A Guide to Musandam, Oman
Musandam is a special place. Part of Oman, but surrounded by the UAE, it has a unique geography, culture and history that sets it apart from its Arabian neighbours. Jutting out into the narrow Strait of Hormuz, Musandam’s jagged coastline has earned it the nickname ‘Norway of Arabia’. While its fjords are indeed impressive, the expansive Musandam mountains are equally worthy of exploration. Hiking, snorkelling, diving, camping, off-roading, and relaxation opportunities abound. Whether you’re planning a weekend trip from Dubai, or a week long adventure, Musandam is the perfect place to immerse yourself in nature and traditional Omani culture.
Khasab is the regional capital of the Musandam Governorate, and the majority of things to see and do in Musandam are around this northern area. Dibba (Daba) Al-Baya is a smaller province, located in the south of Musandam. This area is perhaps most notable as the location of the Six Senses Zighy Bay Resort. While the two regions are technically connected via a mountain road, only Omanis are permitted access, making it impossible to drive between them without having to exit Oman and re-enter via the UAE. Additionally, Madha is part of Musandam, but is enclaved by the UAE. For these reasons, most people focus on just one region, with the Khasab area offering the best variety of things to see and do in Musandam.
Crossing the border at Ras Al Khaimah, the differences between the UAE and Oman are immediately apparent. Leaving a world of industry, highrises and construction behind, a rugged expanse of mountain and sea views extend before you. Low-rise traditional houses clustered in small villages line the entrances to wadis on your right, while stretches of attractive beaches come and go to your left. The coastal road to Khasab has literally been blasted out of the mountainside, a stretch of smooth tarmac tucked between soaring ochre layered cliffs and unspoilt coastline. It’s a pleasure to drive and offers numerous opportunities to stop at beaches, old forts and scenic viewpoints along the way.
Fjords Dhow Cruise
To fully appreciate the beauty of the fjordlands around Khasab, you need to take to the water. Numerous half day, full day and even overnight dhow cruise options are available, sailing out of Khasab harbour. Dhows are traditional wooden fishing boats, usually with an open deck kitted out with cushions for lounging around on, plus a shaded area. Some have two or even three levels. While you’ll still see dhows used for fishing throughout Oman, these are all used solely for tourism and are pretty comfortable and atmospheric.
One of the few actual ‘tourist sites’ in Musandam, Khasab Castle is well worth a visit if you’re interested in learning about the history and unique culture of the area.
Originally established by the Portuguese in the early 17th Century, it soon changed hands and has been periodically modified and restored over the centuries. Today it houses a fascinating museum, detailing all manner of history, culture and customs pertaining to the region. You can climb up the tower and wander around the various rooms. There are numerous boats on display in the courtyard, including a traditional dhow with wood sewn together in a custom unique to the area. There’s also examples of traditional palm leaf and Bait al-Qufl (House of the Lock) structures, again specific to Musandam.
Our favourite beach in Musandam, this secluded little spot is perfect for escaping the crowds (if there are any). Hidden away at the bottom of a steep and winding dirt track near Harf village, it’s best accessed with a four wheel drive, but a two wheel drive can handle it if you’re careful. The small beach, a mixture of rocks and sand, sits snuggly between towering cliffs of layered limestone that plunge right into the sea. There’s a graveyard behind, and a couple of fresh water tanks which are filled up by boat once a week. You can swim in the clear water of the Arabian Gulf surrounded by colourful fish, and rest in the shade of the makeshift palm leaf shelter by the tanks.
The view over Khor Najd, complete with switchback road winding steeply to the coast, is a Musandam classic. You can reach the viewpoint in a two wheel drive, although the descent to the shore is best tackled in a four wheel drive.
This is a popular spot for family picnics, camping, and fishing. Expect it to be busy, especially at the weekend or during national Oman or UAE holidays. There are fresh water tanks here too, and plenty of space to pitch up either close to the shore, or set back towards the cliffs.
Sal Ala Acacia Forest
There’s an acacia forest (a rare sight in these parts!) at the end of the main road heading south from Khasab, about 7 km beyond the turn off for Khor Najd. It makes for an interesting side trip if you’re already making the journey to the fjord, or a good choice if you’re looking for a nice accessible picnic spot and a chance to do some hiking.
Wadi Bih Road
Jabal Harim (that big mountain with a military installation on top) is the highest in Musandam at 2087m. You can’t actually drive to the top (due to said military facility), and if you’re on an organised ‘mountain safari’ tour this is likely where you’ll turn around. But if you’ve got your own wheels, the best is yet to come.
Continuing on the road, with the peak to your left, the view laid out before you at the pass is utterly spectacular. Look closely and you’ll spot the road, hugging the mountainside, then twisting across a broad finger of land before dropping down to Wadi Bih. The odd house and pockets of cultivated green land cut into terraced fields complete the scene. It’s only 18km to the wadi bed, but don’t be surprised if it takes you an hour or more. The views will have you stopping constantly, and the terrain requires careful driving.
Diving in Musandam
Great scuba diving sites are found all over Oman and Musandam is no exception. The main dive hubs are Khasab and Dibba. If you’re looking to include some diving as part of a general Musandam trip, arranging a couple of dives with an operator in Khasab is ideal. If diving is the main purpose of your trip to Musandam, you may want to opt for Dibba, where you can also arrange overnight dive trips.
Whale shark season is May to October, with September to January considered the best season for diving. February and March can be pretty choppy and windy. Visibility is unpredictable, with the nutrient rich Strait of Hormuz offering anywhere between 5 and 20 metres visibility.
When to visit Musandam
The best time to visit Musandam is between November and March. Day time temperatures are a pleasant 25-30 °C, with those at night time dropping to around 20 °C.
The summer months (June to August) can be unbearably hot throughout Oman In Musandam, summer temperatures push 40 °C and rarely drop below 30 °C. So unless you’re planning to camp in the mountains (about 8 °C cooler), it’s best to avoid these months.
April, May, September and October can still be pretty hot, making it uncomfortable for beach camping or hiking.
As Musandam is accessed most easily from the UAE, it’s a popular weekend or holiday getaway for many locals and expat residents in Dubai and elsewhere. Be sure to check both Oman and UAE public holiday dates if you want to avoid the crowds.