O - What???
What was that again? Oman? Where's that?
And why would you suggest such a destination for a road trip? People bring their family on road trips you know? Why don't you recommend New Zealand as a self drive destination instead???
Our 1L rental Suzuki made it up the Omani mountains.
Yes, I am recommending Oman as THE "Road Trip" destination every should try at some point in their life. Everyone, including those with families, with elderly folk or young kids.
Now, "The Girl" & I have probably self drove in a good number destinations across the world; in Australia, The USA, in Europe, Africa, Asia, and even in the Middle East. And after all that, I can declare, that as far as "Road Trip Destinations" go, Oman ranks right up there with the very best of them.
Exploring the country of Oman by car, is a truly incredible experience, and without doubt, the best way to visit this country.
Read on and you'll see why.
The general route we drove
Oman is a huge country. And I mean HUGE.
The country's main attractions are scattered a good distance apart, and because renting a car is really cheap and fuel costs next to nothing (it's the Middle East, duh), many people drive. As a tourist, your other option would taking a tour because public transport isn't getting you to the parts of the country worth experiencing.
This particular route we took is very comfortable for a week, and covers most of the Oman's main highlights. One of the major highlights we missed out was Salalah, in the south of Oman where the coast is supposed to be magnificent, but for that, you'd probably need about 10 days.
So, if you've got about a week, this itinerary will suffice. You'll get to experience the mountains, beaches, local markets, city, deserts and of course, trekking and swimming in the Wadi's.
Day 1 (Muscat)
View of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque from the gardens
We arrived at Muscat International Airport at 12:35pm, bought a local SIM Card for data (MapsMe), picked up our rental car, and headed straight to our hotel.
Once we had checked in, it was time to visit Muscat's (Oman's capital) No.1 attraction, and also the 3rd largest mosque in the world; The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
The entrance of the mosque
Wow. Just look at that.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque was absolutely stunning. Because it's only open to tourists/non Muslims between 8-11am (we arrived at 2pm), we could only walk around the gardens and view it from the outside.
I comforted myself by thinking "well, not everyone goes to Paris to climb the Eiffel Tower to the top. Many just stay at the bottom and take a selfie."
Another angle of the mosque
Still, we spent an hour (it's HUGE) walking around the gardens, snapping pictures, admiring the beauty of it all while hoping there was another way in; there wasn't.
By now, it was around 3pm in the afternoon and the heat was getting unbearable. It was time to seek refuge in one of the many shopping centers to enjoy some much needed air conditioning, Krispe Kreme donuts and a much needed drink before heading to the next major attraction, the Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace.
Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace
The Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace is the office of the ruler of Oman, something like our Istana in Singapore, but prettier. Tourist's aren't allowed in, but you can snap pictures without having to face the wrath of any guards.
View of Al Mirani Fort
Near the Royal Palace are another two of Muscat's key attractions, the Al Jalali & Al Mirani forts (in the pictures above and below).
We drove to a nice shady spot where we could sit and chill by the rocks as we watched Dhow's (local boats) sail by against the backdrop of the forts (closed to public), while soaking up the beauty of it all.
View of Al Jalali Fort
The Mutra Corniche
Next on our agenda was the Mutrah Corniche.
It was perfect for an evening stroll and watching the locals go about their day. We took the chance to pop by a money exchange and change some USD for Oman Rials before finally settled down at a cafe for an iced watermelon drink (no beers sold in public).
Here at the Mutrah Corniche is Muscat's most famous souk, the Mutrah Souk, the local market which is basically a maze of local shops where you can shop till you drop. We didn't take pictures here though, because we'd already experienced way better souks in our previous travels.
Nonetheless, if you've never wandered about and gotten lost in a souk before, the Mutrah Souk offers a decent enough experience. We spent the rest of the night smoking Shisha's and having a waterfront dinner right by the corniche, before driving back to our hotel.
Day 2 (Jebel Shams)
We've finally arrived after a 5 hour drive!
Today, we left the city of Muscat behind and headed for Jebel Shams, the Omani mountain range for some cold mountain air in our 1L Suzuki Maruti.
The route by MapsMe (not google maps) took us through some really awesome scenery. For the most part, the quality of roads were great, and the highways took us through the desert and a smattering of old towns, before finally hitting the dirt road.
I gritted my teeth, and silently prayed that our 1L Suzuki would be able to make the accent. The car shuddered as we drove over the rocky mountain slopes and the engine groaned as I shifted between 1st and 2nd gears to give the car a fighting chance to battle against the steep accent.
Think of it as driving up to Genting Highlands with twice the steepness and swap the nice asphalt road for a rocky mountain road; in a 1L car. Is a 4WD compulsory? Well, probably not, but highly recommended if you can an afford it.
The entrance to Sama Heights, our hotel at Jabel Shams
We finally arrived at our resort by noon, settled in and enjoyed the cool mountain air.
It was a pretty decent mountain resort (Sama Hights), no where near the best, but one of the more decent ones in the Jabel Shams region I believe (but with poor wifi). Still, it was nice to have no Whats-App messages flooding my phone for a change, and I actually felt like I was on holiday.
Free upgrade from a tent to a room!
As luck would have it, though we initially booked an Arabic Tent, but we got upgraded to a room because the hotel happened to be at 50% occupancy that very day.
We had lunch, refreshed ourselves, and prepared to set off for the highlight of Jebel Shams; a hike through the "Grand Canyon of the Middle East", also known as, the "Balcony Walk".
The start of the balcony walk
Jebel Shams is the highest mountain in Oman at around 3000m. Height wise, it's nothing on those we trekked in Nepal and altitude sickness was a non issue (Nepal was a nightmare for us).
The balcony walk is a 7km hike to and fro, and based on the unfit walkers we are (I fail IPPT 2.4km), it took us roughly 3 hours.
Meeting other tourists along the balcony walk. Pretty easy trek.
The "Balcony Walk" is safe enough even for kids and the views you get on the hike are awesome. It's not simply the "Grand Canyon of Oman", it's more like the "Grand Canyon of the Middle East".
We've been to a good many parts of the Middle East but nowhere came close to the canyon views here at Jebel Shams.
Posing with my Gaston Luga backpack. First time using it for real since they sponsored us.
No walking needed for this viewpoint. You can drive right up!
Still, as magnificent as the views are, it does get repetitive as you would expect from a 7km walk so if you don't want to walk a whole 3 hours, an hour and a half is good enough.
To complete the "Canyon experience", we had a persistent mountain goat which practically trod on me in an attempt to steal our "Oreo cookies" for its lunch. I never thought I'd ever be running from a goat, but I did (before more of its fellow goats arrived).
Day 3 (Niwza/Ibra)