Musandam, the scraggly peninsula jutting out from the southeastern Arabian Peninsula into the Strait of Hormuz, is a surprise in so many ways.
Completely surrounded on land by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in general, and by the emirates of Fujairah and Ras al Khaima in particular, the headland in fact belongs to the Sultanate of Oman, even if it has no land border with it.
The coastline is riddled with fjords, which gave way to the common moniker of ‘Norway of Arabia’ and is so mountainous and jagged that many parts of the region are only accessible by boat.
Despite being surrounded by the UAE, the destination itself could not stand in starker contrast to its neighbour. Here, you will not find glittering metropolises, no high-rises and no fancy shopping malls. Even the capital of the Governate of Musandam, Khasab, is only a small town with a population of around 20,000 people.
Instead of the glitter many visitors to the region have come to expect, in Musandam you will find nature in the shapes of imposing mountains, secluded fjords, bays and islands, eagles soaring overhead, and dolphins leaping over ocean waves.
You visit Musandam if you are looking for breathtaking scenery sprinkled with a pinch of adventure, a dash of adrenaline rushes, and a whole new impression of what the region has to offer.
If you are not arriving by boat or ship, or on the short – and only – flight route from Muscat into Khasab, then, chances are, you are driving in from Ras al Khaima, the border of which with Musandam lies roughly 200km north of Dubai.
There are organized day trips from all of the emirates, such as a tour from Dubai, but many people hire a 4WD and take a road trip.
The road taking you along the length of the UAE is good and the entry post to Oman’s territory is well sign-posted. Entry into Oman requires a visa, so please check your personal requirements.
Once there, the driving is spectacular, with a coastal road winding along the rugged shoreline, with the mountains on one side and beaches on the other. That said, the road system throughout Musandam is very limited, with only a handful of good roads, and a few off-road tracks, due to the rather difficult terrain.
Oman has a sub-tropical climate, with hot and humid summers and warm and pleasant winters, with the odd rainy day.
Summer temperatures can easily get into the high 40 degrees Celsius. In contrast, in the cooler months (end of September to early May), daytime temperatures are mid-to-high 20 degrees Celsius, with cooler nights.
In short, the best time to visit is between early autumn and late spring. This just so happens to correspond with the best time to see the dolphins, which peaks between September and April.
In and around Khasab, there are numerous hotels, diving centres, harbours, and beaches from where various activities are launched. One of the most popular and rewarding is dolphin-watching.
The waters of the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, all coming off the Indian Ocean, are teeming with wildlife, and one of the easiest-to-spot marine mammals is the dolphin.
There are several species found here, with the most fun to watch being the spinner dolphins, which jump out of the water, turn around several times in the air before diving back in. Pure joie de vivre.
Apart from dolphin-watching, there are plenty of water sports which allow you to get the most out of this region. From kayaking in the fjords to scuba-diving and snorkelling, the most fun here is to be had in the water.
For a scenic, softer adventure, hop on a traditional dhow boat and enjoy a mini cruise along the coast, and heading further inland on the fjords, to see birdlife, which ranges from seabirds such as terns and herons to numerous eagles, hawks and buzzards.
Just like in any other country where another nation is nearby, and there are plenty of bays in which to hide, Musandam’s coastline has been home to pirates throughout history.
As legend has it, there is still plenty of piracy today, with dhows sneaking across the Strait of Hormuz to Iran carrying the truly despicable cargo of refrigerators and televisions.
But there is no doubt that the Musandam people are a seafaring lot, with this being the legendary home of Sindbad the Sailor, from Sheherazade’s 1001 Arabian Nights, and you’ll come across fishing boats and sailing dhows at every turn.
Six Senses Zighy Bay is one of the most luxurious hotels in Oman, and certainly the one in the most spectacular setting.
Located in a remote bay, surrounded by the Hajar Mountains, guests have tempting choices of how to get there, all of which are somewhat adrenaline-fuelled.
You can be driven directly from Dubai Airport to the hotel, in a 4WD across the mountains and up and down roads that defy what anybody would say are reasonable road angles.
Alternatively, you can arrive by speedboat from Dibba, near the Fujairah border, or you can paraglide down to reception. And don’t worry, you don’t have to hold onto your suitcase.
Just when you thought Musandam was only for sporty adventure-seekers, there is a lot of history to keep landlubbers happy.
Sturdy forts are dotted along the entire coastline, some dating back to the 16th century, such as the picturesque Khasab castle.
Or go back further and see the 6,000-year-old petroglyphs found in Wadi Khasab, Wadi Qada, and Jabal Sham... the history of this place is ever-present.
Planning a trip to Musandam? Here are the best tour operators in the area:
Ahlan Musandam Tours offers dolphin and whale watching, plus a range of other tours.
Oman Day Tours, covering the whole country, and led by local guides.
Dhow Khasab Tours offers a variety of dhow cruises combined with other activities.
PADI Musandam Discovery Diving is based in Khasab, with access to 23 nearby diving spots.
Last Updated 10 November 2023