Backpacking in Oman. O- man it’s going to be expensive I thought to myself when thinking about going on an Oman trip.
Oman is known as a pricey destination for the budget traveller, with a non-existent backpacking style network of hostels or cheap tours to go backpacking in Oman.
Well I can now say that I spent six weeks in the country and had an awesome time and there are a lot of things to do in Oman which I go into deep detail in this post.
It is entirely possible to see the country cheaply. Well, at least cheaper than you think.
Oman is such a cool country and with more budget flights passing through Muscat, and an easy six hour bus ride from Dubai, it should be seen by more backpackers.
So I’m going to run through the places I went to in Oman, which was almost the entire country, and tell you how to go about it cheaply.
Plus my own personal suggestions for areas, as many that are regarded as being a “must see” were not as impressive as more overlooked places.
I have added some links to tours you can do in certain sections that could be useful to you.
Especially the Oman desert safaris that can be difficult to do by yourself. Unfortunately the desert safaris will be where you are most likely have to splash out a bit of cash to do, like the Empty Quarter desert.
First I have some bad news for the budget traveller, there is limited accommodation options for those travelling on a budget.
Seriously there is hardly any backpackers network of places to stay (hopefully changes in the future).
However one of the best things about travel in Oman is to go camping in Oman! That saves you money and is a lot of fun (more on that later).
Use Agoda to book places to stay in Muscat initially while organising other things there as I find this search engine has some of the best deals available.
To be honest there isn’t all that much to do in Muscat itself, so plan just a few nights and hopefully you will meet some other travellers to go on an adventure with.
Although you can naturally find some things to do in Muscat:
Take a look at old Muscat walking on the promenade, head to the sultans palace, eat loads of good kebabs, chill on the beach with the locals and watch them play football at sunset.
Going on a dolphin watching tour is recommended by some.
It’s crucial to meet others if you want to save on costs.
Public transport is almost non-existent in Oman so for the budget traveller looking to save money the best options are to rent a car with a group of you (the best option) or go hitch-hiking. I did a combination of both.
It’s very important depending how long you have in Oman as to how you will go about saving money.
I am going to tell you how it’s possible to do each region cheaply plus general information.
I went to most of the main places of interest and some offbeat ones as well and those are what I’ll cover, as that is what most will want to see.
Getting an Oman Visa and Arriving There
You can get a visa on arrival for most nationalities, whether it’s by land or flying. A 10 days visa will cost around $13 and the next option is the 30 day visa for $50.
You can extend that in Oman to double your time if you need to and is easily done in a few minutes at the immigration at the airport.
Oman itself is amazing and that alone should get you to visit. Another reason is that enough cheap flights pass through Muscat between Asia and Europe as a stopover.
It’s also very easy to get to from Dubai (another cheap flight stopover place) by bus in around 6 hours.
Where to Stay in Oman and Transport to Get Around
As mentioned a budget hostel network is non-existent so you would have to opt for hotels which average $30 a night upwards for a single room.
But Oman is all about being in the outdoors – so go camping!
Yes the absolute best way to save money and actually have the best time and enjoy the country is to camp.
Wild camping is allowed pretty much everywhere. You can also have a campfire anywhere and most petrol stations sell firewood.
You can rent a 2wd car for around $30 a day or a 4wd for $60.
You can get most places with the 2wd so if you can get a group together then just do that. Or if there are four of you maybe upgrade to the 4wd to reach further off road places.
I was always in a 2wd and when things got bad we just got out and hitch-hiked.
Pull over the car anywhere and set up camp under the stars.
Hitch-hiking is easy in Oman.
The people in Oman are as a whole very friendly and helpful. If they see you hitch-hiking they will give a lift if out of anything because of curiosity.
I hitch-hiked with my friend in a few places and the longest we had to wait was only a few minutes.
We also got offered places to stay and dinner by the people giving us lifts, as well as loads of contact numbers and told to call if we needed anything.
Suffice it to say Oman is a hitch-hikers paradise.
There are a few buses between major cities, for example you can go from Muscat in the north to Salalah in the south in 11 hours by bus for $18.
