Dubai is boring. At least if you’re not interested in shopping, luxury and excess… But fear not, fellow Dubai visitor….I have the perfect escape for you!
A mere two hours north of Dubai lies a part of the Sultanate of Oman that few people even know about. Detached from the rest of this spectacularly beautiful country, the Musandam Peninsula juts out into the Persian Gulf, creating the Strait of Hormuz. It’s through this very strait that much of the world’s oil makes its way to you and Iran is just a stone’s throw away.
But don’t let that scare you away! Sure, you may see a few smugglers going back and forth between Khasab, the capital of Musandam, and the Iranian island of Qeshm, but they’re nothing to fear. Come here for an escape from the mundane, artificial world of Dubai and soak in some truly jaw dropping natural scenery!
The Drive to Paradise
This section of my trip began in Dubai, where my plan all along was to pick up a rental car at Dubai Airport and drive myself a couple of hours north through the Emirates of Sharjah and Ras-al Khaimah (or RAK, as the cool kids like to write it). It was smooth sailing down a modern, 12-lane expressway. My little rental car would start beeping at me when I would pass 120km/h (roughly 74 MPH), though it was hard to keep up with the speed of traffic! Though I wouldn’t say the drivers were as crazy as they were in Iraq (the last country I rented a car in).
It was a pretty mundane drive. That is, until after that 12-lane expressway turned into a little 2-lane road climbing higher and higher into the hills. And as soon as I crossed the border into Oman, my jaw dropped. Suddenly, I had the Persian Gulf on my left and, on the right? Soaring cliffs!
It was seriously gorgeous you guys. I don’t think I stopped gasping at the beauty for the entire drive and I found myself pulling over every 5 minutes or so to take photos! There was something about having this breathtaking landscape all to myself. I saw almost nobody else on the road…that is, until I reached civilization in Khasab.
The “Norway of Arabia”
An otherwise sleepy town, Khasab doesn’t have a whole lot going on. Trade is the lifeblood of this city and its crowning tourist attraction lies at its port. There, you can board a traditional Omani wooden Dhow (boat) for a cruise into the surrounding fjords (inlet surrounded by high cliffs). It’s thanks to these that Khasab has earned the nickname of “The Norway of Arabia.” Here, I’ll show you on the map:
I took advantage of a half-day cruise to Telegraph Island and it was a bit hectic as I arrived at Khasab Port. There were many Dhows departing for many different cruises and you had to climb from one to another to reach the proper boat! Carpets lined the floor of the boat which you sat along, leaning against the sides. Soon enough, we were off!
As we left Khasab, the scenery only became more and more incredible! Along those soaring cliffs we saw isolated villages that are only accessible by boat. But we also saw something else…
Right after departure, the captain started “Dolphin hunting.” I had actually been warned about this when I left the UAE. The border guard advised me to “Enjoy the dolphins,” as he stamped me out! And soon enough, the dolphins were swarming! Seemingly everywhere we looked they were swimming around us, surfacing ever so briefly for air. As we began to proceed through the inlet, a couple of dolphins swam alongside us!
It was pretty magical! I had never seen dolphins in the wild before, and to be surrounded by all that majestic scenery? This was way better than anything Dubai could possibly dream up!
A trip up to Khasab was the perfect detour from Dubai and it really helped restore my sanity after a few days in all of its excess. I loved it and if you love natural beauty, you will too!
I rented a car and drove myself to Khasab, though if you book ahead with a tour operator in Khasab, they may pick you up in Dubai and bring you up for the day. In order to bring a car into Oman, you have to buy Omani insurance. The rental car was quite expensive, at roughly US$72 per day (including insurance). I also had to buy an Omani visa at the border for 5 Omani Rial (US$13), though they charged me the equivalent in UAE Dirhams as there was not an ATM on site.
Any travel agent or hotel in the city is happy to book you on half or full day Dhow Cruises that generally involve an opportunity for snorkeling. There are also 4WD trips and hikes into the surrounding landscape. I booked my half day trip from the hotel, which cost 15 Omani Rial (US$39).
You can also visit Khasab Fort, a 17th Century fortification built by the Portuguese. It contains a small museum about the history of the area, as well as some historic boats. Admission is .5 Omani Rial (US$1.40).
What About You?
Think this sounds like a cool detour from Dubai?