Disclosure: I was a guest of Explore Worldwide but all opinions and recommendations are my own. This post also contains affiliate links.
The first time a photo from Oman popped across my Instagram feed, I knew I had to visit. I’d been on a quest to visit various countries in The Middle East for some time and Oman was high on the list. So when I was invited on a press trip to Qatar in early 2018, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to visit Oman.
Upon doing some research, I realized it would be tricker to travel through Oman than I’d initially imagined. I was solo and am not particularly confident renting cars in other countries, which seemed to be the only way I could get around on my own. Local tour companies required a minimum of 2 people per tour, but luckily for me, one tour company just so happened to be running a tour in Oman for the exact dates I’d planned to be there. If that’s not fate, I don’t know what is.
My group tour company of choice is usually Intrepid Travel but I was eager to try a different company which is part of the reason I ended up on Explore’s Mountains, Deserts, and Coast of Oman Tour. If you’re at all considering a trip to Oman and are on the fence about a DIY Oman road trip, you should definitely consider this one. Oman is truly one of the most underrated and spectacular destinations in The Middle East and I would return in a heartbeat (if you’re on the fence, this is me telling you to go ASAP).
So without further ado: my review of the Explore’s Mountains, Deserts, and Coast of Oman Tour, complete with a day-by-day itinerary and everything I loved and didn’t on the trip.
Table of Contents
A Review of the Explore Mountains, Desert and Coast of Oman Tour
I’ve done several group trips during my travels and this was the first time I traveled with Explore Worldwide. I chose them for several reasons: 1) their availability during my dates, 2) the itinerary 3) the price point and 4) the company’s commitment to responsible travel. Unlike the other tour companies I’ve traveled with in the past, this trip seemed to cater to a bit of an older crowd (likely due to the cost of visiting Oman). I’m not sure if this is common for Explore in general or just for this trip in particular. I didn’t mind whatsoever but thought it was worth noting. In addition to this Oman trip, Explore offers affordable adventures in over 100 countries.
Overall, I really liked the itinerary for Oman. We covered a lot of ground and had a good balance of relaxation time and activities. In order to see as much of Oman as we did, we spent a lot of time in the cars. Our group was split into four 4x4s and I believe that those who were in the car with our tour guide, Sunil, may have had the advantage of being able to ask lots of questions. I was fortunate in that the driver in my car spoke English (and I speak Arabic) but there were a couple of cars where the driver didn’t speak English at all. Because of this, I imagine the long car rides were far less enjoyable for some of the other travelers.
At some points, the tour felt really rushed and at others, it felt slow. I would have loved to spend more time at Wadi Shab and I also wish we’d visited the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve (this has since been added to the itinerary).
Additionally, our group concluded that three days in a row of camping was a bit much, and we could have easily skipped either the first or second night of camping, especially given that the third day was spent simply driving in the desert (this has been changed to one night of camping, one night in a hotel, one night of camping).
Lastly, I wish we’d had more opportunities to eat traditional Omani food outside of Muscat.
Overall though, I had an amazing time on the Explore Oman tour and highly recommend it to anyone interested in visiting Oman. Our tour guide, Sunil, was incredibly knowledgeable, and the drivers and cooks all made sure that our experience was an enjoyable one.
Note: Explore’s Oman itinerary was updated a few months after I visited Oman with the below changes.
Based on customer feedback, Explore made a few changes to the itinerary. Passengers will now be staying at a hotel in Ras Al Hadd instead of wild camping on night three. The three nights of wild camping will be broken up (now 1 night camping, 1 night hotel, 1 night camping), to make the trip more comfortable for the group. Due to this change of accommodation location, an evening visit to the Ras Al Jinz Turtle Reserve will now be included in the itinerary. Additionally, a traditional family lunch will be added on day 6 to increase the opportunity to spend time with local Omanis. You can check out the tour and all the itinerary details here.
Should you book a tour to Oman?
