Annchen

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Sometimes it’s daunting going to that bucket list destination you’ve always dreamed of! Where should you go, what should you do, or what should you not do!? Well, consider this your ultimate list of do’s and don’ts for Cappadocia, Turkey.

 

Do forego the fancy ‘cave hotel’ and opt for prime location in a real cave house.

The reason we love Cappadocia has a lot to do with with where we stayed. Sure, the incredible scenery, delectable Turkish food, and those hot air balloon rides all help, but staying out of town in this dirt cheap Airbnb really contextualised our experience as calming, unforgettable, unique, relaxing.

The first time we visited was in winter, and we were the only guests. The owner of the property waited up for us until 1am when we checked in, he roasted us chestnuts, he serenaded us on the sitar, we talked about and listened to music on Turkey’s independent radio station. We felt like we were visiting an old friend rather than being hosted by an airbnb stranger. 

The next time we stayed was in summer, and the mood was different. All the rooms (3 or 4) were booked out and there was staff to help run the place. And even though the old man, sadly, didn’t recognise us (I don’t know why we expected to be welcomed like lost children 3 years later..that’s on us), we still felt like we were returning somewhere warm and familiar.

Here’s why you should stay at Natureland Cave Hotel:

  1. You’ll be sleeping in the rooms of a 6th-century wine cellar. So that’s a casual THOUSANDS OF YEARS OLD.
  2. It’s a real cave. A lot of the fancy cave hotels in Göreme have rooms built out of the rock formations, i.e. the room is not necessarily a cave. Plus, Cappadocia was only declared a world heritage site in the 1980s, so people having been carving out homes up until then. Most of those hotels are modern carvings and adaptations of cave dwellings.
  3. It’s out of town. So you feel like you’re alone in the Cappadocian landscape, whilst being only a 15-minute walk from the town and a 5-minute walk from the Open Air Museum. Win-win!
  4. THIS IS THE VIEW  (scroll down) when you step out of your door. See that open space? That’s where the balloons take off every morning.

We’ve stayed at one of the nicer hotels in town once, and…it was nice. But there is no amount of amenities, or comfort, or breakfast spreads that will ever make up for the authenticity of the experience at Natureland, the quiet calm of the location, of waking up and hearing the horses run to the ranch below you, or having the hot air balloons take flight from what is basically your backyard.

You can book a room through booking.com, or airbnb (use this code for a £25 discount if you haven’t signed up for airbnb yet – which will go quite a long way at Natureland Cave Hotel).

Cappadocia views from Natureland Cave Hotel

This is what you’ll see when you step out your door at Natureland Cave Hotel. Not bad?

Cappadocia views at the Natureland Cave Hotel

Authentic cave hotel experience at Natureland Cave Hotel

Extensions to the cave has been kept to a minimum

The best location in Cappadocia: Natureland Cave Hotel

The viewing deck of Natureland Cave Hotel in Cappadocia

Natureland Cave Hotel has to be the most authentic cave hotel in cappadocia

Natureland Cave Hotel: like the Turkish cave version of a hobbit house. This is the real deal, y’all.

Cappadocia views from Natureland Cave Hotel

DON’T SLEEP IN!

This is probably the most important and well-known rule when it comes to getting the most out of Cappadocia. No matter where you’re staying or what you’re plans are, you have to get up at the crack of dawn to see the hundreds of balloons rise to the sky before sunrise. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and no, you will not get used to it.

There are viewing decks everywhere – but the best location is from just outside your door because I’ve convinced you to stay at Natureland Cave Hotel. But Cappadocia is kind of the wild west. You can pretty much go anywhere you want, and it’s all good views.

The #1 rule in cappadocia: get up early to watch the balloons!

The #1 rule in cappadocia: get up early to watch the balloons!

The #1 rule in cappadocia: get up early to watch the balloons!

The #1 rule in cappadocia: get up early to watch the balloons!

The #1 rule in cappadocia: get up early to watch the balloons!

 

DON’T UNDERRATE SUNSETS

With that said, one of the don’ts that people seem to do the most is to underrate sunsets. Sunsets change the Rose Valley from pink to orange to red, casting long shadows behind the alien rock formations. And then you must remember to turn around and see the silver moon cast its light.

There are two ways to do sunset.

