Oman- UAE travel info

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13 days,  Jan 09




Kind of travel: me and my girlfriend Elisa in an independent travel

When: 26th Dec08- 7th Jan 09

Do I need a visa?: no at all and we didn't even pay any entry/ exit tax

How I moved: a domestic flight, long distance buses, minibuses, and we rented a car twice

Freezing or baking?: wonderful weather: ranging from 20-28C. You can swim, though you might want to wear a sweater for the evenings or the air conditioned buses. I wished I hadn't brought just one

Where I slept: Cheap hotels aren't so abundant, and standards aren't worth the price; most of the time you won't have any choice, though. With your own vehicle, free camping it's an opportunity

What I liked: english is known almost everywhere, car renting is affordable (30€/ day) and overall safety is total everywhere at any time. As concern the highlights, the sea turtle egg-laying on the beach in the night it's a breathless experience

What I disliked: finding cheap accommodation can be an issue, the highlights need a private veihcle and the lack of respect of most of the Western tourists in dressing

How much daily: Oman deserves its fame as expensive country, but we made it with 46€/ day (double: 30€, dinner: 5€, car renting 30€/day). You'll hardly spend less.

Dangers/ hassles: Inexistent, unless you don't venture independently in the desert.

What to have: as woman a foulard is a must, while the sunglasses unmissable for anyone


[The Travel in Arab United Emirates]

The first appreciated welcome in Oman was at the Wajaja crossing point, having the visa for free, while the second one were the endless palm lined avenues, run alongside by colourful carpet-like gardens and spotted by botanical garden-like roundabouts. I don't know if it was due to the 'Gulf Meeting' held in the capital during those days, but the highway toward the capital was kept as a movie set.
We paid 25€ for a basic double at the Al- Fanar hotel almost on the Muscat sea front promenade called 'The Corniche'. The labyrinth-like Suq, the Fish Market, the Sultan Palace, the Great Mosque…. won't disappoint, keeping you busy for at least a day.
The following day a 38€ domestic flight took us to Salalah, on the opposite part of the country bordering with Yemen. The difference was quite remarkable, in particular in more conservative traditions as the one of the the few women walking around, strictly wearing their long loose black dress called Abeyya.
We settled down in the Tourist Hotel (double: 30€/ day) and the following day we rented a car just for 26€/day to explore the cost of the Dhofar region. If you are looking for an exotic place, this is the one you should go: quote remote, palm dotted, dromedaries wandering around,….
Unfortunately Nov- April is the dry season, so the landscape turns around desert, while in May- Oct the whole area is amazingly lush green.
A good tarmac road led us to visit our first Wadi, called the Dharbat:
Wadi is the Arabic word for a canyon dug by a river that flows on the bottom. The contrast between the arid area around and the green of the palms with the light blue of the waters of the Wadi, make is very scenic. Of course they give their best in the wet season (May- Oct).
The same day we visited the Khor Sour bay, where we had a bath and the remote town of Mirbat.
At 19.00 in the evening we jumped on the night bus heading to Muscat crossing the Omani desert in a 13h night trip. Even if long, it hasn't been that much tiring, despite the several stops we had by the army for passport controls. For sure travelling in the darkness we didn't miss anything, since simply there's anything around for 1000km.
In Muscat we immediately took the bus heading to Sur, but our destination where the Wahiba (Sharqiya) Sands, a sandy Sahara-like desert (otherwise the Omani deserts are rocky), that's one of the main highlights of the country.
Hence after 2h from the capital we were dropped off in a petrol station in the middle of nothing, but a telephone! We called one of the camping listed on the Lonely Planet ('Desert Discovery Tours'). A guy came by jeep to pick up us and, for 2€, brought at the camp settled in the desert at the feet of the a huge dune. Here for 22€/ each (breakfast and dinner included), we took a cabin and enjoyed the beauty of the sandy desert.
We quickly experienced the toughness to walk on the sand and, overall, how the sands burns at midday.
At the twilight we had our 4WD crazy drove on the sand for 10€ , and in the morning a 5 minutes dromedary riding.
In Sur again we rented a car (32€/ day) to reach the 'Directorate General of natural Reserve' in Ras al- Jinz, where we had perhaps the most exciting experience: the sea turtle egg- laying on the beach in the night (read the details)
The day after by car we visited the Wadi Shab (50km from Sur) and we had a walk along his bottom. The contrast of the light blue water with the arid desert turned out worthwhile, although reaching the place we got lost several times and we found ourselves driving on dirty bumpy roads, as we were on a 4WD. Once again, never drive without a map (a serious one, I mean, and not that shitty stuff on the lonely planet)
Early in the afternoon we took the bus to Muscat (3h), but before reaching the capital we were dropped off at Bid Bid, where we found a taxi to Nizwa. The town itself is surely the nicest of the whole country, being a green oasis filled of palms and surrounded by the high peaks of the Jebel (mountain) Akhdar, the whole dominated by the huge Nizwa Fort. The complex of the well kept fort and of the souq around it, form the old citadel, that's for sure one of the highlight of the country, while on the other hands, this makes Nizwa the most tourist place you'll experience in the Sultanate. Anyway, given it's the only case in Oman, I think even the most misanthropist traveller can put up with it.
Two hours by bus led us to Muscat and the following morning we left for the long 6h bus trip to the town of Buraimi to enter on foot the United Arab Emirates.

