Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

24.12: Munich -> Istanbul -> Muscat
25.12: Muscat
26.12: Muscat
27.12: Muscat -> Rustaq -> Sohar
28.12: Sohar -> Ibri
29.12: Ibri, Al Ayn, Jabrin fort, Nizwa 
30.12: Ibri -> Bahla -> Misfat -> Ibra
31.12: Ibra, Al Qabil, Wadi Bani Khalid
01.01: Al Qabil -> Wahiba desert
02.01: Wahiba desert -> Sur
03.01: Sur, Ras Al Hadd
04.01: Sur -> Muscat
05.01: Muscat -> Salalah
06.01: Salalah, Taqah, Mirbat
07.01: Salalah, Wadi Dawkah, Nabi Ayoub
08.01: Salalah, Mughsail
09.01: Muscat -> Istanbul
10.01: Istanbul -> Munich

Overview and overall impression
This was our first trip to Oman. We chose Oman for a number of reasons: warm enough in the winter, not too far away from Germany, safe to travel with kids, beaches and interesting scenery.

What is impressive about Oman are the excellent roads and motorways, which allow you to quickly get from one place to the next. Oman is clean and neat, public places and streets are well maintained. Lots of construction ongoing on the streets and motorways at the time of visiting.

Oman is large and sparsely populated. The tourist infrastructure is still in an early development phase.

If it looks from the guidebook descriptions as if a place is remote, this place will indeed be very remote. We visited places where there was nothing, such as for instance the beaches in Ras al Hadd and Mughsail. We were thinking there would be more, instead we just found empty (but very nice) beaches. In Mughsail for instance there are no cafes or shops (the only place were you can buy some food or drinks is the petrol station).

There is a dearth of hotels in many places, especially Nizwa. Although Nizwa is a primary tourist centre in Oman, it has just 3-4 hotels which are fully booked in the winter tourist season. We had to stay in Ibri, because accomodation in Nizwa was fully booked.

According our guidebook 80% of people living in Oman are foreigners, most of them coming from the South Indian continent.

Almost all local Omani men wear the traditional long white dress and a hat or turban. Almost all local Omani women wear black burkas. In the two weeks we spent in Oman we saw no people on beaches (locals or tourists) wearing swimsuits.

It really makes sense to have a 4WD car in Oman, because there are so many places only accessible if you drive off-road and petrol is very cheap. Many unpaved roads and tracks everywhere. Driving on sand dunes in the desert is really fun, but not easy.

Food and petrol for the car are relatively inexpensive (petrol costs only 0.12 OR/litre), rental cars cost the same as in most other tourist places. Groceries and other every day things cost the same as in Europe or are a little bit cheaper.
Hotels are very expensive, probably because there are so few of them and there is very little competition. We spent around 40-50 OR (80-100 Euro) per night, staying mostly in three star hotels. Hotels in Oman are more expensive than in Germany.

The good thing about Oman is the food. It seems that most restaurants are run by Indians or Pakistanis, and everywhere you can get delicious and inexpensive Indian or Pakistani food. It's almost impossible to run into a restaurant serving bad food. Even the most basic places in remote cities serve surprisingly good food. We didn't try the local Omani cuisine.

Hotels in Oman are few and expensive. Despite looking for the less expensive options, we found ourselves spending around 40-50 OR/night on average for a double room. I might add that we chose mid-range places with a certain comfort level.
I hear that in Muscat it is possible to stay for 20 OR/night or perhaps even less, but who knows what room you get. In other places you can only stay in mid-range places, because there is no budget option.
The desert camps in the Wahiba desert are hopelessly overpriced. For instance we paid 50 OR for a basic double room with full board in the Al Areesh camp. The food was included in the price, but the toilet was barely usable. The Wahiba desert is beautiful however.
There is a dearth of hotels in Nizwa - book early in peak season.

Money  / Exchange rate (Dec/Jan 2010-11)
1 Euro = 0.51 OR
1 Euro = USD 1.32
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. You won't need traveller cheques.

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
Following a tip in the Oman forum we bought prepaid SIM cards from Nawras. 2 OR, which includes 2 OR of airtime. For just 1 OR you can surf for 24 hours, using up to 1GB of bandwidth, which is excellent. Local calls are very cheap, overseas calls cost around 0.2 - 0.3 OR /minute.


Internet access
Some hotels, such as for instance the hotel Ibis in Muscat or the Hamdan Plaza in Salalah offer free wireless Internet access in the rooms. Other hotels charge a lot for this service. It then makes sense to use a 3G phone and a Nawras SIM card to surf the web and download emails (using the phone as a modem). It's just 1 OR for 24 hours, vs. 1-3 OR/hour for paid Internet access in hotels. We didn't see many cybercafes in Oman.


In the first week in the north, it was warm during the day, but a bit too fresh to swim in the sea. More or less strong wind blowing most of the time. It even rained briefly for half an hour or so near Sohar. A bit fresh in the evening (long sleeves shirt needed).
Quite warm and hot in the Wahiba desert, so hot that in the middle of the day you would look for a place in the shadow. Not cold at night, a light jacket would suffice.
In the south of Oman (Salalah) it was much warmer, suitable for swimming in the sea. At night warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt.
Very strong sun in the middle of the day everywhere in Oman.

Health / Vaccinations
We didn't bother refreshing our immunisations. We didn't drink tap water, which perhaps might be safe to drink. None of us got sick during the trip.

VISA / Entry requirements
VISA on arrival, a hefty 20 OR per person, even small kids pay full. 80 OR for the four of us (=160 Euro).

Oman is a very safe place. Nobody tries to sell you anything on the street, even in the souq people leave you alone. No hassle at all. Omani people drive mostly in a relaxed and safe manner.

Recommended things
  • The highlight of the trip was driving before sunset over the sand dunes of the Wahiba desert. What a wonderful experience. The kids were ecstatic, laughing during the drive, then on the sand dunes they played with the sand, rolled down the dunes etc.
  • The beach in Salalah is really impressive. Clean, white coral sand soft like feathers, 30-50m wide, extending for many, many km, fringed with coconut palms. In the late afternoon sun it looks like made out of snow. Colonies of water birds on the water line. One of the beast beaches I've ever seen, perhaps the best.
  • The restaurants in Oman.
  • The waterfront of Mutrah (Muscat) around lunch time.
  • What is also amazing is the mountain scenery in the north. Desertic and dry, but every now and then there is a wadi and a date palm oasis. Pretty cool views.
  • Perhaps boat trips, although we didn't try them out. It should be fun however watching whales and dolphins.

Things to avoid
  • Not much actually. What you need to be aware of is that Oman is very sparsely populated and there is not much tourist infrasctucture. You might want to visit a place and end up instead finding yourself in the middle of nowhere. If you travel by car bring enough petrol and drinking water with you.

Getting around
We rented a car (normal saloon car for 14 OR/day), which was perfect to get around, because you don't have to depend on taxis or public transportation. A 4WD car would have been even better, but would have cost more than twice.

We relied on a map of Oman and a GPS navigation system, which made things easy. We used a Nokia 5800 phone with GPS and Navteq maps. This contains also a directory of places to visit, shops, hotels, petrol stations malls etc. Great little piece of techology.

Roads in Oman outside towns are mostly straight and there is very little traffic, so that you can travel at high average speeds (100 km/h, 120km/h on motorways). Even in the mountains there are not so many curves. Since it is so easy to get from A to B we drove a lot (2300km in the first 10 days).

Our car rental agency in Muscat (Budget) gave us a car which was one class lower than what was on the contract, had no children seat even if the contract stated so and they limited the km to 250/day even if the contract stated unlimited mileage. All not a problem in the end because the car was adequate and the allowed mileage sufficient, but we got less than what was agreed.

Taxis in Muscat have no meter and usually overcharge tourists.

We flew with Oman Air between Muscat and Salalah because it is a huge distance (1000km by car), booking the flight on their website. We rented a car in Muscat for 10 days and one in Salalah for 4 days.

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon