Oman and its Arabian Peninsula are considered the pearl of Arabia. Surrounded by the rugged Hajar mountain range, scree and sand deserts and the Gulf of Oman, the country offers numerous excursion possibilities.
Practical travel tips for Oman
Here are a few tips to make travel planning a little easier:
The most important first: Food in Oman
The Omani food tastes very good and contains many borrowings from Moroccan cuisine. But also the cuisine of other African and Asian countries is represented.
Hummus and pomegranates come with all dishes – they are ever-present with meals, morning or evening.
The Omani cuisine borrows much from the Arabian realm, and you also feel yourself quickly transported to North Africa when they dish up Moroccan couscous and all that goes with it. In any event, everything is very tasty.
However, the bacon does not come from the pig but from the beef. Optically very similar, this variation is a bit tougher. But the Koran forbids the consumption of pork. And of alcohol. But in the hotels you can easily get fine wines from all over the world.
In case of need on a roadtrip one stops for a snack at a big gas station. They have well-developed shops similar to ours.
In restaurants one should not be surprised if individual guests eat with the (right) hand.
Different countries, different customs.
The typical Omani coffee is served in huge coffee pots. However, these usually only contain the quantity for a strict espresso cup. Later we switched to tea.
Climate and best travel time for Oman
The summer in Oman is not very pleasant for us Europeans, because it can get very hot, humid and hazy with over 35 °C.
The best season to travel to Oman is in winter from November to April. Daytime temperatures are a pleasant 25-30 °C.
During these months, however, there is also the main tourist season in Oman and therefore more tourists can be expected. But in November we didn’t find it overcrowded anywhere. Especially the souks were very pleasant to visit.
It should be noted that in the Akhdar Mountains it is about 20 °C cooler than at sea level in Muscat!
But it can also be very fresh in air-conditioned rooms. We always had a wool sweater in our backpack and a down jacket in the mountains. Once again this has proved to be very successful.
Flight to Muscat with Oman Air
Oman Air is currently the only airline that flies from Zurich, Switzerland directly to Oman. And that every evening at 21:35 o’clock.
Oman Air flies the route with a Dreamliner 777, but the seats in the Economy are tight and close together. At best, it’s worth making the web check-in early (48 hours before departure possible) in order to secure seats with more legroom for an extra charge.
The flight time takes a little more than 6 hours, so that one lands in Muscat the next day shortly before 7:00 a.m. local time. This corresponds to 4 a.m. CET.
We think about booking the next long-haul flight in Business Class. We get too old for such stunts!
Who plans a roadtrip through Oman, we recommend to spend the first day or a recovery night in Muscat and to start the journey only on the following day. Because the distances in Oman are big and the motorways are sometimes a bit monotonous. So it’s more fun to drive relaxed!
Anyone who leaves Zurich or Europe on Thursday evening and arrives on Friday morning must know that this corresponds to Sunday in Oman. Many shops are then closed, there is a lot of traffic around mosques.
If you fly back to Zurich on Friday, you will not leave until 3 p.m., but you will still be woken up at 5 a.m.: Then the muezzin will call out loudly over their loudspeakers for Sunday prayer…
Visa for entry
A visa is required to enter Oman. Since March 2018 an E-Visa must be applied for before entering Oman via https://evisa.rop.gov.om/. The tourist visa for 10 days costs OMR 5 (approx. 13 CHF) per person.
The visa is normally issued within 24 to 48 hours after the application. We have received it within less than 24 hours.
Important information: The visa is valid for entry within the next 30 days from the date of issue. Therefore one may not apply for the visa too early.
Also you have to take a paper printout of it with you , otherwise you have to print it out on site. Without the paper printout you will not be admitted to immigration!
Rental car – 4×4 SUV recommended
Driving Oman yourself with a rental car is no problem. The relevant road signs are written in Arabic and English.
Traffic behaviour is quite disciplined, partly because traffic penalties for speeding are supposed to be significantly high. In any case, we see a lot of speed radars!
In the countryside on the wide roads mostly huge SUVs drive around comfortably, in Muscat you have to extend your elbows a bit more, because the zipper principle is not common practice here.
However, traffic is relatively dense only in the centre of Muscat. Otherwise, there is no end to the space.
The biggest challenge is the Rental car return at the airport Muscat, because the return station for rental cars is hardly contacted.
Follow the signposts “Departure” and there the parking P2. As soon as you have turned from the ramp onto the parking deck, you drive once around the parked vehicles and then recognize the stations of the rentals again.
It is not far to the departure hall.
If you want to make a detour into the desert or into the mountains – we highly recommend both – you need a 4×4 off-road vehicle. Not because the terrain requires it, but because the police want it that way: The access to the mountains is guarded by a police station, which only lets 4×4 SUVs through.
The road is indeed very steep, but continuously asphalted with 1 to 2 lanes.
