If you’re deciding to take a road trip in Oman, there are some things you should probably know about the driving culture. When we decided to rent a car in Muscat (a whole other story, which I may write about in a #travelfail post) I didn’t really do a lot of research. The roads looked fine when we drove around Muscat – why not?
We rent cars a lot, but I don’t usually drive in environments totally foreign to me and the few times I have I’ve always been a bit weary, but nothing could have prepared me for some of the things I was going to face on the roads of Oman.
So, to save you the initial terror of driving in this country, I’ve rounded up the six things I knew before getting behind the wheel of the car. Don’t worry – some of them are good things!
6 Things to Know Before Taking a Road Trip in Oman
Fast lanes and slow lanes are truly taken to the extreme.
Almost all countries have a fast lane and a slow lane, but no one takes this to the extreme quite like Oman drivers do. The speed limit on most highways is 120 km/h, but in the fast lane you’ll get people going upwards of 180 km/h and the slow lane crawls at 40 km/hr.
Before I realized this, I was coming around a turn with mountains towering on either side at the speed limit of 120 km/h only to find a massive truck chugging up the hill at 40. I almost rear ended him as I slammed on my breaks. But then, when you are in the slow lane and want to get back into the fast lane, it’s very difficult to do so because everyone speeds and is going too fast for you to get into the other lane safely from such a low speed.
It took me a while to feel comfortable going 120 km/h on the highway, so I chugged along in the slow lane for a while and eventually I got used to the roads and the rental car and going in and out of the lanes as needed and you will too. The important thing is to not drive recklessly – if you’re not comfortable doing it, err on the side of caution and stay in the slow lane (as painful as it is) until you’re ready.
Oman has speed cameras literally every mile.
When you’re in the fast lane, people will honk at you constantly to go over the speed limit and tail you if they can’t get around you. This is pretty stressful and you’ll want to speed up just to get them to stop, but be careful because Oman has speed cameras practically every mile. If I had a dollar for every speed camera I saw in one day, I would be a very rich woman.
Speeding fines can vary drastically from inconsequential to pretty hefty – but you don’t want to risk it. Getting fined or pulled over in a rental car and in a foreign country can bring unwelcome issues, especially if you’re unfamiliar with how harsh the penalties are.
My advice: just don’t speed. You may want to, but resist the temptation because the outcome is just not worth it. Oman has speed cameras nearly every mile for a reason – they know people will do it and they’re set up to catch you. Don’t fall for it!
Roads are decent quality.
Of course this goes out the window once you start getting into very rural areas, but I was kind of surprised by how well-cared for some of the roads were. Coming from an affluent area in the US where roads are still crap, it was a nice change to be driving along with few to no potholes. This was also great because it was a relatively quiet ride.
The pavement itself is nice, but the lines on the road are pretty visible as well. When you’re driving in an already unfamiliar territory, being able to read the cues and markings is even more important so the fact you can easily read them will make you feel a lot better about driving. It certainly did for me!
Signage is (mostly) clear and easy to follow.
Because we didn’t have any data or Wifi while driving, we had to rely mostly on the road signs to get us from Muscat to Nizwa. We managed to get the entire way there without a hitch. The signs at first may seem a bit confusing, but once you see a few exits they’ll start to make sense.
Road signs in Oman are also frequently in English, especially around cities, so it’s easier to navigate as someone who doesn’t speak Arabic. Most road signs are white with black writing and then anything that’s deemed a tourist attraction will be a brown sign. We navigated our way around the Nizwa tourist attractions pretty easily just referencing the brown signs throughout the city.
We did, however, end up following a brown sign to some attraction and then the signs stopped and we ended up just driving along random back roads before eventually turning around. But hey, it’s all part of the adventure! Although I would recommend getting a map, which is something we probably should have done. Live and learn, I suppose.
Gas is cheap, stations are aplenty and the employees usually pump it for you.
When we went to our first gas station, we did it because we thought we’d better fill up the tank before we leave the city thinking there’d be a shortage of stations. Wrong! There were so many stations between Muscat and Nizwa (nothing else, just mountains and gas stations) so there’s no need to panic. However, if you are planning on going out to the desert I would assume there are not nearly as many (for obvious reasons).
When you pull up to a gas station, they’ll almost always pump the gas for you and then you can pay with a credit card using one of their handheld devices.
The price of gas was really pretty affordable and if you want more detailed information, check out this gasoline price graph and to better understand it you can put it into your own currency.
As the sun sets, the temperature drops quickly and I would avoid running air conditioning in the car.
This is my most random piece of advice for taking a road trip in Oman, but one that for the love of god I wish I’d known about. Because the days are so hot, when the sun sets the temperature drops at an alarming rate. The defroster mechanism in the car cannot keep up with the temperature drop, so if the car is really cool, it will fog up on the outside of the car where you can’t wipe it away.
Let’s just say I found myself stuck in a souq with no idea how to get out with a fogged up windshield that I couldn’t seem to fix. It was not a pretty situation. Eventually we opened the windows and turned off the air conditioning entirely because eventually it has to equalize, right? It did – but I did feel like I was in a muggy furnace.
Just be aware that this happens in this kind of climate and when it does, don’t panic and follow these tips from Allstate. Had I known this, I could have probably avoided some tears and pure terror.
Road tripping in Oman is a great decision because it’s such a beautiful country, but knowing some of these things will make driving there less stressful and more enjoyable. Being prepared is the best way to have a good trip and I probably would have saved myself some grey hairs if I’d known this before I went.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve driven in Oman – were there some things you wish you’d known ahead of time? Planning to take a road trip in Oman? Drop me your questions!