But getting between smaller places there is almost no public transport.
Regions of Oman
It all depends on how much time you have and where you concentrate it.
If you have a month then you can easily take it slower and hitch-hike a lot. If you only have a few days in the north then you will need to rent a car or hitch-hike but stick to one area.
As there are so many good places in Oman to visit it’s best just to spend one day in Muscat when arriving and then get out to the other areas.
East of Muscat – Wadi Shab and Wahiba Sands
Wadi Shab is a popular place to go to and is around 2 and a half hours drive from Muscat.
There is the Bimmah sinkhole by the road on the way to Wadi Shab that you can stop to look at, although to be honest it isn’t that great.
At Wadi Shab you can hike through the valley for 30 minutes or so until you get to an area of just water where you will need to swim for several minutes to get to a grotto.
Inside the grotto you can do cliff jumping!
After chilling in the valley go find a budget hotel in Sur if there is a group of you as we found one that wasn’t so expensive, or just camp anywhere on the beach nearby.
You are not allowed to camp on the beach past Sur where the turtle breeding ground is.
I didn’t make it to the breeding ground as it was out of season to see them well. Check if they are around as I’m sure it’s worth taking a look.
From Sur or the turtle breeding ground head for Wahiba Sands. If you leave early you can take a look at Wadi Bani Khalid en-route for a few hours.
Arrive to Bidiyah as it’s the best way to get into the sands. If you’re by yourself and are hitch-hiking around you can try hitching into the sands as bedouin and tourists go along the main desert dirt road from there.
Otherwise you could hike for 10-15 km to get into the desert. Bring enough water.
If you arrive by 2wd car you will want to leave it where the desert begins as it’s not a good road. You can pay a local bedouin to drive you into the sands and drop you of in the dunes away from the road.
Bargain hard. Otherwise try hitching or walk in. We paid for the lift as we were a group of 4 so wasn’t so bad.
Camping is great there but don’t expect the same experience as you would get in the Empty Quarter desert as it’s more built up.
Between Wahiba Sands and Muscat there isn’t really much to see so just head straight back.
This whole trip takes 3 days so if you don’t have much time it’s one of the loops you can do.
If you have more days you can continue to the Jebel Shams area for hiking and camping on the mountains.
In case you only have a day and no transport options take a tour to see the area:
West of Muscat – Jebel Shams and Around
People gave us advice not to drive our 2wd car to the top of Jebel Shams due to the road.
It’s fine for the most part on a paved road until the last several km where it becomes rocky. Ideally you would be in a 4wd but we managed to get our 2wd car up there taking it slowly.
If you get up there early in the day you can do some hiking for 3-5 hours along the side of the canyon and then head down to camp somewhere else.
It is nice camping on top though with a good view and very chilled out.
You can pop into Nizwa for an hour or two to maybe take a look at the fort there, otherwise skip it as the town itself isn’t that impressive (IMO).
Again it all depends how much time you have to what you want to do next. If you head up to the nearby Jebel Akhdar (an hour or two drive from Jebel Shams) you could spend 1-2 nights there having a look around.
In fact you could even choose it over Jebel Shams as it also has some decent hikes and abandoned villages to take a look at.
You have to leave a 2wd car at the bottom as only 4wd cars are allowed up due to the steep road, but it’s super easy to hitch up as people understand the situation and at the top it’s also very easy to hitch around.
In fact people were so friendly they offer to take us out for dinner and even go out of their way to take you to places you wanted to visit.
You can camp anywhere on top easily and there are stores and restaurants in the main town.
If you don’t have the time then choose Jebel Shams or Jebel Akhdar for one night and then head back to Muscat, or if you have another day or two go and do a loop around via Ibra and Rustaq to check out some cool forts.
The drive between Ibra and Rustaq is very scenic.
If you have a 4wd car you can cross over into Rustaq via the mountains from Nizwa otherwise you have to loop around via Ibra,
Forts West of Muscat
I didn’t see all the forts as there’s only so many you can see until they blend into one.
