Car Travel

Unless you take a guided tour, driving is essential for exploring Oman. The roads are all fairly new and well-maintained, but the main issue for non-residents who want to drive themselves is the dearth of road signs. Physical addresses are not typically given, as directions are still very much landmark based. Using GPS and watching your own moving dot is the only way to find a place you haven't visited before: that or deciphering the riddle-like directions given by locals. Once you have a sense of the layout of a particular city, it is quite easy to get around as the towns are small and usually built in a circular fashion. If you still don't feel comfortable driving, taxis drivers will negotiate a rate to be your private driver during your stay; otherwise, you can also hire a local driver through your hotel. There is no substitute for local knowledge in Oman, and once you have a driver, if you have special needs, like for a four-wheel-drive vehicle to explore the mountains or desert, they can help sort that out so you don't have to.

Gasoline

Gas stations in Oman are full-service and typically open 24-hours. Gas is cheap; you can fill the tank of a small car for under US$15. Tipping is not expected, but it's customary not to ask for change, leaving that for the attendant.

Parking

There is usually ample parking anywhere you go in Oman, with the exceptions of the older parts of the capital like the Central Business District during daytime working hours, or the Mutrah Souq area anytime of day. On the weekends it can take a few rounds to find parking at the popular shopping malls, so you will see cars on the sidewalks and medians that have made their own parking spots.

Road Conditions

The roads in Oman are almost uniformly new and well maintained, though occasional construction can slow down rush hour traffic. A lack of road signs is the biggest problem for most drivers; they are at best intermittent. Road signs are written in both Arabic and English, though the English transliterations of the names are spelled differently on almost every sign. The main hazards of driving are in the mountains, where you can only travel with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and the steep grades require some know-how to traverse. Unfamiliar drivers have been known to ride their brakes on the steep declines and have burned through them. The other dangerous drive is through the Empty Quarter of Wusta, where drivers fly down the long two-lane highway. You have to remain very aware and defensive of oncoming traffic and passing vehicles as one of the major causes of death along this route are drivers who fall asleep at the wheel and crash into oncoming cars.

Car Rentals

Renting a car in Oman is very expensive. Rental cars are often old and beaten up; even new cars may lack basic upgrades like power windows. Renting a 4x4, which offers you the best accessibility to the sights of the country, is extremely expensive, so it is often better to rent a sedan and then return the car and rent an off-road ready vehicle only on the days you need it. Cars rented at the airports command higher prices, but are certainty the most convenient option, otherwise most hotels can arrange a rental car for you. There are both international and local companies offering rentals, so you have plenty of options for booking ahead of time.

Contacts

Arabia Cars. 9924–3622 ; www.arabiacars-oman.com.

Sixt Rent A Car. 2448–2793; car-rental.sixt.com.

Thrifty Car Rental. Al Seeb International Airport, Muscat, Masqat. 2452–1189; www.thrifty.com/loc/ll/OM/MUSCAT/MUSCAT/In-Terminal.

Roadside Emergencies

Dial 999 for emergency services throughout Oman.

Rules of the Road

Driving in Oman is on the right, as in the U.S. However, there are a few local laws to note. Texting or talking on the phone while driving is prohibited (unless you are using a hands-free device), and you can be given a ticket for having an excessively dirty car. The police are friendly and accommodating, especially with tourists, so just smile and be polite, and they will likely inform you of the rule you have broken and send you on your way. Speeding violations are regulated by cameras and each offense is 10 rials (about US$25). If you are not billed for these charges when you return your rental car, then expect that your credit card will be charged for them once they post, which can take up to a month. Running a red light is also monitored by camera, but this violation is punishable by imprisonment. Drinking and driving will also land you in jail. Driving rules can be found on the ROP website (rop.gov.om).

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