First of all, let me just say that yes, Oman is safe and can be traveled to independently. However, I want to explain why I chose to book a tour in Oman rather than travel around independently like I usually do. Unlike many countries, Oman isn’t a popular tourist destination for solo travelers, nor does it have a large network of hostels – or really, any at all. That, combined with limited public transportation, makes it a challenge for solo travelers who want to minimize costs. If, like me, you aren’t confident enough to rent your own car and / or are interested in spending lots of time exploring the desert / mountains, booking a tour is the best way to hit all the cool places to visit in Oman. If you are a confident driver and prefer to do a self-drive Oman itinerary, check out mine here.
Most Omani tour companies have a two-person minimum (#solotravelerproblems) but fortunately for me, I found Explore Worldwide, a UK-based company offering a weeklong tour of Oman for my exact dates. If that’s not fate, I don’t know what is. While their 8 day Oman itinerary was a little too short for my liking, I found that a week was enough time to get a taste of what to do in Oman and convince me to return again someday.
Note: If you’d like to compare all the different tour options to Oman, check them out here.
Why Explore Worldwide?
This was my first trip with Explore but I would definitely travel with them again. These are just a few reasons I loved traveling with Explore.
- Small groups: As an introvert, I hate big groups with a fiery passion. Explore limits their groups to a maximum 18 people, which means you’ll have enough time to get to know everyone on your trip.
- Affordability: Upon comparing the different Oman tour options, Explore offered the most value for money – the tour was significantly cheaper than similar itineraries.
- Responsible tourism: To Explore, responsible tourism isn’t just a buzz word. They carbon offset their tours (starting January 2020), support multiple climate change non-profits, and have minimum ethical standards for tourism experiences. You can read about their responsible tourism practices here.
Things to Know Before You Go to Oman
- You’ll need a visa to visit Oman but you can easily get it online before you go.
- If you decide not to book a tour, renting a car is the best way to get around.
- Get travel insurance. You never know what could happen while you’re traveling which is why I always recommend getting travel insurance. World Nomads is my go-to.
- Bring snacks, especially when you’re headed to the desert or the mountains. I like packing a bunch of Clif Bars with me when I travel but you can always get snacks at rest stops and grocery stores.
- Oman may be hot but you still have to dress conservatively. This is very important for both men and women. Both men and women should wear long pants and t-shirts, covering shoulders and knees. Having a scarf or shawl handy is helpful.
- Get a SIM card. Wi-Fi isn’t always readily available in Oman so if you want to stay connected while there, pick up a SIM from the Omantel desk at the Muscat airport.
- Use Skyscanner to find the best flight deals.
Visas for Oman
North Americans and Europeans (amongst others) need visas to visit Oman. You used to be able to purchase them on arrival at the airport, but I don’t think you can anymore. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to get an e-visa before you go. You can get a 10 day visa for 5 OMR (~$13 USD) or a 30 day visa for 20 rials (~$52 USD). You can apply here.
Explore requires its passengers to have travel insurance, but I wouldn’t even consider going to Oman without travel insurance anyway. You honestly never know what could happen. My go-to insurance is World Nomads for every country I visit.
Packing for Oman
Oman is a conservative Muslim-majority country, so you’ll need to keep that in mind and dress conservatively. Men should wear long pants and t-shirts. Women should do the same – long pants / dresses / skirts and t-shirts or long-sleeved shirts. I also recommend bringing a scarf and cardigan for any potential visits to mosques. If you’re curious as to what sort of items I normally pack for my trips as well as what kind of clothing items would work for Oman, check out my recommendations here. I’ve included a few must-have items below as well.
- Hiking sandals: I wore these hiking sandals in Oman for most of my outdoors activities and to the beach and they were perfect. I also wore them while swimming because a lot of the beaches have rocks. I did see plenty of people who had water shoes but eh, I prefer my items to be multi-purpose whenever possible.
- Body wipes (for camping): For the camping parts of your trip, you’ll want to bring wipes to “shower.” These wipes are scent-free, durable and biodegradable (although I kept them in a little trash bag just in case). Plus, this pack has plenty for you to use on multiple trips.
