Last Updated on May 5, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Rich in nature and traditions, Oman is my favorite country in the Middle East. Here’s a complete Oman travel guide to show you how to visit Oman beneath the surface.
Poised on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman shares borders with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen — but it’s distinctively a world of its own.
Oman’s economy has developed at lightning speed thanks to its oil wealth — but unlike neighboring UAE, it has successfully retained its Bedouin traditions, strong sense of identity and pride. Its robust infrastructure makes exploring its treasure trove of desert, lush green oases and long coastlines very easy and pleasant.
As such, traveling Oman gives a rare chance to experience the Arab kingdom without the distorting lens of excessive wealth and modernization. In the face of modernity, Oman’s sleepy fishing towns, spectacular mountains and wind-blown deserts remain at the heart of the Omani spirit.
Table of Contents
- Oman Travel Guide
- Oman Tourist Visa
- How Easy is Oman Travel?
- Is Oman Safe?
- Travel Insurance in Oman
- People of Oman
- Language in Oman
- The Best Time for Oman Travel
- How to Get to Oman
- Getting Around Oman
- Travel Oman Independently or on a Tour?
- Where to Stay in Oman
- Food in Oman
- Cost of Travel in Oman
- What to Wear in Oman
- Best Places to Travel in Oman
Oman Travel Guide
Oman Tourist Visa
Traveling to Oman is easy, but most nationalities (Europeans, Canadians, Americans, and Australians) need to get an evisa before arrival at the airport. Certain nationalities are eligible to obtain a visa on arrival. Check your visa requirements for Oman here.
A tourist visa for 10 days costs five rials (US$12) or a month for 20 rials ($52). A multiple-entry visa costs 50 rials (US$130) and it’s valid for one year.
If you are arriving from the Emirate of Dubai or from Qatar to Oman bearing a tourist entrance visa or a stamp from either country, you’re not required to obtain a separate visa for Oman provided you travel directly from Dubai or Doha to Oman. We visited Oman from Dubai, and it was an easy and stress-free process.
How Easy is Oman Travel?
Travel to Oman is very easy, even for first-time travelers in the Middle East. In fact, it makes a great introduction to the region, especially for those who want to ease in slowly to the Arab culture without getting overwhelmed.
You won’t find the chaos of Egypt or the instability of Iran — in its place is a peaceful and humble country that has advanced into the modern world while carefully retaining its pristine nature.
Most people in Oman speak a bit of English, so it’s easy to communicate with locals and find your way around. Oman also has a large international population, with many immigrants from India and the Philippines who speak great English.
Is Oman Safe?
Due to its oil wealth, Oman is a relatively affluent country with developed infrastructure like good transport networks, well-paved roads and high-end hotels. Well-heeled travelers won’t have to sacrifice their creature comforts when visiting Oman.
Safety wise, there’s nothing to worry about. Oman is probably the safest and most stable state in the whole of Middle East. We traveled Oman with our daughter when she was two years old, and we felt completely safe the whole time.
The country doesn’t have any conflict with neighboring countries, but it’s still wise to avoid the border areas close to Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Check the Oman travel advisory before your visit.
Travel Insurance in Oman
I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. It is particularly important have travel insurance that covers COVID-19 if you’re traveling during the pandemic.
Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.
People of Oman
The Omani culture is very welcoming and hospitable. People embrace visitors and often open their homes to you. They’re kind and generous, and are more than helpful to foreigners. When we got stuck in the desert, a Bedouin man came across us and helped get our wheel out of the sand. We really have them to thank for getting us safe!
Language in Oman
Arabic is recognized as Oman’s national and official language. The Baluchi language is also widely spoken in Oman. But English is also commonly spoken, especially in Muscat. The Omanis are generally educated and speak more than one language. There is no need to worry about language barrier in Oman.
The Best Time for Oman Travel
The best time to travel Oman is in winter (October to February), when temperatures are around 25°C in the day and 20°C at night. However, these are also the wettest months. It can be dangerous in the mountains as rain can cause flash floods.
We visited Oman at the end of December (during Christmas) and the climate was just perfect — balmy t-shirt weather, clear sunny skies and not one bit of rain. But if you are hoping to celebrate Christmas or get some festive vibes, then you’ll be disappointed. Remember that most Omanis are Muslims and Christmas is not usually celebrated here.
It’s best to avoid the summer months (April to September) when almost the entire country is scorchingly hot; with temperatures rising into the 40s. During this time, temperatures are only bearable in Salalah, thanks to the annual khareef which descends from June to August or early September.
How to Get to Oman
Muscat, the capital city, is the main gateway to the country. There are so many things to do in Muscat, and the beautiful city makes an excellent introduction to Oman. It’s easy to find cheap flights to Muscat from many major cities in Europe; but the cheapest way to get to Oman is via Dubai.