  1. Relax at a viewing deck

The best sunset spot in Göreme is just above the Rose Valley, looking out over it. On google maps  – and it’s mapped fairly accurately – it comes up as Panoramic View Point. This the perfect spot – there are a few little stalls where you can buy dried and candied fruit, lots of tables and benches, some sofas, and throw cushions packed along the ridge where you can lounge and sunset (yes, that’s a verb now). There’s also a little kiosk called ‘Crazy Ali’ where you can order beer, freshly pressed juices and nargile. Bring your friends, some snacks, order an Efes, watch the sky go yellow and pink and blue.

Sunset as seen from the Panoramic View Point, Cappadocia

Panoramic View Point is kitted out in sofas and cushions for optimal sunsetting

Panoramic View Point is kitted out in sofas and cushions for optimal sunsetting

Sunsetting at Panoramic View Point, cappadocia

Sunsetting at Panoramic View Point, cappadocia

Sunset in the Rose Valley

Sunsetting at the Panoramic View Point, Cappadocia.

 

2. Go on a Quadbike sunset drive

This is a far less relaxing, far more adventurous way to experience sunsets in Cappadocia. The viewing point will be somewhere in the valley, so instead of an umbrella vantage point like above, you’ll get to see sunset through the caves and spires of the rose valley. 

Personally I like to lounge and drink when I sunset (there’s that verb again), so if you have to choose – I’d say do a quadbike adventure during the day, and head to Panoramic View Point for the views.

Sunset in the Rose Valley, Cappadocia.

 

DON’T GO TO THE OPEN AIR MUSEUM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY

This rule depends on the time of year you are visiting, but if you go in peak season – abide by this rule! Disregard if you’re visiting in or near winter.

By all means, you have to go to this museum! Think of it less as a museum and more of a condensed version of the sprawling landscape of Cappadocia presented in a bit-sized chunk. So if you’re only in town for a few nights, you absolutely should go.

But avoid mid-day if possible. We arrived around 11am to throngs of tourists crowding the security gate and ticket offices. Knowing that all the entrances to the caves inside are narrow, single-lane kind of situations, we stayed away and headed back to our accommodation, which is just a 5/6-minute walk down the hill, because, you know, we are staying at the best-located hotel in the area.

So after zipping around in quadbikes, we went back at 4pm and the difference was remarkable. Way, way less people. 

The Göreme Open Air Museum just after sunrise: we dipped in with our hot air balloon and got a view without any tourists.

The Göreme Open Air Museum just after sunrise: we dipped in with our hot air balloon and got a view without any tourists.

The Göreme Open Air Museum: Go when it's quiet so you can enjoy the narrow passages.

You’ll want to go when it’s quiet in order to enjoy narrow passages.

 

DO GET THE LAY OF THE LAND ON QUADBIKES OR HORSEBACK.

Speaking of quadbikes, this is another thing we would very highly recommend if you’re in Cappadocia for only a few nights. You’ll be able to see much more, must faster and get a better appreciation for the area on the whole.

You can go horseback riding during sunsets too, if you prefer a slower, quieter experience. The region of Cappadocia has historically been well-known for its horses, many even claiming that ‘Cappadocia’ derives from a Hittite word that means ‘Land of the Beautiful Horses.’ I would’ve loved to ride horses during our second visit, but when a horse bit my hand I took at as a message from the universe and back away slowly.

So we’ve went quadbiking twice, and we’ll go again! Besides ‘fun’ – here’s what else you should know:

Quadbiking in Cappadocia: What to Expect

  1. DUST. If you go in summer. You’ll be given a mouth mask and sunglasses. WEAR THEM.
  2. It’ll run you around 60 – 100 TL for your own bike, depending on the season.
  3. The guide is there only to guide you quadbike-wise. Do not expect any information. 
  4. You’ll make 4 or 5 photo stops, each for about 15 minutes;
  5. An hour tour might last more like 90 minutes. 

The famous cappadocia steeds

Cappadocia is historically famed for its beautiful horses

Cappadocia: quadbike tours will let you access out-of-town locations

Going on quadbike tours will take you to out-of-town locations in Cappadocia

Going on quadbike tours will take you to out-of-town locations like the shell of the ruins of this abandoned village built in caves.

Quadbiking in Cappadocia

Quadbiking in Cappadocia will afford you with quiet views

DO GO FOR A WALK IN ROSE VALLEY

Horseback riding and quad biking may allow you to see Cappadocia much faster, but still better is to go for a walk. Cappadocia is any hiker’s dream destination! There are so many different valleys to be explored, with very little (if any!?) rules about where you are and aren’t allowed to go.

