Oman: Adventure Guide

Adventuring in Oman is as good as it gets.  Natural beauty and exploration potential abounds, enhanced by a culture as beautiful as any I’ve encountered in my global travels.  Rent a 4×4, camp or stay in AirBnB’s/hotels, and enjoy the experience!!

Explore the map below for adventure ideas, organized by hiking/adventure, wadi exploration, and castles/ruins . . . and peruse the stories!

Here you can find the best hiking trails in Oman, the best wadis to explore, and some cool ruins, forts, & castles to check out!!!

General tips:

  • Oman is an overwhelmingly beautiful and hospitable place – a superb travel destination that offers a wonderful combination of culture/history, adventure, and connecting with local people.  
  • Everywhere we went we felt welcome and very safe. 
  • Rental cars often have 250km/day limits on 4×4, but we found a reasonable one through Rhino Cars that didn’t have a mileage restriction.  It’s worth having 4×4 as it presents a lot of options for exploring, and takes some stress out of getting places.  
  • Waze/google maps are mostly reliable but Oman is one of the only places I’ve been that the GPS is actually wrong.  It’s worth getting a good old-fashioned road map if you can find one so you can truth check Waze/google maps
  • AirBnB is a great option.  Much cheaper than hotels and some really cool places.  
  • Camping is legal pretty much anywhere – private property is pretty obvious given privacy walls and fencing.  Most natural attraction areas have defined camping spots, and it’s quite popular among locals.
  • Eating in International hotels is probably 3-5 times more expensive – if you’re on a budget, seek local places!
  • How to buy butane in Oman: Butane can be purchased at hypermarkets (Lulu) although it has a different connection than US stoves, so we ended up buying a stove locally as well.  We did see a camping store in the Wave in Muscat that might have had different/better options, but we didn’t go in to verify. For actual backpacking trips, this could be a somewhat limiting factor as the stove didn’t seem overly robust.  
  • The ministry of tourism publishes trekking guides – sure wish we knew about this before our trip vs. figuring it out after!!!  
  • Laundry in Muscat seems to be all dry cleaning – we were able to negotiate overnight service

A week in Oman 

In April of 2018, my friend Adrienne and I spent a week exploring Oman . . . we put in a lot of miles and covered some really cool territory.  Here’s the itinerary in case it helps you plan your own adventure road trip!

A week in Oman Day 1 – Bimah Sinkhole and Wahiba Sands

A week in Oman – Day 2 – Wahiba sands to Nizwa, including Wadi Bani Khalid, Al Mudhareib, overnight in Nizwa

A week in Oman – Day 3 – Nizwa souq/fort and Al Hamra

A week in Oman – Day 4 – Muscat to Jabal Al Akhdar via Wadi Qurai

A week in Oman – Day 5 – Jabal Al Akhdar trekking to Jabal Al Shams

A week in Oman – Day 6 – Jabal Al Shams to Bahla to Ibri/Al Araqi

A week in Oman – Day 7 – Daminiyat Islands SCUBA, exploring the expat community of The Wave, camping in the Sawadi Islands

A week in Oman – Day 8 – Rustaq Fort, Wadi Bani Auf – Little Snake Canyon, back to Muscat

Jabal Al Shams

  • While there’s no checkpoint like Jabal Al Akhdar, a 4×4 is very beneficial on this drive!  It starts paved and then turns to dirt. It’s ultimately much longer than we expected, but if you keep going up and following the signs (when you see them – don’t expect to see them as often as you’d like!), then you’ll ultimately arrive. It’s about an hour and 20 mins to where the road ends.
  • To find the W-6 Canyon Rim trail, continue driving past the crafts booths and onto the dirt road, following it as it descends to a village and ‘parking lot.’  You’ll pass the camping area on the way, which is quite worthwhile to sleep at! With all the goats and the wind, I wouldn’t setup camp and leave it though. So, it could be difficult if it’s crowded to get a spot late in the day.
  • We did the canyon rim trail in the last 2 hours of the day, and it took us just over 2 hours to get all the way to the cave and back, at an enjoyable pace.  Doing this in the last light of the day meant we had the trail to ourselves and truly amazing light over the Grand Canyon of Arabia/Wadi Ghul, which is a truly spectacular place
  • We actually had no idea there was a cave at the end, until some other hikers told us about it . . . totally worthwhile.  The trail markers/worn trail essentially end at the village, but continue as long as you can until you start to see some traveled paths up and to your left . . . Look for goats in trees!
  • from the cave, there’s actually a via ferrata the can be done, although lacking climbing gear (and daylight) we didn’t try.  We met some expat tourists that said it was pretty cool, once you got above the horrible scree field from the cave area.
  • The village ruins are super interesting and a really cool bonus to an already stunning hike.  This is totally worthwhile, especially since it’s not overly challenging (that said, it’s still a hike, so don’t get sucked into thinking it’s just an easy walk!)
  • We camped on the canyon rim, which was stunning.  We kept most things in the car (including all food) due to the goats, but since it’s car camping it was no issue.  We were there midweek so crowds weren’t a problem, but I could see how it would get crowded and compromise the nature experience a bit.  That said, there were so many locals, it might make for a cool cultural experience instead.
  • The next morning, we started up the W-4 trail to the summit, but actually quit 1.5 hours into it because an option to visit friends came up.  That said, it’s not much of a trail and I’m not sure it felt totally worth the investment of a whole day if you’re on a short trip. If a resident, then I’m sure it would be worth it!

