Oman's 6 best outdoor activities
Oman and adventure activities go hand-in-hand. Unlike its more glamorous neighboring countries, Oman is all about experiencing the great outdoors. From swimming in river valleys to mountain hiking and horse riding – read on for our selection of Oman's best outdoor activities.
1. Off-road driving in Oman
There are adventure opportunities in the mountains, gorges and desert interior of Oman that make off-road driving one of the country’s essential experiences. Popular day and weekend excursions give a real taste of the rugged environment, and there are few restrictions on where to go. Nowadays the use of powerful 4x4 vehicles makes this possible for everyone, but there are still risks involved, and every off-road journey should be well-equipped and organized.
Going out with an experienced off-road driver is, of course, the best option as local knowledge is invaluable for navigation, communication, equipment and emergency procedures. Whatever you do, always err strongly on the side of caution, and always take a phone, plenty of water, and, ideally, travel with another vehicle as there is always the risk of getting stuck in dunes or rocks and needing to be towed out.
The most popular 4x4 routes in Oman are dramatic traverses through the gorges of the Jabal al Akhdar Mountains, such as Wadi Bani Awf, which links Rustaq with Nizwa. The track gets very steep in places and gives access to Snake Canyon for some optional canyoning adventures. Numerous local tour operators can organize desert and off-road day trips as well as overnight tours.
2. Swimming in Oman
Numerous resort hotels in Oman, such as the Al Bustan Palace and Crowne Plaza Muscat, have long stretches of white sandy beach within safe lagoons or sheltered bays that are ideal for safe swimming. There are also good public beaches in the center of many major coastal towns such as Sur and Sohar, with picnic spots, awnings for shade, showers and toilet facilities. Note, that in accordance with Islamic tradition, all beach visitors should be modestly dressed.
However, perhaps the best swimming in Oman is to be enjoyed in the east of the country in a river valley that flows with water all year round. Located south of Mintrib, a road off the main highway winds up over the mountains and down into dramatic Wadi Bani Khalid. Home to some of Oman's most spectacular and greenest mountain scenery, the valley is dotted with a string of villages and plantations, and the opportunity to swim in the clear refreshing waters of the natural pools here should not be missed.
Wadi Bani Khalid river valley, Oman. Photo: dorinser/Shutterstock
3. Hiking in the mountains
The mountains of Oman are trekking country par excellence. Dramatic paths thread their way across the windswept heights of spectacular ridges, or wind through sheer-sided wadis and canyons. An extensive network of usually well-marked hiking trails exists throughout the country, particularly in the Western Hajar. Wadi (river valley) walks are another popular excursion, involving exhilarating scrambles up gorges, clambering over boulders and wading through rock pools. Popular and easy wadi walks include Wadi Shab and Wadi Tawi on the coastal side of the Eastern Hajar Mountains, and Wadi Bani Khalid on the inland side.
It goes without saying that it is essential to be well prepared for hiking in Oman's climate. You will need to be appropriately dressed, carry plenty of water and keep an eye on the weather conditions. The best time for hiking in the country is from October to April.
Wadi Ghul – Oman's Grand Canyon. Photo: Robert Haandrikman/Shutterstock
4. Diving in Oman
Oman offers superlative diving in fine, often unspoiled underwater landscapes rich with marine life. Happily, the relative lack of dedicated divers means that dive sites remain relatively uncrowded, and there's a well-developed network of dive schools across the country. Most beach hotels have a dive center, a number of which are run by Extra Divers. These include Salalah, Mirbat, Zighy Bay and Muscat’s established operation at Qantab Beach, which has developed from a simple set up in few beach cabins into a major dive center with comprehensive facilities.
You may have the opportunity to see hammerhead and leopard whale sharks, mink whales, manta rays, eagle rays and turtles, as well as numerous species of smaller tropical fish. South of Muscat, the popular dive sites at Bandar Khairan boast up to 200 species of fish, dozens of types of coral and the wreck of the Al Munassir, an 84-meter-long naval ship sunk to act as an artificial reef. The Daymaniyat Archipelago, 18km (11 miles) off Barka on the Batinah coast, is a protected nature reserve of nine islands, with around 20 dive locations.
Hawksbill turtle among purple whip coral in Oman. Photo: SeraphP/Shutterstock
5. Oman water sports
With expansive coastline on the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea, Oman offers excellent opportunities for water sports from windsurfing, kitesurfing and wake-boarding to water-skiing and jet-skiing. With almost constant winds blowing, kitesurfing is extremely popular. At Az Zaibah Beach, near Muscat, eight-hour beginner’s courses are run by Kitesurfing Lessons. West along the coast at the Al Sawadi Beach Resort, jet skis can be hired by the hour, while nearby, Kiteboarding Oman offers classes for all abilities and hires out equipment.
Kitesurfing in Oman. Photo: Dan Baciu/Shutterstock
6. Horse and camel riding
The most central horse riding school in Muscat is the Qurm Equestrian Riding School next to Qurm Natural Park. It offers more than 40 horses that are suitable for both novices and experienced riders. A 90-minute ride includes trotting along the sandy stretches of the beach. The school's center at Barka offers more extensive half-day horse treks. Horse and camel rides along the beach and coastal plains depart from the Al Sawadi Beach Resort.
Horse riding at the beach in Muscat, Oman. Photo: BassemZein/Shutterstock
Ready to take a trip to Oman?
Insight Guides can help you organize and book incredible trips to Oman. Simply get in touch to let us know your travel ideas and when you would like to visit. Local travel experts will then create a personalized itinerary especially which you can amend until you are completely happy with every detail before booking. Browse existing itineraries for inspiration, and keep in mind that they can all be tailored to meet your specific requirements.