If you’re short on time and have to choose one, go walk in the rose valley. One of the best things about hiking around Cappadocia is getting to see how the locals still make use of caves carved hundreds, even thousands of years ago: as homes, as stables, as cattle ranches, as garages. Cappadocia is also largely a self-sustaining community, so you’ll see tons of small orchards, vegetable patches and vineyards. 

Besides a deeper look at contemporary Cappadocian life, the landscape is also littered with ancient cave homes and churches, complete with fading murals – all unmarked, and all just free to be explored.

Self-sustained farming in the Rose Valley, cappadocia

Discover abandoned cave homes in the Rose valley

Contemporary and ancient life in cappadocia

Explore the pre-modern Cappadocia caves in the Rose Valley

Go for hikes and see how the locals make use of the landscape in cappadocia

Go for hikes and see how the locals make use of the landscape in cappadocia

Go for hikes and see how the locals make use of the landscape in cappadocia

 

DO TREAT YO SELF!

One of the most magical, unforgettable, surreal, inspiring things we’ve ever done, ever. Besides these adjectives, hot air balloon riding in Cappadocia is mostly indescribable, so check out our photo posts to see what I mean. If you’re going to spend money on any excursion-type thing in your life, ever – this should be in the top three of your list.

A 60-minute ride (60 minutes spent in the air), will cost in between 100EUR (in winter) and 170EUR per person (in season).

A Cappadocia Must: Splurging on a hot air balloon ride

 

DO GET OUT OF Göreme (AND DO RENT THAT CAR)

First of all, I wouldn’t go to Cappadocia without a car. Sure, you could. There is enough to see within walking distance in Göreme, and there are organised tours, and taxis. But renting a car is cheap! And so convenient. There is no traffic in Cappadocia and there’s usually a parking spot nearby. I can think of so many cons with not having a car, and non with having one. So.

Then, when you have that car, drive to the Ihlara Valley. It’s an hour and 20 minutes away, and it is where the 8th-century Selime Monastery is – an entire religious community’s dwelling, including the chapel, the church, the school, and the winery, carved into a the rock. We loved Selime Monastery. In fact, we enjoyed it way more than the Open Air Museum. It’s cheaper, quieter, calmer, and offers incredible views over the valley. 

The Selime Monastery is out of town, but worth the drive.

Cappadocia: Selime Monastery carved into rocks

Cappadocia: Ancient murals of the Selime Monastery carved into rocks

Cappadocia: Selime Monastery can make you feel a bit like Indiana Jones or something!

Cappadocia: Selime Monastery is a out of town gem

When you follow the road to Ihlara village and cross a little bridge, you will soon see an unassuming lookout point on your left. Stop the car and take in the enormous Ihlara gorge:

Cappadocia: The incredible Ihlara gorge

 

DO NOT SIT DOWN AT THAT FIRST TOURISTY RESTAURANT YOU SEE

We were pretty hungry by the time we had seen and done Selime Monastery and the Ihlara gorge. And we almost made a huge mistake. There is one big restaurant in Ihlara village right on the river, right by the bridge, called ‘STAR’. We were so hungry we almost stayed here, but after seeing tour guide after tour guide leading busloads of people in, we backed away slowly. Which worked out perfectly, because we found this gem. 

Now, imagine this: a bubbling creek, dappled sunshine, lush green overhanging trees, and, if you can, a litter of puppies. No, seriously (to be fair, there are Anatolian Sheepdog puppies EVERYWHERE in Anatolia, so not really the restaurant’s doing).

And along and over the river, wooden decks serve as individual seating areas, decked out with Turkish carpets and cushions.

This is where we spent a long lazy lunch along with other local tourists and families, before a dark cloud rolled in and we quickly paid our bill to seek cover, after kicking ourselves for not choosing a deck with a roof.

How to get there:

There are two or three restaurants that are doing the same thing – the most popular being Aslan. It’s pretty simple getting there.

  • Head back towards Selime/Göreme/Aksaray the way you came
  • When you’re out of Ihlara village (it’s so small it’ll be seconds), take the first right
  • This will take you down the valley via two/three switchbacks
  • At the bottom of the road you’ll reach a teeny tiny parking lot; it was super busy when we got there!
  • If you make a sharp left, there are more spots to park along the river. Just beware! It can be really frustrating getting back out again – it’s a single lane and parked cars cause quite a bit of congestion. But it’s so worth it! 
  • Skip the first one or two restaurants – hold out until you see those wooden decks!

