Muscat-to-Salalah Coastal Route, Oman "Suggestion for Best Winter Trips"
Photograph by Angelo Cavalli / Corbis
The roughly 120-mile gap that construction has not yet reached on Oman's new (and relatively empty) coastal expressway is one reason why now is the time to make this epic frontier drive. Linking Muscat on the Gulf of Oman with Salalah on the Indian Ocean, the high-speed route passes through several little-visited sections of the starkly beautiful sultanate, delivering, in most sections, spectacular views of the Arabian Sea to the east or south and rocky Hajar mountain vistas to the west or north. The unfinished sections provide the added thrill of rumbling over unpaved roadbeds, an increasingly rare experience as Oman's highway building boom rolls on.
When to Go: January-March
How to Get Around: Rent a four-wheel-drive Toyota Land Cruiser at the Muscat Airport or book a custom trip (private vehicles, English-speaking, Omani driver-guide) Oman tour with an expert like Corinthian Travel , which specializes in Middle East luxury travel experiences. The coastal route begins in Muscat (Muscat's central business district) and continues south to about Ras Mandrakah (as of November 2013), before resuming near sown. At the southern terminus in Salalah, retrace the route or take the 95-minute flight back to Muscat.
Where to Stay: Lodging options are extremely limited between Muscat and Salalah. Corinthian Travel itineraries typically include private camping (including beach camping) in tents equipped with beds and Arabian carpets. In Salalah, the 82-room Boutique Hotel Juweira at the marina promenade is a relaxing place to recharge after making the coastal drive. Request an Indian Ocean views, and prebook the hotel's free airport shuttle if you're flying back to Muscat.
What to Eat: If you're traveling without a guide, stock up on food and water, since coastal highway services (restaurants, gas stations) have not kept pace with construction. In Muscat, splurge on dinner (reservations required) and the regally appointed Al Angham , located next to the Royal Opera House. The set menu features traditional Omani dishes like Shiwa (spiced lamb slowly cooked underground for at least 24 hours), harissa (a thick, oatmeal-like dish containing meat), and rukhal (thin, round bread).
What to Read Before You Go: Sir Wilfred Thesiger's 1959 travelogue Arabian Sands (Penguin Classics, 2008) recounts his 1940s treks through the 225,000-square-mile Rub al Khali, or Empty Quarter, the world's largest sand sea.
Cultural Tip: Know and follow- Omani traffic laws . Enforcement is strict and penalties can be severe, such as mandatory 48-hour detention for running a red light and possible jail sentences for violations like talking on a cell phone while driving or operating a dirty vehicle.
Fun Fact: The new coastal highway passes through Sur, home to India's only remaining shipyard, where traditional dhows (wooden-hulled boats Arabian, curved at both ends) are still built by hand. Construction takes place outside, so it's easy to watch the dhow craftsmen at work.