I saw Bahla fort, Jibreen fort, and Rustaq fort. Jibreen was my favourite and is very close to Bahla.
I didn’t actually see the “famous” Nizwa fort due to getting to the area to late, but heard it’s a good one as well.
You can drive from Jebel Shams/Akhdar and see all the forts I have mentioned in one day looping to Rustaq if you leave early.
If you’re more interested in forts than hiking then skip the mountains and do this fort loop instead.
Remember you can camp almost anywhere.
After a few days on Jebel Akhdar we just pulled over a few hundred metres from the side of the road near Bahla and camped for the night.
After Rustaq fort either drive the few hours back to Muscat or if very late and tired then again camp anywhere deserted.
However, we decided to head to the Musandam peninsula which is half the price to get to by ferry from Shinas in the west than it is from Muscat.
It was four hours drive from Rustaq. If you have plenty of time on a longer trip then drive to Shinas and catch the ferry from there. Bear in mind there is only two ferries a week.
If you don’t rent a car and don’t want to try hitch-hiking (maybe you only have 1-2 days on a stopover in Muscat and are short on time), then you may want to take an organised tour to see the forts.
The Musandam Peninsula
We decided to leave our car in Shinas as Musandam isn’t that big and we were going mostly for the fjords which you get to by boat.
It also saved the extra money you have to pay for the car on the ferry. However that means you will be dedicated to get back to Shinas to get the car and that could mean at least four days in Musandam due to ferry schedules.
If coming from Muscat you will pay twice as much as Shinas for the ferry but will not have to worry about coming back for a car and can fly back, or fly both ways as there isn’t much difference in price.
The main reason for coming to Musandam is to see the fjords and go dolphin watching and camp on the beach.
To be honest 2-3 days would be enough to see the whole area well enough.
Spend one day going around the fjords on a tour on a traditional dhow boat and try and see some dolphins and then camp on the beach overnight.
When you come of the ferry turn right on the main road and walk for several minutes and you will get to a big beach where you can camp for free.
It will be around 15 minutes walk into the main town from that beach although locals will offer you a ride if you hitch.
The next day you can try and hitch-hike into the mountains to take a look around although if you have seen Jebel Shams etc then don’t worry about not seeing them, and try to get back out on the fjords to visit some remote villages for the day.
In fact the villages are more interesting to get a look into local life, but can be hard to reach if not on a tour as you will need a boat.
You can always try and grab a free ride with a fisherman in the docks of Khasab as we did.
After two days there really isn’t much to do so if you’re short on time I would suggest spending a little extra and flying from Muscat instead of the ferry.
Separate post on the Musandam Peninsula (opens in new tab).
This whole area in the far south of Oman is one of my favourite parts (I spent two weeks there).
Actually the main reason I had come to Oman was that my dad had served in the British army in Dhofar in 1970 helping the Sultans armed forces fight the communist insurgents.
I wanted to follow in some of my fathers footsteps and show him through photos what it’s like these days, as well as places he could not reach but wanted to.
Here’s a pic of my dad in the Dhofar region back in 1970 (mum misses his hair)!
If you head Dhofar in summer you will be in monsoon season when the usually dry and arid landscape turns into lush green land.
This is also the busiest time tourist wise. The rest of the year it’s not so busy.
One of the reasons I loved it was the lack of tourists as they stick to the north mostly.
If you have the time try and get to Dhofar, it’s a 12 hour bus ride from Muscat, or drive down.
The fastest way is through the centre road of the country, but if you’re on the east coast you can head slowly along there for a more scenic drive, again if you have the time.
Salalah itself isn’t that interesting but has a laidback and more tropical vibe than the north of Oman and a beautiful and clean beach right by the city that is mostly empty during the day.
Salalah is where you should base yourself and you can find reasonably good apartment/hotel rentals which are great value, especially if in a group.
Otherwise camp down by the beach but way away from the sultans palace.
Ar Rub Al Khali Tour (Empty Quarter Desert)
One of the best experiences there was going into the Empty Quarter desert.
This place is remote as hell but there are a few bedouin settlements around and it’s good to meet some of them.
