Oman is not a country that has always been on my bucket list. In fact, until the last few years I didn’t really know much about it! But when we started dreaming of places to spend spring break this year, I remembered that a friend from Prague had recommended a wonderful hotel on the beach in Muscat, and then last year I had seen a couple of travel blogs with incredible photos of Oman and the idea for our trip was born!
What appealed to me about the country is that it feels slightly exotic and off the beaten path, it’s safe for travel with children, you can self-drive, and the country has a diverse beauty (e.g. mountains, beach, and desert) that is easy to explore on a single trip. I bought a Bradt guide to Oman and used the Travelita blog to create our 10 day itinerary and it turned out to be one of the best trips we’ve ever had! Check out our itinerary below for details and inspiration.
Day 1: Muscat
Unfortunately there are no direct flights from Geneva to Muscat so we flew through Qatar on an overnight flight. The flight times didn’t work well for sleeping so when we landed in Muscat at 5:30 am we were all exhausted! We picked up our rental car at the airport (BTW-I’d recommend bringing your own GPS and car seats as all the rental companies were in short supply on these) and headed to our hotel. We had called before our trip to see if we could check in early, meaning crack of dawn early, and they’d said if they had a room ready we could. Thankfully they did and by 6:30 am we were all snoozing. That hotel was a lifesaver! The hotel was attached to a mall, so after resting up and adjusting to the two hour time difference, we had lunch and hit the mall for a few necessities (car seat and GPS!). After that we enjoyed the hotel pool and some American style dinner and Pinkberry fro yo at yet another mall. Oman is so different from Dubai, but this was one of the few similarities…lots of malls and shopping (although not nearly to the extent of Dubai) plus American chain restaurants.
Overnight: Somerset Panorama Muscat
Day 2: Jabal Al Akdhar
Our first stop on our adventure was high into the mountains of Oman for a night of luxury at the Alila. The last 45 minutes of the drive ascends quite steeply and although the drive is not difficult, you do need an SUV for this part of the drive. The hotel can also arrange transport for an additional fee. We had an incredibly relaxing short stay here and enjoyed swimming, lovely meals, morning yoga, and a family hike. You can read more about our stay here for all the details!
Overnight: Alila Jabal Akhdar
Drive Time: A little over 2 1/2 hours from Muscat
Day 3: Diana’s Point, Birkat al Mouz
After making the most of our morning at the Alila, we decided to head over to the other new luxury property in Jabal Al Akhdar, the Anantara resort, to check it out. We had debated staying here for a night so we wanted to see it and compare it to the Alila. The hotel is built around what is known as Diana’s viewpoint, a spot that Princess Diana visited in 1986 with sweeping views of the terraced village of Al Ayn. We had lunch at the hotel and admired the views and then we were off to our hotel in Nizwa. Along the way we stopped at the village of Birkat al Mouz which has a falaj that is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. A falaj is an ancient water channel that is part of an irrigation system that has been used in the region for more than 5,000 years. This system is incredibly well designed using gravity to flow from the higher points to individual homes and cropland. The small village of Birkat al Mouz also has a beautiful date oasis and some lovely mud house ruins right next to new and modern housing in the village. This is common throughout the villages of Oman as families abandon the communal style of living for more privacy and space.
Overnight: Golden Tulip Hotel Nizwa
Drive Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Day 4: Wadi Guhl, Wadi Nakhr, Misfah, Al Hamra
We stayed in Nizwa for two nights because there is a lot to see in the area…in fact, so much that we didn’t get to it all! We love a good view so we set out that day with the intention to go up to Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in Oman. From the plateau there are stunning views into Wadi Nakhr, known as the Grand Canyon of Oman. On the way we passed the village of Guhl, its mud buildings abandoned and crumbling with the inhabitants having moved to the neighboring hill with more modern developments.
We drove for about an hour from our hotel in Nizwa and then the asphalt ends and the road starts to get very steep and narrow. We got about 20 minutes from the plateau and realized we were running a bit too low for comfort on gas as the SUV was burning through it quickly on that uphill climb. I simultaneously had a mini-freakout at the steepness of the drive and how we were taking two small children up to a cliff edge, and so we made the uncommon for us but probably wise decision to turn around and head down. At this point we didn’t really have much of a plan but once at the bottom again, we stopped for gas (key!) and luckily found a grocery store for some lunch provisions.
After re-grouping, I remembered reading in my guidebook that you could actually drive offroad through the canyon so we drove back to Wadi Guhl to try and find the entrance. It’s a bit hidden, but the path starts to the left behind the ruins of the village. We drove the 8 km to A’Nakhr village and it wound up working out perfectly that we saw the canyon from the bottom rather than the top because it turned out to be one of our highlights of the trip!