- Hand Sanitizer and Face wipes: Bathrooms usually have soap but just in case, I like to have hand sanitizer with me. You can bring soap sheets with you, but also be sure to pack hand sanitizer for instances when you don’t have water. Technically, you can use body wipes on your face, but I like having face wipes since they’re gentler.
- Travel toilet paper: Toilet paper isn’t always available in public restrooms so keep some handy in your daypack. You can always buy toilet paper in Oman or take some from your hotel, but I like to keep some of these small toilet paper rolls in my bag and not worry about it.
- Headlamp: This is a must-have for camping. You’ll want these for changing, packing / unpacking, hanging out, plus for any visits to the “bathroom.” You don’t need an expensive or fancy one by any means. This one will do.
- Insulated water bottle and water purifier or water purifying bottle: I always bring a water bottle with me when I travel because single-use plastic sucks for the planet and buying lots of bottled water is expensive and inconvenient. I love Grayl’s water filtering bottle because you can fill directly from the tap and drink almost immediately (an avoid getting sick!).
- Sleeping bag liner: I’m not a germaphobe by any means but since I didn’t bring my own sleeping bag, I was grateful to have this silk sleeping bag liner with me. Not only does it feel ultra-luxurious (in a tent lol) but it also put a barrier between me and my bedding, which made me feel better.
- Travel Insurance: Yes, you need travel insurance for if things (hopefully don’t but often do) go wrong. My go-to insurance is World Nomads cause they’re awesome, straightforward and easy to deal with. Be sure to check out the different plan options to pick one that’s right for you – and read the fine print!
- Power bank: I don’t know if I’m a phone addict or what (jk, the answer to that is an unfortunate but resounding yes) but I legit don’t understand how people can travel without a power bank. You’re out and about all day and using your phone to take photos, and who knows what else. I always carry my Anker PowerCore while I’m out. It’s light, holds multiple charges, and charges phones quickly. Win!
- Fleece: Even in the summer, you’ll want to bring a fleece for potential early morning walks, overnight camping trips, or for the cold desert nights.
- Large scarf or shawl: Having a large scarf on hand is super helpful for impromptu mosque visits or to protect your skin when the sun is feeling just a little too strong. Plus, it’s a cute accessory for an outfit as well!
Mountains, Deserts and Coast of Oman Tour Itinerary, Day-by-Day
Day 1: Muscat
Although the itinerary says the day officially starts at noon, we didn’t go on our afternoon city tour until 3 pm. That being said, arriving in the morning is helpful to get some relaxation time in before it’s time to meet the rest of your group.
If you do arrive the day before or have additional time to kill, I recommend doing an awesome foodie experience in an Omani home or going snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of Daymaniat Islands.
That afternoon, you’ll meet your travel group for the week, then head go on a city tour by car to some of Muscat’s more popular sites.
- Al Alam Palace: One of six residential palaces spread across Oman. Surprisingly, Al Alam in Muscat is not the Sultan’s primary residence; it’s largely used for ceremonial purposes. Built in 1972, the palace is distinct with its Islamic architecture and bright blue and gold façade. Although visitors are not allowed inside the building itself, you can wander around the beautiful courtyard and surrounding government buildings.
- Al Jalali and Al Mirani Fort and Khor Mosque: Two former Portuguese forts left from colonial times that can be seen from outside. The Mosque is one of the oldest and most beautiful in Oman, open to non-Muslim visitors between 8 AM – 11 AM.
- Bait Al Baranda Museum: A small history museum focusing primarily on prehistoric Oman, maritime and trade history, and day-to-day Omani life. While it was interesting, it was not a must-visit in my opinion. Given the option, I would opt for The National History Museum or The National Museum instead.
- Mutrah Souq and Corniche: Easily one of the top attractions of Muscat, the Mutrah Souq is a labyrinth-like collection of shops selling a variety of Omani and Indian products. Here, you can find the best collection of souvenirs, including traditional Arab and Omani goods such as frankincense, myrrh and bukhoor. Haggling is expected, as is cash for purchases, although some shops do take credit cards. Across from the Souq is the beautiful Mutrah Corniche, a stretch of coastline that’s especially exquisite at sunset.
