When you think of the Middle East, do you think of Oman? Oman is not your typical backpacker destination – and is overshadowed by more popular destinations like nearby Dubai and Jordan.
But visitors to Oman may be surprised by what they find – and this country is not to be underestimated.
You can swim in beautiful waterholes, roam through incredible restored forts, or head to the beach.
Check out my list of places to see in Oman – and how you can explore on a backpacker budget.
Bimmah Sinkhole is one of the best swimming stops in Oman – and it’s only about an hour’s drive from the capital Muscat.
Entry to the sinkhole is free, but try to go on a weekday (Sunday to Thursday) as it is a local’s favourite.
There’s dozens of wadis spread all across Oman – but one of the most accessible for those with a saloon car (2WD) is Wadi Shab.
Wadi Shab is located a little over an hour’s drive from the capital of Muscat – not far from Bimmah Sinkhole. With an early start, you can see both swimming holes in a day.
Parking is available where you catch a boat to the trailhead to Wadi Shab.
The boat across to the trailhead costs 1 OMR (about $3 USD) and then it’s a 45-minute hike to the waterhole.
The trail is fairly easy to follow and you may cross several streams so be prepared to get your feet wet.
Make sure you bring plenty of water, a towel, hat and sunscreen. The hike in is under full sun most of the time and can get very hot.
Visit Oman’s many restored forts
Oman is home to dozens of impressive forts, many of which have been restored.
My favourite was Bahla Fort, an expansive fort that you’ll likely spend hours exploring.
Nearby is Jibreen Castle, and you can also visit the Nizwa Fort – although it is a lot more expensive to enter than the other two historical monuments.
Entrance to Nizwa Fort is 5 OMR ($15 USD). Entrance to Jibreen Castle and Bahla Fort is 500 Baisa ($1.50 USD).
Roam local souqs
If you’re after souvenirs or Omani fruit or fish, then Oman’s souqs may be worth a visit.
Adjacent to Nizwa Fort is a large souq – not only good for shopping, but also photo opportunities.
You can also find a souq in Mutrah, in the capital of Muscat.
Visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
I’ve seen a lot of mosques after spending a month in Iran, but Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque greatly impressed me.
The symmetry in the mosque with its corridors and colourful niches are worth a look, as are the fabulously adorned prayer halls.
The mosque is open daily to visitors from 8am to 11am. Entry is free. You are required to dress modestly, and women are required to wear a headscarf to enter. You must also remove your shoes to enter the prayer halls.
Go beach hopping
Oman has plenty of beaches if you’re want to have a swim or enjoy a good book by the ocean.
Hiring a car is the easiest way to get around to Oman’s beaches.
Go fort spotting in Sur
Everywhere you look in the seaside town of Sur there seems to be a fort or a watchtower.
In Sur, you can also see ships under repair in dry dock, a local industry in these parts, as well as the beautifully restored Al Ayjah Lighthouse.
Sur is located about a 2.5 hour drive from Muscat.
Explore Old Muscat
Old Muscat is small and very walkable. It’s home to the Sultan’s Palace, which is heavily guarded and can’t be visited, but you can explore the beautiful gardens and boulevards in the surrounding area. There’s also plenty of forts in Old Muscat along the waterfront. Although many can’t be visited inside, you get a good view of most of them from the outside.
Make sure you also visit Mutrah Fort and Mutrah Souq, located about 2km from Old Muscat. You can get between the two on foot or by Bus #4.
Visit the village of Misfah Al Abriyeen
The picturesque mountain village of Misfah Al Aberyeen is worth a stop during your Omani road trip. This village is commonly referred to as an oasis town due to the lush palm tree gardens flowing down the mountainside.
There’s a marked walking trail through the palm trees leading you to a spectacular viewpoint looking down into a gorge and across to the surrounding mountains.
Misfah Al Abriyeen can be visited as part of a day trip from Muscat. You can visit Bahla and Nizwa Forts on the way to Misfah Al Abriyeen.
Travelling Oman on a budget
Oman is not geared towards backpackers and it is expensive. But there are several ways you can cut your costs down.
Stay at an AirBnB
There’s no hostels in Oman, and lots of fancy hotels – but luckily there are a few Airbnb apartments you can book. If you want to really keep your costs down, pick one with a kitchen and shop at local hypermarkets.
There’s plenty of hypermarkets in Oman such as Carrefour, Lulu or Mars, and many of them offer convenient, hot meals in their deli section such as fried chicken and pizza.
Hire a car
Hiring a car is going to be expensive but if you want to see Oman outside of Muscat, it is your cheapest option. Tours are possible but expensive. You can hire a saloon car or 4WD, but saloon cars are the cheapest option. The locations I suggest you visit above are all easily accessible in a saloon car via sealed roads.
Take the bus in Muscat
Most locals have a car so public transport is not well used, especially outside of the capital. Hire a car to see outside of Muscat, but get around by public bus when you’re exploring Muscat and Old Muscat.
Bus 4 is particularly useful to access Old Muscat.
It’s also possible to take a bus from Muscat International Airport to Ruwi Bus Station in Muscat. Many local bus routes start and terminate at Ruwi Bus Station.
Things You Should Know
- Oman is largely a desert and it can get very hot. Make sure you always carry at least a litre of water (more if you’re hiking), a hat and sunscreen.
- The best way to get around Oman is by hiring a car. Some locations are only accessible via 4WD, but many must see locations are accessible on sealed roads with a saloon car.
- Traffic jams are common in Muscat especially around peak hours so it’s best to try and leave the city for day trips early.
- Bus 2B takes you from Muscat International Airport to Ruwi Bus Station. Change to Bus 4 to reach Mutrah and Old Muscat. You can buy tickets on the bus (cash only).
- The official language in Oman is Arabic but English is widely spoken.