[The Travel in Arab United Emirates]



First of all, Oman surprised me: I expected the country less developed than I found, in particular in the buses, accommodations, highways, domestic airline… but meanwhile is quite untouched, despite the significant quantity of visitors coming mainly from Dubai.
Corruption is non existent, the safety is 100% everywhere at anytime, and most of the people are English speakers; just these three points will make your trip much easier than in most parts of the world.
As concern the religion, Oman is more conservative than I expected, especially in the Dofhar region (Salalah) you'll be amazed by the quantity of small mosques spread in every corner. For a girl covering your hair it's a great sign of respect, even if not mandatory.
Moreover I got impressed how the whole country is soaked by the respect and devotion towards the beloved Sultan Qabus, who in 40 years took Oman from a 'prehistoric' status to what is today. From the other hand, it's a little bit worrying to think what Oman'll be once without his leader…



Ras al-Jinz (Ras al-Junayz), the easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula, is an important turtle-nesting site for the endangered green turtle. Over 20, 000 females return annually to the beach where they hatched in order to lay eggs. Every turtle lays around 100 eggs and it takes less than two hours, then she cover the hole and crawls back to the sea.

The high season is May- Sept, but in any day of the year you have good chance to see at least one.


The area is under government protection and the only way to visit the site is by booking through the Directorate General of Nature Reserves (24 602285; fax 24 602283) and joining an escorted tour at around 9.30pm every evening taking around 2 hours.
The best is to call one or two days in advance to book.
The centre is 40km from the city of Sur and you need your own vehicle, unless you don't join a group organised by the Sur hotel in Sur.


We settled down at the Sur hotel and asking info about the turtle-nesting, the manager suggested us to rent a car, he didn't seem in the 'I-organise-your-trip' mood.
We rented it at the Sur Plaza Hotel for 17 OR/day (34€) and, confident of our Lonley Planet map (great error!) we left.
We drove for 30min, then the road ended up in the darkness. We turned the car back, found a local, we asked, we thought to have understood, we mistook again, and still again, when at the end we found out a helpful guy who drove us on the right way.
Moral of the story: before leaving, get a decent map!
The Nature Reserves Centre opened in the 2007, in fact I was surprised to find such modern structure in the middle of nothing.
'Sorry, you haven't booked, for this night it's full-booked'
We were almost fainting…
We really begged them for accepting us, and for God Sake we managed! However I guess it has been quite an exception. So don't count on it and book at least one day in advance.
We paid the 6€ fee and in a 10 people group with two guides we had a 15 min walk to reach the beach. You don't need the flash lamp since the guides have, and you wouldn't be allowed to use neither. No flash is permitted, so if you want to take some decent snaps, bring your tripod.
It didn't take that long that we spotted a turtle laying the eggs: personally I had the goose bumps seeing the huge animal in such 'intimate' moment shrouded in the silent darkness with the sound of the sea in the background.
However the best came when, moving away from the turtle laying the eggs, we almost stamped on two turtle-babies just come out from another nest and crawling on their way to the sea.
The guide explained that to keep the right direction, they follow the light of the moon reflected on the sea, in fact with his flash lamp he could really drive them.
For the turtle- babies to reach the sea climbing the small sand-dunes of the beach, it's a struggle, the first one of a difficult life, given that only one or two turtles of the whole nest (around 100 eggs) while survive as adult.



Oman travel tip



EU citizens'll get a visa at the land borders with United Arab Emirates (UAE) of Buraimi and Wajaja.
We entered the country in Wajaja, exited in Buraimi and we didn't paid anything. It seems, anyway, that the opposite way round you have to pay.
Landing in Muscat will let you get the visa at the airport.




The currency is the Oman Rial (OR) (1€= 0,52OM, 1$= 0,38 OM). US$ seems still to be the most convenient currency to be changed, but also euros are well known.



I had the usual vaccinations: ephatite A, B, typhus and tetanus. Hygienic conditions seemed quite good but I cannot hide my stomach didn't really appreciated Oman juices.



I used Lonely Planet (in Italian 3rd ed, translated from 2nd ed, Sept 2007), as usual it's a good support, although too superficial on the transport details. (see tips below)





Buses schedule:

- It turned out very useful to print the buses schedule from Oman National Transport Company, since often there'r just few buses per day and Lonely Planet lacks of details


Domestic flights:

-Oman Air site is very usefull to book or check flight schedule. Flights are affordable and abundant. For instance between Muscat and Salalah there'r more flights (4 per day) than buses (2 per day). In case you are landing in Dubai, take into consideration the flight Dubai- Salalah.


Renting a car:

- Renting a car unfortunately is a must to visit some highlights as the Wadi Shad, Wadi Dharbat, Turtle-nesting,... unless you don't have tons of time to hitch hike or tons of money to get a taxi.
I could rent a car with my non translated Italian driving license, but the credit card is required.
Prices for a modest 2WD car with 200km included (not the petrol!) was around 30-32€ with insurance included.
Don't foget to have your map before leaving!


Wahiba sands:

- On the forum there are lots of discussion about the real necessity to have your own vehicle to visit the Wahiba Sands. We didn't have and we managed without problems.
Call one of the camping the previous day listed for instance in the Lonely Planet and be sure there are not all full booked.
On the Muscat- Sur bus, ask to be dropped off at Al Quabil guesthouse, about 2.5h from the capital. Here you'll find a telephone from where you can call the camping. For 2€ ' Discovery tours camping' came to pick us and took to our tent (20€/ night per person with breakfast and dinner included). Moreover the camping organizes 4WD trip at the twilight (10€/ person) or camel ridings.


Shop opening hours:

- If you don't pay attention to the opening hours of the shops, you risk to waste time as it happened to us with the car renting. Generally speaking every commercial activity shut down from 12.30 to 16.00 and then keep opened till 20.00. Of course Friday to Saturday is holiday


Early morning Muezzin call:

- If you are a weak sleeper (and even if you aren't), don't underrate the early morning wake up due to the call of the Muezin at 5.00 am (The Azan). Having some ear plugs can soften the torture