Me and my friend Lya were backpacking Oman in 2016. This was one of the most unique and crazy travels due to its unusual and unplanned itinerary. The plan was to land in Dubai, get through a land border with Oman by a public transport and reach Muscat – the capital city. We knew so little about Oman and the whole trip by public bus, that it was scary and fascinating at the same time. This trip brought us lots of unexpected and hilarious situations but most of all – allowed us to connect with the real middle east world. We were looking forward to reach our next stage – Nizwa Goat Market – one of the most beautiful culture events I’ve seen during my travels.
Strange Muscat - the capital city of Oman.
I flew to Budapest to meet Lya and we were off to Dubai to travel by public transport to Oman. Thanks Lya, it was an unforgettable experience and I couln’t have a better companion! 🙂
Oman is one of the safest countries in the world. Muscat – the capital city is very different to the rest of the country – it’s noisy, crowded and unfriendly. We traveled from Dubai to Muscat by public bus and we were so confused after getting off in the middle of this messy capital city. In the bus we met a lovely old lady from New Zealand. She was so full of energy, we couldn’t believe she is almost 80 and still traveling! She told us that she booked quite cheap hotel near Muscat bus station, so we thought it’s a good idea asking for a room in the same place, since we didn’t have anything booked in advance. The room was 80 euros per night, so definitely over our budget! Can you imagine the hotel receptionist did not even allow us to use hotel wi-fi to search for a place to stay. Crazy!
A must-visit in Muscat are the two most incredible mosques:
- Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
- Al Ameen Mosque
Where to stay in Muscat?
Finally, we stayed at Mutrah hotel – really nice (one of the cheapest in Muscat but still 40 euros per night).
There are no cheap accommodation options in Oman, such as hostels, making it difficult for backpackers to find affordable options for an overnight stay. The cheapest hotels around the country will cost around 50 Euro per night. During our first two days in Muscat, we experienced numerous instances of being cheated by taxi drivers and being approached by random people trying to sell us things or telling strange stories. A guy at the bus stop even tried to sell us a cheap, fake iPhone! The bus driver even refused to give us change. Our first impression of Oman was terrible and we were eager to leave Muscat and visit the Nizwa Goat Market to see if the rest of the country was any better.
How to get to Nizwa from Muscat?
The countryside (or rather deserside) of Oman is definitely my type of adventure – there is almost zero touristic infrastructure, no convenient transport solutions. The country remains totally unchanged. After leaving Muscat we finally touchbased with first friendly people in Oman.
Bus to Nizwa leaves from Ruwi Bus Station in Muscat. They asked us several times which Nizwa we’re going to? Obviously there are number of Nizwas.. luckily we reached the right one.
Bus ticket costs around 10$. Ask the driver to drop you in the nearest possible spot to Nizwa town.
Nizwa is located 140 kilometres from Muscat.
Bus from Muscat to Nizwa.
The whole country is made of sand. It was fascinating to drive through all the small villages surrounded by desert mountains, sinked in Arabic architecture. We didn’t book any guesthouse in advance, hoping it would be something available since there wasn’t many tourists. Surprisingly our bus wasn’t going through Nizwa. We were trying to explain the driver we need to get out near Nizwa town, but he was nervously gesticulating and we couldn’t understand w word from what he was trying to tell us. The bus driver picked up a phone call and after few seconds he just pointed and me and passed me his mobile. Seriously, we felt like in the movie – the whole bus community was staring at us – two lost women in the middle of a bus. While I was holding a mobile close to my ear and then heard – ‘Your trip FINISH!!’. Suddenly the bus stoped and they literally pointed at us to get out, throwing our backpacks in the middle of nowhere on the highway! You should have seen my face! It was almost dark and we knew there is no chance for any hostel around. But we saw some people observing the whole situation from the other side of the road. This was totally crazy situation, but somehow we felt there was no reason to panic. We walked to talk to those people to ask about any hostel.
Amazing Omani people.
‘7 km away is the closest one’ – they say. OK, so now it’s getting nervous. How do we get there? No taxis, no buses, no chance to walk 7 km in the dark. We saw a guy getting out of his car and asked him for help. After a few moments he said that his wife is going to take us to the nearest hotel. That’s surprising but we agree to go. The guy ensures us there’s no reason to worry and introduces us to his wife and her sister. The girls speak fluent English. They come from Tunisia, and have been living in Oman for few years now. The closest hotel is really expensive so they offer to take us to a different one and say if we don’t like the next one or it’s too expensive, we can stay in their house for one night. The other hotel is also expensive but they offer to take us to a guesthouse, which may be much cheaper. Surprisingly the drive takes an hour!!
