Oman, according to me, is an underrated destination. It offers a lot both for couples and family travel. You can see some cultural attractions in Muscat, go to Al Hajjar mountains to cool off, spend a night at Wahiba Sands desert staring at the star-studded sky, swim in wadis, and enjoy the coastal towns.
There is a lot of sightseeing for a cultural immersion enthusiast. But step outside Muscat, and the country is perfect for a road trip thanks to its wide, good-quality roads. There are plenty of adventure activities available: hiking and trekking options at Jebal Akhdar and Jebal Shams mountains, diving at Dimaniyat islands, dune bashing at Wahiba Sands, and more.
Here are some insider travel tips to keep in mind while planning a trip to Oman.
Is it safe to travel to Oman?
Oman is in the Middle East region, so this question is legitimate. However, you may be surprised to know that Oman has a very low crime rate. It is completely safe for you to travel to Oman as a tourist.
While the country is conservative, and you should be mindful of its culture and traditions, there are no violent or petty crimes against tourists. If you are a solo traveler to Oman, just follow the usual precautions that you would do in any European country, and you will be fine.
Mountains, wadis, coastline, all to be experienced. Not just a desert.
As I mentioned earlier, Oman has a lot to offer. It is not a large desert, although an overnight stay at an Oman desert camp is beautiful. There is a long coastline facing the Arabian Sea, and you have tiny coastal towns like Sur and water activities to experience. There are many wadis to visit.
And north of Muscat lies the Al Hajjar mountains that is good for canyon views and some hiking trails.
Best time to visit Oman.
You must avoid the hot summer months of June, July, and August. The best season to visit Oman is from October to March. This is also the high season with pleasant day temperatures and no rainfall. The shoulder season of March and April may be good for costs.
Al Hajjar mountain area gets cold from December to February so make sure you have packed a jacket, jeans or pants, and sturdy shoes for winter. As does the nighttime in deep desert areas where you would need a light jacket to keep yourself cozy.
Oman is a Muslim country, so visiting during Ramadan would be a very different experience. You cannot eat, drink, or smoke in public during the month of Ramadan.
Do a road trip across Oman.
The country has a good road network that makes it fun for a road trip. It is easy to rent a car or a 4WD and take it everywhere beyond Muscat, to the mountain area in the north, and to the desert area in the south, plus to coastal towns and oasis spread across Oman. Fuel is one of the cheapest travel costs here. Also, remember that if you are traveling to this region it is quite easy to combine a Dubai itinerary with a trip to Oman.
This Oman road trip itinerary that includes Jabal Akhdar mountain area, Wahiba Sands desert, Wadi Shams, the coastal town of Sur, and Muscat, makes for a great couple or family vacation.
We found it comfortable to drive here. The traffic was not chaotic, and most folks adhered to lanes and speed limits, especially on highways. Our friend chose to rent a car with a driver while we went on the self-driveway.
Oman is a traditional country, and you would see many local women both in Muscat and outside the capital, in traditional garments. So, wearing loose clothes that cover your legs would make sense everywhere. Loose cotton and linen clothes work well in Oman.
Even while swimming in wadis or at public beaches (little oasis with watering holes used for swimming), don’t wear bikinis. That said, while staying at Hotel W in Muscat with kids, I saw women in different swimwear: from long swimwear up to knees to maillots and bikinis. But step outside a 5-star hotel and the world is different!
If you are visiting a mosque, both men and women need to cover their legs, shoulders, and heads. In fact, at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, I discovered that you can rent an abaya (traditional garment for women) if you are not properly dressed. You would need to remove your shoes before entering a mosque.
Don’t get drunk in public.
It is not just clothes that are conservative in Oman. Your behavior needs to be modest as well. So, no swearing loudly in public. Alcohol is served at high-end restaurants and all international hotels. But it is not okay to get drunk in public and behave inappropriately.
While greeting locals, don’t extend your hand to shake especially with a woman unless she extends her hand first.
