Bikepacking the Sultanate of Oman (Video)
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Bikepacking the Sultanate of Oman is a short video that documents a 1,120-kilometer ride across Oman and showcases its natural beauty and geographic diversity in a way we’ve never seen before. Watch it here, along with a trip report and gallery of vibrant photos from filmmaker Hans De Neve…
We’ve seen relatively few stories and films coming out of Oman, but everything we’ve watched and read to date has us intrigued. Bikepacking the Sultanate of Oman is no exception. It’s a straightforward documentation of Hans De Neve and Silke Verbruggen’s 1,120-kilometer ride across the country that highlights the surprisingly varied landscapes and trails they encountered along the way. From rolling dunes, to lush oases, to pristine blue waters, Oman looks to offer a little bit of everything as a winter bikepacking destination. Watch the short film below, then continue on for a detailed trip report and a gallery of photos.
Words and photos by Hans De Neve and Silke Verbruggen
Picking a location for our next trip wasn’t easy, but we finally decided on the lesser-known Sultanate of Oman and started planning. Actually, there’s not much information to be found about riding your bike in Oman, especially if you’re seeking off-road paths. All the guidebooks assume you’ll rent a 4×4 to discover the mountains, and the majority of the existing bike reports mainly stick to the paved highways crossing the country. In a country where petrol accounts for almost 45% of the total export, some asphalt sections were unavoidable. So, we started linking trekking routes, dirt paths, and everything in between. We created a route that started and ended in the capital of Muscat, crossing mountain ranges, wadis, and deserts. The 1,120-kilometre route with 10,720 metres of climbing took us about 15 days to complete.
Although starting in the capital was the easiest option, this also meant that our first few hours of riding were unfortunately on bustling highway. But as soon as we reached Nakhal Fort, we strayed off the main highway, where the roads grew quiet and the scenery became rocky and steep.
Wadi Bani Awf is considered one of the most scenic roads in Oman, and it was an incredible sight. The (very!) steep dirt track climbs past beautiful canyons, waterfalls, and small villages as it makes its way up and over a mountain pass. With an elevation gain of 1,550 metres in less than 17 kilometres and max grades of 40%, it’s surely one of the steepest passes we’ve ever tried to ride our bikes on. Then again, every pass always feels like it’s the steepest pass you have ever ridden your bike on, but this one is definitely a worthy contender. After, we concluded that the highlight of the climb was sitting and eating apples in the shade.
On the other side of the pass, there’s an asphalt road winding down to Al Hamra, as well as a small marked trekking path to Misfat Al Abriyeen. Not having suffered quite enough from the climb, we chose the latter. The path was more or less rideable along the ridge, but as soon as we had to descend into the valley the path got worse: rocks became boulders and the path became steeper. It was a proper hike-a-bike down to the valley floor. We can’t remember how many times we asked each other, “Why are we doing this?!” Was it worth it? For sure, the scenery was amazing. Would we do it again? Definitely.
After a small detour to nearby Wadi Ghul and the Al Hoota cave, we arrived in one of the oldest cities in Oman, Nizwa. This city has played a key role in the history of Oman for well over 1,000 years. Its old town—a huddle of old-fashioned sandstone buildings packed around a magnificent fort and mosque, surrounded by colorful souqs—is a great place to spend some time. Although a little overcrowded (we saw more tourists here than anywhere else in the country), we really enjoyed exploring the city. And if you enjoy eating street meat, Nizwa is a good place to start.
From Nizwa we headed through an open, rugged landscape on dirt and desert roads, using the occasional asphalt road to link it altogether. Unfortunately, we ran into some mechanical problems when one of our derailleurs was damaged beyond repair. After some odd gesturing and friendly nodding, an Omani farmer dropped us off at the nearest bike shop. We bought a knock-off Shimano derailleur and some hot tea, and were back on our way heading towards the biggest desert section of our trip.
We filled our water bottles to the brim at the local mosque, and were ready to ride towards the Sharqiya Sands. These massive sand dunes cover an area of approximately 12,500 square kilometres and can reach up to 100 metres high. Overnight camping in the dunes is definitely worth pushing through loose sand for.
We noticed a massive contrast with the previous days when we headed out to Wadi Bani Khalid, described as “perhaps the most attractive wadi of them all.” As soon as we left our main track and followed the asphalt road up the valley, a busload of tourists started passing us like bees attracted to honey. It didn’t take long for us to realize what was ahead of us: this wadi was polished and extremely overcrowded. Although it was beautiful, we wouldn’t call it the most attractive of them all. We’ve spent time in wadis more picturesque and rugged than this one, and had the place completely to ourselves. We decided to spend the night there to enjoy it in the evening when the crowds left. Considering we had to go up and down the same pass twice, we’d skip Wadi Bani Khalid if we were to do it again.
The gravel roads soon ended and we realized our planned route wouldn’t be possible. The line was on our map, but the road just wasn’t there. We started looking for an alternative without having to ride on the busy highway and found the perfect option: an unfinished, traffic-free highway! The Omani government invests heavily in keeping all expressways in perfect condition, and they’re so smooth you could bowl on them. With a massive headwind, we pedaled towards the seaside town of Sur, where we enjoyed some fresh seafood.
Our initial plan was to head straight back up the mountains to the plateau of the Eastern Hajar, but as soon as we saw the azure coastline, there was no discussion to be had. Instead, we immediately went for a swim. We decided rather quickly to spend some time on this amazing coastline. We pulled out our map and GPS to plot a new route. We followed the many dirt roads scattered along the coast, with beaches enclosed by rock cliffs that made for sublime camping spots. We decided to skip most of the wadis and beaches included in the guidebooks, instead choosing alternatives by following our guts. Is it possible that plan B is actually better than plan A? In this case, it certainly felt that way.
We were absolutely blown away by Oman’s beauty: amazing mountain vistas, lush green wadis, desert landscapes, and a deep blue sea. But what impressed us the most was the hospitality of the local people. We lost count of the many times we were invited for bitter but tasty Omani coffee, dates, and fresh fruits. Or the times when we were pedaling hard and were offered sweets and fresh water by passing drivers. Or when locals were cooking an entire goat near our campsite and invited us for dinner. No doubt, a goat kebab for dinner and a long day of pedaling is a winning combination!
About Hans De Neve and Silke Verbruggen
Hans De Neve and Silke Verbruggen are two engineers living Belgium. When not being bothered by the daily grind, they love spending their time outdoors. Whether it be multi-day trekking, or climbing high up in the mountains. When planning a three-month trekking trip to Central Asia, they discovered bikepacking as the ideal way of travel to explore rugged landscapes and new cultures.