CAMPING IN OMAN: PLANNING YOUR ROAD TRIP
If you’re an outdoor lover, Oman ticks all the right boxes for a camping road trip adventure. In fact, it’s hard to think of another country that could rival it for such an incredible, rewarding, convenient and safe experience. With a superb infrastructure, cheap fuel and legal wild camping, Oman is one giant adventure playground just waiting to be explored.
With deserts, mountains, beaches and wadis to discover, camping truly offers the most rewarding experience. And in a country where accommodation can be a huge cost, it certainly keeps the budget in check! With two Oman road trips under our belts and a month spent wild camping throughout the country, we’ve got some vital tips to share. Here you’ll find everything you need to know about camping in Oman and planning your road trip.
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Oman is made for off-road adventures and hiring a 4WD is the best way to explore. There’s no denying that this will set you back twice as much as a 2WD, but we guarantee you’ll have twice the fun. Plus, if you’re camping you’ll be saving a huge chunk of money that would otherwise be spent on pricey hotels, so why not take advantage of everything Oman has to offer?
How much does it cost?
A decent 4×4 costs from around $40/day, a 2WD $20/day. There are a number of car hire agencies at Muscat Airport, making it easy to pick up and drop off at the airport. We always use Holiday Autos to book our hire cars and find they have the best deals.
Have the correct documents
Check what documents you’ll need in order to pick up your rental – you might need an international driving permit for example. If you plan to drive in the UAE also, check that your rental company will allow cross-border travel. There is usually a fee for this, payable upon pick up. We had to wait a day for the insurance documents to be prepared and return to pick these up so it’s worth requesting this in advance so your documentation is ready when you arrive. If you use Holiday Autos the team can arrange this for you if you ask and the documentation clearly outlines what you need, plus all the T&C’s.
Some travel insurance policies cover for car rental excess, so take this into consideration when deciding on a policy. We travel with either World Nomads or True Traveller insurance cover, both of which have the option to include this.
A 4WD will take you anywhere
A 4WD will allow you to go almost anywhere, making the most of Oman’s excellent off-road network. We often joke about how Oman’s off-road roads are better than many countries’ regular roads – an absolute pleasure to drive on. They criss-cross the country, linking mountain villages and remote beach towns, often a mere stone’s throw away from a main road yet a world apart. Many of Oman’s best wild camp spots require a 4×4 to reach, and hiring one will give you far more freedom and flexibility.
A 2WD can still take you many places
Renting a 2WD will still allow you to visit many of Oman’s highlights, but in our opinion it isn’t best suited to a camping trip. You’ll find yourself having to park up and carry your camping gear to the best sites, or compromise and settle for less spectacular spots. If it’s all the budget can stretch to though, it’s still doable – check out our best wild campsites post for some great 2WD accessible camping suggestions.
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What exactly will you need to embark on a camping road trip?
Oman’s major hypermarket chains have pretty much everything you need if you’re looking to get set up from scratch on arrival. Or, of course, you can travel with your own gear from home. We found mixing and matching a bit was the perfect balance between comfort on the road and the practicality of flying with all our equipment.
Gear For Camping In Oman
Widely available and cheap (from 5 OMR) in Lulu and Carrefour, but not necessarily the best quality or able to handle windy/wet conditions. If you have your own, it’s probably best to bring it. We travel with our Big Agnes Copper Spur and love it. The MSR Hubba Hubba is also a great option.
Basic camping mats, blow up mattresses or raised camping cots are all available in the hypermarkets. We used our Thermarest mats which are amazingly comfortable, lightweight, and packable.
It can get cool up in the mountains at any time of year but often too warm for a sleeping bag by the coast, so having both a liner and a bag is a good idea. You can pick up a sleeping bag in the local hypermarkets, but best to bring a liner with you (silk is our preferred material).
Best to bring a packable camping pillow with you, but normal bed pillows are easily available.
Easy to pick up from 2.5 OMR
While you could plan stops around cafes and restaurants for meals, having your own cooking equipment and food will allow you much more freedom.
Stove & Gas
The main gas canisters that are widely available in hypermarkets are the dumpy European Campingaz style (like this) or tall cylindrical nozzle type (like this). The tall ones are the most easily available across small stores, too. It’s hard to source the dumpy screw in type (like this) outside of the Sultan Centre in Muscat. Therefore, choose your camping stove accordingly!
Given that you can throw everything in the car instead of having to pack it on your back, buying a tabletop camping stove is the most convenient option. You’ll be able to buy the required gas almost anywhere, and the stove is nice and stable. We picked one up at Lulu for 5 OMR after running out of Kovea gas and having our other small burner break.
