1. Avoid buying anything from the first 10 shops in the Mutrah Souq. The shops deeper in the souq are cheaper.
2. Avoid Sabco center as it is geared to rich British Oil Workers and the price of everything traditional is 40 % higher than other places in the city.
3. Avoid taxi drivers near the Airport and Carrefour in Muscat, Oman as they charge 50% for tourists.
Most people know that bargaining is a way of life in the Middle East as in other parts of the world. The Arabian Gulf has a huge population of south asian immigrants working here so if you are bargaining in souq areas make sure you understand that most indians and bangladeshis only bargain to a certain degree but the Omanis and Arabs will bargain for ages. Indians tend to have a cut off point and they usually wont cross it whereas Omanis love the social aspect of bargaining so they tend to give bigger discounts.
Most travellers that arrive in Oman only intend on spending about a week in the Sultanate so many tourists will rent cars. I have seen countless tourists in the airport in Seeb negotiating with the local car agencies found in the newly revamped airport and I know (after living and travelling in the country for 3 years) that they are going to pay a fortune. The best way to see the country (and cheapest) is to go to a local car rental place in the city (tons of them and usually run by Indians) and rent a car for 10 rials or 30 $ a day. It is based on the car and no per person and it will give you a lot of freedom.
Unique Suggestions: If you do decide to rent from the airport then at least make sure you haggle and get unlimited fuel as most offer this to tourists if asked beforehand!
Fun Alternatives: Use public transport.
The price of taxi travel can be very expensive. We were told that taxi drivers are charged 5 rials every time they park at the Grand Hyatt to pick up a fare. We were recommended a driver by someone at the Hyatt who refused to discuss the price of taking us on our daily trips to the Oman Dive Centre at the other side of the town. At the end of the week when we offered him (Salem) a sum of money we felt appropriate he asked us for an extra 20 rials. I felt that this was an inappropriate way to behave and will hire a car the next time we visit this lovely country.
You must be aware that EVERYONE answers their mobile phone whilst driving, no matter how fast or what type of road they are on. This can be very un-nerving to say the least!
Unique Suggestions: Insist on a price before embarking on the journey.
Fun Alternatives: Consider hiring a car - the road system is very good.
The goat herders in the mountains weave a coarse rug and then stand at the side of the road to sell them. I was negotiating with the man when a busload of very obvious tourists arrived and then the price doubled. I decided not to wait.
Unique Suggestions: Try to stop when there is no one else around. Know what you are willing to pay and have the correct change. Avoid large groups of tourists.
Fun Alternatives: Large groups of tourists are not really common in Oman and most vendors will happily negotiate with you.
The disappointment was the tendency of authorities to close to general public tourist spots without any notice in case of visits by the Ruler or some other local and foreign dignitaries. A very good attraction closed to public when we visited it was the Sultan's beautiful Palace by the seaside in Muscat. This picture shows children standing by Nizwah Fort and Mosque. Do not drive into the fort for you will be trying to negotiate your way out for next 2-3 hours and that too through an ancient back alley escape route, now heavily populated.
Unique Suggestions: Admire beauty from a safe distance.
Fun Alternatives: Keep two or more alternate attractions ready.
If you're considering an organized tour of the area, be aware that the ones offered through big hotels such as the Al-Bustan or the Muscat Intercontinental are vastly overpriced. Right now, they are asking US $320 for a 12 hour trip from Muscat to the top of Jebel Shams. This is idiotic! For $120 you could get a 4x4, another $10 will get you a good guidebook with maps, and for another $25 you could pay for the gasoline and the food you might need for the day!
Sunny Day Tours (Tel.: (968) 698 189) e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you still don't want to do it yourself, this company is reliable and much more reasonable.
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