This blog is starting to read like I’m obsessed with adventuring in Oman without a 4WD, I know. But hear me out, I came to save money and currently I drive a 2WD (renting a 4WD here is a little pricy). At the same time, I want to experience the outdoors and so, this is where we’re at right now.
The answer to the title of this blog post? Absolutely you can.
Previously online, tons of posts had told me otherwise and I’ve seen the government check-point at Jebel Akhdar firsthand and knew you couldn’t climb that mountain in a sedan (I drove up last summer because I was looking at a Pajero and the owner had it parked right at the checkpoint, why? I have no idea).
But, I just read online last week that Jebel Shams has no such checkpoint. I assumed it would of course because it’s higher than Jebel Akhdar but apparently the roads are not as steep. If you chose to drive a 2WD to Jebel Shams though you should check the brakes and I would highly recommend going in a car that has a manual drive option, not to be confused with a manual car- I mean an automatic that lets you put it in manual. I learned how to do this actually when I was coming down from the checkpoint at Jebel Akhdar because the Omani guy who was translating for me with the seller of the Pajero taught me how to do so, he explained that just going down in automatic drive would ruin my breaks and when I descended Jebel Shams, it became apparent that I did need the manual mode because I could smell my breaks burning at first when I forgot to use the manual option.
In general, the roads are okay enough to drive a 2WD. I did pass one sedan that had about 6 full grown men in it and they were having trouble climbing the hills they told me, some parts of the road they couldn’t make it up and they warned me not to go too far in that direction, but that was not where the Jebel Shams summit was and I think I had previously climbed the hills they had travelled on, but with just me and two dogs my sedan was fine, although it was a bit of a strain.
Overall, Jebel Shams is not to be missed in Oman. The juniper forests are gorgeous and the views are breathtaking. Where I live now, the temperature is easily climbing into the high 30’s and low 40’s (thats in the 90s and 100s in F) during the day and at night we don’t see the temperature dipping nearly as low as it was a month or two ago. Summer is approaching and I wanted to hike around with my dogs without sweating profusely. Jebel Shams is still quite cold at night, getting down to 8 and 10 degrees (in the 40s and 50s).
If you choose to camp at Jebel Shams the usual safety procedures apply. Fill up with gas before the asphalt ends, long before it ends in Al Hamra or Bahla. Bring all the water you’re going to need and all the food you’re going to want. Firewood is also advised, I burned though everything I brought in about three hours. Pack layers and definitely pack chapstick. Be prepared to stay the night if you leave after 3pm because the roads have no light and they’re unsafe to drive in the dark. After about 7pm, there were no cars going on the roads near where I set up my tent and if an Omani in a 4wd has decided to stay parked, you’d better as well. We camped on the side of a mountain (we got a little lost and did not camp at the peak the first night, I was trying to find a campsite that I saw on Google maps but my phone had lost service and the road was blocked by the ROP anyways).
I tend to not overpack for camping but if I were to do tent camping again for more than one night in the mountains, I would highly suggest bringing a shelter, tarp or gazebo because although the temperatures are lower in the mountains, the sun exposure is still a real thing and it can be exhausting to be constantly in the sunlight from 6am until 6:30pm. I personally think that an ideal set-up for camping in Jebel Shams would be a 4×4 that you could sleep in, with something attached to the roof that could pull out and protect you from daytime exposure while cooking, reading, or resting after a hike. For me with two dogs, tent camping ended up being exhausting because the wind rusted the tent so much that the dogs were constantly barking at phantoms and at the very real goats who were roaming around our campsite in the dark. We ended up spending half the night sleeping in the Yaris, not because it was too cold (it was quite chilly) but because the wind on the nylon was too much for them to get any sleep (also the excitement and imagined threat of the goats for the dogs made them all adrenaline and no rest).
So, can you go car camping with a 2WD in Jebel Shams? Absolutely. It does require flexibility and a sense of adventure and caution. There are few roadsigns (not even a proper one pointing you to the summit) and no barricades to stop you from barreling down a cliffside if you make a wrong turn.
What I did appreciate on the mountain roads was that other drivers would slow down and give me a thumbs up, waiting for my response before going their way. It was obvious that if I had an issue with my car, they would stop and help as Omanis are really kind like that (I’ve heard that expat men often get less offers for help from the locals so keep that in mind). Nobody stopped to tell me that I didn’t belong there in a sedan or that I was going to be a burden on other drivers if I had an issue with my car, and I admit I thought perhaps in other parts of the world (America) I might be met with that sort of attitude. One guy in an FJ Cruiser did approach my sedan asking if he could take me up instead (many local Omanis make a living doing this) but I wanted to have my car with me and I’ve driven on mountain roads in the Balkans, also with my dogs and all my camping gear, I didn’t want to mess up his immaculate car, and there also would have been negotiating a price to deal with and the whole point was to camp on the cheap. I politely explained that I would be fine and he did not push the issue).