilets. What else could you need?
Airbnb is the perfect way to snag affordable accommodation in and around the city.
BONUS: Follow this link to sign up and get £25 off your first stay! (We get a little something too – it’s a win-win!).
Cool off in the Bimmah Sink Hole, hike wadi shab and go turtle-watching at night.
About an hour and a half away from Muscat, and only half a kilometre from the coast, a large patch of limestone collapsed and formed the Bimmah Sinkhole. The water is crystal clear and the colour of dazzling jade. It is quite bizarre to walk up to it – there is literally no sign of it, until you reach the very edge, along which a small wall has been constructed, and you peer over to see the ground fall away with the deep, cool water at the end of a long stone stairway. The short walk from your car to the water will have you sweating in Omani heat, and dipping into the waters will make you think you’ve fallen into an oasis. And if you stay still for long enough you can enough some free fish pedicures, if that’s your thing.
Bimmah sinkhole is free, and there are changing rooms on site.
From there, take the coastal route towards Sur and feel free to stop whenever and wherever you want to gawk at the views, because Oman is basically just one big beach. There are beaches all along the limestone cliffs, some of which you have to climb down to, some of which you can just drive up to.
Along this route, not far from the sinkhole (ca. 25 minutes), is Wadi Shab. The wadi is a short and cheap boat trip (supposedly one or two Riyal) from Tiwi village, and about a 40-minute hike. Locals and tourists alike raved about this wadi to us, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to hike this time around. Saving this for later!
Sur is an old port city where they still build the wooden Omani dhows, and the road to Ras al Hadd – your next destination – runs through the city, and along its promenade. The sky was starting to turn soft and orange by the time we drove through Sur, so we pushed on so as to reach Ras al Hadd before sunset.
Ras al Hadd is right at the easternmost point of Oman, and is a lesser known destination for turtle-watching, making the experience profoundly more intimate. Oman is famous for being the destination of choice for 5 out of the 7 turtle species of the world. Mostly, people go to Ras al Jinz – the beach where the official turtle reserve for tourists are. You pay 180/200EUR a night, and then extra to go out and see the turtles. But, listen closely, this is the most important travel hack of this post:
SKIP RAS AL JINZ AND GO TO RAS AL HADD INSTEAD!
If you’re smart, you’ll book the same Airbnb as we did (ca. 50EUR), and have Salem, the host and local fisherman by trade, cook you dinner (catch of the day) and take you out to see the giant nesting turtles.
Going out with Salem to see the turtles on the beach was one of the most magical, surreal moments of our lives, so I’ve dedicated a hole other blog post about this experience. Read here to get a sense of this indescribable moment in time somewhere on a beach in Oman.
Check out this post for some photos of the creatures on the beach.
Pink Lagoons and Golden Dunes
On the morning of day 2, I discovered that Oman has pink lagoons, and was too excited about this. We’ve all seen those images of the pink lakes in Australia and Mexico and have wondered how crazy it would be to them in real life (or that’s just me?) – to think we were possibly in driving distance of seeing it made me anxious with wanderlust. Well, after what felt like an hour reading the same 5 articles on them (none of which actually gave the locations!), I gave up on trying to find them.
Fear not, eager traveler! Because in between the road from Ras al Hadd and Al Askarah (the next big town before you turn back onto the highway towards Muscat) I noticed a glimmer of pink in the corner of my eye just as we passed bridge. “Pink lakes!” I yelled, and Joel pumped the breaks. (What a team).
Now all you have to do is park your car (just anywhere), walk back towards the lagoons a couple of minutes, and watch the pink get even pinker as you get nearer and nearer. It is weird and wonderful, and it feels wild, because its not mapped and nobody is around. And besides some trash here and there (sigh), it’s a sight to see.
Scroll down for the exact location.
The Sharqiya Sands is a large desert with vast golden dunes, also known as the Wahiba sands. The bedouins live here and of course it is in order to spend a night in the desert!
To do it properly, you’ll book a camp further in the dunes and they’ll arrange a pickup with you from the nearest village, or you’ll have a 4X4 and the experience to be able to reach the camp yourself. However, since we were maximising our time (and we’ve spent a night in the Sahara desert before), we decided to stay in a Bedouin camp on the very edge of the desert, reachable by 2-wheel drive.
Al Reem Desert Camp
We booked a night’s stay with Al Reem Desert Camp the day of (which we found on airbnb), we were the only people there, and we felt like freaking royalty. We had the whole camp for ourselves! We watched the sunset from the dunes; we had what felt like a romantic candle-lit dinner for two; we cozied up next the campfire with tea; we watched the stars shimmer in the light of the moon. And after an air-conditioned sleep, we dragged ourselves out of bed for a golden sunrise over the Al Hajar Mountains. We left perfectly content with our on-the-edge-of-the-desert experience, and can easily recommend this camp to you. It’s the perfect option to save both time and money without sacrificing experience.
Wadi Bani Khalid
I was properly excited for this wadi by the time we left the camp. I had seen photos online and had imagined the paradisiacal oasis; the lush green palm trees offering cool shade; the sparkling emerald water a welcome respite to the scorching desert sun; the valley opening up to crystal clear water from a spring gushing all year round. These might well sound like just some exotic imaginations of a traveler silly with wanderlust, but Wadi Bani Khalid was something like this – just far, far better. There is no real way to describe this oasis. And it really is an oasis in the true sense of the word. The winding way through the rocky al Hajar mountains, atop which nothing seems to grow, and the dusty camels grazing like stray goats beside the road just emphasise the lavish green and rushing streams of the wadi when you finally, and suddenly, reach it.
Walk 10/15 minutes to the quieter, pools deeper in the valley, where there is ample shade from the rockface and greenery, and wade as much as your heart desires.
The single restaurant on site offers a delicious buffet lunch with for 10 Riyal. Fill up, dry off, and make your way back to Muscat.
Spend your last couple of hours in Muscat – going to the beach, watching the sunset, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. As per above disclaimer, we really don’t have any authority to recommend much city-wise (even though we had all the intentions to follow this blogger’s guide). We even ended up eating at an American burger chain called ‘Mooyah’ in a mall after we googled burger restaurants. (By the way, it was the bomb. We are so into Mooyah. We dream about the Big Moo M&M shake on the daily).
However, the one thing we can recommend, we can recommend highly:
A B&B right on the beach called Lana Villa. We found this gem on Airbnb (they are also on booking.com) and were sold right when they checked us into our room with a balcony overlooking the sea around sunset. It’s a sweet delight when Airbnb rooms are bigger and better than the pictures, and we struck Airbnb gold again with Lana Villa! Also, the breakfast is awesome and the coffee is real, which is a real bonus after you’ve been roadtripping Oman.
We have been taken aback by the beauty of Oman in a way that we haven’t been taken aback for a long time. Getting on the plane the next morning for our one-hour flight back to Doha, felt somehow wrong. We wanted to stay. For a whole while.
Our brief time in Oman may be epitomised by the surreality of going to see the turtles lay eggs in the moonlight of the Arabian sky – lots of not being able to believe our own eyes, lots of friendly locals going out of their way to be hospitable, lots of the kind of beauty that you didn’t even know you’ve always wanted to experience.