Nothing beats a good road trip, and Oman has to be one of the best countries in the Middle East (and the world, for that matter) for independent driving. The roads are well-maintained, fuel is incredibly cheap, and there’s no shortage of things to see and do along the way.
Essential reading: 11 tips that will save you money in Oman.
I’ve been singing the country’s praises ever since we did our own Oman road trip back in September 2016. Since I’ve been on an Oman binge lately, working on some content for my freelance work, I thought it was about time I updated this Oman road trip itinerary post. I hope you find it useful!
In This Post:
- Our 10 day Oman road trip itinerary: Route overview
- Oman road trip itinerary: Day by day
- Days 1-2: Muscat
- Day 3: Muscat to Sur
- Day 4: Sur & Ras Al Jinz
- Day 5: Sharqiya Sands
- Day 6: Misfat Al Abriyeen
- Days 7: Jebel Shams to Nizwa
- Days 8 & 9: Nizwa
- Day 10: Nizwa to Muscat
- Alternative road trip routes & add ons
- FAQ: Tips for driving in Oman as a tourist
Check out my top Oman photos to inspire your journey!
Our 10 day Oman road trip itinerary: Route overview
Since it was our first time visiting Oman (and our first time in the Middle East), we wanted to cover as much ground on our road trip as possible. Following the classic Oman loop route that starts and ends in Muscat, the capital, we covered all the major points of interest in the northeast of the country.
We were generally happy with our route and the amount of time we spent in each place. If we had a chance to do it all over again, we would consider shaving off a day in Nizwa. If you’re really limited for time, you could plausibly reduce your time in Muscat by one day as well, taking this down a notch from a 10-day road trip to an 8-day road trip.
If you have more than 10 days, I’ve included a range of optional add ons and detours at the end of this post.
Days on the road | 10 (including 2 days in Muscat at the start & 1 day at the end)
Distance covered | Approx. 860km (534 miles)
Our Oman road trip route: Muscat — Sur (via Bimmah Sink Hole & Wadi Shab) & Raz Al Jinz — Bidiyah (via Wadi Bani Khalid) & Sharqiya Sands desert — Misfat Al Abriyeen — Nizwa — Muscat
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Oman road trip itinerary: Day by day
This day-by-day breakdown of our 10 day Oman road trip covers distances and drive times, activity and accommodation recommendations, and suggested places to stop along the way.
Days 1-2: Muscat
We flew into Muscat’s Seeb International Airport late at night (this was back when AirAsia was trialing a short-lived Bangkok-to-Muscat route), and picked up our pre-booked hire car. Before we left the airport, we bought a local sim card from one of the kiosks in the arrivals lounge. There’s no guarantee your rental car will come with GPS, so I highly recommend buying a sim (we used Google Maps throughout our road trip, and it never let us down). Real-time navigation assistance will make your life a whole lot easier—especially when you’re driving on Muscat’s highways.
The airport in Muscat is small and relatively quiet (especially at night), so we had no trouble getting out of the carpark and straight onto the highway. We were living in Phnom Penh at the time, so I hadn’t been behind the wheel in almost a year. Thus there were a few nail-biting moments as we made our way to our accommodation that night. I can still picture the highway that night—our first look at Oman—infinitely longand lined with palm trees, with the silvery Gulf of Oman just visible to our left window. We made it to our Airbnb unscathed—although we did manage to lose a hubcap!
Where to stay in Muscat
If, like us, you’re arriving in Muscat after dark—or even if you just want to ease into driving in Oman—I highly recommend spending your first night in downtown Muscat. Muttrah is a charming suburb and a great place to base your stay, but it’s a full 31km drive from the airport along a rather confusing matrix of overpasses and highways. By contrast, it’s a straight shot, only around 12km, to the area near Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. We chose a great little Airbnb rental hosted by the delightful Ali for our first two nights in Muscat.
Nine days later, before our return flight to Bangkok, we spent our last night in Oman at the eponymous Muttrah Hotel. It’s not anything to write home about, but the location—walking distance from the corniche and souq—is ideal.