Review of Day 1:
Our first day was an easy introduction to Oman, lasting only several hours. Since most of us had arrived that morning, it was nice that the day wasn’t too strenuous. Although our hotel was great, I was disappointed that there were no restaurant options nearby, leaving us with no choice but to eat at the hotel.
Day 2 Muscat & Wadi Tiwi
We woke up bright and early on the first full day of the tour and started our day off with a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, one of the most beautiful and spectacular mosques I’ve ever seen (and as a Muslim, I’ve been to my fair share). It contains the second largest Persian rug in the world – second only to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi who just couldn’t let Oman have that one. Nonetheless, the architecture and details here are stunningly beautiful; there’s a reason this is one of the top things to do in Oman. This mosque is the only one in Muscat that’s open to non-Muslims so be sure not to miss it. Note: women must be fully covered with a headscarf and up until their wrists and ankles and men should wear pants and cover their shoulders.
Afterwards, we made our way to Wadi Shab. The word “wadi” means valley in Arabic and there are plenty of them in Oman. Most have pools running through them, so they’re a popular place to swim. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to swim at Wadi Shab due to the fact that it’s a somewhat strenuous 45 minute hike to get to the swimming pools. Lower pools at Wadi Shab are actually used for drinking water and are strictly off limits to swimmers.
Still though, I was really bummed that we only stopped here for half an hour. That being said, it’s only an hour and a half drive from Muscat, so it can be easily visited on a day trip for those that have some extra days on the backend of their trip.
Note: On my itinerary, we actually visited Bimmah Sinkhole and Wadi Tiwi on this day and visited Wadi Shab on day 3. These changes were made to accommodate a visit to the Turtle Reserve on day 3.
After lunch, we took a quick car ride to Wadi Tiwi for a short hike to the pools. I was there in April, so the water running through here was on the drier side, meaning no swimming, unfortunately. However, the hike to the viewpoint resulted in stunning views of the picturesque Mibam Village and if you’re lucky, glimpses of cascading waterfalls.
Although our hike was optional, it was fairly easy and the views were totally worth it. The highlight of this area was seeing the surrounding plantations growing all around. I was continually surprised by the amount of vegetation that grows in Oman, especially considering the climate.
Our final stop of the day was where we camped: Fins Beach. One of the coolest things about Oman is that you can pretty much free camp anywhere as long as you clean up after yourself. We free camped in basic tents for three nights in a row starting with this one. The location was absolutely gorgeous: deep blue water, soft, warm sand, and a refreshing breeze. I really enjoyed it.
Review of Day 2:
I really enjoyed the second day of the tour in terms of activities. The food was also pretty good – we had filling lunch boxes during the day and a delicious evening buffet at the camp. When I was on this tour, we were camping for 3 nights in a row so I wasn’t keen on swimming, knowing that I wouldn’t have access to a shower although this has since changed. That being said, camping on the beach was an unforgettable experience.
Day 3: Sur & Ras al Jinz
After breakfast, we made our way towards Sur for our first stop of the day, the Dhow factory.
Fun fact: the Dhow Factory in Sur is the only traditional boat factory in the Middle East. In fact, dhows are no longer being produced for Oman, but instead for neighboring Qatar in preparation for the tourist influx during the World Cup. With seven people working full time, it takes anywhere from ten to twelve months to build just one dhow. How crazy is that? It was fascinating to get the behind-the-scenes look at a real operating factory and it is truly not to be missed if you’re in Sur. While in Sur, we also walked around the impressive coastline and paused for some photos at the Al Aiga Lighthouse.
After our picnic lunch in Sur, we drove towards our hotel in Ras Al Jinz, pausing for a brief photo stop at a fishing village before arriving. We stayed at a beach resort this evening, providing easy access to visit the turtle reserve at Ras Al Jinz. This coastline is an important nesting site for thousands of endangered turtles, and we got the chance to visit the beach with a local guide (turtle spotting not guaranteed).
