Oman is a great country to visit. It’s safe and people are very friendly and helpful and open to foreign cultures. The country has a long history of trade and has for thousands of years been an important trading port and a meeting point of cultures. Nevertheless, tradition is still very important in Oman and it’s essential that foreigners behave accordingly and dress modestly; Omanis will appreciate it.
The best time to visit is between November and March. From April to October it’s very (very!) hot and humid, so these months are best avoided. High season is in December and January, especially around Christmas and New Year.
Oman is usually seen as an expensive destination. However, what’s expensive is accommodation, although outside high season, you can always bargain at hotels. Tours with guides and drivers are also very pricey. Food and rental cars, on the other hand, are inexpensive (and the food is good!); fuel is cheap, and entrance fees for castles and forts usually cost only 500 Baisa (~1.60 USD). If you like camping and have your own tent, you can camp about anywhere for free. Just take your rubbish with you.
Visas cost 5 OMR for stays of up to ten days, and 20 OMR for 11 days up to one month. Visas are issued on arrival and can be payed for with credit card. The counter at the airport where you pay the visa is also a money exchange but beware of changing your money there – they have the worst exchange rates ever! In the arrival halls, there are ATMs (or money changers with better – still not good, though – rates) and you can withdrawal as much as your bank allows.
When to go where
Siesta time! Many businesses and shops close between noon and 4 pm, souqs as well. Most museums and castles, however, close around 4 pm. So first go to the museum, the fort, or the castle, then go shopping.
On weekends (Friday and Saturday) expect lots of people wherever you go. On Fridays, almost everything is closed (except for malls and big supermarkets), also museums and forts. On Saturdays, avoid wadis, the Bimmah sinkhole, the desert, and beaches. It’s a good day to go to Qalhat, Misfat al Abryyin, and to visit castles, forts, and museums.
Getting around: By Taxi
Taxis don’t have meter, so agree on a price before you get in. For short distances they charge per person, which can be a bit confusing.
Taxis are generally quite expensive and ordering a taxi from your hotel tends to be more expensive than hailing one on the street. As for the prices, let’s say you want to get from somewhere in Ruwi to the airport, or anywhere around the airport. The taxi driver will ask for any price between 5 and 15 Rial. It all depends on your negotiation skills (and, yes, sometimes also your looks). Most Omanis speak very good English (and in Oman, as opposed to other Gulf countries, all taxi drivers are locals) but before you get in, be sure to reconfirm the price! So-called misunderstandings do happen.
Getting around: Renting a car
If you take a taxi from the airport to your hotel, the thought of driving in Muscat may seem a bit overwhelming; traffic is heavy and people drive fast. But don’t let that intimidate you! Driving in Oman (and that includes Muscat) is in fact pretty easy. The roads are good and outside Muscat, there’s not a lot of traffic. Plus, driving yourself is definitely the best way to discover this amazing country.
2WD or 4WD?
That’s the big question. A 2WD is, in most situations, absolutely fine. For Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab, you don’t need a 4WD. Even to Jebel Shams you can drive in a 2WD although a 4WD is good to have. The road is partly unpaved but in OK shape. The last part of the road, however, from Jebel Shams Resort to Al Khateem, is bad. There, it’s important to have high ground clearance, otherwise you can be pretty sure your car gets damaged.
If you plan to go into the desert, to Sharqiya Sands for example, you’ll need a 4WD to drive to the camp. However, if you don’t have one, you can leave your car in one of the villages on the main road and someone will pick you up. Because unless you’re experienced in driving on sand and over dunes, you’re unlikely to drive in the desert yourself (further than to the camp).
The road to Jebel Akhdar is unpaved and tricky and is only allowed to drive with a 4WD (there’s a checkpoint soon after Birkat al Mawz). Therefore it’s best to go with a driver. Many companies offer trips from Muscat, but they are very expensive. Several people told us that it’s also possible to go to Birkat al Mawz and find a driver there, which is much cheaper. We didn’t try it ourselves since we didn’t have enough time to go to Jebel Akhdar.
A 2WD costs about USD 25 per day, a 4WD around USD 60. Well-known companies like Hertz or Avis charge much more; better go for local companies such as Value Plus (they also have an office at the airport), they offer much better deals.
Driving in Oman
Fuel is very cheap, at least by European standards. The price has been raised several times over the past years (all Omanis complain about it) but it’s still very cheap. Currently, fuel costs 0.186 Rial, and the price is the same at all gas stations.
Our rental company didn’t offer us a GPS and anyway, we thought we wouldn’t need it. We had navigated without any problems through New Zealand using Google maps. It had worked perfectly. What we didn’t know, however, was that navigation with Google maps is not available everywhere and Oman is one of the countries where it doesn’t work. We tried Waze, which worked, but it wasn’t much better. Maybe just because it was new to us or maybe because many roads were new to Waze – they’re constantly extending the road network in Oman.