Oman is one of the most beautiful countries that I have ever visited. Picture developed highways, malls and restaurants of the city of Muscat alongside the beautiful mosques against a mountainous backdrop. Head into the desert for Arabic style camping or the mountains and wadis for fantastic hikes. This is a place that combines modern development and traditional culture seamlessly, and with it comes outstanding hospitality. I’m in Oman as a solo female traveller for two weeks and I LOVE IT! I hope that you find my Oman travel tips helpful.
My 20 Top Travel Tips for Oman!
1. Learn some Basic Arabic
Although English is widely spoken in Oman, it will serve you well to learn some basic Arabic phrases for your trip. Arabic is the national language of Oman and in some parts Baluchi is spoken. You can learn the basic greeting ‘As-salāmu ʿalaykum’ which means peace be upon you. It is a Muslim greeting, but is often used by other people such as Christians in the area as a general greeting, so you don’t have to be a Muslim to use it. It will be appreciated. You can also learn Goodbye, which is ‘masalama’. If you get yourself a good guide or host, they will help you with basic Arabic as soon as you arrive.
2. Alcohol and Ramadan don’t Mix
Carefully consider the fact that it is a Muslim country and you may want to avoid Ramadan, when the pace of life is much slower and drinking alcohol is forbidden. It is possible to get alcohol in tourist hotels, although it’s not recommended to drink outside of your hotel or drink in large quantities. You can be thrown in jail for being drunk on the street in Oman, and so the best thing to do is avoid alcohol altogether.
3. Avoid Discussing Sexuality – Oman is not so LGBT friendly
Sadly, many Middle Eastern countries are not very LGBT friendly and Oman has laws against homosexual acts. Do not announce your sexual orientation in public or discuss LGBT rights. Someone I met in Oman told me that they were ‘not very open to diversity’ and when asked what they meant by that, they expanded ‘I don’t think that people should be gay and lesbian and I don’t want to mix with them.’ I briefly explained that in England our culture is more open to this, and then swiftly changed the discussion! I didn’t want to engage in a discussion on someone’s homophobic views that I’m not able to change.
4. Avoid Public Displays of Affection
Oman is a place to avoid engaging in public displays of affection – this applies to all couples. In Oman it is frowned upon for a man and women to share an apartment or hotel room if they are not married. Although tourist couples are not always questioned about this in hotels, if you do asked, it might be better and easier to say you are married.
5. Hire a Car or Download O-Taxi
It’s pretty difficult to get around without a car. The highways are MASSIVE so Muscat not as walkable as cities like Jerusalem and Marrakech. Buses are few and far between and can experience delays. If you can drive and are willing to try to drive here, you should. Car hire is around £50 a day. If you are not driving in Oman, download O Taxi for shorter trips (it’s the Omani version of Uber) and hire a decent driver or guide. I recommend Idrees and Ahmed on Air BnB experiences (I can give you their details if you want to book them!)
6. Dress Conservatively
It is a country of Islamic traditions that centre on family life. It is important to dress conservatively in Oman to respect that, so pack lots of long sleeved tops, leggings and headscarves. You don’t need to wear a headscarf all of the time as a western woman, but you will need one for visiting Mosques and religious places. Here’s my full guide on what to wear in Oman.
7. Use the Bum gun!
Many toilet roll dependant westerners freak out when they see the ‘bum gun’ or squirting bidet, but trust me – it’s one of the best inventions ever! Toilet roll will be available but usually you wash yourself with the bum gun first and then use just a couple of squares of toilet paper to wipe dry! It’s clean and healthy and better for the environment.
8. Eating out in Oman – don’t be afraid to sit on the floor!
There is a tradition of eating meals seated on the floor in Omani culture. Be prepared to do this, and if people are eating with their hands, remember that it should be the right (the left assists with the arse cleaning!) There are some restaurants that have little ‘cubicles’ with a number on – you go in and sit on the floor and close the door behind you. This gives privacy for family groups. There is often a little buzzer that you press to get waiter service!
9. Try some of the Fantastic Omani and International cuisines
There are some fantastic foods that you have to try while you are in Oman. My favourite foods were Mashuai (fish in lemonrice)and Mushaltat (bread with cheese and Spinach). Also popular in the gulf region and very tasty is Lamb Mandi. The Omani tea with milk is called ‘Karak’ and it’s a lovely sweet tea with milk that you can get almost anywhere. But, brace yourself for the best desert in the world….the Kanafa, It’s like a cheese filled flat cake and so if you have a sweet tooth and are a cheese lover, this is DIVINE! where can I get a Kunafa in Liverpool?!!
10. Avoid Mosques at Prayer Time
You are likely to be welcomed into Mosques as a westerner or non-Muslim, but remember to respect prayer times (nawaz is five times daily and also remember the importance of Friday prayers). If you would like to visit the Sultan Kaboos Mosque in Muscat you can between the hours of 8am-11am. Remember to cover your legs and shoulders and women will need to wear a head scarf. Oh, and remember that you are likely to be woken up by the first call to prayer around 5am!
11. Be prepared to be in a Male Dominated society!
Women are well respected in Omani culture, but are often at home with the children as family is central to Omani life. In many coffee shops and shish cafes you might be one of the only women there. Don’t worry about this, you will still be welcomed. The men often wear the traditional dishdasher and kumma (Omani hat) and it is beautiful to see.