Review of Day 3:
I didn’t visit Ras al Jinz on my itinerary. Instead, we visited Wadi Shab on this day (but didn’t swim) and spent the evening camping on the beach. I think the current itinerary is a lot better – I would have loved to have visited the Turtle Reserve and spend a night in a hotel. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent in Sur – it was a charming town that showcased the importance of fishing to the Omani economy. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this day of the trip.
Day 4: Wahiba Sands
We had a late start on Day 4 of the tour, with our main objective being to get to camp at Wahiba Sands. We drove for several hours across a stunningly beautiful and expansive desert of soft sand. This area is occupied by Bedouins, and along the way, we saw plenty of Bedu tents and villages. We got to stop at a Bedouin rest stop for lunch, which was really cool. It always fascinates and surprises me to see just how simply some people live.
Along the way, we were treated to some ostentatious yet exhilarating displays of dune bashing. Dune bashing is exactly what it sounds like – speeding up and slowing down the car to slide down large piles of sand. Our group was split up into several cars, and it was hilariously entertaining to see the drivers showing off their skills.
We arrived to Wahiba Sands late in the afternoon, with plenty of time to relax and enjoy the ambiance of the massive desert. We were initially worried that it would be too windy to be able to sit and eat dinner properly, but luckily the chefs du cuisine were well-trained in managing Oman’s temperamental elements.
Review of Day 4:
After surveying the group, we collectively agreed that Wahiba was the best campsite, due to its unique landscape. A bunch of us also agreed that it would have been amazing to camp at the 1001 Desert Camp so that we could enjoy some of the nicer facilities while still being at Wahiba Sands. But honestly, aside from the fact that there wasn’t a single bathroom stop that day, it was a relaxing way to truly disconnect in the desert.
Day 5: Nizwa
After a few stops in the desert, we stopped in Badiya, a small town about an hour from Wahiba Sands where everyone stops to fill gas in their tires and pick up snacks. It took us another two hours or so to get to Birkat al Mouz. I entertained myself by being the car DJ, which made all that time in the car much more enjoyable.
Upon arrival to Nizwa, we visited the Birkat al Mouz date plantation, containing hordes of date trees and an impressive irrigation system (called falaj) used to keep the plants alive and well. We took a leisurely walk amongst the trees while our guide explained to us how date trees are harvested.
After stopping at a restaurant for lunch, we were ready to check in to our hotel…but the hotel wasn’t ready for us. We decided to make use of our time and visit the Nizwa Fort and Castle on this day instead of the next day which ended up making a lot more sense in the schedule anyway.
The Nizwa Fort and Castle is conveniently located at the edge of Nizwa Market, making this area feel like the living pulse of Nizwa. Built in the 17th century, it’s a popular tourist attraction, doubling as a viewpoint and a museum. You could easily spend a couple of hours here, admiring the view and the numerous artifacts from ancient times. Check out this comprehensive guide to Nizwa Fort. The fort and castle are definitely must visits in my book; they provided tons of fascinating insight into Omani culture and day-to-day life that we hadn’t yet learned about.
Our last official stop of the day was to check-in to our hotel. Located a short ten minute drive from the center of old Nizwa, the Al Diyar Hotel was comfortable, clean, and had a pool – win! Dinner was officially on your own that evening, but we all opted to go to a Turkish restaurant as a group.
Review of Day 5:
I was quite happy with our introduction to Nizwa, especially given the mix of activities. I do wish we’d stopped at an Omani restaurant for lunch and / or dinner, but was otherwise happy with how the day played out. Overall, it made a lot more sense to visit Nizwa Fort on this day because it gave us more time at the market the following day.
Day 6: Nizwa & Jebel Shams
We started our morning off bright and early at the Nizwa Souq to catch the chaos of the goat market. It was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed: a goat catwalk, for lack of a better word, with owners parading their goats down a path. Interested buyers (along with gawking tourists) stand on the side of the path, occasionally yelling questions or pulling goats aside for a closer look. It’s thrilling and chaotic and definitely the highlight of a visit to Nizwa Souq.