Hold out for the hidden gems where the locals go!

Take a lazy floating lunch at Aslan restaurant

Take a lazy floating lunch at Aslan restaurant

Cappadocia: The perfect lunch setting!

Cappadocia is in the Turkish region of Anatolia, so expect lots of Anatolian sheepdog puppies!

 

DON’T FORGET TO EAT MANTI

Speaking about eating, Manti is an Anatolian specialty, and it is one of my favourite meals ever. Sure, you can get in Istanbul or Ankara or Antalya, but it is especially delicious in Cappadocia. Think of Manti as Turkish ravioli traditionally stuffed with spiced meat and topped with a spicy yogurt sauce.

Our favourite plate of Manti (yes, ever) is served by Anatolian Kitchen Restoran in Göreme.

Manti is a regional specialty in central Turkey

 

DO VEER OFF THE MAIN DRAG FOR FOOD

Turkish food is incredible – every single time. And the great thing about it is that it’s delicious everywhere! So while we do have our favourite places for certain dishes, it’s pretty much safe to say you’re gonna have a great plate of food wherever you go.

But veer off the main drag in Göreme and go to Omurca Art Cave Café if you want a unique experience. Stepping into the restaurant will make you feel like you’re stepping into an Aladdin’s cave, filled with rugs and pillows and mismatched chairs and swings and lanterns and all kinds of interesting, colourful things. Oh, and cats. There are tons of cats – like, an unusual amount, even for Turkey.

The menu is super simple. It reads something like: ‘chicken, köfte, pork, chicken, chicken, manti’ – basically a list of just the main ingredients. The owner/chef will go through the menu with you and then he and his friend make sure you have enough wine or tea before he goes and cooks it. It’s a two-man operation, so the food takes a while, but it’s worth the wait! 

Omurca Art Cave Café in Cappadocia

Omurca Art Cave Café in Cappadocia is a two-man operation and it's well worth the wait!

My mom got cozy and got snuggled by a cat and tucked in by the owner! Now, that’s service. 

 

DO NOT GO INTO THE UNDERGROUND CITIES IF YOU’RE CLAUSTROPHOBIC

Visiting any of the underground cities is actually mind-blowing. We went to the Kaymaklı underground city with four or five accessible underground floors, all connected with tiny little tunnels. We were going to just head in ourselves, but a guide convinced us to hire him (of course he did), and the experience was better because of it (there is no information down there). He was also the shortest little man ever, which served him well, because the tunnels are long, narrow, dark and the ceilings are very, very low. I am of average height (ca. 170cm) and half-squatted in most of the rooms and all of the tunnels. If you had any anxiety about enclosed spaces, I would give this one a skip.

We also went in winter, meaning that besides ourselves, there were maybe 12 other tourists there. I really wouldn’t want to be down there in peak season with a ton of tour groups. Because it’s narrow in there, it’s also a one-way kind of deal – backtracking is strongly discouraged when there are crowds.

The Kaymaklı underground city in Cappadocia should be avoided if you're claustrophobic.

 

DO EXPLORE ON THE ROADS LESS TRAVELED

While we strongly recommend staying just outside of the town centre at the most authentic cave home ever, you definitely should take some morning walks in town. But don’t stay in the main drag where all the shop and restaurants are! Work them calves a bit and up the hills and down the winding little roads; this is where you’ll see how people have transformed these rock formations into their urban cave dwellings. If you want to take photos, go in the early morning. This is when the locals are still snoozing or very slowly setting up shop, and all the tourists who woke up for the sunrise balloon show have gone back to bed or to breakfast.

Cappadocia: the charming cave town of Göreme

Cappadocia: the charming cave town of Göreme

Cappadocia: the charming cave town of Göreme

AND FINALLY

DO GO BACK IN DIFFERENT SEASONS

DO NOT make the mistake and think Cappadocia is fit for one season only. The peak season is generally spring (end of April to June) and end of summer/early autumn (September and November). The temperature is warm, but not too hot, the nights are still cool, very little to no rain, and it is very rarely windy at dawn, which is of course a major factor when you’re planning on treating yo self to that hot air balloon ride.

We’ve gone in the spring, and it is gorgeous: sprawling green hills, flowers in bloom, stunning weather, lively atmosphere. It was perfect.