Pots, Dishes & Cutlery
If you plan on cooking for yourself you’ll need a few basics. These can all be bought easily in Oman, or bring your own if you already have a camping cook set.
We also bought the following to make life easier and allow us to cook the sort of meals mentioned in the food section below:
assorted utensils bundle
small cool box
Tupperware (for leftovers)
And if you’re a coffee addict like us, we highly recommend this travel coffee dripper.
You can buy wood for a campfire at the hypermarkets and you can also pick up a portable BBQ pretty cheaply, plus bags of coal if you wanted to cook this way. Personally we stuck to our stove to keep costs down.
Charging & Staying Connected
Unless you plan on hanging out in coffee shops and malls, attached to the wall socket for extended periods of time, you’ll need to pack some extra equipment in order to stay fully charged while camping in Oman. It’s also a good idea to pick up a local SIM in order to stay connected.
This is the easiest way to charge your electronics on the move. Most rentals will have a USB socket so make sure you have the appropriate USB cables for your devices with you. A USB cigarette charger adapter is also useful for being able to charge multiple devices at the same time. You can buy these easily in most supermarkets/shops if you don’t have one with you. If you have a laptop you want to keep charged, you’ll need an inverter in order to use the power supply from your car. We had to hunt around a bit but eventually found one in Carrefour Muscat, lurking around in the car section. If this is a must for you, best to bring one from home.
Another option for keeping charged is to harness the power of all that lovely sun you’ll be basking in. Solar panels are lightweight and portable, meaning you can carry them with you on day hikes easily. They’re great around camp too, allowing you to keep everything charged even on short drive days.
It’s always a good idea to have a power bank on you when you’re out and about, or for that overnight charging of your phone when nothing else will do.
Oman is well connected, with mobile phone reception and data connection reaching far and wide. In more remote locations it is a bit patchy, but you’re unlikely to go more than half a day without getting a signal. Picking up a local SIM when you arrive at Muscat airport is quick and easy. We opted for Omantel, but there are a few others, such as Ooredoo, to choose from. You can get a set package from around 1 OMR. We paid 15 OMR for 12GB over 30 days.
Fuel is cheap in oil-rich Oman, costing 0.23 OMR/litre. In our Toyota Fortuner we averaged around 7.5 KM/litre, doing plenty of off-roading.
Over 29 days we spent $414 on fuel covering approx 5100 KM, less than 14% of our total budget. Your fuel economy will depend on the size of your vehicle and how much on/off-roading you do, but these figures are a good guide.
Most petrol pumps are manned so you just let the assistant know which fuel and how much you want and they’ll do it for you. Some take cash only, others both cash and cards. Petrol stations are widely available, however if you’re heading off in more remote areas be sure to fill up and check in advance where local petrol pumps are. A spare jerry can of fuel in the boot is also advisable. To avoid problems it’s a good idea just to fill up any time you see a petrol station (within reason!) instead of waiting until you’re running low. Only once (south of Shanna Port/Masirah Island) did we encounter a station without fuel.
Oman’s infrastructure is top notch and driving is easy, safe and enjoyable. Generally speaking Google Maps (iOS/Android) is better than Maps.Me (iOS/Android) when it comes to navigating here, although a combo of the two can be useful. Just remember to download the maps in advance in order to use them offline.
Google satellite view is particularly useful when hunting out off-road trails, figuring out alternative routes and getting an overview of the landscape. The Oman Off-Road book is also incredibly helpful, providing GPS coordinates for key points along the routes outlined. This makes it easy to pinpoint them on Google Maps/Maps.Me and navigate to/from/between them.
If you’re not accustomed to driving a 4×4, or your rental vehicle model is new to you, take some time before setting off to look through the manual and familiarise yourself with the basics. Read up on how/when to switch between H2, H4, and L4 modes. Know what to do if you get stuck in sand, mud, sabkha, etc. Better to know in advance than be rifling through the glove box in a precarious situation! Your 4×4 should include a tire pressure gauge for letting out air before driving on sand.
Road signs are generally easy to understand and the condition of Oman’s roads are excellent. Drive on the right. Speed limits are clearly indicated and your car will likely start beeping if you go over 120KPH, the max speed limit on the main highways. We found other drivers to be generally courteous, but should you encounter a situation be sure to keep your cool – raising your voice, getting angry or making erroneous hand gestures are not the done thing and could land you in serious trouble with the law.
