19 AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN OMAN
Oman is one of our all time favourite countries. Just thinking about it makes us want to jump on a plane to Muscat, load up a 4WD, and hit the road heading, well, anywhere. Because no matter where you go, there’s something incredible to see or do. Yes, Oman has deserts, but it also has so much more. Waterfalls, beaches, mountains and wadis make up a landscape so strikingly beautiful, Oman is bound to capture your heart as it has ours.
Having spent six weeks in the country, travelling from Musandam in the north to Dhofar in the south, we’ve narrowed down a list of our favourite places to help you get the most out of your trip to Oman. Whether you’re planning a quick Muscat stopover, or a month-long road trip adventure, here are 19 amazing places to visit in Oman.
OMAN HIGHLIGHTS MAP
Use the map below to find everywhere mentioned in this Best of Oman Guide. You can also download an offline version to Maps.me (iOS/Android). Tap the menu button at the top left for more details, to toggle layers on and off, and switch between satellite and terrain view. Tap the star symbol to save to your own Google Maps.
MUSCAT & AROUND
At the heart of modern day Muscat lies the fascinating historic district of Muttrah. With traditional shop fronts, homes and buildings nestled between the port and dramatic mountains, it’s a delightful place to wander and soak up the atmosphere. The picturesque corniche sweeps around the bay, perfect for a golden hour stroll. Stop for a fresh fruit juice at a streetside cafe, before climbing to the top of Muttrah Fort for commanding sunset views all around.
Stunning views aside, the biggest highlight is undoubtedly the old Muttrah Souq. The best place to shop for gifts or souvenirs in Muscat, it’s equally good for a spot of people watching. A warren of side alleys spread out from the main arteries of the market, with all manner of goods for sale. The distinct aroma of frankincense wafts near the main entrance, luring customers in to shop for colourful spices and fragrant incense. Besides the tourist shops you’ll find plenty of genuine local crafts and produce. There’s everything from jewellery to kuma, the delicately embroidered traditional caps worn by Omani men. And don’t forget to look up – the elaborately carved woodwork of the market ceiling is beautiful.
Budget accommodation is hard to come by in Oman but for location and price Naseem Hotel can’t be beat if you’re looking for somewhere in the heart of Muttrah. We stayed here on our first trip to Oman and loved the sea views out our bedroom window.
SULTAN QABOOS GRAND MOSQUE
Grand yet elegant. Opulent but graceful. Magnificent while still intimate. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is architecturally stunning, and like all things Omani, refreshingly tasteful in a region more commonly associated with glitz and glam.
The main prayer room is undoubtedly impressive, with its 21 tonne hand woven Persian carpet and 14 metre tall crystal chandelier demanding attention. It’s the grounds and outer corridors however that had us lingering in delight. Patches of light and shadow bounce off the pristine Indian sandstone, while minarets, arches and trees are perfectly reflected in the mirror-like courtyards.
Skirting the main complex are long walkways with row after row of intricately designed niches. They tell the story of Islamic architecture and design through the ages, from around the world. Plaques describe the motifs, materials and common features of Islamic art, the niches evoking traditional styles from the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, India and beyond. It’s a fascinating lesson in both history and design, one of the most interesting places to visit in Oman.
BANDAR AL KHIRAN
From treasures of a man-made nature to those entirely sculpted by mother nature. The dramatic coastline of Bandar Al Khiran is a delight of fjord-like inlets, tranquil bays and sandy beaches. If your time in Oman is short, this makes an ideal addition to the highlights of Muscat, just an hour south of the capital. There’s a great wild camp spot to be found here, plus secluded beaches accessible only on foot or by boat. An abundance of coral reefs and crystal clear water make this a popular dive and snorkel spot too.
