Visit beautiful, tranquil Musandam Oman and experience a simpler and slower pace of life with glorious views of fjords, mountains, castles, dolphins and more!
Musandam’s stunning fjords have led to its nickname, the Norway of the Middle East. Of course, it’s much warmer, but a trip meandering through the Musandam fjords is always a pleasant experience. Although winter is the best time to visit, you can go snorkelling and swimming all year round.
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Musandam might seem a bit of a geographical oddity as it is an enclave sitting above the United Arab Emirates and borders Ras al Khaimah, Fujairah and Sharjah emirates.
As a peninsula, water surrounds it on three sides – the Arabian Gulf, the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. I should really say azure and turquoise crystal clear water surrounds it, making it a diver’s dream!
Skip to Dibba Musandam
Norway of the Middle East
Popularly known as the Norway of the Middle East, Musandam has fjord after fjord all around the coastline. You can join a group dhow trip or book your own private one to enjoy the splendour of the fjords and their clear, calm water.
Once out in the fjords, your crew will start searching for and calling dolphins that often swim alongside the boat. Further round, you’ll anchor at Telegraph Island, where you can swim, snorkel, dive or just take a walk around the island.
Telegraph Island is where a telegraph point was set up by the British some decades ago to improve communication between the Middle East and India.
If you opt for a half-day tour, which costs around 15 riyals (150AED/$40) per person, your boat will head back to the harbour after this. You can also enjoy fruit and cold and hot drinks throughout your trip.
If you choose the full day, this includes lunch and a trip further along the coast. This option doesn’t cost much more, making it worthwhile if you have the time. You can also charter a boat for longer overnight trips to explore the area more. (You may wish to give the crew a tip when you return.)
I’ve always used Dolphin Tours but they all seem pretty good at what they do. A dhow trip in the Musandam Fjords should be high on your list! You won’t regret doing it, but you’ll probably regret it if you don’t!
Be sure to include a trip to Khor Najd for the stunning view! Although it involves a drive up a relatively steep and winding track, most cars can handle this.
When you reach the ‘I Love Oman’ sign, that’s the best viewpoint. You might not even believe you’re in the Middle East but think you’ve teleported to Norway!
You can continue down the other side but, as mentioned above, the best viewpoint is at the top. The road down is steeper with more bends than the first part but I’ve seen sedans and small trucks go on it.
Acacia Forest and Children’s Park
After Khor Najd, you might drive down to the end of the road, where you’ll find the Children’s Park and Acacia Forest on the right. A village and some interesting, colourful rock formations are on the left.
The forest is a lovely place for a picnic but make sure the goats roaming around don’t steal your lunch! There are toilets there, however, I did a quick about turn at the door. Facilities around this area aren’t usually the best, so you might want to plan ahead.
The park is popular with local families, so please remember to respect the local culture while you’re there. Also, make sure you tidy up after yourself and put any rubbish in the bins or take it with you.
The drive up Jebel Hareem is steep at many points and winding most of the way. I’d say it’s one of the more challenging ones I’ve driven around here but that might also be because of the length.
I’d say it needs a 4WD or AWD, as do most reviews, but I know someone who did it in a sedan. I wouldn’t recommend that myself but you can decide.
There are some great and diverse views along the way – looking down the mountain into the wadi, a plain on the way up with wild donkeys grazing, stacks of enormous chunks of rock, old villages, farms and at the top – the plain of Seih.
On the way, look out for old cave dwellings – caves in the mountainside with a stone wall built across them. They can be hard to spot as the stones are the same colour as the cave.
Seih plain is very peaceful and visitors should keep in mind that this is a spot where people go to enjoy the tranquility.
The road continues to Rawdha, a valley far from other villages but inhabited for centuries, as the Islamic and pre-Islamic graveyards tell.
The other turn on the road continues to Dibba but is only accessible for UAE and Omani nationals. There are checkpoints and you’ll notice military vehicles roaming around. Wadi Bih is also not accessible to anyone, including GCC nationals, unless they have a special permit.
If you prefer not to drive yourself, you can also go with a tour company from Khasab, such as Dolphin Tours and Musandam Tours.
Khasab Castle and Museum
Whilst in Khasab, be sure to visit Khasab Castle and Museum. It’s very well done, with everything clearly explained on easy-to-read boards and in small chunks of information. This is great for people like me who see a board full of text and just skim-read it! It’s also much easier for younger ones to read and take in.
The Portuguese built Khasab Castle in the 17th century. However, the Omanis built the circular fort in the centre before that.
Opening times for Khasab Castle are Saturday to Thursday from 9am to 4pm and from 9am to 11am on Fridays. The entrance fee is 500 baisa for adults, 200 for children over 6, free for under 6 and only card payment is accepted.
Another small castle is nearby inside a residential area. You can walk to it from Khasab Castle but you can’t go inside.