Money exchange and credit card usage
Credit cards are accepted widely in Oman. But in small coastal towns or villages on a road trip, or taking a taxi, tipping (at your discretion) your guide or car driver, or for buying groceries from a local shop, you would need to carry some cash. You can withdraw some cash at the Oman airport when you land. ATMs are present across cities, and they would accept cards from VISA, Mastercard, Cirrus, Maestro, etc.
I Omani rial = USD 2.6. Omani currency is strong, and the country is not exactly a budget destination. Though options for accommodation and food exist across all budgets.
Try the local cuisine.
The local cuisine in Oman is delectable and has similarities to the northwest frontier cuisine in India and Pakistan, but less spicy. Rice and grilled meat are commonly found. While on an Oman trip, you must try the local cuisine. The influence of Indian and Lebanese cuisine is quite distinct. You have to eat using your right hand.
Majboos or Makboos is a traditional rice dish popular in the Middle East. It is made of basmati rice, lamb or chicken, some vegetables, and spices. I found many rice dishes akin to biryani in India. Another traditional dish is Shuwa. This is grilled meat with Omani spices. Omani bread is served with many dishes in restaurants. I found this thicker than Indian roti. You will also get a variety of kebabs, named Meshkak. This is marinated and grilled beef, mutton, or chicken on skewers. For seafood lovers, try Mashuai, grilled kingfish with traditional Omani spices.
We tried the Omani Halwa as a dessert. It tasted different from the Indian Halwa.
Try the kahwa and local dates.
You will find Omani coffee, also known as kahwa, and dates everywhere. Many resorts and hotels welcome you with a cup of kahwa and dates. As do locals if you are invited to their homes.
You will see different size and shaped palm trees all over Oman. Different varieties of dates are found all over and make a good souvenir or Omani gift to take back home.
Communication in Oman
English is widely spoken in Muscat and is commonly used amongst people from hotels, restaurants, and those involved in the tourism industry. We were surprised to find Hindi being spoken amongst a lot of the staff at our desert stay until we realized that many of them were Indians working in Oman.
Arabic is the official language of Oman. But you can get away from not knowing it at all. You will hear people speaking almost exclusively in Arabic once you get out of Muscat and go to smaller towns. It is good to know some phrases. A small dictionary or Google Translate app on your phone will help if you are planning to spend more time in rural areas.
Don’t photograph government buildings.
It is prohibited to photograph any military or government building in Oman. Even while photographing locals or children, do take permission before doing so.
Tipping is not really a requirement.
You can tip at your discretion, but it is not a requirement in Oman. Hotels and restaurant bills usually include a service charge of 10%.
Haggling is expected in a Souq
Like the markets in Istanbul, if you are headed to a souq to buy something local, ask the prices from a few shops to get a broad sense. Some haggling is required before you buy the item. Omani souqs, like the Muttrah Souq in Muscat, are good for buying Omani artifacts, spices, traditional clothes, jewelry, trinkets, and souvenirs.
Tap water is drinkable in Oman.
Carry a reusable water bottle and get it filled at your hotel or any restaurant.
Packing essentials for Oman
Loose cotton shirts, pants, or shorts, and loose summer dresses in cotton or linen work well. Do pack a hat and adequate sunscreen. And sandals and slippers to roam around everywhere. Sturdy shoes and a jacket or sweater are a must for the mountain areas even if you are not hiking.
Please remember that you must be properly covered while entering a mosque, so do carry something that covers your upper arms and legs completely. It is also a good idea to carry a scarf or stole to cover your head.
Keep reading: Explore the Gulf: 4 Must-visit countries beyond UAE
Shweta has always been passionate about travel and immersing in new experiences. Having been to over 40 countries, she blogs at Zest In A Tote to bring family-friendly itineraries and tips, destinations, and luxury stays to her readers. Her belief in family travel needn’t be boring and one can do a mix of local culture & food, adventure activities, and relaxation, all with family.