If you are coming to Oman for the first time, you should be aware that the following transportation options are available:
(1) Traveling by Airplane
It is possible to fly from Muscat to Salalah in the south or from Muscat to Khasab (Musandam) in the north. A flight used to operate for a short period of time between Muscat and Sohar, but this flight is currently suspended. All these flights are operated by Oman Air and tickets for them could be purchased from Oman Air’s website. These flights are not ‘budget’ flights and the cheapest one way ticket costs around RO 30. If you are traveling to Musandam, you should check if there are any air-sea deals that allow you to fly-in on an airplane and go back by the ferry if you are interested in this kind of trip.
(2) Traveling by Ferry / Boats
Formal sea transportation within the country is operated by the National Ferries Company which operates trips between Muscat and Khasab, Shinas and Khasab, Khasab and Lima, as well as Shannah and Masirah. More recently, NFC has started operating trips from Khasab to a number of ports in Iran, too. Check our post on the National Ferries Company for more details. You can view the timetable for these journeys here.
In addition to the ferries operated by the National Ferries Company, there are many informal fishing speedboats operating along practically all inhibited beaches in the country that could be hired for short sea trips. Their cost depends on your bargaining skills with the fishermen, but expect to pay anywhere from a couple of rials per person to 15-20 rials for a boat-ride. If you would like to spend the day at an island near the coastline, say those in Barka, you can simply go to the beach and ask one of the guys operating a speedboat to take you to one of the islands and come back to collect you at a specific time later on the same day. They usually do not go very far into the sea and are safe, however, they are unlikely to offer you life vests so keep that in mind.
(3) Traveling by Bus within Muscat
The National Transportation Company (Mwasalat) operates public transportation buses within the capital. The timing and routes of these buses can be seen on Mwasalat’s website. This service is relatively new and we do not have details about their prices or the method of payment, but the buses are brand new and the service appears to be reliable.
The National Transportation Company also operates daily inter-city buses that can take you from Muscat to any other major city in Oman, including Salalah. Again, check Mwasalat’s website for more information. Tickets for these buses could be purchased in advance from the main bus station in Ruwi. One of the major stops to find buses from Mwasalat or other bus operators is the large car park next to Burj Al Sahwah round about.
It is worth noting that there are also independent mini-bus operators all around the country that operate within cities and between them. These are small white mini-buses that have a ‘Taxi” light on top. Unlike the Mwasalat buses, these have no timetable and only drive along the highway in a straight line. If you are standing by the highway, you simply hail the mini-bus and it will stop to pick you up. If you are not sure if the bus will go as far as you need, you should let the driver know of your destination and he will tell you if he is going to drive all the way there or not. You get off the bus by either speaking directly to the driver or knocking on the ceiling of the bus to indicate that you want to get out. Payment is made when you exit the bus. The advantage of using these buses in comparison to the formal Mwasalat buses is that you can take them from any spot on the highway and not from a bus stop.
(3) Traveling by Taxi
Traveling by taxi in Oman is not the most straight forward thing because taxis are not metered. There are usually taxi parking spaces near roundabouts, outside hotels, and outside shopping malls and markets. Because the taxi is not metered, it is always best to negotiate the price of your trip before you get in. If you do not negotiate in advance that might signal to the driver that you are a gullible tourist and you might be charged an arbitrary expensive rate at the end of your journey. Even though Oman is an extremely safe country, there have been reports about individual women being harassed by taxi drivers. So if you a solo female traveler, it could be wiser for you to ask your hotel to arrange a taxi for you, especially if you do not speak Arabic or you do not cover your hair.
A smart way to improve your taxi riding experience in Oman, especially if you are in the country for more than a day, is to ask the taxi to be your designated driver for your entire trip. The cost will vary, but it is will be cheaper that going on multiple rides and way more convenient because you will be able to call your taxi whenever you need it. Some taxis may also be willing to take you on whole day trips outside the capital to destinations such as Wadi Shab, Nizwa or Rustaq. This might be cheaper than going with a formal tour operator, but you will have to tell the taxi driver exactly where you want to go and what you want to do.
As bizarre as it sounds, not all taxi drivers in Oman know their way around specific addresses even in the capital. Nobody uses the official road names or street numbers in Oman, and the most common way to identify a location is by making reference to prominent landmarks in close proximity to it, e.g. a big shopping mall or a mosque. Many people also rely on sharing locations using Whatsapp and Google Maps, so having these available to you can be very useful.
If you hail a taxi from the highway directly (and not take it from a shopping mall or a hotel), it is likely that you will have to share the taxi with another person already in the taxi or with other persons who might hail the taxi on the way to your destination. Most people who hail taxis from the highway would ask to be dropped somewhere along the highway. If you happen to be the first person in a taxi and you do not want to share your taxi with other passengers, you should make this clear to the taxi driver by telling him that you want to have him ‘engaged’ (or pronounced in Omani Arabic as ‘engaiz’ or ‘engaig’). The catch here is that if you share the taxi you split the cost of the trip among the passengers, but if you go ‘engaiz’ you pay full price.
It is also worth noting that the Airport has its own pre-paid taxi service. Normal taxis are not allowed to take passengers from the airport. If you are landing in Muscat Airport, you should walk outside the arrivals building to see the Airport Taxi kiosk. As expected, the prices of these taxis are higher than normal taxis with the meter starting at RO 6, but they are very convenient and easy to use. The airport taxi can also take you to a city outside Muscat for a fixed cost. You can learn more about this here. tIf you would like to get a cheaper taxi or catch a bus from the airport, you will have to walk across the airport carpark to reach the highway and catch your bus or taxi from there.
(4) Renting a Car
Renting a car is probably the most convenient way to travel in Oman, especially if you plan on doing a lot of things outside the capital. Even with the increasing petrol prices, this still remains the most economic way to travel. Cars are driven on the right side of the road in Oman. The majority of cars in Oman are new and in a good condition. Navigation systems are available from many car rental companies and they can be useful for traveling around the country. The cost of renting a car depends on the size of the car, brand, etc and could range between 20 to 80 rials per day. Some car rentals might also have mileage limits. There are many car rental agencies all around Oman including some international agencies such as Herz, Sixt, and Europcar. It is possible to book your rental care in advance and collect it from the airport. The price of petrol in Oman is regulated by the government on a monthly basis and appears to fluctuate between 0.150 to 0.200 rial per litre.
Traffic rules are also usually respected in Oman, especially in the capital, but driving is also quite aggressive and tailgating is not uncommon. Oman uses the metric system and the speed limit displayed on the streets is in kilometres. The speed limit on the highway is usually 120 km per hour, but there is an unwritten rule that you can drive up to 10km above this limit within the capital without being stopped by the police and without being caught by speed cameras. This threshold goes up to 20 km on the highway outside the capital. This means that many cars would be driving at 140 km per hour and would expect you to drive on a slower lane if you are not willing to drive as fast as everyone else.