Oman: a slow boat to Musandam

by juliannabarnaby

Setting sail on a four-day dhow adventure is the perfect way to discover the spectacular, hidden beauty of the Musandam region of Oman, one of the Arabian Peninsula's best-kept secrets

The Arabian Peninsula offers huge variety, from the glitz and glamour of Dubai to the quiet culture of Oman and Saudi Arabia’s vast desert plains. And then there’s the Musandam, a little-explored enclave of Oman within the UAE’s borders – the perfect place to escape from it all and revel in the natural panoramas of the area.

The region boasts jaw-dropping vistas of rugged mountains, small villages, empty sandy beaches, numerous hiking trails and seas teeming with life, perfect for diving and snorkelling expeditions.

The best way to see the Musandam is on one of the traditional dhow boats – trips can last anything from five hours to five weeks. With their curved prows and ornate wooden designs, dhows evoke the traditional sea-based industries that sustained this area for hundreds of years. These days, though they’re used for fishing local waters, their prime use is to navigate the stunning fjords that are scattered along the coast, giving you a chance to explore the sealife, sleep under the stars and enjoy a slice of the laid-back life.

We’d booked on for a four-day dhow adventure, from the small port town of Dibba. On the border between the UAE and the Musandam, Dibba’s quaint buildings and relaxed pace are a world away from the hustle and bustle of Dubai, a two-hour drive away and a journey that takes you through the desert and the magnificent Hajjar mountains. Keep an eye out for camels and oryx on the way.

We set sail soon after boarding. With  just seven of us on the boat (including two doing the sailing and navigating), there was plenty of space to spread out and catch some rays on the deck. Because we were tired from the long trip, we’d agreed to sail a short distance before mooring in a small enclave where we’d stay for the afternoon and night.

As soon as we’d dropped anchor, we got out our snorkelling masks. As the Musandam is located in the Straits of Hormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf, the waters are teeming with exotic fish. Sightings of barracudas and rays are common, and you can even spot turtles, reef sharks and dolphins if you’re lucky. Floating on the surface, we even saw a group of baby lobsters.

Lured by the tantalising smells coming from the on-board barbecue, we returned to the boat for dinner. Plates piled high, we tucked into the feast of fresh food and snacks accompanied by steamy local breads and mounds of Arabic staples such as hummus, moutabal and tabbouleh. Once dinner was over, we all sat and chatted as the sun set over the sea and star after star made its appearance in the night sky.

Over the next few days, a pattern was established. We would wake early with the rising sun, go for a morning swim before breakfast and set sail along the coast, exploring different nooks and bays. Most days we’d stop at two or three places for some snorkelling or to get to a deserted beach for a bit of walking and exploring.

When we were feeling particularly energetic, we tried our hand at fishing or the captain brought the speedboat out onto the water for a spot of banana boating. With a sudden whoosh, we were off, ripping through the water at breakneck speed and tumbling off the inflatable banana as the speedboat ahead made a sharp turn.

Too soon, it was time to turn back and set sail for Dibba. The trip had passed so quickly and we were dreading the return back to everyday life. Just before landing, the captain stopped the boat in a small cove and we all sat in silence, listening to the sounds of the waves – five minutes later, we were stepping onshore with our luggage and thinking about when we could plan our next escape.

Musandam boat operators

Musandam Sea Adventures (Khasab-based operators): +968 26730 424 / 494

Al Boom Diving (Dubai-based boat operators; also do diving trips): + 971 4342 2993

Stay at The Six Senses Zighy Bay - This luxury 5 star hotel is the ultimate Musandam escape. Guests stay in villas overlooking the sea and can take some time to escape from it all whilst pampering themselves in the hotel's spa and indulging at the top-class restaurants.