Things to do in Muscat
I recommend spending at least two full days in Muscat in order to get a good overview of the city. Having a car in Muscat it priceless—the city is very spread out, and during the day when it’s hot, the last thing you want to be doing is walking around or trying to hail taxis.
If you haven’t yet picked up your rental car or you prefer to explore Muscat with a guide, there are a couple of Muscat tours that I can recommend. This half-day tour takes in Muttrah Souq, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and my favourite museum in Muscat, Bait Al Zubair. Muscat comes to life once the sun goes down—if you want to experience the city in the evening like a local, this night tour of Muscat is a great choice. End your time in Muscat with a sunset dhow cruise, one of the most atmospheric things you can do in Oman.
Ad Daymaniyat Islands
Since Oman is so compact and well-connected with highways, you could technically do most of the stops on this road trip itinerary as day trips from Muscat.
Another day trip option close to the city is the Ad Daymaniyat Islands. Ali, our Airbnb host, recommended it as a prime spot for snorkeling and dolphin watching. The Daymaniyats are a set of nine pristine islands, protected by their Nature Reserve status, located roughly 20km off the coast of Barka, which is just up the road from Muscat. A few operators run full and half-day boat trips to the islands from the nearby city of Seeb.
A bit of ocean time sounded like a nice way to break up 10 days of desert and rock, so we made a reservation with Daymaniyat Shells. Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances (i.e. I was severely dehydrated and wound up with a migraine), we had to cancel at the last minute. This company comes highly recommended by other travellers, and they were certainly very kind and understanding throughout our dealings. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them, even though we didn’t get a chance to go to the islands ourselves.
Day 3: Muscat to Sur
Distance | 200km
Drive time | Approx. 2 hours
Suggested stops | Bimmah Sink Hole, Wadi Shab
We were so psyched for our first full day of driving in Oman, we woke up as the first call to prayer rang out over Muscat. After stocking up on road trip essentials at the local supermarket, we hit the road.
The highway connecting Muscat with Sur, a major port city, is smooth and easy to navigate. The two pit stops we made on day three were among the best of our whole trip. In the late afternoon, we pulled into quiet, salt sprayed, white-and-cream-coloured Sur—a wonderful contrast to Muscat.
Bimmah Sink Hole
Our first road stop was the Bimmah Sinkhole (known locally as Hawaiyat Najm). It’s located just off the highway at about the halfway point between Muscat and Sur, 125km (one hour and 20 minutes’ drive) from Muscat. The sinkhole is enclosed within a park (with picnic areas, toilets and change room facilities), and the front gate doesn’t open until 9am. We were too early, so we waited in the carpark before a guard let us in as the first guests of the day.
Local legend says that the 20-metre Bimmah Sinkhole was formed by a meteorite. We had the turquoise pool all to ourselves for about 20 minutes before groups of Omani teenagers started arriving to bomb dive off the limestone lip.
After Bimmah, we drove for another 30km (about 20 minutes) to Wadi Shab. The entrance to the wadi is located just north of the town of Tiwi—we plugged ‘Wadi Shab parking‘ into Google Maps and it led us to the right spot. We arrived at an underpass where we parked the car (I suppose we left our passports and valuables locked in the boot…) before boarding a small local boat, which took us to the mouth of the wadi. From there, we trekked for 20 or 30 minutes until we reached a spot that looked suitable for swimming. We followed our noses, squeezing between boulders, until we were inside a large submerged cave. The pool was deep. It was terrifying—but a lot of fun. From memory, there are no bathrooms at Wadi Shab, so we dried off on the walk back to the boat.
From Wadi Shab, it was another 78km (approximately one hour’s drive) to get to our accommodation in Sur.
Day 4: Sur & Ras Al Jinz
We were early to bed on day three, so day four was our first day for exploring Sur. Once the seat of Oman’s colossal maritime power (the Omani Empire extended all the way to Mozambique, Iran and Pakistan in the 19th century), Sur is rumoured to be the spiritual home of Sindbad the Sailor. It’s a peaceful, very attractive little town.
Where to stay in Sur
There are a few accommodation options to choose from in Sur. We stayed at the humble but clean Sur Hotel, which is walking distance from the beach and a few decent restaurants.
