A Drive Through Oman

Oman is often overshadowed by the UAE’s glitz and glam, but the laid-back charm of the wadis and small villages throughout the Hajar Mountains ensure ...

Nov 9, 2013

Oman is often overshadowed by the UAE’s glitz and glam, but the laid-back charm of the wadis and small villages throughout the Hajar Mountains ensure that once you’ve been to Oman, you’ll forever want to come back to this stunning country.
Only a few hours’ drive away from the hustle and bright lights of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Oman is immensely rewarding for those who want a total break from city life. If walking through abandoned villages trying to decipher its intricate aqueduct, or falaj, systems or hiking up astonishing wadis sounds attractive, then visiting Oman should be your top priority for the next break.
The easiest way to experience what Oman has to offer is by car. Transportation by car will allow you the freedom to camp where you choose and to explore beyond the larger cities. There are buses between Abu Dhabi and Muscat and local bus services around the country that connect the capital with some cities and towns, including Nizwa. For further transport, taxis are common, even in some smaller towns. Look out for an orange-and-white car. Renting a car in Oman is also possible and highly recommended if you have a European, U.S. American, GCC or international driver’s license.
Beginning in Abu Dhabi, take the road to Al Ain and stop for lunch before making your way to the border. It is easy to get a visa at the border if you are from a List One countries. The visa costs 5 Omani Rials, or 50 AED, for those with a GCC residence visa and can be paid for in dirhams. From Al Ain, continue south via Ibri and then onto Rustaq.
Getting food supplies is easy, as most Food Sale stores have the basics, although camping-specific equipment should be sourced beforehand. Cheap tents and stoves are available at Carrefour and other large supermarkets in Abu Dhabi. Shoppers do not have to look for the best quality products, as Oman is usually warm and dry, except at its higher altitudes.
Photo by Connor Pearce/The Gazelle
Take the fourth turnoff to the right after Rustaq, which is signposted as Wadi Bani Awf. As the canyon narrows, keep driving down this road until it becomes gravel and take your pick of camping spots under the acacia trees. It’s a good idea to grab some shade or situate your campsite so that the canyon walls protect your tent from the morning sun because it quickly heats up the valleys and can make for an uncomfortable wake-up call.
Continue up Wadi Bani Awf to experience some of the most mind-boggling roads, which snake and switchback up mountains and down hillsides with unprotected and significant drops. After breaking camp, drive farther into the valley and venture into Little Snake Canyon. This is a popular spot along the road, as pools of surfacing groundwater allow for a very refreshing swim within rock walls 50-plus meters high and surrounded by huge boulders. Look out for where the water runs over the road, just after a steep section not too far in.
As you make your way through the Wadi, small villages with date plantations occasionally line the road and contribute to what is thought of as one of the most scenic drives in Oman. The single-lane dirt road is popular with tour groups from Muscat, so be prepared for a slow climb as you wait for others to pass. But this is no setback; instead it allows you to take in the beautiful scenery. Some hairy moments are to be expected and four-wheel drive is required, but these obstacles only contribute to the great sense of adventure.
Jebel Akhdar, a flat mountaintop south of Rustaq, offers great views of terraced plantations. Visitors can also take in the landscape from Diana’s Lookout, named after Princess Diana who was helicoptered to the top of this plateau. Find a camping spot for the night or stop at Jabreen castle near the town of Bahla. This 17th-century castle is beautifully restored, with clear and informative plaques describing each room as well as audio guides that provide further detail.
Driving into the town of Bahla, you will stumble upon a magnificent fort and a famous souk that is in the process of being rebuilt and will reopen in the next three months. In the nearby village of Misfat, which is renowned for its network of aqueducts that allow for uniquely terraced plantations of date palms, lies a lush valley created out of a centuries-old form of water control that is still practiced today. Not only do the aqueducts provide water to these communities, but the soft sounds of running water pervade the village and give a tranquil quality so removed from the harshness traditionally associated with the desert.
Stop in Al Ain on your drive back to Abu Dhabi from Misfat. Alongside the stunning scenery is an expression of Middle Eastern landscape that is largely lost in the UAE. While there are many similarities between Oman and the UAE, one’s understanding of the Gulf would be significantly lacking without a visit to Oman.
Connor Pearce is deputy opinion editor. Email him at
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