CHECK OUT OUR DETAILED OMAN ITINERARIES
WESTERN HAJAR MOUNTAINS & AROUND
WADI DAMM & AL AYN BEEHIVE TOMBS
While better known wadis like Wadi Shab and Wadi Bani Khalid are impressive in their own right, Wadi Damm is one of our absolute favourites. Damm means hidden, and that’s exactly how the main pool in the upper wadi feels. Secluded, magical, dare I say a little slice of paradise? Water cascades down a curtain of ferns and greenery into the pool, with a natural shower tucked in amongst the rocks at one end.
You’ll find the most impressive pool in the upper wadi, just past a solitary palm tree. To reach it you need to continue beyond the pool which is about 15 minutes walk in, heading through the cave on the left (if the water is high), or climbing up the rope and dropping down the other side.
While this is reward enough for your forty-five minute hike and scramble through the wadi, the area has numerous other impressive sights to capture your imagination. In the wadi itself you’ll find umpteen petroglyphs, believed to date from around 600BC. There’s a whole wall of them behind the falaj in the car park, and more rock carvings to be found while hiking through the wadi.
Driving in to Wadi Damm the road passes by another historical gem, the Bronze Age UNESCO beehive tombs at Al Ayn. They are particularly impressive given the backdrop of towering Jebel Misht.
WADI BANI AWF & BILAD SAYT VILLAGE
Wadis come in all shapes and sizes. Some are completely dry outwith the rainy season, others have a permanent pool of water perfect for swimming. Unlike Wadi Damm or Shab, Wadi Bani Awf is essentially a huge steep-sided valley. Picturesque villages are dotted around, and an exhilarating off-road route links the mountains of the Western Hajar, at around 2000m, to the Batinah Plain far below. It’s an incredible ride, but only for those with a 4WD and experience on tricky roads.
One village not to miss on the journey is Bilad Sayt. Tucked away up a side road, this impossibly pretty village of traditional houses overlooks a palm plantation and lush terraced fields. You can drive there, or hike the 8.5km on old donkey trails on routes W10h and W8 from Sharaf Al Alamayn.
For those up for a challenge, Snake Canyon (Wadi Bimmah), is also nearby. This 3-4 hour traverse involves swimming through ravines, cliff jumps into wadi pools and abseiling. If you’re looking for something less extreme, Little Snake Canyon could be a better option.
Note that it’s dangerous to off-road through Wadi Bani Awf (and especially to tackle Snake Canyon) during or after rainfall. It’s also important to be aware that there is a serious risk of flash floods in any wadi, at any time.
PLANNING A CAMPING ROAD TRIP AROUND OMAN?
JEBEL SHAMS & THE BALCONY WALK
In the Western Hajar Mountains lies Jebel Shams, the highest peak in Oman at over 3000m. Below it is the spectacular Wadi An Nakhur, commonly known as ‘Oman’s Grand Canyon’. This dramatic landscape is one of the most stunning places to visit in Oman and not to be missed.
For an amazing view, drive up to the rim of the Grand Canyon, where you can peer over the edge into the plunging wadi below. Look carefully and you’ll spot a faint trail running along the ledge, a hundred metres or so below the rim. This is the Balcony Walk (officially route W6), and an absolute highlight of the region. To start the walk, drive to the village of Al Khitaym and follow the painted flag-shaped markers all the way to the abandoned village of As Sab at the far end of the canyon. It’s a relatively easy 7km return walk, with the views far exceeding the effort required. Allow 2.5 – 3 hours total, including time to explore the village and admire the incredible landscape.
MISFAT AL ABRIYEEN
Tucked away in the scenic mountains of the Western Hajar lies quite possibly the most charming village in the Middle East. With traditional mudbrick houses tumbling down the hillside, disappearing into the lush date palm plantation below, Misfat Al Abriyeen is a magical sight. Most of the original residents have moved on, either to modern houses across the valley or further afield. But a few locals remain, and one such runs the wonderful Misfah Old House, the perfect place to stay while you experience the village vibe.