Things to do in Sur
We had a pretty chilled day in Sur, watching the sun rise over the beach before talking a walk through the city’s quiet neighbourhoods. The architecture and the morning light in Sur are both pretty fantastic, so you should definitely make time to walk the streets, especially if you enjoy taking photos.
We popped down to the waterfront to watch workers making wooden dhow boats. Sur is home to Oman’s only surviving shipyard, and dhow boats are a big deal here. I also recommend climbing up the Al Ayjah Watchtower for an unreal view of the dhows and Sur’s white houses.
Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve
The Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve is a must-visit in Oman. Located at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula—about 45 minutes’ drive from Sur—the beaches around Ras Al Jinz are one of the only places on Earth where endangered green sea turtles are known to nest 365 nights a year. For obvious reasons, the area is strictly protected, and you can only access the beach as part of a guided torch-lit tour. Groups depart nightly at 9pm from the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve guest centre and tickets cost 7 OMR (18 USD). It’s advisable to book in advance (you can reserve a spot via email or through your hotel in Sur). We got lucky and saw hoards of hatchlings racing towards the ocean. At the same time, we also witnessed two gigantic turtles nesting on the beach. It was really something.
We looked into staying the night in Ras Al Jinz, but the luxury camp was out of our budget range. So we opted to drive back to Sur that night instead. The coastal road between Sur and Ras is dramatic and absolutely epic—I highly recommend leaving Sur early, while the sun is still shining, so you can get a look at the views. We ate dinner before our turtle tour in one of the roadside restaurants just before the Turtle Reserve. The drive back to Sur was a touch less pleasurable—there aren’t many (any) streetlights, so take extra care.
For more information about Ras Al Jinz and some great photos of the turtles in action, take a look at this post from Travel Tramp.
Day 5: Sharqiya Sands
Distance | 174km
Drive time | Approx. 2.5 hours
Suggested stops | Wadi Bani Khalid
Leaving Sur, we headed inland towards the Sharqiya Sands (Wahiba Sands)—Oman’s vast desert and the edge of the Arabian ‘Empty Quarter’. On the way, we stopped at Wadi Bani Khalid, another spectacular oasis in the middle of Oman’s desiccated interior.
Wadi Bani Khalid
There are at least two different points where you can enter this massive wadi, which runs the length of the Jebel Khadar mountain range. We set our sights on the ‘Wadi Bani Khalid Parking Area‘ just off Highway 23, about 130km from Sur. The walking path up to the wadi is well-signposted. On the day we were there (a Thursday), there were dozens of families and groups making their way in for a dip. There are man-made swimming pools at the start of the wadi, but it’s advisable to continue walking further up until you get to the more isolated ravines. This wadi is like an all-natural waterpark, complete with boulder sliperty slides, swimming concourses and submerged caves to explore.
We were relaxing under the shade of an overhanging rock when a group of five or six young Omani men appeared. Completely uninhibited, they took of their embroidered skullcaps and threw off their long, white dishdasha robes. Now in their undergarments (more long white robes), they draped their gear carefully over some nearby rocks before jumping the water. They were eager to chat to us and the few who could speak a little bit of English asked us all kinds of questions. At one point they borrowed my camera to snap photos of each other. This experience was kind of mind blowing. They were more than happy to strip off in front of us and had no qualms about getting close to me—even touching my arms and shoulders in a totally innocent way. They asked us if we wanted to eat, so we excitedly followed them out of the wadi and trailed their car to the nearest town. We thought we would be eating together, but no, they just led us to the first decent restaurant and dropped us at the front door. When we had finished eating our maqbous and went to pay the bill, the restaurant owner informed us that the young men had already paid for us! They were incredibly kind.