We’ve also gone in winter (end of November), and we absolutely LOVED it. The first of the snows had brushed the strange valley in a light dusting of snow, even when some trees were still wearing their autumn colours; the restaurants and caves were glowing with the warmth of their coal-stoves; and best of all, we were the only tourists around and sunrise was way, way later so we didn’t have to get up at 4am to get to our balloon like we had to in spring. It was cold and cosy and quiet and wonderful.

Cappadocia changes drastically between seasons; I almost didn’t recognise it with all the budding trees and green plantations when we came back the second time! And the whole experience is something else too. So if you’ve been in winter, come back to see how lush and lively it can be. If you’ve been in spring, come back to experience the utter calm of this bizarre landscape without people.

 

Cappadocia is a different experience in each season

Cappadocia changes a lot between season. These two places are just a few metres away from each other, taken early winter and early spring.

Cappadocia in springtime

Cappadocia in wintertime

 

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CAPPADOCIA: The ultimate list of do's and don'ts when you're traveling to Cappadocia for the first time

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Where Paris Meets Berlin: Bucharest Cityscape in Photos

Little Paris Meets New Berlin

The upside of running from the Schengen visa overlords is that we kind of had to travel to all kinds of places we would otherwise not have considered. One of them was Bucharest, the capital Romania, a beautiful country in the shadow of vampire myths and communist dictatorship. My indifference to Bucharest quickly morphed into intrigue as we exited the airport and drove past…the Arc de Triomphe??? No seriously. A major case of déjà vu as we entered the traffic circle and zipped around it.

Wait, what?

Turns out, Bucharest had a building spree in between the two world wars and outfitted their city in Parisian style administrative buildings, apartment blocks, libraries, hospitals, you name it. This and the elite’s penchant to greet each other in French earned Bucharest the nickname of ‘Little Paris’.

Much of this architectural splendour was destroyed under the rule of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, who had 8km² of the city centre razed to make way for communist-style architectural replacements. (Even though Ceaușescu personal taste in decorating was super extravagant – check out his house)

What remains today is a pastiche of architectural styles – from neoclassical, to soviet; from medieval Romanian, to retro medieval Romanian, from Parisian art-nouveau to contemporary; all with a filter of the cool grit and grunge that Berlin is famous for – to which Bucharest owes its second nickname: ‘the New Berlin.’

It’s an apt way to think of Bucharest: Little Paris meets new Berlin. But, while it has some of the architectural charm of Paris and much of the schmutz and cultural cool of Berlin, it is also distinctly unique in spirit.

What I loved most about visiting Bucharest was roaming the streets with my camera and taking in this decadent, crumbling, staunch, vibrant, gritty, and charming cityscape – occasionally popping into a bookstore along the way (there are many…Bucharest is totally a book lover’s city).

Think Paris meets Berlin when you think of Bucharest's cityscape.

Think Paris meets Berlin when you think of Bucharest's cityscape.

Think Paris meets Berlin when you think of Bucharest's cityscape.

Think Paris meets Berlin when you think of Bucharest's cityscape.

Think Paris meets Berlin when you think of Bucharest's cityscape.

Think Paris meets Berlin when you think of Bucharest's cityscape.

Think Paris meets Berlin when you think of Bucharest's cityscape.

On the left is the courtyard of Nicolae Ceaușescu's residence, on the right another decrepit mansion

Parisian flair meets Berlin grunge in Bucharest

Bucharest cityscape

Paris? Nope. Bucharest.

Piata Romania in Bucharest at night

 

Where To Stay

Piața Romană (the Roman Square) is the perfect location for a Bucharest city break. We stayed in a cool little Airbnb with an unbeatable view right on the circle. From there it’s a 15-minute stroll to the quaint old town with its cobble stone streets and charming Parisian alleyways. It’s also the perfect location for city walks in and around this eclectic city centre, with lots of artisan coffee shops, street-side pastry stalls and restaurants around.

Find the flat on airbnb here and use this £25 discount code if you haven’t signed up for Airbnb yet, which you absolutely have to, because how are you even traveling without it?

Bucharest Airbnb in the city centre

Airbnb with a view in the city centre of Bucharest

Paris meets Berlin in Bucharest

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Ever wondered what the urban palace of the leader of one of the most repressive totalitarian governments in the history of the modern world looked like?