For such a small place, it’s easy to get lost wandering the narrow mudbrick alleys of Misfat. And in the plantations below, an intricate network of falaj weave their way through the terraced fields. Follow these ancient waterways and see where you end up, or take a longer walk on the W9 route towards the high plateau overlooking Wadi Bani Awf. Whatever you do, don’t miss the local dates, the most delicious we’ve ever tasted.
NIZWA, BAHLA & JABRIN FORTS
The country boasts a huge number of forts, some crumbling in disrepair, others carefully restored to perfection. Three of the best can be found a short distance from each other on the plains of the Hajar Mountains. As such it is one of the most historically significant places to visit in Oman.
Nizwa Fort, the most famous of them all, sits in the centre of this modern city, surrounded by markets, mountains and the beautiful dome and minaret of the Al Qala’a Mosque. The main courtyard has an impressive staircase leading to the upper walls of an enormous drum-like tower. The views from the top are spectacular.
Bahla Fort lies 40km to the west of Nizwa, completely dominating the landscape. Its size is seriously impressive, and the commanding views from the top, over plains, plantations and surrounding villages, make it well worth the climb. The mudbrick village of Bahla, at the foot of the fort, is a great place to explore too.
Jabrin Fort is just 10km south of Bahla, and our favourite of the three. It’s surrounded by date palms, a sea of green against the dusty ochre of fort and mountains. You can explore the basement date stores, as well as admire the intricate wood and paintwork on the ceilings and balconies of the rooms. Looking up to the sky from the inner courtyard is a wonderful sight – a perfect square of blue crowns the three stories of mud brick and wood.
JEBEL AKHDAR & VILLAGE WALK
Our final recommendation of places to visit in the Western Hajar of Oman is Jebel Akhdar on the Sayq Plateau. In contrast to the stark beauty of Jebel Shams and its surrounds, Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) is a lush and fertile land. Sitting at 2000m above sea level, the air is noticeably cooler here and the plateau receives just enough rainfall to support apricot, pomegranate and Damask Rose orchards. A string of traditional villages cling to the hillsides above picturesque terraced fields, the perfect place for a walk. Starting at Al Aqur, a 4km trail meanders past terraces, along aflaj (plural of falaj), and through villages all the way to Sayq. Officially, the trail is known as W18b. Beyond Sayq, you’ll find Wadi Bani Habib and the fascinating mud and straw house ruins of its abandoned villages.
EASTERN HAJAR MOUNTAINS & AROUND
WADI BANI KHALID
The tamest of the wadis? Probably. But you can’t deny its beauty! Easily accessible and more ‘resort like’ than any other, Wadi Bani Khalid is a perennial favourite amongst families, tour groups and those keen to experience all the relaxation with none of the adventure. With that said, it definitely pays to get an early start here (8am ~ 9am) when your chances of having the wadi pools to yourself are greatly increased.
From the car park it’s a short and easy stroll along a falaj to the main wadi pools. They are large and come complete with seating areas and a cafe tastefully arranged around the (mostly) natural rocks. The pools are surrounded by palms and greenery, completing the oasis in the desert feel.
While the main pools are scenic and great for a dip, the upper wadi pools are definitely worth the short walk and offer something a little different. To reach them, keep heading up the wadi, an easy 10 minute walk on the rocks to the right side of the pools. Here you’ll find crystal clear water snaking through narrow gaps in the high sided canyon. A couple of chains have been fixed to the walls, which you can swing from or use to climb up if you fancy cliff jumping.
Stretching around 180km north to south, and 80km west to east, Wahiba Sands is one giant golden playground. Officially named A’Sharqiya Desert, the area is commonly referred to as Wahiba Sands after the Wahibi tribe of Bedouin hailing from here. For those with their own 4WD (and experience driving in dunes), it’s the perfect place for adventure. For everyone else, take advantage of a network of established desert camps and leave the dune bashing to the experts.