1001 Nights Desert Camp
After Wadi Bani Khalid and our very moving lunch experience, we drove another 40 minutes to the town of Bidiyah at the edge of the Sharqiya Sands. We had instructions from our accommodation, the 1001 Nights Desert Camp, to park our car at a particular petrol station. From there, a 4WD picked us up and drove us the short distance into the desert. We settled into our luxury tent before joining a complimentary trip to the top of some sand dunes for sunset. Running through the sand with wild abandon (and let’s face it, making total fools of ourselves) was an unforgetable experience and another highlight of our time in Oman. After a magnificent buffet breakfast the next morning, we were driven back to Bidiyah to collect our car.
I had been admiring some woven textiles hanging in the main tent at the desert camp when a staff member suggested we try to visit the local market in nearby Al Mintarib. We drove around for a while, but we couldn’t find any trace of a market (turns out it’s only open on Tuesdays). Eventually we stopped to ask a group of men for directions. That’s when a middle-aged Omani man decided to jump in the back of our car and take us for an impromptu tour of the town. We stopped at a fish market, where we saw an old Bedouin woman wearing a batoola. We drove to a house (His cousin’s? Or maybe his uncle’s?) and sat on mattresses on the floor drinking coffee and eating dates with his extended family. Slightly confused but very touched by the man’s kindness, we eventually had to split and so dropped him back in Al Mintarib before continuing along the highway and into the mountains.
Day 6: Misfat Al Abriyeen
Distance | 230km
Drive time | Approx. 3 hours
Suggested stops | Ibra, Nizwa, Bahla, Al Hamra villages
This was our longest day of driving. There are plenty of places to stop off along the way (including Ibra, Nizwa, Bahla and the villages around Al Hamra), but in the end we decided to drive straight to Misfat Al Abriyeen to maximise our time in the village. We’d seen rocky peaks on the hozon since day one of our Oman road trip, so it was a very cool feeling to finally hit the mountains and start getting vertical (all on bitumen roads, of course). There are plenty of places to pull over on the way up for photos of Al Hamra’s precarious villages.
Set in the Jebel Shams mountains, roughly 1,000m above sea level, Misfat is an ancient, idyllic little community that has been prepped in recent years to receive tourists. The village’s characteristic mud houses are built atop massive rocks, which gives the village the appearance of blending seamlessly into the mountainside.
Where to stay in Misfat Al Abriyeen
One of the houses has been converted into a guesthouse. Our stay at Misfat Old House was very comfortable—we even got to chat to the owner, who told us a bit about his family and the property’s history.
Things to do in Misfat Al Abriyeen
The best (and only) way to get around Misfat is on foot via a series of marked trails that lead up the mountain and down to the local wadi. We spent hours wandering along the shaded village paths, photographing the pretty painted gates and poking our heads into crumbling mud houses.
After dinner on the roof of the Old House, we had an early night.
Days 7: Jebel Shams to Nizwa
Distance | 82km
Drive time | Approx. 1.5 hours
Suggested stops | Al Hoota, Bahla
Nizwa is a mere 55kms from Misfat Al Abriyeen. We knew we were going to have ample time in Nizwa in a few days, and we had missed a few things the previous day, so we decided to squeeze in a few detours. If you’re driving direct, it only takes about an hour to get to Nizwa from Misfat Al Abriyeen.
Al Hoota Cave isn’t a must-see, but we decided to go anyway. We mostly wanted to ride the train that takes visitors from the information centre into the cave—but on the day we went, the train was undergoing maintenance and we had to walk along the tracks instead (ha!). Luckily it wasn’t too hot. The cave itself is pretty impressive, but nothing to write home about. It’s geared more towards families and young kids. If you do decide to go, you should reserve a spot for one of the designated time slots in advance via the website.
Bahla Fort—so beautiful. Known for its distinctive round towers, it was originally built from mud and straw but underwent a massive renovation before reopening in 2012. We took a long walk through the nearby mud village as well, which was unexpected but really worthwhile. I have a vivid memory of looking down on a set of flat-roofed mud houses and marvelling at the goats grazing on top. After Bahla, we drove for another 40 minutes to our accommodation in Nizwa.
Days 8 & 9: Nizwa
Nizwa was probably my favourite place in Oman. The ancient city has a laid-back feel, and things just aligned for us in terms of accommodation, food and activities.