Casa Ceaușescu (or the Ceaușescu mansion, or the Primăverii Palace) was the private residence of Romania’s head of state during the latter half of the 20th century, Nicolae Ceaușescu. I love a good house museum, because it presents to its visitors a moment frozen in time (give or take a few ‘no touch’ signs), a space reflecting the character, routines, tastes, and hobbies of its inhabitants, but leaving the imagined way of moving around and living in its rooms up to you. And when the private quarters of a particularly influential and problematic individual are presented quite frankly and unproblematically, a house museum can feel rather uncanny – which is, I think, kind of a fun feeling!

Think dark polished woods, marble staircases, lots of gold, a casual home theatre, an indoor garden, a closet bursting with fur coats, and – best of all – a spectacular gold and pink bathroom.

Casa Ceaușescu is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10am – 5pm

It can only be visited with a tour in English or Romanian, but the tours leave quite often (we only had to wait about 10 minutes) and the groups are small

A standard ticket will set you back 10EUR, and is payable by cash or card.

Check out this post to see how regular people live in Bucharest, and Nicolae Ceaușescu’s architectural influence on the city of Bucharest.

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Most people will wait for the perfect moment when all the stars align before they set foot out the door. Do I have enough time? Am I really ready for a big adventure? Do I feel like enduring a long-haul flight? Is this really a season in my life I should be doing something else?

Not my mom. She makes time. She asks if the adventure is ready for her. She grits her teeth and makes the long journey (even when it takes multiple tries to get a seat on the plane). She kicks ‘seasons’ to the curb. My mom makes the moment happen.

We mentioned to my mom that we will be revisiting Cappadocia during a Schengen visa-run to Turkey. We would be there for a weekend, and said ‘you could come if you want?’ She said she’ll think about it and came back to us soon after. ‘I’m in,’ she said. But she had Thursday evening until Monday night.

She packed her carry-on and traveled all the way from South Africa to Turkey for the long weekend so she could chase her bucket list adventure of hot air ballooning in Cappadocia and she shared the moment with me. She had one single day without boarding a flight, and she was back at work on Tuesday morning. Before she bought her tickets we asked her if she’s sure she wants to come for such a short time, to which she replied, “if you keep waiting for the perfect time, you’ll end up waiting forever and never doing it.”

It was a whirlwind trip, but it’s moment like these that take your breath away. When the sunrise has made everything quiet and you’re floating 3000 feet in the air with someone you love.

Here’s to the dreamers that make their dreams happen, and to another adventure with my mom.

For more inspiration and a little bit of what the experience is like, check out our photo post from the previous trip. 

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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.

Oman coastline

You’re gonna want to road trip in Oman. Note: I did not edit the colours or saturation of this photo. #nofilter y’all.

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!).

 

DAY 1

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.

The Bimmah Sinkhole in Oman, only an hour and a half away from Muscat and right on the Omani coast

Taking a dip in the Bimmah Sinkhole is a must whenever you're in Muscat

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!

You can catch a boat from the locals to get deeper into the valley and hike in wadi shab.

Catch a boat from a local to hike back in the valleys of Wadi Shab

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.

Ras al Hadd beach, Oman. This is *the* spot to see giant nesting sea turtles.

Ras al Hadd beach *Insert giant turtles here* (see link above)

 

DAY 2

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.

One of Oman's illusive pink lagoons.

One of Oman's illusive pink lagoons.

Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit

Wahiba Sands

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.

Stay in a Bedouin tent in the desert in Oman, Al Reem Desert Camp

Omani Bedouin tea around the camp fire.

Stargazing in the desert in Oman

Stay with Bedouins in the Wahiba Sands, Oman

Watching the sunrise on the edge of the desert, Oman

Al Reem Desert Camp, Oman

Al Reem Desert Camp, Oman

Al Reem Desert Camp, Oman

Al Reem Desert Camp, Oman

DAY 3

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.

Wadi Bani Khalid is a true oasis in Oman

Oasis life, Oman

The developments around wadi bani khalid

 

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.

 

Wadi bani Khalid, Oman

Wadi bani Khalid, Oman

Wadi bani Khalid, Oman

We finally stopped to swim in the top pool in this picture, which is where we took the photos below.

Wadi bani Khalid, Oman

Wadi bani Khalid, Oman

And don’t forget your floaty! (Our number one thing we travel with besides money and passports)

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.

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. 

 

Sunset in Muscat, Oman

One last sunset on a Muscat beach right in front of Lana Villa.

 

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.

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