Spending a night out under the stars, in the quiet of the desert, is pretty special. Climbing to the top of a dune for sunset is even more magical. For the quintessential desert experience, Wahiba Sands is a must. As places to visit in Oman go, it’s unmissable.
If you’re confident in your sand driving skills and appropriately equipped, Wahiba Sands is a great place to wild camp. There’s an established track stretching north to south through the desert – follow it for a bit and camp nearby the track, or journey the length of it over a couple of days. Check our map for entry and exit points, and follow the track carefully using Maps.me and GPS. Otherwise, arrange a pick up from the main road and book a night at a desert camp like Desert Nights Camp, Desert Retreat Camp, or Queen Desert Camp.
With just the right amount of adventure to keep it on the side of exciting as opposed to extreme, Wadi Shab is on most people’s list of places to visit in Oman. And for good reason. It’s a stunning area, with year-round wadi pools, a hidden cave complete with mini waterfall and impressive rock formations. It’s also relatively easy to access, and just a couple of hours south of Muscat.
A trip to Wadi Shab starts with a quick boat ride from the car park to the opposite side of the wadi, then a hike/wade/swim combo of around an hour to reach the hidden cave. Water levels can vary dramatically depending on how much rain there has been in recent days. If you’re not a confident swimmer (like me), try to time your visit with a dry spell when the pools will be less deep. If you’re uncomfortable at any time, you can always turn around and head back. To reach the cave and waterfall inside it, you need to swim through a narrow crack in the rocks, sometimes completely underwater depending on the water levels. You’ll emerge in a beautiful cavern, with the waterfall cascading down before you.
For wildlife lovers, avid kite surfers or those seeking a quiet back-to-basics beach retreat, Masirah Island is the perfect place to visit in Oman. It’s far enough south to be off the main tourist trail, but close enough to still be easily accessible for those willing to make the journey. It’s a laid back island where livelihoods still revolve around fishing, and the impact of mass tourism is yet to be felt. Indeed, there aren’t many tourist facilities at all. There are limited accommodation options on the island, but ample opportunities for wild camping.
There’s no ‘must see’ attractions here, rather the island as a whole is a place to slow down and soak up the beach vibes. The west coast is characterised by stunning white beaches, brilliant blue water and attractive rock formations. The east, facing the Indian Ocean, is much wilder, with long sweeping stretches of golden sand, battered by wind and waves.
Masirah is an important breeding ground for turtles, with around 40% of the world’s loggerhead turtles nesting here between March and August. There’s no established reserve, like at Ras Al Jinz, so if visiting be sure to treat the beaches, nests and turtles with respect. Most of the nesting beaches are on the east coast and marked with signs. Don’t drive on the beaches or camp here, and do not disturb nesting turtles with bright lights or noise as this could prevent them from laying their eggs.
You can reach Masirah Island by ferry from Shanna Port, around 420km south of Muscat. Private and national car ferries make the trip, taking around an hour and costing from 10OMR one way for a car and passengers. In windy conditions, the national ferry is often cancelled so be sure to check the weather in advance and plan accordingly.
While Wahiba Sands impress with their scale and burnt orange hue, the comparatively tiny Sugar Dunes will delight you with their soft white sand and feeling of genuine remoteness. Few venture this way, and you certainly won’t find strings of tourists plodding along on camels or flashy desert camps here. Instead, a vast white sand beach, backed by picture perfect dunes and the odd camel roaming around.
Let the air out of your tyres and head into the dunes to find your perfect camp spot, or pitch up on the beach and explore the dunes on foot. You may see some locals speeding by in their trucks, but chances are you’ll have this place entirely to yourself.
In the far south of Oman lies Dhofar, somewhere quite unique in the landscape of not just Oman, but the whole of Arabia. While the rest of the region swelters in the dry summer heat, Salalah and its surrounds experience a monsoon known as the khareef. Between June and September high winds and waves batter the coastline, while heavy rainfall turns the land lush and green. It makes Dhofar one of the most special places to visit in Oman, and Wadi Darbat a particular highlight.