Nizwa Fort is the city’s crowning jewel. Dating back to the 12th century, it’s Oman’s most-visited national monument and historically served as the seat of the country’s presiding Imams. The adjoining Nizwa Souq, famous for its clay pottery, is also top-notch. In my opinion, it beats out Muttrah Souq in terms of both atmosphere and souvenir offerings.
Where to stay in Nizwa
We rented a lovely private room and en suite through Airbnb. The house has since changed hands (it seems the English-American couple who hosted us have moved on), but the listing is still active. There are actually quite a few decent Airbnb options available in Nizwa, so I recommend checking there first.
Things to do in Nizwa
You can easily spend a whole day at Nizwa Fort and the adjoining Souq (and honestly, there’s not a whole lot else to do in Nizwa without jumping back in the car). If you’re lucky enough to be in Nizwa on a Friday morning, make sure you check out the live goat market at the souq.
We ate some awesome Turkish and Zanzibari food in Nizwa—and it looks like even more solid restaurant options have popped up since we were there. Our Airbnb hosts recommended the kebab stands in the carpark opposite Nizwa Souq for an easy dinner. Another winner.
Day 10: Nizwa to Muscat
Distance | 160km
Drive time | Approx. 1.5 hours
From Nizwa, we headed back to Muscat along Route 15 to get ready for our flight to Bangkok the next evening. As I mentioned earlier, we stayed in Muttrah this time around and spent our final day in Oman exploring the charming alleyways and the souq.
Only in Oman for a short amount of time? Here’s how to make the most of a layover in Muscat.
Alternative road trip routes & add ons
If you have more than 10 days up your sleeve or you’d prefer to visit some of Oman’s less touristy spots, I recommend trying one or more of these alternative routes and add ons.
Located on Highway 23, 45 minutes’ drive from Bidiyah on the way to Misfat Al Abriyeen, Ibra is only really worth stopping for on Wednesday mornings. That’s when the weekly women’s market takes place—a strictly female-only bazaar that sees Bedouin women from the Sharqiya Sands converge on Ibra to do their fresh food and textile shopping. The days didn’t line up for us, but if the timing is right, it’s well worth a look in.
If you have a day to spare in Muscat and you just can’t get enough of driving in Oman, consider adding the Rustaq Loop to your itinerary. The 250-odd kilometre loop along Highways 13 and 11 runs inland from Barka (60km up the coast from Muscat), past three of Oman’s most spectacular fortresses: Nakhal, Al Rustaq, and Al Hazm. Starting and finishing in Muscat, the loop takes a solid four hours of driving to complete.
Bald Sayt or Wakan
The remote, postcard-perfect villages of Wakan and Bald Sayt are both located relatively close to Misfat Al Abriyeen—but are nestled far deeper in the Western Hajar Mountains. There are no paved roads, and it’s only possible to access the valleys if you have a 4WD (either your own vehicle, or by hiring a car and driver for the day from Nizwa or Muscat).
It’s best to approach Wakan and Bald Sayt from a northerly direction. From Highway 13, it’s 30km (just over an hour’s drive) to Bald Sayt, or 31km (30 minutes’ drive) up to Wakan. The exact route and road conditions are unclear, so be sure to do your research before attempting either drive.
Most of Oman’s big-ticket attractions are located in the northeast of the country—with the exception of Salalah. Capital of the southern Dhofar province, Salalah sits close to the Oman-Yemen border, roughly 1,000km from Muscat. Driving to Salalah from Muscat takes a minimum of 10 hours—it’s not really feasible to add it to a 10-day driving route, unless you’re willing to make some big sacrifices to the rest of your itinerary. There’s an airport in Salalah (and more than nine flights everyday from Muscat), so if you do want to add it, I recommend flying to Salalah for a night or two at the start or the end of your trip.
I’ve heard a few people refer to Khasab as the most beautiful place in Oman. The port city sits in an Omani enclave at the top of the Musandam Peninsula, separated from the rest of the country by the UAE. To get to Khasab from Muscat overland means driving through the Emirates. Alternatively, Oman Air operates daily flights between the two cities.
