Our adventure into Oman’s interior began three days after our arrival into the country, after an overnight flight from the UK we’d had a few days relaxation at the Shangri La Barr Al Jissah resort, a beautiful hotel complex just outside Muscat which is only accessible via a tunnel. Although the resort is luxurious and has plenty to keep you entertained, by the time we hit the road I was truly ready to experience something different. I was slightly worried when we picked up our hire car (from a multinational hire company) to be told that they didn’t have the sat nav we’d booked, but after a quick download from google maps we were on our way!
Muscat to Nizwa
The first leg of our 700 mile journey was to Nizwa, but first we battled against the traffic across Muscat. I’d heard some horror stories about driving in Oman, but none of it really came to fruition, and our drives were pretty uneventful. Save for a few Youtube videos, I had no idea of what to expect once we were outside of the city in terms of the driving and the roads, and I was pleasantly surprised. All of the roads were of a high standard, and along the way there was a lot of evidence that further improvements were being made.
After about two and a half hours, we reached our first stop, Nizwa. We’d booked our room, at the Al Diyah hotel via booking.com, and really had no idea what to expect. There is a very limited supply of hotel beds in Nizwa, so this we weren’t expecting great things, although it proved to be a nice enough hotel, although some of the breakfast items were questionable, and it was difficult to get a seat by the pool in the afternoon due to all of the tour groups using the hotel.
After check in we headed into the centre of Nizwa to visit the fort. Entry into the fort isn’t cheap at approx. £10 each, and we were there for just under an hour. There are some interesting exhibits with explanations in English and Arabic about life in the region throughout history, and the views are excellent. I wish we’d had more time to explore the souk and the surrounding area, but our highlight was the fort coffee shop, which has two branches, one just outside the entrance and one inside the fort itself. The food here was simple but tasty, and for less than £3 we shared a huge hanging kebab, served with chips and Arabic bread.
Later that night, having not spotted anywhere to eat, we headed out to walk around and find a restaurant. We eventually arrived at the Falaj Daris hotel, and followed the signs to the “lounge”, which it turned out was something of a mistake. Although this was a licenced bar, it was clearly not meant for us, being entirely patronised by older local men. I quickly enjoyed the gin and sprite that I’d chosen due to the limited selection of both spirits and mixers and we left. I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired at this point and wanted to give up on the hotel all together, but my husband insisted that we at least look at the restaurant menu, and I’m very glad we did. The restaurant is inside the hotel lobby and there are also tables by the pool and there is a choice of buffet or an a la carte menu. Most diners were eating from the buffet but we chose the a la carte option, which was excellent and very reasonably priced. We then headed back to our own hotel for an early night, ready for the long day ahead.
Nizwa to Al Wasil
The next stage of our journey took us south east, moving from the rocky hills surrounding Nizwa to the soft sandy dunes of the Sharqiya Sands desert. Along the way we visited Ibra, famed for its markets, including the weekly ladies market, although this was drawing to a close as we arrived. Our next stop was Al Wasil, here we were to wait for a man with a 4×4 to drive us 30 minutes into the desert to the Al Wasil Desert camp. Our pickup point was a petrol station, and like many petrol stations in Oman it also had it’s own mosque and a small café. I’m not usually known for my adventurous nature when it comes to foreign food, but on this occasion I threw caution to the wind and ordered an item off the menu, having no idea what it was. I am still not sure, although it could have been chicken.
Once our ride arrived, we headed off into the desert, and although the route was along a track, I am glad we’d decided not to drive ourselves, as there appeared to be no signs at all. We checked in and spent most of the afternoon relaxing in our tent, once the air conditioning kicked in.
Before dinner we headed out on a dune bashing trip, our driver was really good and we got more than our hour’s time slot, and we also got to watch the sun set over the dunes which was an incredible sight. We were there for about twenty minutes, and in every minute the view and the colours were changing. Some of the dunes we drove down were incredibly steep and high, but at no point did I feel worried, our driver was in complete control at all times. He also took us to see a camel and her four day old foal which were penned in, in the middle of the desert, this was a very strange sight, to see the enclosure in such a huge expanse.
The buffet at the camp was excellent, there is no alcohol (other than a couple of cans we’d brought with us) but soft drinks are included. The food was a mix of Omani and western cuisine including BBQ’ed camel meat.
Al Wasil to Wadi Bani Khalid
We left early the next morning as we had a long day ahead of us, from Al Wasil we headed further south to Wadi Bani Khalid, where you can swim in the lower pools in this paradisiacal spot or enjoy the views from the café. It was relatively quiet here whilst we were there, but I can imagine that it gets busier later in the day. The other thing I hadn’t realised whilst researching the trip is that it is a 10 minute walk from the parking area to the main pool, along a small and in places difficult to navigate path.
Wadi Bani Kahlid to Sur to Muscat
After a paddle and a drink we headed back to the car for the next part of the drive, to Sur, where we stopped for lunch. I’d like to have spent longer here and explored the city more, but we had to have the car back by 4pm, so we then took a drive along the coast road back to Muscat. The coast road is a beautiful drive, with the rocky hills on one side and the beach and gentle waves on the other.
Overall, I enjoyed this part of the trip, but I would have loved to have an extra day or so and headed up to Jebel Akhdar to stay in one of the luxury resorts and take part in the adventure activities they offer. For more about my experiences in Oman, see 24 Hours in Muscat and 5 reasons why Muscat should be your next short break