In December of 2018, I spent a week driving around the jewel of the Middle East – Oman. I have done some absolutely phenomenal road trips in my life, and in one short week, Oman became one of the best places I had ever road tripped. Sinkholes, wadi’s, endless desert and incredible forts are just a handful of the reasons why Oman is amazing.
So, if you are intrigued, if you are planning a road trip or if Oman is on your travel wishlist, then keep on reading!
We flew directly to Muscat from Dubai, which was easy and uncomplicated. Australia is one of the many nationalities that do not require a visa to enter Oman. We got 14 days visa free, were stamped in and off to sleep! We got in quite late at night, so after picking up our rental car we made a beeline for our hotel.
The next morning, we checked out of the Centara Muscat and began our road trip!
Our first stop was the Bimmah Sinkhole. This water filled depression is about 20m deep and was formed due to collapsed limestone. It is a popular spot for a swim, but I will be honest, I didn’t go in further than my shins, purely because I wasn’t quite sure what acceptable swimming garb was in Oman at this point and I didn’t want to offend anyone!
As it turns out, that was a good move, the only bathers I had on underneath my clothes were a high-waisted bikini set, which absolutely would have been unacceptable. For those who plan to visit – make sure to don a one piece swimsuit, covered at least by a long t-shirt, but even better if you wear some shorts over the top too.
Our next stop was Wadi Shab. To get to the starting point of this hike involves a mandatory boat ride. Operating from 8am to 5pm, local Omani men operate boats from the parking area to the hike starting point for the price of one rial (1 OMR = $3.60 AUD). The ride only lasts a few minutes and look, in a pinch, one could easily swim across this section – but the water doesn’t exactly look inviting – you are definitely better off spending the moolah on the boat!
I must admit, I was woefully underprepared for this hike. I had read online that it was an easy 45 minute walk to the first swimming hole – but I gotta be honest, ‘easy’ is not the word I would use!
It wasn’t that I wasn’t fit enough to manage the hike, it was more that it requires a fair bit of scrambling across rocks and in many sections, these rocks are as slippery as eels. To make matters worse, I was wearing my old birkenstocks – which are super comfy, but anyone familiar with birkis will know that the grip on the soles of the shoes is quite quick to wear down.
Furthermore, we packed inadequate water, we didn’t carry sunscreen, we didn’t carry a waterproof bag for electronics and we visited so late in the day that we had to hustle back to make it for the last boat! As a result, we didn’t end up swimming in the pools at the end of the hike, which is one of my few travel regrets. When I return to Oman, this is something that I will absolutely be rectifying.
However, despite being underprepared and not going for a swim, the hike itself was still absolutely beautiful and I am so glad that I risked a few twisted ankles to complete it.
From Wadi Shab we drove to the coastal city of Sur where we checked into Zaki Hotel Apartments. The room was basic, but the sunset views were beautiful and the restaurant within this hotel is absolutely fantastic – try the mushroom masala, it’s incredible!
After a good nights sleep, it was time to finally explore Sur. Our first stop was the teeniest fort you’ve ever seen! It wasn’t all that exciting, but it did end up being a beautiful spot to admire the coastline.
Next was Sunaysilah Fort. I had it marked on my offline maps as a spot to visit, but really had no idea what to expect. At first, we weren’t really sure if we were allowed to enter as there weren’t any official signs or markings, but eventually we worked up the courage to just wander on in.
As soon as we made our we in, we were promptly greeted by the keeper of this fort, who just seemed excited to show us around! I have found online that the cost of entry is 500 baisa (1/2 a rial) which is around $1.80 AUD, but we were never asked to pay a cent.
Dating back to the 17th century, this fort was an important part of the defensive systems Sur had in place to protect itself, its overseas trades and the treasures within in.
In the modern day, just a few artefacts remain, but it is the fort itself that I found the most interesting. It was incredible to see all of the subtle yet effective defences built into this structure, and to gain a greater understanding of just how well fortified this castle was.
As an added bonus, the views from the fort were absolutely phenomenal!
Also dominating the Sur coastline is this gorgeous lighthouse.
It costs nothing to enter and is incredibly beautiful up close and from afar, it was a lovely surprise in the city.
After another fantastic meal at Zaki Hotel (seriously, I cannot recommend them enough) it was time for us to leave the gorgeous Sur coastline and head inland to the desert of Wahiba Sands.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the greatest time during this leg. The ex and I were in the midst of quite a row, the owner of the camp we stayed at only seemed interested in how much extra money he could gouge from us and I just wasn’t feeling myself.
Honestly, if it weren’t for this place providing one of the most gorgeous sunsets that I’ve ever seen, I don’t know if I could find much to redeem it. However, I have heard of people having much better experiences at different camps (and with better travel buddies) so I think that when I return to Oman this will be something that I need to give a second go.
The next morning, we left Wahiba Sands and headed north towards Nizwa, which is where I seemed to get back into the groove of things.
Nizwa is a stunningly ancient city, known for its souk and fort. The souk wasn’t open when we were there (major bummer, but hot tip, it doesn’t open until 4pm most days) but the fort was, and boy was it beautiful!
Dating back to the mid 17th century, Nizwa is an impressive defensive fort and the most visited monument in all of Oman.
Built above an underground steam and extending 30m below ground, the fort is a prime example of the incredible defenses used by Omani people in days long gone. Cannons guarding the entrance, cannons inside the 30m tall tower, false bottoms and murder holes (yep, that’s the real name for them – they are shafts above each door which can be used to pour boiling water or burning oil onto intruders – ouch) are just a few of the defenses that once guarded this fort and castle.
As an added bonus, the fort is also all kinds of pretty – the shapes, angles and shadows feel like an ever-changing canvas!
Entrance to the fort is 5 OMR (~$18 AUD) making it easily the most expensive place we visited in Oman – but it was definitely worth it!
I highly recommend visiting early in the morning – we did so and had the entire fort pretty much to ourselves! Also, the morning light provides a lot of shadows and shade through the fort, which was very much a blessing for me; at this point on the trip we were four months in and I had run out of sunscreen long long ago!
Later that afternoon we took a little walk up a hill on the main marina. It was a bit of a sketchy ascent (I definitely would’ve picked the wrong “trail” if it weren’t for some lovely locals who sent us in the right direction) but the views over the Muscat port were absolutely beautiful, and made the climb in the heat well worth the effort.
The following day would be our last in Oman and it is safe to say that we went out on an extremely high note.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in all of Oman. Constructed from over 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone and occupying an area of 430,000 sq ft – this mosque can hold in incredible 20,000 worshippers!
However, it isn’t just the sheer size that makes this mosque worth visiting – it is the stunning details and phenomenal architectural design.
I have visited many mosques over the years, but this one is easily one of my favourites. It is utterly unique and completely different from the mosques that I have marvelled at in places such as Iran and Turkey.
Entrance to the mosque is free, although it should be noted that women will need to be careful with what they wear. I donned a headscarf, long sleeve shirt and long pants, however upon entry my pants were deemed to be too tightly fitting and I was made to hire a chador. I can’t remember the cost but I do remember just regretting not wearing a long flowy skirt instead!
We spent several hours exploring this mosque. Firstly, it just keeps going and going, and then when you think you’ve seen everything – there’s actually more! – and secondly, we visited early in the morning and the light beaming down on the mosque was truly glorious. I took around 2000 photographs during our visit (not an exaggeration) because there were just so many angles and details to capture!
We departed Oman that evening. We had had an incredible week and I cannot wait to return one day; when I do, I will make sure to book a better camp in Wadi Shab, to bring more appropriate swimwear and to hire a 4×4 – I want to see Jebel Shams!
Where we travelled
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Centara Muscat Hotel: This lovely hotel has abundant parking and is incredibly comfortable. It is also really good value, you can get a room for around $75 AUD per night, which isn’t bad for a 4* offering! Click here to learn more or to book
Zaki Hotel Apartment: Zaki ended up being a fantastic option in Sur. Our apartment wasn’t pretty but it was spacious and comfortable! The restaurant is wonderful and the close proximity to its deliciousness was a huge bonus. You can get a one bedroom apartment for around $90 AUD per night. Click here to learn more or to book
Nizwa Residence Hotel Apartment: This hotel has lovely staff and super comfy beds, you can get a double room for around $90 AUD. Click here to learn more or to book
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 and M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 lenses
Remember: Bring Oman appropriate swimwear and be respectful of local customs