The rest of the market is separated into sections, including meats, fish, crafts, dates, guns, and more. Perhaps the most shocking was the gun market, where vendors freely display a variety of ornately decorated guns and knives for sale. #Casual. Unlike many markets, I didn’t feel like Nizwa was built specifically for tourists. Rather, the majority of people shopping there were locals. Note: if you’re interested in buying dates, you’re better off purchasing them in Nizwa rather than in Muscat, due to Nizwa’s proximity to date plantations.
After the market, we stopped briefly at the Tanuf Ruins, a site of a tragic bombing in the fight for Omanis to gain independence. The mud brick houses are still in pretty good condition (considering they’re ruins) and you can still see evidence of the irrigation system that kept the village running.
We spent the next few hours driving the bumpy mountain roads to Jebel Shams, Oman’s highest mountain, overlooking Wadi Ghul, which is fondly known as the Omani Grand Canyon. Because of its high peak, Jebel Shams offers a refreshingly cool climate compared to Nizwa down below and is a popular place to camp or stay in a hotel (especially during summer months).
Our drive through this part of Oman was truly spectacular. The untouched nature here was breathtaking and all of us requested several photo stops so we could get shots of the cliffs and canyons. That, combined with the weather at the top left me wishing I could do one more night of camping – this time at Jebel Shams.
Our next stop was so cool: a walk through the date plantations to reach the centuries-old town of Al Hamra. Here you’ll find active and intricate irrigation systems, old abandoned houses and of course, plenty of date trees. Al Hamra is one of the oldest villages in Oman and we were fortunate to be able to peep into one of the abandoned houses in the neighborhood. Although it wasn’t part of my itinerary, this stop now includes a traditional lunch with a local Omani family, which sounds like it would be amazing.
We headed back to Nizwa in the late afternoon and the rest of the day is yours to do as you please. I opted to swim for awhile then go out on my own for a meal. I was determined to eat something Omani, and a local friend recommended I try a camel burger. I’d never tried camel before, so I figured, why not? I wasn’t able to distinguish it from beef (perhaps because it was in burger form). Either way, it was nice to be able to leisurely explore on my own for a bit. The rest of the group opted to eat in a smattering of restaurants near the hotel – all delicious, I was told.
Review of Day 6:
This was the perfect action-packed day, with an excellent mix of independent and group activities. I loved every part of the visit to Nizwa Market and was ecstatic that we were given a few hours to explore leisurely. The highlight was seeing the goat market in action – I’d never witnessed something like that before. Jebel Shams came in as a close second – I only wish we’d been able to spend the night there! But in all honestly, every part of the day was amazing.
Day 7: Wadi Bani Auf & Muscat
After checking out of the hotel, we drove up the mountain, stopping at multiple viewpoints including Sharaf Al Alamein (translated to “The Balcony of the Two Worlds”), a spectacular viewpoint showcasing stunning views of several mountain ranges at once. We were treated to a leisurely drive through a mountainous stretch, stopping to see Hott Village from afar, before continuing down to Wadi Bani Auf and Snake Canyon. We stumbled upon the Audi Balad Sayt Soccer Field in the middle of mountains (no big deal) and stopped for a hilarious impromptu soccer match.
We returned to Muscat late afternoon and checked back in to the same hotel with enough free time before dinner for an optional dhow cruise. Dinner was on our own. Although some people opted to eat at the hotel, a small group of us chose to eat at Kargeen, which I highly recommend. It’s an elegant restaurant with both a spectacular ambiance and equally delicious food. It was an amazing place to sample some traditional Omani dishes and easily the best meal I had on the trip.
Review of Day 7:
Our last day in Oman was relaxing, mostly filled with driving. But honestly, after a busy and bustling week, it was exactly what I needed. Although it would have been nice to get our whole group together for our final dinner, I’m glad that a few of us made a point to get out and make an evening of our last night in Oman.
Day 8: Muscat
The tour officially ends after breakfast on day 8. Passengers can extend their stay and spend more time in Muscat, head to another part of Oman, or fly home later that day. If you’d like to extend your trip, I’ve included some suggestions later in this post.