Visiting just after the khareef is perhaps the ideal time. The weather is much calmer but the landscape is still a verdant oasis. In Wadi Darbat you’ll find a long river, flanked by lush banks and even a 1000 year old tree, flowing down to form a number of pools and waterfalls. Camels and cows roam freely, munching on leaves and grass. The most impressive sight is the cascade of water gushing over the top of the travertine curtain, a unique geological feature that looks like a sheer wall of pitted mud.
Depending on the volume of water flowing, you can approach the wall and waterfall from both above and below – it’s a truly breathtaking sight. While the pools look oh so inviting, best to avoid swimming in them as there have been reports of bilharzia (a nasty parasite) in the water.
TAWI ATAIR SINKHOLE
Not far from Wadi Darbat lies one of the biggest sinkholes in the world. It’s an astonishing place that becomes increasingly magical the deeper you go. At 150m wide and 211m deep, there’s only so much you can appreciate from the viewing platform up top. For the real wow factor, head down the rough trail to the right of the platform and climb deeper into the heart of the sinkhole, to a rusting old platform about 130m down.
The cacophony of birds is truly astounding, with some unique species found only here and in a part of nearby Yemen (according to the camera wielding twitcher we chatted to up top). From this vantage point, deep in the belly of the sinkhole, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Vietnam or some other tropical paradise. But nope, just one more spot to add to your list of amazing places to visit in Oman.
Almost as far south as you can get in Oman before hitting the border with Yemen lie the secluded beaches of Fazayah. A string of white sand bays, tucked away under the towering cliffs above, it can be hard to choose a favourite. So, best to give yourself a day or so here to beach hop along the coast and sample the delights of each. At low tide, even more pristine white canvases are exposed, hidden behind rocks with azure water lapping at the receding shore.
As with everywhere in Dhofar, camels roam freely, adding to the surreal beauty of this land. Outwith the khareef, it’s a great place to camp, or you can visit as a day trip from Salalah.
Cut off from the rest of Oman and surrounded by the UAE, Musandam is actually easier to get to from Dubai than Muscat. It’s a popular getaway for those living in the UAE, the raw natural beauty of ‘Arabia’s Norway’ the perfect antidote to the glitz and glam of Dubai. The Norway thing hails from Musandam’s many khors, or fjord-like inlets, which characterise the coast of this peninsula. The best way to take it all in is from the sea itself, and there’s no shortage of dhow cruise operators in Khasab, the main town. For the most relaxing experience, avoid the weekends or UAE holidays, and opt for a full day or overnight cruise to really make the most of your trip. You’re almost guaranteed to see dolphins and your dhow will likely anchor by Telegraph Island where you can jump in for a swim and snorkel.
From the land, the best viewpoint is from the top of a curving road heading down to Khor Najd (check our map for the exact location). You can camp here, or head to our favourite beach camp spot in Musandam at Rocky Beach – read more about it here.
High above the glistening fjords of Musandam, an off-road adventure like no other can be found. With views stretching for miles, layers of mountains silhouetted all the way to the horizon, the Musandam Mountains are utterly spellbinding. You’ll need a 4WD to attempt this route, or you can join a guided tour out of Khasab. Highlights include the lush As Sayh plateau, ancient rock carvings and fossils, and the entire section between Jebel As Sayh and the small villages of Qad Qad, A’Rowdhah and beyond.
The off-roading is exhilarating, the locals friendly (both humans and camels alike) and the views out of this world. It’s one of the most spectacular places to visit in Oman. If you’re exploring in your own wheels you’ll find one of our all time favourite wild camp spots at 25.9535, 56.2396 – check out this post for more details. Check our map for key points.
19 AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN OMAN
We hope you enjoyed our rundown of some of the most amazing places to visit in Oman. If you have any questions at all, or places you think should make the list, let us know in the comments below.
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