Hit the road in Oman
Oman is famous for its impressive forts, rugged mountains, wadis and desert dunes. The country also has an impressive seafaring heritage and mile upon mile of golden coastline. Oman’s beaches are also a favourite nesting place for sea turtles. One of the best ways to see this beautiful, rugged country is by hiring a 4WD and going on a road trip.
Get the lay of the land
Oman has four main regions with the capital city, Muscat, located in the north of the country. The north includes the fertile Al-Batinah coast, majestic Hajar Mountains and Musudam Peninsula. Going south, the Central Coastal Oman brings you to the Wahiba Sands and Masirah Island, where four species of turtle breed, including the highest number of leatherbacks anywhere in the world. Here you’ll also find the prospering port town of Duqm, which is fast growing into a popular resort. Accommodation includes the Park Inn by Radisson Hotel & Residence Duqm.
The far south of the country is lush coastal lowland that borders Yemen. The border with Saudi Arabia is known as the Empty Quarter and is a huge desert wilderness. Much of the border region is undefined, as the area is simply too large and empty to patrol. The main cities to consider visiting are:
• Muscat, the capital, with lots of historical sites
• Bahla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
• Matrah, beside Muscat and also full of historical sites
• Nizwa, home to a famous fort
• Sohar, home of Sinbad the legendary sailor
• Sur, where you can see traditional handmade dhows
Our suggested road trip route
Day 1: Muscat
Chances are, unless you have your own car, you’ll need to hire a car in Muscat – just make sure it’s a 4WD. There are stretches of brand new tarmac road in Oman, but you can’t be sure of this by any means and if you want to do some wadi-bashing you’ll need a sturdy vehicle. Sights to see in Muscat include the Grand Mosque, the Muttrah Souk and Corniche. There is also a fantastic stretch of ocean here where you can go diving, dolphin watching or take a cruise on a dhow.
Day 2: Muscat to Ras Al Jinz (via Sur)
Set off for Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve, travelling via Sur to see the historic boatyards. The turtle reserve is a unique opportunity to see these endangered creatures nesting in their natural habitat. The reserve also has ancient archaeological sites where excavations have unearthed Oman’s oldest wooden boat and incense burner, amongst other items of great cultural importance.
Day 3: Ras Al Jinz to Masirah Island
This desert island is another great place to see turtles. The ferry crossing from the mainland takes an hour and a half. Once on Masirah you’ll find, apart from wildlife tourism, water-sports are the main attraction with the island being billed as a ‘kitesurfer’s paradise’. There is always wind to power extreme sports lovers across the warm shallow waters of the lagoon.
Day 4: Masirah Island to Nizwa
Nizwa is a fascinating place to visit if you love the traditional fort architecture of Oman. Once the capital city of Oman in the 6th and 7th century, this stronghold is actually best known for the 17th-century fort built by Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya’ribi. For a taste of local life, head to the goat market near the souq on a Thursday and Friday morning; if you are hankering after a taste of the west, then there is also a Pizza Hut and KFC.
Day 5: Back to Muscat or onwards…
Niza is a good place to end your trip as it’s within easy distance of Muscat for your return journey. However, if you want to plan a longer trip, then consider heading south towards Al Duqm and organising a night or two in a traditional Bedouin camp. There are numerous off-road opportunities for wadi-bashing (driving off-road on the dry river beds of the desert) and touring the awe-inspiring dunes, where sand rises like mist and the horizon stretches on and on.
Top travel tips
Think about the Muslim calendar when you are planning your trip to Oman. During Eid border crossings can take hours instead of minutes and a lot of accommodation will be booked out far in advance.
Oman’s cities can be highly congested, but once out in the countryside roads will be quiet. Be sure to share the driving, as one of the major causes of accidents is people falling asleep at the wheel on the long featureless desert roads. Never go off road alone, make sure you are in a convoy of at least three vehicles, and bring basic recovery tools and if possible a satellite phone. And bring plenty of your own water and petrol – self-sufficiency and preparedness are the watch words here.
What has been your greatest off road adventure?