Oman to Dubai/Sharjah/Abu Dhabi
If you’re up for a cross-country Middle Eastern road trip adventure, it’s possible to drive from Oman to Sharjah or Dubai (422km, roughly 4.5 hours of driving) or Abu Dhabi (485km, roughly 5 hours of driving). From there, why not continue with the theme and keep on trippin’ around the UAE.
This detailed guide to driving from Dubai to Muscat covers everything you need to know about crossing from the UAE to Oman by car.
FAQ: Tips for driving in Oman as a tourist
While we didn’t encounter anything particularly special or unusual about driving in Oman, I can offer some general pointers for a smooth Oman road trip.
Do you need a 4WD for Oman?
When researching for our Oman road trip, I read mixed reports online about the kind of vehicle we would need. We wanted to spend a night in the desert—but we didn’t want to fork out for a 4WD (not to mention the fact that neither of us have ever driven a large vehicle). Part of the reason why we chose 1001 Nights Desert Camp was the fact that it provided a free transfer. Other camps, I’m sure, would do the same.
We didn’t need to drive on sand, and we were willing to sacrifice visiting Bald Sayt (even though it was originally on our list), so we ended up hiring a sedan. Our sedan came with instructions not to drive off road, but there were a few occasions when we decided to take shortcuts and ended up driving on unpaved roads. No big deal.
To summarise: Unless you’re planning on going dune bashing or heading majorly off road, you won’t need a 4WD. Even if you want to do those things, it’s not necessarily advisable to brave it alone. Oftentimes a tour is a better options. A sedan will do fine.
Are there any special requirements for foreigners to rent a car in Oman?
Not that I’m aware of. I had to present my passport and Australian driver’s license when I picked up the hire car. I was never asked for an international driver’s permit (good thing, because I didn’t have one) or any other documentation. We were never pulled over, so I can’t speak to the police requirements. If in doubt, check with the car rental company before you go.
How much does it cost to drive in Oman?
We originally booked a car through Sixt, but we ended up cancelling. Instead, we found a great deal on an automatic Toyota sedan from Europcar through the Holiday Autos website. We paid 185 USD for 10 days, or just 9 USD per person per day. When we picked up the car in Muscat, we had to make an additional 150 OMR (390 USD) credit card deposit, which Europcar held until we returned the car.
We booked and paid for our rental car well in advance, and I recommend you do the same. Rhino Car Hire is useful for finding the best deals and for making a reservation.
Read next: 11 money-saving tips for Oman.
Petrol costs peanuts in Oman. The first time we filled up it was quite a novelty—but I stopped noticing after that, since we were only spending pocket change at the pump. Prices went up in 2018, but fuel in Oman still only costs around 50 US cents per litre (less than one-third of the price of petrol in Australia). Check here for up-to-date prices. If you follow this itinerary, you’ll mainly be driving on highways, which is of course more fuel efficient. From memory, we only had to fill up the tank three or four times over the course of 10 days.
We didn’t encounter any toll roads on our trip, but apparently there are a few out there, so carry some cash with you at all times.
What are the roads like in Oman?
Driving in Oman was honestly a breeze. Apart from a few hairy moments on the highway in Muscat (the stretch of road down to Muttrah is particularly notorious—there are few exits, so if you miss a turn, you have to loop back), we didn’t have any issues at all. There aren’t any special or obscure road rules (or if there are, I wasn’t aware of them).
FYI, in Oman, you drive on the right-hand side of the road.
What’s the car parking situation in Oman?
In a word: Plentiful! If you’re planning to drive in Oman, it’s helpful to know that the country is really spacious—even Muscat. By spacious, I mean you can park your car just about anywhere (curbside, empty lot, grassy field) and no one will notice or pull you up on it. The only time we had trouble finding a car park was in the densely packed Muttrah area. Oman is not the sort of place where you have to track down a parking lot or pay for parking. I estimate that at least 99% of people (including tourists) drive in Oman, so most hotels come with parking.
Have you been on a road trip in Oman or elsewhere in the Middle East? I’d love to hear your recommendations! If you’re planning your own Oman road trip and need any advice, feel free to leave a comment below.