What’s included and what’s optional?
Because of the way this itinerary was created, there aren’t any optional add-ons (except in Muscat). Almost everything you’d want to do is already included in the itinerary.
- 7 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 3 dinners
- All accommodation and transportation
- All entrance fees to sites
- Breakfast on the first day, 3 lunches (including the first day), 4 dinners (including the first and last day)
- Dhow trip in Muscat
The only real expenses you’ll have on this trip are the few meals that aren’t included, tips for the guide, driver, and camp staff, souvenirs, and the optional dhow ride in Muscat. I didn’t do the dhow ride and ended up spending around USD $120.
The Tour Leader
Explore’s website mentions that all their leaders are local experts. Our tour guide, Sunil, lived between Oman and India and had been doing so for many years. However, I was a little disappointed that he was an expat rather than a native. Also, because of the way the group is split into several cars (necessary due to the terrain), only one group had access to ask Sunil questions whenever they wanted, which wasn’t ideal. I was fortunate in that our driver spoke English (and I speak Arabic) and he was knowledgeable about Omani history but others had drivers that didn’t speak English at all.
That being said, Sunil was kind, patient, and incredibly knowledgeable about Oman. He knew everything about every town and its local background, food, civilization, and history, which he enthusiastically demonstrated during the trip. His knowledge of Oman’s history and sites was downright impressive and he was an excellent and informative guide.
Who travels with Explore?
Explore attracts people from all over the world. However, since it’s a UK-based company, most travelers do come from the UK and Europe, although there were a couple of Aussies and Americans on my trip. The age range varies but the minimum age is 14 years old. This group trip in particular catered to an older crowd (40+), probably because Oman is a more expensive and lesser-visited destination.
I have to say that the majority of the time on group trips, travelers to be curious about other cultures and genuinely interested in gaining new perspectives and experiences. Out of all my trips, I’ve only dealt with a couple of unpleasant passengers (it happens) but have often left the trips with plenty of new friends.
What’s the transportation like?
Our group was separated into several private air-conditioned 4×4 SUVs as transportation everywhere except on our first day in Muscat, when we took a mini bus. There’s also an optional dhow (traditional boat) trip in Muscat on day 7.
What’s the accommodation like?
This trip included 5 nights in comfortable hotels and 2 nights of simple camping (when I did the tour, we camped for 3 nights). Our hotel rooms were all clean and comfortable – I really didn’t have anything to complain about. Some of the hotels had somewhat spotty Wi-Fi, but most people found it to be fine. I purchased a local SIM and was solid. Overall, the hotel accommodation was pretty good!
For the two nights of camping, we slept at the beach and in the desert. These are not ‘official’ campsites so there are no bathrooms or other facilities; Headlamps, water bottles, and body wipes are must-haves and I recommend ladies pack a SheWee as well. Water jugs with spouts are available for hand-washing, etc. Overall, the camping was comfortable and with the updated itinerary, two nights of camping with a hotel in-between sounds like the perfect combination (it was three nights in a row when I did the tour).
What’s the food like?
Omani food is a bit of a mix of Indian / South Asian cuisine and Levantine Middle-Eastern cuisine. I sampled several Omani dishes in Muscat on the last day, but I’m going to be honest: I was super, super disappointed with the lack of Omani cuisine I consumed on this trip. On day 6, you’ll get lunch with a local family, which will likely be Omani food. Unfortunately, this was an addition made after I did the tour.
On my trip, we mostly ate a lot of Indian and Mediterranean food, which was really delicious but…not Omani. I did find in Oman that there weren’t any Omani restaurants readily accessible except in Muscat so that was part of it. The other part was that our cooks at the camps didn’t cook Omani food.
So, if you’d like to get a taste of the Omani food scene, it’s best done in Muscat. Here’s an excellent guide to Muscat for foodies.
Is Oman safe?
I know the media loves to hate on The Middle East, but let me ease your fears: you have no reason to worry for your safety in Oman. There’s a reason you don’t ever see Oman on the news: it’s neutral and friendly with all its neighbors and crime is virtually nonexistent, hence its nickname as the Switzerland of the Middle East. I’ve heard from several people that you can confidently leave your belongings out in the open without fear, but just take the normal precautions that you would take at home and you’ll be fine.
