One of the hardest decisions to make when visiting Dubai with a layover, is what to do with all that time. Dubai is a glitzy, desert-baked playground that is the Las Vegas of the Middle East. You can splash in a water park, go skiing indoors, and shop to your very last cent. But me being me, I wasn’t content to stay within the ever-expanding confines of this modern crossroad city. So naturally, I left the country and ran off to Oman.
Sharing the northeastern tip of the Arabian peninsula with the United Arab Emirates, Musandam Governate is a separate enclave jutting out into the gorgeous waters of the Persian Gulf/Gulf of Oman. With the surge of visitors to Dubai, the region has seen its fair share of tourists looking for an adventure outside of city limits.
Most day trippers arrive via an organized tour, which certainly reduces the navigation and border control hassle. There are basically two options for tours visiting Musandam – you can take a cruise out of the town of Khasab on the western shore, or the town of Dibba on the eastern shore. At the time of writing, the biggest difference is that crossing at Khasab requires official passport control, which may affect your visa situation upon return to Dubai, whereas at Dibba your passport will be checked but that’s all there is to it.
We chose a trip to Dibba since it was more convenient and more importantly, the only option available on our day in town. Our tour was arranged via the hotel desk, so I don’t exactly know with whom we were traveling since we were squeezed into another group. We were picked up at a nearby hotel before taking on more guests in our large, well-air conditioned bus. Once everyone was aboard, we set out across the narrow peninsula and into the undulating dunes of the pervasive desert. Nearing the eastern shore, we encountered the ragged cliffs of a coastal mountain range before passing through a string of small towns nestled against the emerald waters of the Gulf of Oman. Just past the border control we pulled into a baking hot parking lot and were escorted to a small harbor filled with at least a dozen dhows – traditional wooden boats configured to carry tourists to the natural beauty of the peninsula.
Moving northward, the view alternates between the vivid green of the sea and the washed-out stone of the rocky shoreline. In the first bay you can catch a glimpse of the ultra-posh Six Senses Zighy Bay if you’re looking for a reason to stay longer. Continuing north to the next bay, most boats will stop to serve lunch on board and allow time for other water sports opportunities such as snorkeling and rides on a banana boat (if it has one). Guests can also go ashore to laze on the sun-drenched beach. The stark contrast of the water meeting the land makes for some great views, and while neither the snorkeling nor the banana boat ride are ‘not-to-miss’ activities, it’s a great taste of coastal Arabia, and an entertaining day’s diversion.
Price ranges vary from the $60-$100 per person range depending on the season and availability (and whether you choose to leave from Khasab or Dibba). You’ll be picked up pretty early in the morning and count on several hours of driving between the city and the port. When your boat is not in one of the protected coves, it will be subject to the swells of the open ocean, so taking some anti-motion sickness medicine before you board is a good idea.
One last tip: Be sure to inquire of your tour agency if they will be using the same vehicle to take you both there and back. As happens elsewhere, in our case we were taken to Dibba on a spacious, well-air conditioned bus. However on the return, we were told that there was a ‘”problem” with that bus and we were crammed (not an exaggeration – crammed isn’t perhaps strong enough a word) into a tiny van with only the feeblest trace of lukewarm air circulating while the driver raced at seemingly unsafe speeds. This happens far too often to just be coincidence, so do your homework before booking. Had I not fallen asleep courtesy of the 15 hour overnight flight I took the night before, I might have really lost my cool. As it was, the ride transformed a group of relatively content tourists into a cranky, sweaty mass of disgruntled passengers. So, buyer beware…