The picturesque town of Bukha is about 15 minutes from the border crossing near Al Jeer, Ras al Khaimah, so it is easy if you just want a day trip from the UAE. You can combine a trip to the beach or exploring some other nearby areas.
One of the town’s main sights, Bukha Castle, was built between the 16th and 17th centuries. It originally stood on the shoreline and had a moat linked to the sea. It was restored in 1990 and is open to visitors.
Al Qala’s Fort stands high above it on a hill. It’s closed but you can still drive up and see it from outside. There’s a great view from there too.
The road to the fort is a bit steep and winding but once at the top, you can park easily. Then, you can enjoy a picnic or flask of tea in the rest area overlooking the bay.
Another excellent viewpoint in Bukha is at the opposite end of the bay. You’ll need to follow a dirt track that turns off the asphalt above the main road. You’ll come to an area where you can park and wander round. Further up is a private house.
The mosque is also worth a visit, even if just from outside. Unfortunately, it was locked when I went at the end of 2021 but it may be open now as there are no more covid restrictions in Oman.
Other stops along the road to Khasab
There are quite a few side roads into wadis, villages and up hills that you can take and explore further. It’s always the best way to discover, in my opinion.
You’ll pass some beaches along the road, some of which you can camp on. Bassa Beach is popular and although I’ve heard it can get busy, it was empty when I was there on a Friday. There were more people on Saturday afternoon, but not too many. The other beaches before Khasab, such as Hil, Jerri and Jadi, were very quiet.
The beaches generally have no facilities and when they do, they don’t seem to have anyone taking much care of them. However, I noticed a caretaker at Hil Beach Park, so those might be clean.
You’ll not find an abundance of cafeterias like in the UAE, so be prepared food and drink-wise. (I didn’t find any at all). Make sure you have plenty of water, at least. If you forget, try the petrol station at Bukha.
To visit Dibba Musandam, you’ll need a permit. (See How to get to Musandam Oman below) We organised a trip with Musandam Sands, who arranged our group members’ permits. There are two parts to this trip – land and sea. We started with land!
Our day started with a quick stop at Dibba fish market, where they were selling freshly caught fish at a lively auction. Then, we drove through the wadi and passed many villages abandoned by their inhabitants within the last few decades.
Next, we drove up to the cliff-top view over Zighy Bay. As well as being home to a luxury resort on one side, Zighy Bay is also still home to some locals on the other side.
Sense on the Edge, the fine dining restaurant, sits on the cliff top with a superb view over the bay. The restaurant opens evenings only with menus starting from 61 riyals (610 dhs) for a five-course dinner. See Sense on the Edge
You can climb the steps next to the restaurant for even better views over the bay and the wadi. The cliff top is also a take-off platform for paragliding for the adventurous. You can book through the hotel if you want to try it out.
From there, we drove along the road towards Khasab and stopped on the way at a stream with beautiful clear water and rocks of many colours and patterns, then further down to Wadi Khab Al Shams, a canyon with enormous walls.
As we were unlucky with the weather that day, we didn’t go on a dhow trip but it was calm enough for a speedboat trip along the coast instead. Speeding on the beautiful turquoise waters and along the stunning multi-coloured rocks was so much fun!
After having lunch with freshly caught fish at Shati Lima in Dibba (Oman), we took a stroll along the northern part of the beach, one of my favourites. I’ve walked on it often and rarely meet anyone other than a few fishermen, some fiddler crabs, and various species of birds.
Right at the northern end is an abandoned village with houses built from colourful rock. From there, you can hike up the rocky hill behind.
Dibba Beach Resort (previously Golden Tulip) sits on the beach and is designed to blend into the environment and sits at the top of this beach. The rates are usually very good. Book Dibba Beach Resort
We went back another day for the dhow cruise, which goes from Dibba Oman port along the coast to Haffa beach. You’ll witness breathtaking scenery of the Gulf of Oman and cliffs rising in stunning colours and formations.
Once you approach Haffa, you can swim, paddleboard, kayak and snorkel in the glorious turquoise sea. There are also some areas nearby where you can dive underwater and re-emerge in a small cave.
As part of a tour group, you can camp, picnic, barbecue on Haffa beach, or just lie back and enjoy the beauty around you. You might find some local goats dropping by to say hello as well as the resident dog!
Your tour operator will provide a tasty buffet lunch, hot and cold drinks on tap and fresh fruit. On the dhow, you can bask in the sun or relax on the large cushions down on the lower deck. The dhows are fitted out with toilets and showers.
If you want to stay overnight, tents can be set up for you on the beach, or you can sleep on the boat deck if you prefer. As night falls, you can see the bio-luminescent life glowing in the sea. A pretty cool sight to see!
