The best way to experience Oman as a tourist is to rent a car and hit the road. This is a very easy country to drive in, and most of the roads are really well-maintained. However, we have made some mistakes and picked up a few pieces of info along the way that might be helpful for anyone planning to do some driving in Oman.
First, car rentals. There are several car rental companies at the airport and if you want to really explore, make sure you rent a 4WD vehicle. However, make sure you get unlimited mileage. Lots of companies impose a 200 kilometer per day limit, and if you exceed that amount you have to pay out the nose. For example, if you rent a car for seven days, you get 1,400 kilometers. We learned this the hard way. Europcar is one of the few companies that does not have a limit, and you have to book online in advance.
Second, driving in Muscat. There are a lot of rules/guidelines which you need to always follow, and the consequences can be serious.
Here are the biggies:
- NEVER EVER RUN A RED LIGHT. You will have to spend a night in jail. When the light starts flashing green, prepare to stop. (I’m not kidding)
- ALWAYS FOLLOW THE SPEED LIMIT. If you don’t know what the speed limit is, follow the speed of traffic. (There are traffic cameras everywhere)
- NO ROAD RAGE ALLOWED. No flipping the bird, no hand gestures, no yelling, etc. (The police will get involved and you will go to jail and be deported. Once again, I’m not kidding.)
- ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR ANYONE TO PULL IN FRONT OF YOU.
- PRACTICE DEFENSIVE DRIVING.
- DO NOT PULL ALL THE WAY UP TO STOP AT A RED LIGHT. This is considered running a red light. You’ll notice that the locals stop a good distance back; follow their lead.
Here are some other helpful guidelines:
- At traffic circles, those entering the circle need to yield to those already in the circle
- For most lights with right turns, there is a designated right turn lane and you can turn right even if the light is red
- If you come to an intersection without lights, drive like you have a stop sign
- Watch out for maroon and white striped cars: these are student drivers
- There are speed bumps everywhere
- Just because there are arrows in a lane pointing in different directions doesn’t mean you can go any of those directions from that lane. It means you can get to lanes from which you can go in those directions from that lane. So for instance if you need to turn right, get in the far right lane.
- Waze, maps.me and GoogleMaps give turn-by- turn directions here. Maps.me is helpful if you don’t have cell service because you can download the maps in advance.
- On narrow, twisty mountain roads, honk your horn when you’re going around a turn to warn anyone coming in the other direction
Traffic can be a little more lawless outside of Muscat and away from the traffic cameras. Also, watch out for camels. They do whatever they want, including walk through the middle of the highway. Donkeys and goats also do this, but camels are the most dangerous.
Third, I also recommend buying a copy of “Oman Off-Road.” It’s available at Border’s (there’s a shop in just about any mall) or at Al Fair grocery stores. The book costs about 20 OMR ($50) and is definitely worth it if you plan on doing any exploring.
Lastly, if you really want to explore, you need a four wheel drive vehicle, and you need to be comfortable using the four wheel drive capabilities. If you want to drive in the sand you also need to have a gizmo to let air out of your tires down to 20 PSI and also an air compressor to put air back into your tires.
Now, go forth and explore! It’s going to be incredible!