We flew to Dubai from Madrid for just US$220 (return) and then spent another US$180 (return) each to fly from there to Muscat return on FlyDubai. The flight from Dubai to Muscat only takes an hour. If you’re on a tight budget, there are also regular buses that leave from Dubai to Muscat that take just under five hours.
If you’re wondering how to get to Oman from the US, you’ll likely have to fly via Europe to get there. Lufthansa flies from New York to Muscat via Frankfurt for $800 return. Those flying from San Francisco also goes through the same route and airfares are around the same.
Getting Around Oman
Oman has a great transport network, especially within the capital city Muscat itself. However, most public transport systems don’t serve remote places (like the wadi, deserts or mountains – which are what most people come to see), so hiring a car is the best way to get around.
It’s easy to drive around Oman yourself, as roads are well-paved and signposted in both Arabic and English. The highways that criss cross the country are excellent and make it easy to reach most interesting sights from Muscat in just a couple of hours. Our car rental in Oman cost US$250 for the week on Discover Cars.
That said, you run the chance of getting lost once outside the urban areas — be sure to download the offline Oman map. We got lost in the desert and spent more than two hours driving aimlessly in the middle of the freaking desert. If you’d like to veer off the tourist trail and head deep into the mountains or deserts, you’ll need a 4×4.
Travel Oman Independently or on a Tour?
If you don’t drive, it can be difficult to travel around Oman due to the lack of public transportation. Buses go to the main cities but not to the wadi, deserts or mountains. It’s also expensive to hire a car if you’re a solo traveler.
I would then recommend booking a multi-day tour to travel Oman. Check out this 8-day Oman Highlights tour from G Adventures, a small-group adventure operator from Canada. I’ve traveled with G Adventures many times, to Antarctica, Svalbard, Brazil, Nepal and Mongolia. Every single trip was epic and I made some lifelong friends.
- Wadi Shab and Bimmah Sinkhole Tour
- Jebel Shams and Nizwa Tour
- 2-Day Desert Safari
- Sunset Dhow Cruise from Muscat
Book Your Day Trip here
Where to Stay in Oman
There’s a wide array of accommodation available in Muscat, but once outside the capital, the choices are limited and less value-for-money.
Hotels in Muscat are relatively good quality but pricey — expect to pay around US$50 to $80 for a private double room in a mid-range hotel. Note that Muscat is very spread out, split into several districts. I would recommend staying in Muttrah, as that’s the most interesting area with old buildings, a beautiful harbor and a souk to explore.
Wild camping is actually legal everywhere in Oman, so I recommend bringing a tent and camping equipment if you’re on a budget. Rent a 4×4 and you can drive up to the mountains and pitch up your tent there. I wish I had known about this before my trip — imagine sleeping under the stars in the desert and waking up to the sun on your face!
My Hotel Recommendations for Oman
- Muscat: Ascott Somerset Panorama — This is one of the best priced high-end hotels with the best reviews on TripAdvisor. It’s located in the embassy district near the Sultan Taboos Grand Mosque (biggest mosque in Oman) – in fact you can even see it from the hotel’s swimming pool. I highly recommend it for families as the apartment hotels are spacious and have cooking facilities. Check the latest rates here.
- Nizwa: Al Karam Hotel Apartments — Located along a highway leading to Nizwa, this apartment hotel wasn’t worth the price considering its location and very simple finishings. However, the number of choices in the area is limited so I settled for this. We paid the same in Muscat for a much higher-end apartment hotel. Check the rates here.
- Wahiba Sands: Bidiya Desert Camp — We’ve stayed in desert camps in Jordan and Egypt before and absolutely loved sleeping in deserts, but this place was different to other desert camps we’ve been. The rooms were actually made of concrete, with proper beds and air-conditioning. Book here.
- Sur: Al Jumhour Hotel Apartments — This was the cheapest place we stayed at, but we loved it. The apartment was very clean, well-located and spacious. It was just steps away from buzzing sweet shops and restaurants. Book here.
Food in Oman
Oman lies along centuries-old spice routes, so its cuisine is a fusion of Persian, North African, Indian, and Arab flavors. Traditional Omani staples include the madrouba (chicken rice porridge), fragrant biryani (from Indian influence), and desserts soaked in honey or rosewater.
However, we were quite disappointed with the dining options in Oman. We sought out traditional Omani food, but there weren’t a lot of choices and they were quite expensive. We ended up eating fast food and international cuisine in food courts.
The best meal we had on the trip was probably the chicken biryani we had at the simplest and most rustic eatery we found in a desert town near Wahiba Sands. The meal cost us US$5 each and it was just the most delicious and authentic food we had on then whole trip.
Cost of Travel in Oman
Bad news for budget travelers: traveling Oman is not cheap. Prices here are like in most parts of Western Europe. Despite having a developed tourism infrastructure, Oman is not a mass-market tourism destination (thankfully!), and thus the relatively high prices. That said, I’d rather fork out more money to travel in a place that’s pleasantly free of massive tourist crowds.