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CAMPING IN OMAN
How to Find Camp Spots
There are no official campgrounds in Oman, just a giant wild camping playground. This means a certain degree of roughing it, but an immense sense of freedom. Wild camping in Oman is legal anywhere, apart from a very few nature reserves and, of course, on private land. With so much choice, how do you decide where to stay and make sure you’re pitching up in the most scenic spots? We found a combination of three resources to be best – iOverlander, Google Maps satellite view and the Oman Off-Road book.
This open source mapping app is great for identifying potential camping spots. It’s used by overlanders all over the world to share information about, well, just about anything useful to someone doing an overland trip. There are loads of wild camp spots marked in Oman, including GPS coordinates, a brief description and sometimes even a photo. Some of our favourite spots came from iOverlander (iOS/Android), and we’ve added a few great ones too.
Google Maps Satellite View
This is great for scouring the land in search of a nice beach, flat patch of land or such like. Be sure to download the map in advance so you can access it everywhere.
Oman Off-Road Book
This book saved us so much time and effort, directing us to many an awesome camp spot. Suggested wild camps are marked for just about every route, making life (and planning) very easy. Highly recommended!
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Where to Camp
From a legal perspective you can camp almost anywhere in Oman. From a safety and environmental point of view however, there are a few things to consider before pitching up.
If you’re planning to camp on or near a beach, be sure to check the tides. Do an internet search to get exact tide times and heights (prior to losing internet connection!). Tides are highest when there’s a full or new moon, and higher during the night compared to day. Take a look around the beach and the last tide mark should be obvious. You can judge a safe camping distance based on this, and knowledge of whether the next tide will be higher or lower. Survey the area and opt for higher ground. We made a mistake on our second night camping at Bandar Al Khiran and woke up in shallow water! We thought we had pitched far back from the tide line, but failed to notice we were camped in a lower channel where the tide swooped in, cradling the dry section higher up.
Wadis are seasonal riverbeds, often dry but prone to flash floods in the event of heavy rain. Be extremely cautious if camping in wadis, checking the weather for both the immediate and surrounding areas. Distant rain can run off the mountains and cause a flash flood in a wadi far away. If you are camped in or near a wadi, pack up and move on at the slightest hint of bad weather.
CAMPING DO‘S & DON’TS
Leave no trace should be your mantra while wild camping in Oman. It’s your responsibility and obligation to ensure you clean up after yourself (even if others don’t, which is sadly often the case).
Have a dedicated rubbish bag around your camp and put all your waste in it straight away to avoid forgetting about it or having the wind blow it away. We re-used supermarket shopping bags for our garbage. Stick your bin bag in the boot until you come across a public bin to dispose of it in – they’re everywhere in Oman from beaches to mountains.
You’re going to be doing a lot of bush squatting. A small camping trowel is ideal for digging a hole to ‘do your business’ in. Dig about 6 inches deep, at least 50 metres away from any water source/camp site and cover over the hole when you’re done. Do not bury your toilet paper as animals will dig it up. Either burn it if you have a campfire going or bag and bin it. Be sure to have some hand sanitiser on you to disinfect after.
You can find public toilets at petrol stations, supermarkets, shopping malls, etc.
Be smart about where you light campfires. Avoid anywhere that could pose a fire risk and be sure to light it far away from your tent. Use an existing (or make a new) fire ring of rocks, keep it small and supervised. You’ll need dead, dry wood to burn. Make sure you extinguish the fire fully before going to bed.
Oman’s supermarkets are well stocked, easy to navigate and found in every major town and city. The main contenders are Lulu and Carrefour. Smaller local shops with more basic/limited supplies can be found in villages throughout the country. A little forward planning and the occasional detour into a town will ensure you never go hungry on your Oman camping road trip.
So what kind of food can you find in Omani supermarkets? Well, just about everything you’d expect to find in a supermarket back home, but with a middle eastern slant. Think fresh Arabic bread, a huge fruit and veg section, aisles of packaged food including international brands, a butcher counter, a deli chock full of hummus, olives, tabbouleh salad and the like, endless freezers of food, plus general household goods and clothing.
Depending on just how remote you plan on going, and whether you’ve picked up a cool box and ice or not, you’ll probably want a mixture of fresh and long-lasting food to keep you going. Cooking on a camping stove is cheaper and less hassle than making a campfire or bbq every night, so you’ll want to plan meals accordingly. Here’s some examples of food we cooked on our Oman camping road trip.
You can buy small barbeques relatively cheaply at a hypermarket, plus coal for burning and all sorts of other BBQ paraphernalia, so cooking food this way is certainly an option.