Such adventures only when backpacking Oman!
It’s totoally dark outside. Suddenly we see a policeman on a motorcycle stopping our car! We can’t believe this is happening and we are frozed by this situation. But at the same time if this is a police, nothing wrong can happen right? The policemen talks to the girls for ages and eventually they ask for our passports. It is getting weird! I say I need to take it out from the main luggage from the boot, which makes him a bit upset and the atmosphere feels a bit heavy… They talk a lot and we have no idea why it all takes so long! Finally he lets us go, for a minute there is a silence in the car, while suddenly the girls start to laugh! They say the policeman thought that they are smuggling us from Dubai. OMG, is this happening here? 🙂
So we are back on the way to the guesthouse, while the ladies ask if they can stop on the way in the nearest mall? Well of course, we don’t have much of a choice as we are totally dependent on them. But at the same time, this whole evening is becoming hilarious and at the end of the day we are starving ..! Finally we reach the guesthouse. They let us out to check the rates with at the reception and it’s only 50 euros per night! We are staying! We give the ladies chocolates we bought earlier in the mall for being incredibly nice, helpful and patient with us. One of them gives me her phone number and says to call them in any case we feel we need help. WOW. That’s really kind of them!
Nizwa Goat Market - Omani cultural event.
Nizwa Goat Market starts early morning and is organized only on Fridays! I can’t believe we are so lucky we arrived on Thursday, having no information neither preparation ahead of this trip. The Souk (local market) is located in the city centre near Nizwa Fort. There are hundreds of cars parked in front of the Souk gate and it’s only 7 am.
Nizwa Goat Market starts as early as 6am. Also to avoid extreme temperatures arising during the day, often reaching 45 Celcius degrees. When you walk through the gate, you’ll be passing number of fish and fruit stands to reach Goat Market place. The whole trading ceremony is like an act. Local farmers arriving early in the morning to gather in a circle to commence trading process. They are all dresses in white dishdashas – traditional clothing worn at formal occasions. This is the noisiest auction I’ve ever seen, but it’s very easy to understand the trading rules. The entrepreneurs walk in the circle along with the goats and the auction is full on! The buyers are gently tossing and turning the goat inspecting the full body, backside and grabing their testes. The owner shouts the price and after a short burgain the transation is agreed. I don’t see a single woman near this market (except one in burqua), we are the only two strangers participating in this scenery. But I heard it is accesible by foreigners. Surprisingly nobody said anything to us, but I could feel shivering intriguing glances on me while I was taking hundreds of photos of the whole trading ceremony.
The regular Nizwa Souk is opened every day (from 6am till 1pm and then in the afternoon hours). There’s plenty of local products including pottery, fish, fruits, spices, vegetables and even some domestic animals. It’s a very pleasant environment, nobody will tackle you with offers, unless you express your interest. People are willing to talk and interact with the visitors, one things though – if you are taking photos of people – always ask first for their permission! They are very respectful toward foreigners, should you be the same. Omani is a very gentle nation. In some parts of Oman – Wahiba Desert taking photos of local people and their houses is even forbidden to random visitors.
Where to go after Nizwa Goat Market - Nizwa Fort
Nizwa Fort is a great destination to visit after the morning Nizwa Goat Market. The 9th century Nizwa Fort is one of the oldest in Oman and it’s an amazing example of old Omani architecture style. Rebuild in 17th century it is now a castle, fort and a museum in one. It’s accessible for a small entry fee of 5 OMR. The panoramic view from the top is incredible.
Unforgettable Wahiba Sands - Omani desert
We really wanted to reach Wahiba Sands the next day – the red desert. But guess what – there’s only one bus running from Nizwa city and it goes to Muscat. There is no public transport from Nizwa to Wahiba Sands. The cheapest trip by a private car from Nizwa to Wahiba Sands desert costs 300 euros! Insane, out of the question for us. We desperately tried to avoid going back to Muscat, we asked in few local hotels about organized tours to the desert but the price was everywhere the same. Finally our reception guy said that his friend is a driver and he will take us for 150 euros. Having no choice we agreed, going back to a noisy awful Muscat was not an option!
We booked the cheapest camp in the desert – Al Raha Camp. The price for the drive from Nizwa is expensive because of the distance of 200 km distance to Wahiba desert, and also because you absolutely need a 4WD car. Said – the driver seemed really nice. We got in to the brand new white Toyota Jeep to reach the stunning red sand desert after few hours.
Continue reading about Wahiba Sands red desert experience and night camps here.