Accommodation is quite expensive in Oman, with a mid-range three-star hotel costs around US$80 a night. You’ll find the best deals and highest standards of accommodation in Muscat — outside of that, you’ll pay the same price for not-so-great lodging. If you’re on a tight budget though, you can easily save on accommodation by camping. Wild camping is allowed all over Oman so just bring your tent along.
For our one-week trip in Oman, we spent around US$1500 for the three of us (two adults and one baby) for all our food, car rental, accommodation and expenses.
What to Wear in Oman
Locals dress modestly, with long-sleeved robes and dresses. It’s important that we respect their culture and try to dress conservatively — there’s no need to cover your hair (except women when visiting mosques), but both men and women should cover their shoulders and knees.
I usually wore long pants and t-shirts, but in certain areas like Sur and Muscat, I would wear long-sleeved loose flowing shirts. Be sure to bring a scarf for mosque visits too. Also, it’s not advisable to swim in a bikini in the wadi. I usually wore a t-shirt over my swimming suit to swim.
Best Places to Travel in Oman
A vast desert sprawling across the northern part of Oman, just a two-hour drive from Muscat. Expect to find sand dunes as high as 100 meters and (overly) luxurious desert camps in the heart of the desert. There’s even a well-paved road that brings you right next to the massive dunes, which makes them very accessible even for those without a 4×4. A must see when visiting Oman!
Wadi Bani Khalid
Oman is dotted with deeply entrenched valleys filled with fresh spearmint waters from the mountains, with the most famous one (and most easily accessible) being Wadi Bani Khalid. It’s made up of several natural pools, a narrow ridge in which you can swim, and a cave. An absolutely gorgeous canyon with lots of lounging areas. There are actually restaurants and changing facilities here. Another highlight of any Oman travels.
Wadi Tiwi is a lot less developed and much more pristine and natural. It is still accessible by car, but you’ll need to climb pretty high up in the mountains on unpaved roads to get there. A string of nine villages ramble up the wadi walls while water tumbles in a sequence of pretty waterfalls through date plantations and fields of corn and alfalfa. For the hardy hiker, there’s a trail that leads from Wadi Tiwi to Wadi Bani Khalid – a tough two-day journey with a guide.
Another stunning natural formation, this sinkhole located close to Muscat. It is filled with turquoise clear water perfect to swim in after a day of hiking. Bimmah Sinkhole was formed by a collapse of the surface layer due to dissolution of the underlying limestone. However, locals believe this sinkhole was created by a meteorite, hence the Arabic name Hawiyyat Najm which means ‘the deep well of the (falling) star.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was our favorite spot in Oman; Built in pre-Islamic times, this ancient fort was only restored in 1987 but now boasts beautiful adobe walls and sandstone towers that rise up to 165 feet in height. Unless the Nizwa Fort, Bahla Fort is more authentic and less touristy. If you only have time to visit one fort in Oman, make it this one.
Home to some of the highest peaks in Oman, Jebel Shams is a mountainous region just two hours from Muscat. Known as the ‘Grand Canyon of Oman’, Jebel Shams is an excellent spot for trekking. The drive up to Jebel Shams is spectacular, but it’s quite a challenging drive and best to do on a 4×4.
Built in the 1650s, this national monument has an impressive architecture and an informative museum. It’s located in the Nizwa’s old town, which itself is also worth a visit. We loved the souk and its maze of spice stalls, antique shops and Omani teahouses.
Seaside Town of Sur
Once famous for dhow-building, Sur’s boatyards are still functioning and open to visitors. Given this, plus a fine corniche, two forts, souqs and excellent beaches nearby, Sur is quite a nice place to visit. It also serves as a convenient base for beautiful natural sights in nearby Tiwi and the turtle reserve at Ras Al Jinz.
The country’s capital is actually made up of several small towns merging together to form one city, with Muttrah being the old town. Muttrah Souk is a colorful mishmash of textile shops and spice stands, with lots of interesting traditional items on sale. The port is also a beautiful place to watch people watch and observe the maritime lifestyle of the city.
Mutrah stretches along an attractive corniche of latticed buildings and mosques. It looks spectacular at sunset when the light casts shadows across the serrated crescent of mountains, while pavements, lights and fountains invite an evening stroll or a bike ride. There are also lots of seafood restaurants lined along the corniche.
Sulta Qaboos Grand Mosque
The biggest mosque in Muscat, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is an impressive monument built from 300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone. The dome and the main minaret (90 metres (300 ft)) and four flanking minarets (45.5 metres (149 ft)) are the mosque’s chief visual features. Note that they require visitors to be covered in order to enter. You’ll have to wear long sleeves or rent their chador.
With that, I hope you’ll be able to book and plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Oman. Let me know if you have any questions on Oman travel, in the comments field below.
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