You’ll find bags of ice in the freezer section of hypermarkets to keep a cool box and its contents chilled for a day or so, but be wary of keeping meat, etc. for any length of time. It is hot throughout the year in Oman and food can spoil quickly.
A plentiful supply of water at all times is essential on your Oman camping road trip.
Staying hydrated is important, not to mention all the water you’ll need for cooking and washing. Fresh water supplies from natural sources like rivers are few and far between however – you certainly won’t be camping by a stream every night. While bottled water is cheap and plentiful, in the interest of minimising your plastic waste it’s best to refill existing bottles rather than continuously buy more.
We suggest buying two or three (depending on just how off-road you plan on going) 6L bottles of water at the start of your trip and refilling these along the way.
Often the easiest place to fill up is the local mosque. While some ablution taps are inside, many are external. It’s quick and easy to fill up your empty bottles here, outside of prayer time of course.
Public toilets and the bathroom sink at petrol stations are other places to fill up. In the mountains, we came across many water filling stations near villages. These usually have a big water tank on top of a dispenser.
Filling up at a mosque and in the mountains
Oman’s tap water is generally considered safe to drink, however personally we always sterilise our drinking water using a Steripen, combined with a filter to ensure there’s no weird floaty bits. We filled our 6L bottles to use for washing and cooking, and filtered a litre at a time into our Nalgene water bottles for sterilising and drinking.
Wild camping in Oman means no facilities. No showers. No sinks. No running water. So how do you keep yourself, your clothes and your cookware clean? We camped for 25 nights in a row, picking up a few ideas on the subject.
The most enjoyable way to freshen up is in nature’s bath – a wadi pool. Plan your Oman road trip around visiting one of these regularly. A few good ones with fresh water more or less guaranteed year round are Wadi Damm, Wadi Suneik, Wadi Bani Khalid and Wadi Shab.
Taking a dip at serene Wadi Damm
Oman also has plenty of gorgeous beaches, and while salt water isn’t ideal for washing in, it will make you feel less grubby. Nothing beats waking up at sunrise, crawling out of your tent and diving straight into the sea. Our favourite beach camps include Al Jadi Beach and Rocky Beach in Musandam, Fazayah Beach(es) south of Salalah, Bandar Al Khiran, Yiti Beach and Masirah Island.
A number of beaches in Oman have fresh water tanks and these are ideal for having a makeshift shower (if you have a bit of privacy!). I took full advantage of this after a boat pulled up at secluded Rocky Beach and a couple of guys jumped out with hoses to replenish the tanks.
If there’s no tank around, but you have a bit of privacy, go ahead and turn the boot of your vehicle into a bathroom. A little bit of water in a cup, plus some soap and a shower puff will go a long way! Del found the car side mirrors perfect for shaving.
A cup and large tub (I used our cool box), is all you need to wash your hair. I also found a few random taps to stick my head under. Dry shampoo works a treat in between washes.
Note that Oman is a conservative country and unless you’re in a completely private spot, you should cover up appropriately when swimming. Bikinis are a no no. A long sleeved rash guard type top and shorts are a better option.
Don’t pollute any fresh water with soap or shampoo.
The last thing you want is to get sick, so keeping your cookware clean is as important as ensuring you have safe drinking water.
The easiest way we found to keep our dishes clean was filling up the big pot from our cook set with boiling water and suds, using it like a sink. In the warm air your dishes will dry quickly, otherwise flap them about a bit until they’re dry. Remember to pack a cloth or dish scrubber and you can use the same suds for your dishes as your laundry. If you don’t have a big pot, any solid bucket, tub or basin will do.
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Doing laundry on the go can inspire some pretty inventive contraptions. We’ve seen a tub strapped to the back of a 4×4, given a good old shoogle when off-roading, and heard of giant ziplock bags being engaged. We like to keep things simple and hassle free with our Scrubba. This genius invention goes everywhere with us and makes it possible for us to wash our clothes anywhere, as long as we have some fresh water.
Wash day on Rocky Beach, Musandam and Fazayah Beach, Dhofar
If you haven’t heard of it, the Scrubba looks like a dry bag, but has a flexible internal washboard and a valve to release excess air. You just pop your clothes in, along with water and suds, roll down the top and clip it. Release the air via the valve, then rub away for a few minutes. Pour out your dirty water (away from any rivers, etc.), add fresh water to rinse and then wring out your clothes and hang them up to dry. The Scrubba also doubles up as the ideal dirty laundry bag because you can compress out all the air and contain the stink. It does an alright job as a makeshift drybag around water too, keeping our stuff dry when swimming across various wadi pools. Do yourself a favour and grab one of these travel game changers now!