You can reach the beach by boat or a hike over the hill from the wadi. Meanwhile, the villagers of nearby Haffa and other coastal villages like Lima can only get to their homes by boat.
Don’t be surprised if you see a dhow passing with large water containers or even building materials. You might also see the children going to school by speedboat.
If you want to try the banana boat ride on your trip, a speedboat can take you further out so you don’t disturb fishermen in the area. The question is will you manage to hold on or fall in?
The speedboat can also take you to the white caves, where the weather-worn swirls of the limestone make it look like you could be on another planet.
You’ll see two big caves, one with a pebble beach. You can go on it if you don’t mind wading through the water. The pebbles on the beach are in all kinds of colours, rock types and sizes.
The time to make this trip comfortably is between October and March but you can also go in April or May, depending on the weather and your comfort level.
Our guide was Mohammed and you can contact him directly at Enjoy Musandam and tell him Alison sent you 🙂
Finally, you can visit the 200-year-old Dibba Castle and wander around the Dibba town.Follow In Scotterati Footsteps on WordPress.com
Accommodation and Food
There are only a few hotels in Khasab – the old trusty Khasab Hotel which has served me for many years, the newer Atana Khasab (formerly Golden Tulip) and the even newer Atana Musandam Resort. There are a couple more and also a few apartments to rent.
I’ve been staying at the Khasab Hotel for over 18 years now because I just want somewhere clean and comfortable to lay my head between adventures. The rooms are spacious and it has a pool, children’s play area and dining room all for a very reasonable price. Book the Khasab Hotel
The luxurious Six Senses Zighy Bay resort and spa are on the Dibba side. For something more affordable, Dibba Beach Resort is close to the town and sits on one of my favourite beaches. Book Zighy Bay or book Dibba Beach Resort
Of course, you can always camp too! Several beaches on the way up to Khasab are great for camping but don’t expect many (or any) facilities. So be ready to rough it! You can also camp around other areas beyond Khasab.
If you’re going to Dibba Musandam, you might also choose to stay in Dibba, UAE.
For food, my first tip is to take snacks for the journey up and a flask if you like hot drinks, as there is practically nowhere to buy anything after the Ras al Khaimah border.
My second tip is to ensure you have cash for eating out or getting a takeaway outside the hotels. Just at the entrance to Khasab, there is a restaurant next to the petrol station where I had lunch, which was quite good and reasonably priced. They had both family rooms and a main dining area.
There are also many cafeterias around the town but quite a few seem to be closed in the afternoon. It took me a while to find somewhere and I ended up buying some delicious bakery items near the roundabout going to Khor Najd and Jebel Hareem. Sometimes it’s best just to ask around the area. Both hotels have restaurants for dine-in.
For self-catering, there is a giant Lulu hypermarket on the waterfront (spoiling the view!) where you can get practically everything. I haven’t been into this particular Lulu as I didn’t want to ruin my experience of being in a small, sleepy town but all other branches sell hot meals to take out, so I’m sure this one does too.
Money in Musandam
The currency of Oman is the riyal but UAE dirham notes are accepted everywhere at a rate of five dirhams to one riyal. You will, however, receive your change in riyals. Not everywhere in Musandam accepts cards, so take cash with you. You also need cash at the border control.
How to get to Musandam (and what do you need to enter Musandam)
You can fly from Muscat or drive from the UAE but there have been changes over time. Some areas are accessible only to GCC residents, some to GCC citizens and some to people with special permission.
To go to Bukha, Khasab, Jabal Hareem, Rawda, etc, you drive through Ras al Khaimah to enter at Al Dhara border. Some nationalities can get a visa on arrival, while others need to do it online beforehand. Even if you can get it on arrival, it can be easier and quicker to do it in advance. Apply for an online visa at https://evisa.rop.gov.om. You can also find companies to do it for you.
You need the registration card (aka mulkiya) of your vehicle. If it is a rental car or you have a car loan, check first whether it is allowed by the company or bank to take the car and if you need a no objection certificate.
Car insurance is required, meaning either you have an ‘orange card’ from your existing motor insurance or you can pay for insurance at the border. (Note: not available at Dibba border). I have always shown the PDF of my orange card on my phone without issues.
Health insurance for one month is also required. Sometimes you’ll be asked for it and sometimes not. Your current health insurance may cover you already.
You’ll go through several steps at the border, which can be confusing, but just follow the route through and stop where you see kiosks!
To enter the Dibba side now, you can get a permit rather than a visa. Your hotel or tour agency can arrange this in advance. GCC nationals require only a passport or national ID.
Non-GCC citizens cannot drive the whole way between Khasab and Dibba. From Dibba, you can go as far as the canyon at Wadi Khab Al Shams and from the Khasab side until Rawda.
If you’re staying in the UAE and want to rent a car to drive to Musandam, compare car rental rates below.
Look out for more posts on Oman coming soon!
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