The Musandam Peninsula – Oman at last

We finally manage to get to the Musandam Peninsula, after I ascertain our new driver has brought his passport. Border formalities at Al Darah are straightforward – we pay 25 dirham p.p. to leave the Emirates and about twice that to enter Oman. This Wednesday morning, we are 10 people queuing; the whole thing takes about 30 minutes. Nice and easy.

Musandam Peninsula
Near Al Darah border check point

The others are UAE residents, surprisingly scantily dressed, all off to the Musandam to catch a boat out on the khor (fjord), for swimming and snorkelling.

The Musandam Peninsula is a remote Omani province, separated from the rest of the country by two emirates (Ras-al-Khaimah and Fujairah), jutting out into the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf, as it is called here), facing Iran.

Musandam Peninsula landscape

Musandam in the haze

We’re heading to Khasab, Musandam’s principal town. Winding up and down with rugged mountains on one side and the Straits of Hormuz on the other, the road to Khasab is very dramatic. Measuring sticks are placed at the lowest points, with signs warning us not to pass if the water reaches up to the red level.

Up close, the massive Hajar Mountains appear arid and inhospitable, yet oddly attractive. In places, the mountain sides look about to crumble and fall. Once or twice during the 45 km stretch of road, they have. A few large rocks block part of the road.

Near the town of Bukha, we pass by a fort, the 17th century stronghold Bukha Castle.

Just like us, our driver – despite having lived in the UAE for 15 years – has never been to Oman before:

We’re all tourists today

Khasab is clean and quiet. Very quiet. Lonely Planet has oversold this little town a bit, talking of swarthy Iranian smugglers with lusty moustaches trading cigarettes for goats and a souk “resounding to a babble of foreign languages”. Sounds quite exciting, doesn’t it?

Lively souk?

The souk is anything but lively this afternoon. A few men selling fruits and vegetables; that’s it. Across the road, another souk looks more promising, with several trading companies and a few shops; but most are boarded up. We have to imagine how Khasab looks, all full of life, with interesting people and illegal trading going on.

Khasab harbour – described as “bursting with activity”, has 10 – 15 small boats at anchor. Must be the famed vessels used to smuggle contraband between Oman and Iran across the straits. A few men (with moustaches, it must be said) haul crates onto a few of the boats. Could be cigarette cases; definitely not goats.

Off to Iran?

Although goats roam the streets of Khasab quite freely.

Khasab goat

All in all, Khasab seems deserted, a bit like a ghost town. Granted, it’s early afternoon. The heat is slightly oppressive. Perhaps the place livens up considerably at night? We’ll likely never know, as I don’t have any plans to return. There’s just too much else to see of Oman: the wonderfully named capital Muscat, the green oasis city of Salalah with its frankincense and baobab trees and leopards(!), the solitude of Wilfred Thesiger’s desert…

No denying the unique beauty of the Musandam’s landscape, though. I’m glad to have seen that. And after the Emirates, the lack of shopping malls is very refreshing.

As we head back to the border, the sparkling blue water of the khor looks very appealing. We stop for a meal at the Golden Tulip, where we meet a Dutch family just returned from snorkelling. They tell of hordes of dolphins trailing their boat.

“Dolphins!! Why didn’t we do that, mum?”

Why, indeed…



20 Responses to “The Musandam Peninsula – Oman at last”

  1. Andrea 12 April 2011 1852 #

    Yet another Middle East destination I’m intrigued about. Sounds like it was very deserted and quiet where you were – was it some kind of off-season?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 April 2011 1339 #

      Thanks for reading and for your comments, everyone.

      @Andrea and @Kirk: I think most likely the afternoon heat is to blame. Shouldn’t be surprised if everything comes to life in the evening. At least, I hope so.

      @Sabina: Haven’t really though about the haze, but you’re right. There’s quite heavy oil industry in northern UAE, near the Musandam, so I’m afraid it could be smog.

      @Nancie: I was surprised as well. It was very laid-back though; even the border police. Or perhaps they were just having a good day 🙂

  2. Bluegreen Kirk 12 April 2011 2123 #

    It looks a like a ghost town! Were there any people out and about or was it the heat the simply kept everyone in. At least you saw it though i would probably visit.

  3. Michael Hodson 12 April 2011 2204 #

    I am sooooo looking forward to this country at some point in the future. Thanks for the post and info.

  4. Sabina 13 April 2011 1125 #

    Ohh, I’ve never been! It looks pretty interesting. I love that goat! And yes, that looks like some incredibly happening souk. How ever did you manage to navigate through it? It always bothers me to see the desert, beaches, and wilderness in general covered in smog. It’s all over Asia and the Mid East. Smog, haze, whatever. I think it’s smog. What do you think?

  5. Italian Notes 13 April 2011 1151 #

    I love following your travels in these amazing parts of the world. Thanks.

  6. Tim 14 April 2011 1251 #

    those smuggling boats look really cool

  7. Nancie 15 April 2011 1253 #

    I love the photos. Sounds like an interesting place to visit. I was surprised when you mentioned that some people were scantily dressed in public in a Muslim country.

  8. Jason 16 April 2011 1705 #

    Nice photos. I particularly like the coastline shots with the cliffs. It reminds me of a turn on a bike race that I do in Baja (Mexico) every year.

  9. Angela 23 April 2011 1134 #

    Oman is one of those countries I so long to visit. Since I’ve been to the UAE, where everybody kept telling me how beautiful Oman was!

  10. inka 22 May 2011 0854 #

    I love reading about this part of the world, and traveling to it too. The Middle East holds endless attraction for me. Missed Oman this time around but it looks a bit like Sharjah to me. Which I loved.

  11. The Travel Chica 22 May 2011 1421 #

    That is the most desolate border crossing I’ve ever seen!

  12. robin 22 May 2011 1641 #

    anything middle east and I’m hooked – very interesting post!

  13. Michael Figueiredo 23 May 2011 0236 #

    Very interesting post. I always enjoy reading about/seeing photos of places that are totally unexpected. I had no idea that Oman was so mountainous!

  14. Jillian 24 May 2011 0101 #

    I have to agree, I bet this place is more “alive” at night. I had to laugh at your Lonely Planet comment though, my husband and I always say things like that- Are we in the same place as this author?

  15. Marie R. 14 June 2011 0900 #

    Oman has always fascinated me. Strangely, I want to go see that half-dead souk and the smuggling boats in your photos.

  16. Musandam Khasab 6 February 2013 1324 #

    Musandam khasab has spectacular landscape that is perfect for photography…

  17. Musandam Khasab 13 May 2013 1450 #

    Musandam Khasab is one of the best places to spend a wonderful day out along with your family and friends.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 13 May 2013 1458 #

      I think it would be a fab day out on the water 🙂

  18. Shanawar Sajjad 5 January 2017 0842 #

    Wow very well written article about this unknown area.
    Keep it up.

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