After a fun journey through the canyon, we headed up a different hill towards the village of Misfah (Misfat Al Abriyeen). This medieval village built into a rock face feels like an oasis with its cover of palm trees and the falaj flowing throughout the village. We stopped at the village cafe for cold drinks and dates before continuing back on our adventure. Our last stop of the day the nearby village of Al Hamra to see more of the mud house ruins. The views heading out of the village were beautiful and after a full day of exploring, we were ready to cool off with a swim at the hotel.
The hotel we stayed at was the nicest in town, but quite dated. We did really enjoy the pool in the evenings and the best part was that the hotel’s restaurant (also considered the best restaurant in town) had their entire menu available for room service delivery at no extra cost. So both nights we swam and then ordered room service to eat on our pool facing patio…very kid friendly!
Overnight: Golden Tulip Hotel Nizwa
Drive Time: who knows! The drive up to Jebel Shams should be the farthest point at about 1 hour 45 minutes. The drive through the canyon takes a while because you go veeerrryyy slow! We spent the most time in the car on this day, but had lots of stops and adventures.
Day 5: Nizwa and Wahiba Sands
I was very excited that we would be in Nizwa on a Friday morning because that is when they have their famous animal souk. People come from all over the region early on Friday mornings to buy and trade livestock and it’s a very unique thing for tourists to experience. The souk ends at 9 am, so we got there early to watch for a bit and to explore the town. After the souk we went to the Nizwa Fort, which was very impressive. The boys especially enjoyed the trap doors at the beginning of every level going up to the fort to capture intruders (thankfully now covered by plexiglass), but fun for little boys’ imaginations! We also walked through the other souks and stopped in the date souk, which was amazing. I had no idea there were so many varieties of dates. You can sample the different kinds and of course, we had to bring some home. Our favorites were the ones covered in white chocolate!
On our way out of town we stopped by the Falaj Daris, which is one of the largest falaj channels in Oman. It was interesting to see the locals picnicking along the falaj despite the nearly 40* C heat, but the local children were having fun cooling off in the falaj!
Next on the agenda was a night in the desert of Wahiba Sands, which you can read more about here. It was absolutely incredible.
Overnight: Nomadic Desert Camp
Drive Time: 2 hours from Nizwa to the desert camp meeting point in Al Wasil, plus another 20 or so minutes of fun desert driving to the camp!
Day 6: Wadi Bani Khalid, Sur, and Wadi Shab
After breakfast and a memorable morning camel ride, we headed out of the desert for our next stop Wadi Bani Khalid, an oasis in the dry, rocky landscape. A wadi generally refers to a dry riverbed that only contains water during periods of intense rain, but Wadi Bani Khalid is supplied with water all year round that flows from a natural spring. It is a gorgeous setting and we were surprised at all the facilities in place for visitors, but since it is one of the most visited wadis in Oman I guess it shouldn’t have been too surprising! There were toilets, a restaurant with a nice lunch buffet, and picnic spots.
The thing to know before going here is that it is a public place for swimming, so it’s important to respect the local customs and if you are female, make sure you are somewhat covered when you swim. I swam with shorts and a t-shirt over my swim suit, which was fine, but we saw many women wearing tiny bikinis and also witnessed some local men asking them to cover up. The women acted clueless, but since there were signs posted around the wadi with this same request, it’s hard to understand how they wouldn’t have known. The thing is, at hotels and the private beaches in Oman it’s totally fine to wear your bikinis, just not in public swimming places. As a fellow tourist, I find it very frustrating when people come to a place and have no respect for the local customs and culture. End rant. 😉
After a swim and some lunch at the wadi, we got back in the car and drove to the coastal town of Sur. It was a bit of a ghost town in the heat of the day, so we headed to the white sand beach to let the boys splash in the waves a bit. The beach was beautiful, but unfortunately quite dirty. We spent a little time just picking up trash and then let the boys play. It was interesting watching the fisherman who would drive onto the beach in their pickup trucks and then stride out into the water fully clothed to throw out a huge net for the fish. Ten minutes later they’d wade back out, nets heaving with fish that were quickly thrown into the back of the trucks before driving away. They made it look so easy! We were hoping to find a place for a cold drink, but not much was open-maybe because of the Sabbath. At any rate, it was a pleasant stop before heading to our hotel in Wadi Shab for the night.
We’d had plans to also visit Wadi Shab this day or the next, but after reading up on it, it didn’t seem like the best place with kids. Boats ferry you across the wadi where you begin a long and apparently precarious hike to get to the swimming hole. We gave it a miss, but did enjoy beautiful coastal views from the hotel. The hotel is very dated and tired, but it’s really the only hotel in the area. It did have great views, a pool, and a restaurant with a good buffet for dinner. It also had a playground, which was the highlight for the kids!