 

A week in Oman – Day 6 – Jabal Al Shams to Bahla to Ibri/Al Araqi

 

Bahla Fort

  • A UNESCO World Heritage site, we couldn’t help but stop for a quick exploration on our way to Ibri and it was well worth it
  • What it lacks in the exhibits like Nizwa Fort, Bahla offers lack of infrastructure which manifests as authenticity
  • We explored like children, following maze-like hallways, imagining how spaces were used with just enough signage to give us a hint but not enough to stifle imagination with all the ‘facts’. There is no restricted access, so climbing ladders and stairs to the top of the fort is possible and worth it!
  • It felt like an actual fort.  Totally go here. And yet, a solid hour was pretty much enough to get our exploration fix and not get over-saturated with forts!

 

Al Araqi with an Omani family

  • Since I work in Oman, I was fortunate that a friend offered the invitation to come to his home, enjoy Omani meals, meet his family, and be shown the general area.  It was a gem of a day, in all the ways a day can be a gem.
    • The extended family joined, and were all so warm and friendly
    • We ate amazing food, maybe too much, but couldn’t stand to refuse considering how amazing it all was!
    • Adrienne and the children played a very festive game of ‘rock paper scissors’ – another classic way we are more similar than different.  
  • Mohammed (my friend) took us on a great tour of the area, showing us his land with a garden, the sand dunes nearby town, more camels than we saw all trip, more amazing ruins, lessons of history – both the long-ago kind and the kind that’s actually occurred in his lifespan.  
    • Oman is an amazing country in transition.  In the last 40 years of the current Sultan Qaboos,  the country has focused on becoming a modern society with world class education, health care, society, and economy.  Mohammed remembers the one tv in town. A time when the town had 2 cars total for transport to nearby Ibri. A time when there was only a small clinic with only trailing doctors.  A time when there was no school. When the Sultan came and demanded that one be formed in 2 weeks and it was constructed of tents, and classes were held under the date trees and a time when the real school was built and he was one of the first students.  
    • The ‘progress’ is palpable as essentially all of the homes appear recently built, a manifestation of the government land grant that gives each person (man?) 600 sq meters of land in proximity to their village of birth, simultaneously maintaining traditional lifestyles while amplifying the standard of living.
    • We visited the bat ruins, which are considered to be old tombs.  We were so thankful to be guided there, in recognition that they don’t appear super notable and we would have surely gotten lost and irritated trying to find them!
  • We enjoyed another amazing dinner meal with the family, before heading back to Muscat for our SCUBA adventure the next day, exhausted from an amazing day! The drive from Ibri to Muscat is all on the highway and very easy. 

 

A week in Oman – Day 7 – Daminiyat Islands SCUBA, exploring the expat community of The Wave, camping in the Sawadi Islands

 

SCUBA Daminiyat Islands

  • We weren’t made of the thing that could be so close to amazing SCUBA and not indulge!  So we found Pro Scuba based out of Seeb area, and enjoyed a very different and yet no-less-amazing adventure
  • We did 2 dives, three sisters and black tip reef.  The first was deeper and had much better clarity.  It’s difficult to tell if the second was less clear due to the wind kicking up, being shallower, or being on a different aspect of the island
  • regardless, both were super cool – beautiful coral, tons of fish life, eels, rays, blowfish, all the things.  
  • Highly recommended.  Meeting at 8am, we took off about 9ish I’d guess, 40 min boat ride, sandwiches between dives, and back around 2pm.  Thankfully there was a shower onsite, so it was no big deal that we didn’t’ have a hotel to go back to and clean the salt off.

