22nd March – 12th April 2018
We spent three weeks in Oman exploring its diverse landscape in a rented 4×4 Suzuki. This was our first country in the Middle East and we both really loved what we experienced here. Winding dirt tracks took us high up into the dry and dusty Hajar mountains where we saw scenery which conjured up images of moonscapes. We also ventured into Wahiba Sands, the red sand dunes of Oman’s northern desert, and explored the natural water parks created by the many wadis.
Having spent the last 9 months in Asia relying on buses and trains we enjoyed the freedom of having our own car. This not only meant we always had the luxury of an air conditioned car in a country that often hit temperatures of 35°C during the day but it also gave us the freedom to go where we want, see what we want, stay as long as we wanted and sleep wherever took our fancy. This task could seem daunting to some people but thankfully for us it was made ten times easier by ‘Oman Off Road’, a book by Explorer Publishing. This book, which became our Bible for Oman, detailed almost forty off road routes in the country. It also gave lots of information about what to see at each location, historical background and recommended camping spots. I would highly suggest buying this book for anyone who wants to go on a self drive adventure in Oman.
Food and Drink
As we were camping for most of our time in Oman we must admit that we did end up cooking a lot of food ourselves. We cooked porridge most mornings and either a simple pasta dish or a barbecue in the evenings. Our barbecues got better and better as the trip went on. We started to realise what foods were readily available and what could be stored in our small cool box for a couple of days. We perfected our burgers and by the end we had fresh buns filled not only with meat but aubergine, halloumi, cucumber and a fried egg! We also had to make sure we got our fruit intake and so most times we barbecued we also had chocolate bananas for pudding!
When we did eat out, cheap food was readily available from the coffee shops. These are in most towns and offer a variety of sandwiches, wraps and burgers often served with a portion of chips. We regularly stopped at one of these for lunch. The locals also used the coffee shops however instead of coming inside they would pull up in their car and honk their horn. The shop staff would then come out, take their order and bring the food out to them in their car. This would mean that during the whole process they could stay in the safety of their air conditioned vehicle. Turning almost every shop into an unofficial drive thru.
In addition to the coffee shops there are also numerous restaurants from different international cuisines. Oman has a very high percentage of expats, 45% of its population, therefore lots of restaurants cater to this varied market.
The peak of Jabal Shams is the highest in Oman and the easy (mostly) tarmac road offers some amazing views of the Western Hajars. The peak however is not why most people visit. The mountain range is better known as the home to Oman’s own ‘Grand Canyon’ created by Wadi An Nakhur. Right at the top you can peer over the steep ledge down one kilometer to the small village of Saab Bani Khamis at the bottom. Even whilst standing there it is hard to comprehend just how big the canyon is.
Jebel Shams also offers some fantastic trekking opportunities. We did the amazing ‘Balcony Walk’ which traverses the edge of the canyon about a third of the way down. I would highly recommend this as it adds a whole other perspective to this dramatic place. It is also not very hard as its not steep and only takes about 3 hours in total for the round-trip. Right at the far end of the walk is an abandoned stone village with some disused terraced plantations. It is hard to understand how a community existed in such a remote location half way up the edge of the isolated canyon.
You will also see from the photograph above that we camped here on the cliff edge. This was one of our favourite campsites from our whole time in Oman. In the early hours we woke to watch the sun rise over the mountains and cast its first light on the canyon walls. It was a very magical moment.
‘Oman Off Road’ – Route 05-07
Wadi Bani Khalid
This is an easily accessible wadi with some of the largest natural swimming pools we have seen in Oman, as well the option for the adventurous to do some more remote wadi exploring. The area can be separated into two distinct parts. The northern section is near the village of Muqil and has the large pool seen in the photo above. These big natural pools are very popular not only because they are very beautiful but also because there is space to sunbath under parasols, a restaurant to get food and good accessible parking. You can also follow the clear path up the wadi to try to find Muqil Cave. It’s only a very small opening and requires a head torch to explore. When the water levels are a bit higher we were told you can swim in a hidden pool inside the cave. Unfortunately when we were there there wasn’t enough water.
The second part of Wadi Bani Khalid is south from Bidah. This was deserted when we visited although it is officially part of the same wadi. Here you can do a wadi trek, something we would describe more accurately as a wadi exploration. The path is often not very clear however the main idea is to follow the route of the river and enjoy what you find. If you visit in the dry season you are not fighting your way down a cascading river. Instead you are normally walking along the edge of a stream, hopping from boulder to boulder. Often you get to a part where you can’t go any further without getting wet so you have to wade in to the beautiful clear pools and have a swim. It’s like a natural playground and here at Wadi Bani Khalid it is very beautiful with hidden pools and waterfalls the further you explore.
‘Oman Off Road’ – Route 32
Wadi Bani Awf (Snake Canyon)
The source of this wadi is high up in the Hajar mountains and takes you down over 2000m to the Batinah plain. The drive is an exhilarating off road route with very steep sections that definitely require four wheel drive. The wadi is also famous for Snake Canyon, a canyoning route for the adventurous. We took a day off from off road driving and joined a group doing the route. Traversing the very narrow slot canyon involved numerous adrenaline pumping jumps, some cold stretches of swimming and a long abseil. We would highly recommend it.
‘Oman Off Road’ – Route 17
Things we learnt
- Since the current sultan, Sayyid Qaboos bin Said Al Said, overthrew his father in 1970, Oman has gone through rapid change including huge development of the countries infrastructure. Prior to his reign there was only 10km of tarmac road in the whole of Oman, now there are thousands. Whilst driving we saw more and more roads being built. Road works signs often lined the roads warning ‘men at work’. Often there were no men to be seen and instead there would be life size models of worker with red flags as seen in the photo above. These roadside scarecrows made me chuckle.
- As we drove around we soon noticed that every single shop in the country must be required by law to have an English translation explaining what service they offer or what goods they sell. Sometimes these were quite short, Barber, but more often they were longer and more extravagant. Our favourite shop we saw had the following sign above the door: ‘Sale of ice cream and sweet corn’, what an interesting mix. We spent longer than we should of whilst driving around Oman looking for our favourite informative signs.
- The Omanis are infamous for speeding, especially out of the cities on some of the really quiet and dead straight roads. We’d often be cruising along at 120kph only for a local to fly past us. The most obvious result of everyone speeding all the time is that all towns have dozens of speedbumps. Most of the time these are well signed and coloured but occasionally you’d miss one and either slam your brakes on or occasionally fly over it, I’m glad we rented a 4×4.
Top three phrases/words
- Peace be unto you (Greeting) – As-Salaam–Alaikum ( السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ )
- Thank you – Shukran ( اﺮﻜﺷ )
- Peace be with you (Goodbye) – Ma’a salama ( مع السلامة )
Travel Statistics for Oman
Beers drank: 0 (each)
Beds slept in: 19 (each)
Bribes paid: 0
- Bus: 5
- Minibus: 1
- Boat: 2
- Taxi: 2
- Car: 18
Spending in Oman
Currency: Omani Rial
Currency Conversion: £1 = 0.55 OR
Number of days in country: 21
Breakdown of spending (together) –
Food & Beverage: £206.92
Total (together): £1,610.68
Total (per person): £805.34
Average Daily Spend (together): £76.70
Average Daily Spend (per person): £38.35
Note: ADS excludes all flights into and out of the country