Don’t get the romantic idea of bedouin riding through the desert on camels etc as they all use 4wd cars now.
There are still plenty of camels around though being herded for their milk and meat, including the odd and amusing “beauty” camel.
To really appreciate being in the desert you will have to go with a local in their 4wd car who is an expert on desert travel.
Make sure he/she is a reputable expert and don’t go into the desert with an inexperienced driver. A good driver will take you up riding to near the top of the dunes which is great fun and affords great views.
Unfortunately going on a desert tour is not cheap and would have to be one of your biggest expenses. You can find a driver by asking around hotels.
You can do the day trip to the desert which is what I did, or go for the night and camp under the stars.
One day to get a glimpse was enough though.
You can also hitch-hike to the last bedouin settlement in the Empty Quarter if you have time and then walk a little bit into the dunes.
But be extremely careful and bring water and a compass to make sure you know how to get back, unless you just walk the first dune or two past the settlement for safety.
If you have your own 4wd (don’t take a 2wd it’s impossible in the sand) then you can drive around the bottom of the dunes and follow your tyre tracks back out, but take a gps as well to be safe.
Do not even try to go up on the dunes in your car if you have no experience – a drop can appear without you even seeing it.
For me the Empty Quarter desert was much more impressive than the Wahiba Sands.
Separate post on the Empty Quarter Desert (opens in new tab).
West of Salalah
You can spend a day driving along the coast for great views all the way to the border with Yemen.
It’s not safe to visit Yemen and you would need to get a visa in advance anyway so you can’t cross over even for a few hours.
There isn’t a super load of “attractions” this way but is a nice drive. If you have your own car then a day trip is enough to see everything, if hitch-hiking it’s best to stay the night somewhere so you don’t have to rush.
Otherwise you would need to pay for a day trip out which you can organise in the same way as doing the Empty Quarter trip.
If you had to choose between going to the west of Salalah or the east, go east as there is more to see.
It was great seeing some of the smaller, remoter, fishing villages as they appear to get less tourists and they are very friendly and you may even get offered a free trip out in their boats.
East of Salalah
There are more things to see east of Salalah than the west. Head to Mirbat first stopping briefly to see some ruins of the ancient trade city between Taqah (nothing really interesting in Taqah itself).
In Mirbat go down to the small port to see the traditional dhow boats where they will hopefully be bringing in large catches of fish.
Have your lunch of delicious and cheap fresh fish/rice biriyani in a small restaurant by the docks that the locals frequent (you’ll see it).
One of the best meals I had in Oman.
Go up to Jebel Ali for a view of the plains below and across the sea.
From there go along to Wadi Dirt to chill for a while. It’s not as impressive as the Wadis in the north of Oman but is way less busy and a good place to relax for a while.
You could easily hitchhike the area but it would be best to camp overnight up in the mountains so there will be no rush.
There can be some nice hiking around as well.
The Centre of Oman
Apart from driving through on the cheap bus from Muscat I didn’t stop in the centre as there is pretty much nothing to see, but along the coast there are apparently some nice beaches and you could stop at Masirah island.
I didn’t stop there as I wanted to use my time in the places with more to do than just beach stuff and it’s the only area I didn’t explore.
Backpacking in Oman
So I hope this will give you a good idea of how to do Oman on the cheap and some of the things you can see, and routes you can do.
Oman is one of my favourite countries.
Take advantage of some of the cheap flights and go visit. Before the crowds get there…
Oman travel tip:
Take travel insurance! You never know what may happen when travelling so be safe and take travel insurance.
I had a serious medical incident happen to me when travelling and thankfully travel insurance covered all the costs. I use World Nomads and highly recommend them.
Get a travel insurance quote:
Useful Links For Oman
This is in my opinion the best guidebook you can get: Oman (Bradt Travel Guide)
If there was only one book to read about Oman then I would highly recommend Arabian Sands: Arabian Sands
Although I mostly went camping I did occasionally get a cheap hotel for the night, like when in Salalah.
Enjoy your time travelling in Oman!
A short video summing up the best things to see in Oman:
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