12. Money – working it out and using your credit card!
My visa credit card seems to be working everywhere is Oman! You can withdraw money from the Bank of Oman (and many other cashpoints) and also use your credit or debit card in most places – sometime contactless. The money is easy to figure out because if you are used to pounds, just double the Omani Rials to get the price in GBP. (You can check the up to date exchange rate on XE.com)
13. Booking Tours – Get Your Guide and Greyline
You can book tours online via Get Your Guide and Greyline. I also recommend trying some Air BnB experiences because they will help you to meet some locals – there’s a great tour of Muscat with X. If you are looking for some tour recommendations from Muscat, Nakhal and Nizwa forts are amazing. You can go on a boat ride along the coast for sea life (you will probably see dolphins and turtles!)
14. Electricity Plug Sockets are English!
The plug sockets used in Oman are Type G which is the three pronged triangular pattern plugs used in the UK. SO the great news is that if you are travelling to Oman from England, you don’t need plug converters – yay! US based travellers can bring what they use for England – most international adapters will do this.
15. Use home stays and Air BnB
The hotels in Oman are top class – if you want luxury go for the Shangri La or the Crowne Plaza. But nothing really beats staying with a host family here. I booked to stay with a live in host on Air BnB and Omar looked after me incredibly, going above and beyond. It was great to share meals, and mint tea.
16. Avoid Photography and filming without Permission
It’s polite and respectful to always ask before you take photographs or video footage. A few times I Oman, I asked my hosts/guides if I could film the and they said no, which is perfectly fine. Many Omani’s don’t like to be photographed or filmed and certainly not without their permission.
17. Eco Tourism and Respect for Wildlife
Oman is rich in wildlife – sea turtles, dolphins and extensive sea life exists in the gulf sea. Many areas here are untouched and locals would like to keep it that way. Don’t drop litter – take it with you. Also listen to your guides advice on how close to get, particularly to turtles laying their eggs in Sur.
18. Wave with your Right Hand!
One of my top Oman travel tips is to wave with your right hand. Many people will say don’t wave with your left as the left hand is for wiping your arse! Remember that in Oman it is offensive to wave with your left hand, so try to get into the habit of waving with your right as early on as possible. However, Omani’s recognise that it wasn’t meant to cause offence if you forget – they are aware that tourists and expats are from a different culture.
19. Pack your Walking Boots
Walking boots are essential footwear for Oman due to the rugged terrain of many of the hikes in the mountains. Waterproof and breathable walking boots are best – it can get hot in Oman and so you don’t want your feet to feel stuffy and sweaty. I picked up a pair of walking boots from Trespass for just £65. If you are healthy enough to do a short bit of hiking, head to Wadi Shab and Wadi Beni Khalid as day trips from Muscat.
20. Don’t Dis the Sultan!
The final golden rule when travelling in Oman is don’t dis the Sultan – always show yourself to be respectful and positive towards the Sultan in Oman.
In early 2020 sadly Sultan Qaboos died, and the whole country went into mouning for one month. This was shortly followed by the coronavirus restrictions and therefore so far, 2020 has almost been a write-off for Oman. Sultan Qaboos was the Sultan of Oman for 50 years (from 1970 to 2020) and was the longest serving leader in the Arab world at the time of his death. Sultan Qaboos was much loved and seen as a father figure by most Omanis. Qaboos modernised and transformed Oman – he built the Grand Mosque, the Opera house and universities in Muscat.
Oman’s new ruler is Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, the cousin of Sultan Qaboos. The new Sultan of course has a lot to aspire to and live up to in the shadow of Sultan Qaboos, but in time he too will grow in popularity I’m sure.
It’s best to avoid discussing politics altogether in Oman, especially if you disagree with it’s structure of an absolute monarchy. The bottom line is this – if you don’t have something positive to say about the Sultan, don’t say anything at all!
What to Pack for Oman
As well as the usual passport, money and clothing, there are some specific things that I’d recommend that you pack for Oman. Clothing is very conservative and both women and men should pack long trousers and long sleeved tops and T-shirts. Long sleeved light linen tops with cotton/linen pants or long walking trousers are perfect for Oman. Avoid the strappy dresses and vest tops.
For women, pack a scarf or shawl that you can wear as a headscarf and maybe some hair grippers to hold it in place. It shouldn’t have pictures of animals or people on it – a plain solid colour is best. Whilst you won’t be expected to wear it all the time, you will need it to visit certain places including Sultan Kaboos Mosque.
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Also, there is a lot of trekking and swimming in Oman and so a good pair of walking boots and a pair of swimming shoes are perfect for day trips from Muscat including Wadi Shab. If you would like to take pictures in the pools and caves on treks then you might like to pack a waterproof phone case. Make sure that you also take sunglasses and a good water bottle.
Any More Oman Travel Tips?
I hope that you have found my Oman travel tips helpful. Oman is such a wonderful place with friendly and hospitable locals. If you do visit Oman, I’d love to know how you get on…please leave me a comment below. Do you know of any more Oman travel tips that I should add to this list?
You might also like to read…
- Oman Air Review
- Escaping Oman before Coronavirus Lockdown
- How to Spend One Day in Muscat
- Wadi Shab – My favourite Hike in Oman.