Even in the desert the sand road is so stable that we – at least for the trip to the Desert Nights Camp – don’t even let air out of the tires, as indicated everywhere.
For the trip to other desert camps this may be different. In any case we didn’t need the 4×4 four-wheel drive. But of course it is reassuring to be able to call on technical support such as four-wheel drive or limited slip differential in extreme cases.
When we switch on both for a test on the sandy track, we cannot notice any changed driving behaviour.
We have found the best price/performance ratio for rental cars during our research on the website of SunnyCars.com. The chosen car came from Thrifty.com.
For one week at the beginning of November in a Toyota LandCruiser SUV Prado (one of the most popular and largest ships there) we paid 965.00 Swiss Francs.
We didn’t have to show the international driving licence, the Swiss permit in credit card format did, too.
Fuel price and gas stations
At larger petrol stations you can now pay with Visa or Mastercard credit cards in many places. But not everywhere. Cash is therefore still recommended.
The litre of petrol costs approx. 65 centimes (as of November 2018). There are obviously less taxes on it than with us. Our Toyota Prado consumed 8 litres per 100 km. We covered a total of 1’365 km in one week.
Most of the time Walter had set the accelerator pedal to Eco mode. Only during the steep and curvy drive to the Alila Jabal Akhdar Hotel he pushed the tube so hard that the V6 engine jumped into sport mode.
Walter naturally compensated for this in the later descent thanks to outstanding Swiss cornering technology and engine brake. We usually rolled down the steep slopes with idle throttle.
Mobile online surfing in Oman
In order to be able to surf the Internet or call up information in Oman at any time, we recommend buying a prepaid SIM card on site.
We bought a SIM card from Renna Mobile in the arrivals hall of Muscat airport for 8 Rial (approx. 20 CHF), which gave us 4 GB of data (without call contingent). We used only about 1.7 GB of data in twos via the hotspot of our smartphone.
If you have a mobile phone with dual SIM, you can preset the Renna Mobile card for online surfing and as a hotspot, and the normal Swisscom SIM for calls.
Hotels and restaurants offer WiFi almost everywhere. And since hardly any data is needed for route navigation, the smaller 2 GB SIM card would have been enough.
Navigation with downloaded Google Maps map
In Google Maps, you can download regional maps to your smartphone so you can download less data locally.
That’s handy, but in Oman by 2018 Googles Turn-by-Turn Navigation is unfortunately not available. There is only a static route preview and you have to check manually if you have turned off at the right place.
The navigation system of our Toyota was unfortunately surprisingly unreliable. We couldn’t rely on that at all. But in combination with Google Maps we arrived everywhere, even if sometimes with a few “Please turn instructions” …
Cash vs. credit card
The national currency is the Rial Omani (RO), which is divided into 1000 Baiza. 1 Rial corresponds to about 2.60 CHF (as of November 2018).
Visa and Mastercard are now accepted at large petrol stations. At least for the petrol at the petrol pump. For goods from the petrol station shop you have to pay partially in cash.
For a one-week road trip we took CHF 300 in cash from Switzerland. At the SBB counter in Zurich HB they don’t shrug their eyelashes if you want such a slightly exotic currency. “Of course” they would have them, said the counter staff member ;-)
CHF 300 was enough for a week by far, with CHF 200 we would have got through well for petrol at smaller petrol stations, snacks or tips. The rest we paid with the credit card, if not already paid in advance (e.g. hotel nights and rental cars).
The restaurant and hotel bills usually include 15% service and tax. If you are very satisfied with the service, you tip a few hundred Baizas.
Tank attendants, suitcase carriers and valet parking employees in hotels were our biggest recipients of tips.
Plugs and sockets
Type G sockets are used in Oman, as in England.
At the airport, there are numerous power sockets, so that one can recharge one’s various devices during the waiting time for the flight. Therefore, it makes sense to carry the adapter in your hand luggage. Some USB charging stations are also available.
And last but not least:
The Sultan of Oman
Sultan Qaboos of Oman has ruled the country for almost half a century. The then only 29-year-old(!) overthrew his own father in a palace revolt in 1970 because the country’s development was too slow.
Since taking power, Qaboos has been striving to open up and modernize all possible aspects. The 78-year-old and his diplomatic skills were also responsible for the peace and remarkable stability.
He has also ensured that women are allowed to participate in modern life and that they are not disadvantaged as far as possible in the education they receive and the jobs they are offered by the government.
In any case, the Sultan seems to be a very popular man. He is omnipresent throughout the country, with some important buildings such as the Great Mosque and the Opera House in Muscat, but also streets and sports clubs named after the head of the country. You can also see pictures of him everywhere in hotel halls or in restaurants.
Two years ago, the media reported that the Sultan had contracted bowel cancer. Let’s hope that he can push the country forward for a long time, because he seems to be doing well!