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Off-road adventures in Oman

Some sights in Oman are off the beaten track, so visiting them often requires a four-wheel drive vehicle. Adequately otorized, amazing off-road adventures await travellers in the Sultanate of Oman. Places visitors should not miss include the peaks of the majestic Hajar Mountains, scenic wadis, desolate desert landscapes and ancient ruins in the hinterland.

Uncovering the Hajar Mountains
Stretching for hundreds of kilometres from the Musandam Peninsula to Sur, the Hajar Mountains draw people from all over the world, keen to hike dizzying canyons, visit ancient mudbrick villages, wander through date farms, and explore lush oases amidst barren rocky landscapes. The entrance to the high mountains lies around a two hours' drive from the capital Muscat, at the foot of Jabal Akhdar. Here, the vehicle is tested for four-wheel drive capability at a checkpoint. The check is less about the steep drive up, but about the trip back down which puts a lot of strain on the brakes. Having reached an altitude of 2,000 metres, a pleasantly cool climate and impressive landscapes await between deeply sloping canyons and high mountain peaks.

4x4 vehicle surrounded by mountains in the Hajar Mountains

4x4 in mountain area © Ministry of Heritage & Tourism Sultanate of Oman

Exploring Oman’s wadis
Many of Oman's popular wadis are accessible via paved roads in a normal vehicle. With a four-wheel drive vehicle, however, travellers enjoy the freedom to explore some of the Sultanate of Oman's most hidden oases. One of them lies between Muscat and Sur where a turn-off from the highway winds through the mountains to the emerald waters of Wadi Al Arbeieen. Wadi Al Arbeieen is mostly deserted and the drive through the impressive valley is a great way to test Oman's off-road tracks.

Most visitors to Oman take the direct route to the popular mountains of Jabal Shams or Jabal Akhdar. A lesser-known adventure can be found on the bumpy route through Wadi Bani Awf. Coming from Muscat and heading towards Nakhl, the turnoff first leads on a paved road into a palm-fringed valley. Soon, high mountain walls enclose the track, which becomes an unpaved road. Along the way, small mountain villages such as Bilad Sayt, where it is not uncommon for goats to block the roads, alternate with spectacular views. Another recommended stop is Wadi Bimah: during a canyoning tour through the challenging Snake Canyon, adventure-seekers experience the multi-coloured shades of the rocks up close. The canyon should only be hiked through in the company of a local guide.

Wadi Al Arbeieen with palm trees and a barren mountain landscape in the background.

Wadi Al Arbeieen © Ministry of Heritage & Tourism Sultanate of Oman

Off to the desert
A completely different driving experience is offered by a visit to Oman's deserts – for example Sharqiyah Sands, around three hours' drive from Muscat. Many desert camps pick up their guests from nearby towns such as Bidiyah, as driving on sand can be challenging. Alternatively, travellers can arrange a meeting point with their camp hosts from where they follow the camp vehicle into the eternal desert. Drivers who are confident enough to "float across the desert sand" in a four-wheel-drive vehicle without a guide, or who are looking for a remote camping spot instead of an overnight stay at the camp, head out into the vast sandy wilderness on their own. For better grip on sand, the tires of the vehicle should be deflated beforehand and travellers should not leave the designated tracks in order not to lose their orientation. Dune bashing is a popular pastime here, and for experienced off-roaders, there is plenty of fun to be had on the off-road tracks that traverse the sands.

Bizarre structures: Visit to the beehive tombs
The beehive tombs of Bat and Al Ayn whose origin or purpose is unknown are located about a two hours' drive northwest of the oasis city of Nizwa in a surreal rocky landscape. They are over 4,000 years old and have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The drive to the Bat Necropolis goes via a developed but bumpy track, so a four-wheel drive vehicle is a must for this trip. Once on the plateau, there are more than a hundred stone structures scattered over a large area; a mystical atmosphere surrounds the site. On the way back towards Nizwa lies the Al Ayn Necropolis. It is even better preserved and positioned on a rocky outcrop with a mountain backdrop set aflame by the afternoon sun.

Self-drivers should be mindful when travelling on the dirt roads in Oman, as the paths present some challenges and help may be far away.

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