Oman travel guide
Camel treks, desert camping and 4-wheel drive safaris through mighty canyons are just some of the adventures awaiting visitors to Oman. From frankincense plantations and atmospheric souks that speak of vanished centuries to gleaming modern cities and 5-star hotels fronting on to perfect beaches, Oman is everything you would want from Arabia.
What marks this desert kingdom out from its neighbours is a complex history of interaction with the outside world. From the ports of Muscat and Salahat, Omani traders roamed across the Arabian Sea, pushing back the borders of the Portuguese empire in Africa and founding trading outposts as far afield as Zanzibar and Mozambique, before aligning with the British after the abolition of slavery.
The result, thirteen centuries later, is an outwardly conservative, but strikingly open Islamic society, with a firm belief in the importance of its own traditions but a strong acceptance of other cultures. Many regard Oman as the most welcoming of all the Arabic nations; this is a place where foreigners are invited to sit and sip tea and eat dates out of genuine hospitality, rather than as a preamble to selling souvenirs.
The ruling sultans have taken great pains to preserve the traditional crafts and customs of their ancient civilisation, and the cities of Oman feel much more historic and lived-in than the skyscraper cities appearing elsewhere in the Gulf. The borders of Oman are guarded by a staggering 2,000 desert fortresses, most meticulously restored. It’s easy here to feel transported back to the days of Arabian Nights.
Along the coastline, enigmatic dhows still sail from port to port, while rugged wadis (river valleys) snake into the interior, studded with date-palm plantations, dramatic rock formations and hidden pools. Beyond, immaculately tarmacked highways cross the desert to neighbouring Yemen, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, though many chose to fly to avoid endless drives through barren desert scenery.
More than anything though, Oman is a place to feel safe and at ease. The Omanis are gracious hosts, and visitors will find traditional Arabian hospitality and Islamic culture at its very best.
309,500 sq km (119,499 sq miles).
4,654,471 (UN estimate 2016).
10.6 per sq km.
Sultan and Prime Minister Qaboos bin Said Al Said since 1970.
Sultan and Prime Minister Qaboos bin Said Al Said since 1970.
240 volts AC, 50Hz. British-style plugs with three square pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
If you are a visitor you can drive a rental car using your UK driving licence (both parts must be shown). If you are applying for residence in Oman you can also drive on a UK driving licence until your residency permit is issued. After that, you will need to apply for an Omani driving licence within 6 weeks of receiving your residence card. Residents may find that a UK driving licence is not deemed valid for insurance purposes if an accident occurs.
Driving is on the right. If you are involved in a major road traffic accident you must stay with your vehicle and call the Royal Oman Police (ROP) on 9999. If you are involved in a minor accident, it may not be necessary to call the police, but you must follow the procedures set out on the ROP website. You must keep a Minor Road Traffic Accident form in your car. You can get one from the ROP website or from your insurance company. Car rental companies are responsible for keeping forms in their cars.
Driving can be dangerous outside Muscat; there is a risk of hitting wandering camels and goats on the road. Rainfall can cause sudden and severe flooding in dry riverbeds and on roads that cross them.
The standard of Omani roads is generally good. Driving standards in Oman are not always as disciplined as those in the UK, and the rate of traffic accidents in Oman is significantly higher.
The Omani authorities strictly enforce traffic laws, and there are strong punishments for traffic offences, including fines of up to OMR3000 or jail sentences of up to three years. You must wear a seat belt when in the front seat of a car, and it’s illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving. There’s zero tolerance towards drink-driving. Speed limits are clearly posted on major roads.
Excursions to the desert and mountains can be dangerous unless you are in an adequately equipped 4×4 vehicle. Always travel in convoy, take a supply of water and a mobile telephone (or satellite phone) and leave a copy of your travel plans with friends or relatives. You should also make sure you’re insured.
Many areas of the Gulf of Aden are highly sensitive. Vessels entering these areas have been detained and inspected, and there have been occasional arrests. You should make careful enquiries before entering these waters or visiting ports. You should also consider how regional tensions may affect your route. Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb regions may be at increased risk of maritime attack.
While there have been no successful piracy attacks since May 2012 off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant. Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.
The safety of tourist boats may not be up to UK standards. Make sure life jackets are available for all passengers.
There’s a possibility of unannounced demonstrations throughout the country. You should avoid all demonstrations.
Developments in the Middle East continue to have an impact on local public opinion. You should be aware of local sensitivities on these issues. Follow news reports and be alert to local and regional developments, which might trigger public disturbances.