Oman is a small country with a lot of soul, and a road trip here is a once in a lifetime experience! From breath-taking sunrises in the desert, to hot lazy days by the sea, read on for all the facts on renting a car in Oman, and more.
Renting a car should be high on your to-do list when you’re visiting Oman. Not only does it offer you the independence to go where you want, but it’s also necessary if you really want to explore the country. Outside Muscat public transportation is scarce, so a car is definitely best if you’re planning a trip here.
Where to rent
In the majority of cases you will probably fly into Muscat’s international airport, which means renting from a company on location is the best, and easiest way to go about it. We recommend booking your rental ahead of time online, but especially if you’re traveling during high season which runs from June to September.
Employees at Muscat International Airport speak English and the rental process is fairly straight-forward. Once you get your rental docs settled at the airport kiosk, you’ll be escorted to the parking area where the rental cars are. There are a few well-known companies like Hertz, Sixt, and Europcar at the airport, but as always we did our price comparisons through Kayak first, then settled on a mid-sized 4×4 Mitsubishi SUV.
What to rent
There are multiple rental options you can choose from depending on your price range, but we think a the mid-size 4×4 car is the best way to go. I (Katie) am the only driver in the relationship—I’m beginning to suspect Gaurav doesn’t get his license because he likes being chauffeured around—and I struggle with driving larger cars. Large SUVs were a bit out of our price range anyway, and you should only go with a larger size if your travel group is more than 2 people. If you’re a solo traveler or a couple like us, mid-size 4×4 comes at a reasonable price and still allows you the possibility of exploring Oman more extensively.
The reason for the 4×4 vs. a regular car is that some areas of Oman will require that 4-wheel drive. For example, when you start to drive up Jebel Shams, one of Oman’s most famous mountains, you will be stopped by police at the start of the track up so they can check that you have a 4×4. I don’t know if they would turn you away in a regular car, but why risk it?
Furthermore, some areas of Oman are still not overly developed, so it helps to have a 4×4 to get over those rocky, steep roads. A mid-range 4×4 will also give you the option of being able to sleep in the car, which we’ll talk more about below!
Camping in your car
One of the truly great things about independent travel in Oman is that you are allowed to camp in your car almost anywhere. This means you can cut back on the cost of accommodation and put it towards the car rental instead!
Go shopping at Carrefour in Muscat before hitting the road and pick up a few supplies. You can find cheap blankets, foam mattresses, and other camping gear there and you can do your grocery shopping here too. Stock up on food and water so you’re set if you accidentally get stranded somewhere or have trouble finding places to eat.
Once you’re away from the main city, it’s fairly easy to go off the main roads and find quite shoulders where you can park your car and sleep. Oman tends to be quite safe and Omani are very friendly people so the worst that can happen is you might be woken in the early morning by goat herders taking their livestock out.
The only accommodation Gaurav and I booked ahead of time was our stay in Muscat and our night in the desert. Otherwise we winged it. One evening we drove up Jebel Sham, one of Oman’s famous mountains, and saw plenty of cars pulling to the side of the road for a night of camping. And it’s not just tourists doing this, most of the people we saw were local couples! We ended up spending the night in our car too and got to see a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. We’re not usually ones to rough it, but this was totally worth it and we highly recommend you give it a try. Camping in your car can provide some fun and memorable experiences, and you’ll get to see things other tourists won’t because they’re tucked away in their hotels.
Oman is developing quickly in order to accommodate tourism, so you’ll find a host of brand-new highways criss-crossing the country. This can make traveling to main hot spots a breeze, however, if you want to go off the beaten track things can get a bit tricky.
While there are a lot of big highways, some major parts are still under construction which can mean slower travel in certain areas as well as bad roads. It’s impossible to avoid driving on bad roads in Oman, because most times the route isn’t paved yet to the wadis or desert camps.
On top of that, signage can be scarce and Google Maps doesn’t always work very well in Oman. It might be an issue of connectivity, or some other reason, but we really struggled to find good directions with our map apps. This was how we would end up driving down tiny dirt roads in search of a wadi or a lookout, only to discover that it led nowhere or we’d passed the right turn off.
The thing to keep in mind when travelling in Oman is that you need to be patient and relaxed about getting lost. It can be a challenge, but it can also be an adventure! Gaurav and I ended up on the road less traveled a few times and had some delightful experiences. It can also be scary sometimes, like when we were driving up a mountainside on a dangerous and abandoned track and I realized that no one knew where we were and if we crashed it might be days before anyone came looking for us.
I guess the key is, be smart and safe, but also open to adventure. I know, I know, cheesy, useless advice isn’t it? You’ll just have to find that fine line for yourself when you’re in Oman! But don’t let fear keep you from exploring the country. It’s safe and the people are wonderful, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll have a bad experience.