Whether it’s a camping trip with friends, a family escape, or a romantic couple’s weekend away, there’s nothing quite so bonding as a good-old-fashioned road-trip – and Oman’s got some of the best routes to roam as Swati Basu Das discovers.
Travel doesn’t necessarily mean dipping into the luxury of five-star accommodation, relishing seven-course meals, and booking expensive plane tickets. At its essence, travel can be encapsulated in that intangible feeling of wonder while discovering the joy of adventure. And if travel is, truly, a journey into yourself, what better way to learn your strengths (and your limits!) than embarking on the ultimate road-trip.
And as the blessed winter weather takes hold, our weekend wanderlust is calling out along the Sultanate’s captivating networks of winding roads – feats of human engineering carved into the very mountains and running alongside some of the most breathtaking natural views in the nation that transform the journey into an experience.
From heart-stopping hairpin turns and stunning panoramas, there’s something to be found around every new bend that appeals to the heart of the rover inside us on these journeys. Be it a fuel-sipper, mid-sized sedan, SUV, or minivan – you can make the most of a good-old-fashioned road-trip no matter what kind of vehicle you drive. (Though we don’t recommend you go off-roading or up some of the steeper mountain passes without the security of a 4×4.)
Through the ascending heights of the high Al Hajjar, to the blue coastal roads, meandering wadis, and desert paths sandwiched between golden dunes, each twist and turn can become an enduring recollection for the avid road-tripper. Whether rugged or smooth, each path throughout the nation’s vast road systems remains admired for its quality of construction, while interweaving themselves with the country’s diverse and picturesque landscapes. And while some roads offer incredible views of the surrounding land, others shed light on its architectural or traditional values.
This being said – it’s no wonder Oman ranks among the top ten countries worldwide when it comes road-trips that mesmerize. The Sultanate’s road systems themselves can be considered works of engineering art in their own right – paving an impressive network over the past 49 years connecting villages, urban centres, and major tourist hotspots.
Some of our top classic road-trip routes to embark on from Muscat this winter can stretch anywhere between 45 to 1,000 kilometres – it all depends on how much gas you have in your tank and how willing you are to hit the blacktop outside the comfort zone of the familiar!
A 45-minute drive from Muscat, the road to Bandar Al Khiran’s table-top mountain is a short sojourn that will reward you with stunning views amidst the cliffs and khors. The scenic, winding road offers spectacular glimpses of the turquoise blue waters below along a trail that forms a series of loops and bend. The way is heavily guarded by rugged cliffs on one side, and panorama views of the mangrove marshes and fishing boats on the other.
For those not afraid to venture a little further outside the city limits, this is the road-trip for you. The best way to witness the enigmatic beauty of Oman’s coastline is from afar and this 200 kilometre stretch from Muscat to Sur makes for a great driving experience. The eastern slopes of the Al Hajjar range on your right, and the downhill views of the azure Arabian sea on your left unfold to reveal and landscape that’s nothing short of dramatic. On the way, stop to explore the wonderful pebble beaches, the popular Bimmah Sinkhole, and the enchanting oasis of Wadi Shab.
The flight time from Muscat to Salalah is just an hour-and-a-half, but the 1,000 kilometre journey from Muscat to Salalah by road makes it the mother of all road-trips. The memorable 11-hour drive from Muscat to Dhofar Governorate through remote wilderness and pristine desert terrain is an unparalleled excursion. From the capital, the road to Dhofar passes through the easternmost tip of the Gulf – Ras Al Hadd (known as the ‘land of the rising sun’ in the Middle East). Moving ahead into Ash Sharqiyah Governorate and a series of natural secrets reveal themselves to the intrepid traveler.
The ‘pink’ lakes, sabkha fields (salt flats) and herds of camels roaming wild are a wonder to witness along the way, while the golden dunes of the Wahiba Sands scatter their glimmering streaks through your rear-view mirror. Also worth stopping for along the way is the birdlife sanctuary of Barr Al Hikman and the beauty of the sugary-white dunes at Khalouf Beach as they merge into the blue ocean.
The final leg of the journey. is also worth the cramped confines of the long drive, revealing panoramic vistas of Salalah emerging from with the banana and coconut plantations that enfold it and fringe its coastal bends.
• Top up your fuel tank regularly.
• Check your tire pressure – especially if venturing off-road.
• Keep your engine from over-heating by making regular pit-stops.
• Pack a cooler with plenty of water and food to take along the way.
• Keep an eye on your speedometer and watch out for speed-traps.
• Stay fresh by alternating with a driving buddy every few hours.
• Drive safe and always adhere to road conditions and traffic rules.