Note: Although I didn’t travel through Oman on my own as a female, several female travelers who did told me they felt incredibly safe the whole time. Women traveling solo in Oman are pretty rare and will attract curiosity, but overall, people are respectful and helpful.
Would I recommend the Mountains, Deserts, and Coasts of Oman tour with Explore Worldwide?
Overall, yes, I would recommend Explore’s Oman tour, especially if you aren’t comfortable renting a car and / or are traveling solo. It was incredibly organized, fun, and covered the highlights of Oman. Plus, the majority of the activities were already included in the cost, making it easier to budget ahead of time. Oman is really a country where a local guide / organized tour is a seriously beneficial addition to a trip, especially if you’re short on time.
There were a few things that I personally didn’t love about the tour. My biggest issue with it was three nights in a row of camping, although that has since been changed in the itinerary (thankfully!). Secondly, although I wasn’t able to visit the Turtle Reserve on my group tour, it has since been added to the itinerary. Thirdly, I wish I’d had access to more Omani food on the tour, since local cuisine is a big draw for me when I visit a new place. Now the itinerary includes a local meal on day 6 – I wish I’d had that when I did the tour! I do appreciate that Explore takes their customer feedback to heart and makes changes accordingly.
Overall, keeping the above-mentioned things in mind, this is still an excellent way to cover a lot of the highlights of Oman in one week. If you want to read even more reviews of the tour, check it out here.
Other Essential Information
The tour starts at USD $1,910 but averages around $1,980 depending on the departure date.
Best Time to Visit Oman
If your tolerance for heat is low, I highly recommend visiting between October and March for mild temperatures. Although this is considered peak tourist season, Oman has not yet reached peak tourism numbers (but tourism continues to increase annually). Many tour operators (including Explore) stop running between the end of April and September due to the weather, although you can still catch shoulder season (and hardly any tourists) in April if you’re really set on going then. Note: If you plan to visit Salalah in the south of Oman, then July and August are the best times to head there.
The official language of Oman is Arabic, which is spoken by everyone. English is widely spoken, especially in more touristy areas. However, it’s always good to learn some Arabic phrases (locals always appreciate this) to communicate some basic things.
Oman uses the Omani Rial, and at the time of updating this post (February 2020), the rate was about USD $1 to .38 OMR. Credit cards are widely accepted and there are plenty of ATM machines all over the country for withdrawing cash. If you’d like to exchange money, it’s best to do so in Muscat for good rates.
Want to extend your trip?
While this itinerary covers the highlights of Oman for those that are shorter on time, there’s definitely a lot more to do in Oman. Here are my recommendations if you want to spend some extra time there:
- Go snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of Daymaniat Islands and spot a huge variety of marine life including fish, turtles, eels and more
- Fly to Khasab and spend several days there. Don’t miss a trip to the fjords of Musandam, nicknamed the “Norway of Arabia” for its epic landscapes.
- Participate in an awesome foodie experience in an Omani home
- Spend some extra time hiking around Jebel Shams
- Fly to Salalah for a couple of days and do a full-day tour of the city
Although I don’t think group tours are necessary for every country, Oman is definitely a country best navigated with a guide. There’s something to be said about having all the details of your trip already planned and having an awesome guide that is knowledgeable both about the history and the customs.
This was my first time traveling with Explore and I loved it. Overall, I highly recommend the Explore Mountains, Deserts, and Coasts of Oman tour to anyone interested in visiting Oman. Our tour guide, Sunil, was incredibly knowledgeable, and the drivers and cooks all made sure that our experience was an enjoyable one.
After visiting Oman on this trip, my resounding conclusion is this: it’s time for you to get to Oman. With a welcoming and fascinating culture and plenty of beautiful places to see, Oman will surely shatter any misconceptions you have about visiting.
Tell me: Would you consider taking a tour to Oman? Why or why not? Share in the comments below!
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