Overnight: Wadi Shab Resort
Drive Time: 2 hours
Day 7: Bimmah Sinkhole, Qurayyat, Yiti
On our last day of exploring, we were excited to stop at one of the places that was inspiration for our trip, the Bimmah sinkhole. When I saw pictures of this place, I knew I had to visit and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The sinkhole is inside a fenced in park and it’s a nice short walk to the sinkhole. There are stairs going down into water, and it is the perfect spot for a swim. If you go with kids, just be aware that it gets very deep quickly. We decided not to swim since we had more time in the car and would be ending the day at the beach and pool at our next resort, but it did look so inviting.
The sinkhole was formed from groundwater eroding through the soft limestone, but at one point people believed the sinkhole was caused by an asteroid. It definitely looked like it could have been!
The drive on this day was especially beautiful with numerous empty, sandy coves near the village of Dibab. With white sands and turquoise waters, these little coves were perfect for beach combing and for tranquil walks watching the fishermen out on the water. We stopped at some point off the highway to try to find some food and lucked into a gas station restaurant with no menu, but serving fresh, tasty, family-style meals. We had fish and it was one of my favorite meals of the trip!
As we got closer to Muscat, we decided to first stop and check out the pretty beach of Yiti. A worthwhile stop with soft, sandy beaches and rocky mountains in the background; it would be a lovely spot for a picnic. After lots of fun and adventure on the road, we were ready for some beachside rest and relaxation, so it was time to make our way to the Shangri-la Barr Al Jissah resort for the remainder of our trip.
We were pleasantly surprised with an upgrade to a sea-view room and as it was Easter Sunday, we arrived just in time for a celebration with games and songs for the kids, free drinks for the parents, and an Easter egg hunt and visit from the Easter bunny. Although well intentioned, the Easter egg hunt turned out to be utter chaos, but the kids each wound up with a toy egg and piece of candy and they were thrilled.
The resort is one of only five locations in Oman where sea turtles come to nest and they have an on-going program to protect and help this endangered species. They had a scheduled release of turtle hatchlings two of the nights we stayed and watching the little baby turtles make their way down to the water was so incredible and a great way to end a very memorable day!
Overnight: Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort
Drive Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Day 8-10: Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort
For the following days we mostly just chilled out at the resort. We really loved this place and I think the highlight for all of us was the super fun lazy river just outside of our room. The resort consists of three hotels-one for adults only, one for families, and one catering more towards business travelers. We stayed at the family resort but you were also able to use the pool and restaurants at the business hotel which you could even access by lazy river-the best mode of transportation!
The kids had fun visiting the kids club a couple of times while we worked out at the gym or lounged pool side. We enjoyed the beach and one morning made use of the free kayaks to check out the beautiful stone archway near the adults only hotel. The food at the resort was good but not great, but breakfast was an excellent selection so most days we would eat a big, late breakfast and then just have an early dinner or a light snack for lunch. We liked the extra touches the hotel provided like bringing everyone by the pool or beach coolers filled with cold water. It was definitely appreciated in the heat! What was annoying was that they allowed people to save pool and beach chairs so we had to come out first thing every morning in order to get a decent spot. All in all, it was a great experience and I would definitely recommend the resort.
On our last full day we took advantage of the hotel shuttle to visit the old part of Muscat and wander around the souk. We didn’t want to miss seeing the traditional part of Muscat, but it was nice not having to drive into the city ourselves. After buying a couple of souvenirs, we came back and ate at the resort’s nicer seafood restaurant to celebrate a great end to a great vacation. Oman was a country that completely won our hearts and we would recommend a trip there for families without hesitation!
Know Before You Go:
- Driving- Lukasz did all the driving and aside from the scary part of the road up Jebel Shams, it was all fine. He loved the off road parts. There are goats (and donkeys and camels) everywhere…it’s good to have a co-pilot to keep an eye out for wildlife. There are also radar cameras all along the highways. Although Lukasz tried to stay within the speed limit, we wound up getting a ticket in the mail from the rental car company once we returned home. Oops!
- Dress- It’s important to respect the local culture and dress modestly. This means for women no shorts or tank tops, although on a private resort it’s basically anything goes.
- Pictures- It’s also polite to ask people before taking their photos and to not be surprised or offended if they say no, particularly the women.
- Signs- Most signs are in both Arabic and English, but do be aware that sometimes there are several different but similar names of a place.
- Alcohol- Oman has a fairly tolerant culture and alcohol can be purchased at the duty free airport shop and at the larger private hotels. If you drink in a hotel that does not sell alcohol, it’s generally acceptable as long as you are discreet about it.
Thanks for following along on our adventure and happy travels!