The Musandam Peninsula (Arabic: جَـزِيـرَة مُـسَـنْـدَم, Jazīraṫ Musandam) is an exclave of Northern Oman. Musandam is the northernmost tip of a peninsula that juts northward into the Persian Gulf and is roughly divided along its length between Oman and the UAE.
The population of about 30,000 people in Musandam is concentrated in
The Omani government tries to prevent migration from the small fishing villages into Khasab and offers fishermen and Bedouin villages free electricity and water supply. Therefore along the coastline and in some few places in the mountains tiny Bedouin villages can be found
- Jebel Al Harim – The highest mountain in the peninsula.
Musandam is on the Strait of Hormuz, separated from the rest of Oman by the eastern coastline of the United Arab Emirates. It also includes the exclave Madha which is completely enclosed by the United Arab Emirates, inside of which is a truly tiny exclave called Nahwa that is part of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
The mountains have housed extremely isolated communities for centuries and many coastal villages can only be reached by boat. