Out of reasons given in the blog post, our experience of traveling in Oman is somewhat limited. We have seen only a small part of the country and the majority of our time had to be spent in Muscat. Following aspects are therefore only tendencies and we keep it short, focusing on what we feel can be generalized for most of Oman.
Scenery: 7.5 out of 10
If you are looking for great variety of natural surrounding, Oman is hardly a great bet. But if it is a pretty, little desert adventure you are seeking, there is a lot to find.
As a bonus, Oman boasts a long and beautiful coastline. There is a great number of uncrowded, pretty sand beaches, some with rocky bays, offering swimming opportunities. Stretches of the coast are famous for their great variety of beautiful seashells. As there is usually no vegetation in form of taller plants or trees around, finding shadow could be a major problem in the hot hours of the day.
For ourselves the most impressive part of Oman have been the many stunning Wadis, hiding in the northern mountains. It is possible to find cool, clear water to refresh yourself and there is a great number of hiking trails available. Fortunately because of their great advantages against the blistering heat, most Wadis are inhabited by farmers, goat and sheep herders living in pretty traditional villages.
We didn’t manage to explore the highest peaks of the Arabian Peninsula, the north western Hajar mountain range – which is supposed to offer great hiking opportunities.
We expected more of the desert though. Much like Iran, the vast majority of Oman’s dry surface consists of barren, monotonous waste- and brushland.
We also didn’t experience the southern greenery around Salahar, which only occurs in the summer months anyway – and is crowded with masses of tourists from the whole Peninsula then!
The cities are neat and pretty in terms of architecture, but feel very lifeless due to the lack of street life. Like described in the blog, people just drive around in their cars.
One big dissappointment was the infrastructure. But in the reverse way of how it would be for most people! Our expectations based on some old travel blogs and guides, describing most parts of the country only accessible by rough dirtroads and winding mountain paths. We were smelling great hitchhiking adventures! The reality – at least in most parts of the north – is the existence of huge, new four lane highways of best quality. As most intercity traffic is using those, the adventures turned into sleepy high speed rides in air-conditioned vehicles.
Last but not least, what we loved: Nearly no trash! The country is remarkably clean!
People: 8 out of 10
Our interaction with Omanis was unexpectedly limited. As we spent so much time in Muscat, we interacted a lot with Indians instead, as they make the majority of pedestrians. Most of those are great and happy to chat!
But based on the experiences we had, Omanis seem to be extraordinary friendly, helpful and hospitable people. Surely hitchhiking is incredibly easy, people even accepted gigantic detours to take us to a wished destination. Often they reacted astonished about us not having an own vehicle. The level of spoken English is comparably good, so in many cases solid conversation was possible.
Even if there is no common language, our experience with village people was amazing: Sitting around the fire in the evening, sharing tea and the most pleasant kind of silence!
Most Omanis living in cities benefited immensely from the economical boom of the last 30 something years under the beloved Sultan Qaboos. The common lifestyle seems to revolve around technology and convenience these days. Nobody shall be blamed after many generation of hardship under the scorching sun! But we felt it hard to enjoy the life of driving every inch by car and being nonstop connected to whatsapp through smartphones, diminishing street- and social life greatly. More than once we sensed an uncomfortably high level of national pride bordering into arrogance. Most people didn’t fail to mention more than once that Omanis are the most hospitable people in the world and in Europe it would be impossible to experience such generosity. When we mentioned nice moments we had with immigrants, like Indians, in the country the reaction once was: “Well, as they are surrounded by so much friendliness and hospitality, they can’t help but to adjust slowly.” Matter of perception I guess…
Nevertheless, the people make surely a big part of the good travel experience Oman can be. It has to be mentioned, that it is indeed a remarkable safe place as well – we never for a moment sensed any kind of danger coming from people.
Food: ??? out of 10
Alright, regarding food we really don’t know what to write. We simply till this moment can’t really say what Omani food is like! Why, after over two weeks in the country?
First: We failed to taste Omani homemade food. The only invitation to dinner we received didn’t work out unfortunately.
Second: We failed to find Omani food. Granted, we didn’t even start ‘searching’ in fancy traditional restaurant. Out of monetary reasons we tried to stick to Indian or Pakistani eateries in Muscat and where dazzled by the delicious, affordable vegetarian food. The only at least Arabic food we tasted were a few decent shawarmas.
So a final statement can’t be given on the quality of the food. But at least the availability from a backpacker’s perspective is not great at all.
Prices: 4 out of 10
Another very unpleasant surprise. We definitely expected Oman to be more expensive than for example Iran by quite a bit. The Emirates gave us a good reality check already. Still, we were negatively astonished by the price level.
In most aspects the price level seems to be easily on western European level.
Public transportation is probably a bit cheaper, but hardly available, as nearly everybody uses private cars. Going around in Muscat by taxi can kill your budget, especially as you will be ripped of too often. Fortunately hitchhiking is that easy, although surely stressful to do in a city like Muscat.
Forget about paying accommodation. We didn’t inquire much but quickly understood that it should be impossible to find any room under around 20 Euro per night. It was mentioned to us that the Omani government wants to boost a certain kind of high level luxury tourism and ignores backpackers and shoestringers completely.
As climate was very pleasant in January and the country is so safe, camping is the best thing to do.
Foodwise we mentioned, that the Indian eateries saved us. A decent vegetarian meal consisting of dhaal and chappati can be had for around 2 Euros. Food in supermarkets is easily as expensive as in Europe, especially trendy imported western products. As a result even when couchsurfing or camping, cooking ourselves or eating the cheapest food we had a tough time to stay below our 10 Euros per day, especially when a minibus ride added to the daily bill.
Summary: 6 out of 10
Two things first: Our expectations where unfairly high and coming from a country like Iran you turn to be spoiled regarding many things. Then we hardly traveled around enough to really form a solid opinion. But something about Oman didn’t appeal to us. Was it the lack of street life? The slowly settling dominance of modern life in Oman and the resulting lifestyle? Our satiety of desert landscapes? Hard to say.
We feel Oman is something like a “Orient light” experience. Visually appealing, no real dangers, friendly people, high quality infrastructure and facilities – but for us it was lacking the ‘kick’. Most people explore Oman by car and we are sure it could be a great place to explore by four wheel drive or even motorbike, to just enjoy the landscape and nature. But it is just no place screaming ‘come back’ to us. We will not conceal though, that we met some worthy travelers, who see things very different and loved Oman – may you hopefully draw a similar conclusion after your own trip!