The Wonders of the Musandam Peninsula
If you’re seeking a weekend away from the stresses and strains of city life, you won’t go far wrong with a trip to the Musandam Peninsula.
Musandam is an intoxicating blend of spectacular mountain ranges, stunning fjords, remote villages and sublime plateaus. You’ll come away feeling invigorated, as though you’ve spent the weekend in an Arabia of bygone days; although, as a consequence, maybe a touch more appreciative of modern amenities and transport links!
Musandam is part of Oman, but it is separated from the rest of Oman by the UAE and is located at the most north-easterly point of the Arabian Peninsula, giving it a somewhat desolate, island-like feel.
There’s a lot to see and do in Musandam, but here are a few recommendations:
Go on a dhow boat cruise
Easily booked through your accommodation or through any of the various travel agents in Khasab, this is a must-do whilst staying in Musandam. The dhow boats are traditionally decked out in Bedouin rugs and cushions making for a very comfortable and relaxing journey. The gentle motion of the boat as it sails through the Khor ash Sham fjord is almost hypnotic as you gaze at the spectacular scenery and isolated villages around you.
It is highly likely that you’ll see dolphins, which as they swim alongside the low-sided dhow is a magical moment. There are opportunities to swim or snorkel and lunch is provided if you opt for the full day tour. If you go on a half day trip, you’ll be picked up from Telegraph Island and returned to shore by a local fishing boat, which can be a cultural experience in itself!
Go on a mountain safari
A mountain safari is the local term for a 4WD drive into the mountains. Again, these are easily booked through hotels and travel agents, or you can drive yourself. We chose to hire a driver, who also doubled as a guide, because we thought it would be more relaxing and informative than negotiating the hairpin bends ourselves. Our tour began with a drive up to Khor an Najd, which provided fabulous views of the surrounding mountains and fjords.
We continued through stunning mountain scenery onto the Sayh plateau, which was a surprisingly green, agricultural settlement with grazing goats and donkeys, and was not what we expected to see over 1000m above sea level! Further along the road, our driver showed us fossils of shells and sea creatures which were embedded in the rocks of the mountain (all part of the Arabian Peninsula’s unique geology) and some prehistoric rock carvings. Our final stop was Jebel Harim, which is Musandam’s highest peak.
A tour of Khasab
Khasab is the main town in Musandam and is endearingly rural and slow-paced. The main focus is the fort (well, in truth it’s the relatively new Lulu hypermarket, but from a tourist point of view, it’s the fort). It is well worth a look inside before proceeding to Al Khmazera Castle, which is buried away in the heart of Khasab’s old town. An aimless drive around Khasab’s winding back streets is a rewarding diversion, where you’ll chance across lush plantations and curious goats.
A trip to Qida village
Just outside of Khasab along the Khasab-Tibat road, is the village of Qida. Hidden amongst a number of collapsed boulders is a fascinating collection of prehistoric rock carvings, with pictures ranging from camels, to horses, to people. If you wander along to the very end of the road, you will find a huddle of dilapidated buildings which are now inhabited by an inordinate number of goats!
Drive along the Khasab -Tibat coastal road
If you drove in from the UAE, you will have travelled along this road already but for those who flew into Khasab or took the ferry from Muscat; this is well worth a drive for its own sake. The road meanders around the fjords to reveal breathtaking vistas and there are numerous white, sandy beaches along the way. A drive to the top of Al Harf provides panoramic views over the Arabian Gulf in one direction and Khor Qida in the other.
The Khasab Hotel, where we stayed, has large, clean rooms and is fine if you’re on a budget. The food in the restaurant ranged from passable to just downright bizarre. I ordered a Greek salad imagining a delectable delight of feta cheese and olives, but instead was presented with a few limp lettuce leaves smothered in Dairylea triangles and Thousand Island dressing. It was not quite what I’d had in mind!
We went to the Atana Khasab Hotel on the Khasab-Tibat road (not to be confused with the Atana Musandam Hotel, which is near Lulu) a couple of times for lunch and were much more impressed with this establishment. The food was delicious, the setting sublime (a poolside restaurant with outstanding views of the mountains and sea) and it has the only licensed bar in town.
SEE ALSO: Trekking in Oman
Travelling to and from Musandam
From the UAE, Khasab is a relatively straight-forward drive (three to four hours from Dubai). From Muscat, however, it can be a little more complicated. There are various options available: flying, ferry or an eight-hour drive through the UAE which encompasses two border crossings. Flights take just over an hour whereas the ferry takes five hours.
We chose to take the ferry (mainly because it meant we would have our car with us in Khasab) which turned out to be a very pleasant and relaxing journey. However, ferries and flights are prone to cancellation if there’s bad weather or reduced visibility. Our return ferry was cancelled due to a sand storm in the region, which left us somewhat stranded and with no choice but to do the long drive back to Muscat through the UAE.
Wherever you’re travelling from and however you get there, Musandam is well worth the journey. It is a beguiling insight into a traditional, fast-disappearing world, with beautiful scenery and charming, slightly time-warped locals, and is an experience not to be missed!
About the Author
Originally from the UK, Cassie Hipkiss-Hicks currently resides in Muscat with her husband and two-year-old daughter. She is enjoying travelling the roads well and less well travelled and experiencing the charm and diversity of Omani culture.