 

The Wave 

  • Coffee shops, reprieve of conservative dress standards, international cuisine. Perhaps not Omani, but a cultural experience all the same, and nice to eat ‘familiar’ food

 

Sawadi

  • We were in the mood to camp, and our dive master suggested his hometown of Sawadi, offering to arrange a boat to take us camping and snorkeling in the islands just offshore.  Never ones to refuse adventure, we decided to go for it! After all, it was only 40 minutes from the Wave.
  • Adrienne snorkeled with Ali for a night snorkel with the promise of octopus sightings, but I was content to chill onshore, and was a bit validated that they didn’t see octopi anyhow!
  • The sunset was amazing, as were views of the island fort nearby.  It was so hot we slept on a tarp only, without sleeping bags. The only issue was mice, clearly accustomed to the crumbs of campers, that walked over us as we sat/slept – creepy!
  • As promised, the boat came for us at 6am, and we were shocked out of deep sleep off of our island hideout and back to ‘civilization’

 

Rustaq Fort

  • About 45 minutes away we found the Rustaq Fort.  Also a former capital of the Imamate of Oman (pre-Sultan), the Rustaq Fort was equally incredible as the other two we visited, with more the flavor of Bahla than Nizwa.  The restoration is impressive, with a good mix of explained history and exploration potential. Again, there was no restricted access, and we left no staircases unexplored! 
  • This one was added to with successive rulers so has a very unique feel to it
  • Khamis was the host, and after we explored, he invited us for Omani coffee, and chatting, which we had very much come to love about Oman!
    • A lover of the mountains, he has spent his life in the Rustaq area and grew up hiking with his father
    • His father was the previous fort caretaker, and used to sleep there.  While Khamis doesn’t stay, he’s new in the job having just taken the ‘reigns’ 2 weeks ago.  He enjoys the job for its offer of meeting many different people. He loves to travel, connect with foreigners, and learn about other places, while simultaneously loving home, his wife, and their 4 boys.
    • He gives all of his salary to his wife, and she gives him an allowance.  He loves life, and admits that he’s too irresponsible to be in charge of the money!  An interesting marriage construct, but I can hardly fault it, and am endlessly interested in how marriage manifests throughout Omani culture considering family is such a central tenet of the social fabric.  

 

Wadi Bani Auf and Snake Canyon

  • Since Oman is all about fort and wadis, it felt natural to follow our fort adventure with a wadi adventure.  Wadi Bani Auf and little snake canyon was our intended destination . . . but leave it to us to find a next-level adventure. 
  • Wadi Bani Auf is along the dirt road that actually leads up over a pass and to Al Hamra.  We had considered driving it from the Al Hamra side, but got varying reports of difficulty of travel (and whether we would make it) so decided not to commit to it . . . not to mention our trip took an unexpected turn anyhow with the Ibri adventure.
    • We found our Wadi start place but felt compelled to explore the road a bit (the 4×4 was necessary and helpful on this road!), at one point seeing an obvious canyon that we explored a bit on foot before realizing it didn’t seem to lead anywhere significant (although did have a lot of foot traffic evidence, and a rental car parked at the exit telling us someone was adventuring up there). 
    • So we kept driving, and climbed and descended some pretty next level roads, thankful again for our trusty 4×4 rental!  At our high point, we realized we were looking down on the Snake Canyon that we’d read about, a point-to-point quasi canyoneering adventure requiring ropes and guides/local knowledge.  And then we found the obvious start point and a car, and quickly realized there were people doing the trip with a car shuttle.
    • Rather than take the next big hill, we decided that was a good turnaround point and as we were driving back, we encountered the rental car, so naturally I stopped to say hi.  They had indeed been descending Snake Canyon, which they said was super cool but definitely needed a guide. I asked where they’d found one. They said he was in the back seat.  I asked if he wanted to guide again, he said yes, so we did another car shuttle . . .
  • And then Majdi, our local guide from Balad Sayt, guided us down this truly incredible canyon.
    • It had been awhile since rain, so it was more repelling and down climbing than plunging off of rocks into pools, but there was still plenty of swimming and it was so so amazing.  Walls worn smooth by flash floods, high canyon walls, solitude, shade and a cool wind.
    • It only took us 1.5 hours to descend the ~4 miles, and we loved every minute of it.  We were so thankful for our amazing luck yet again. 
    • Majdi was super kind, interesting, and helpful.  More of the Omani hospitality we had come to adore, more of the cultural perspective so freely shared.

 

Back to Muscat

  • And with that, the exploration was over.  We went back to Muscat, fueled up, returned the rental, did the gear explosion of repack for the journey to work/home, and enjoyed a shower, nice meal, and glass of celebratory wine.
  • At no point was I sure it was all going to work out and we’d make it back with us and our rental in one piece, and yet we did.  After a truly amazing and unforgettable adventure that we never could have scripted with even the best of planning.  
  • We ended full of gratitude for the hospitality and kindness, education, natural beauty, and overall consistency of awe, wonder, adventure, challenge, and exploration.  Everyday had the combo of physical exertion, cultural encounters, and education that we both adore. It fed all parts of us.  

 

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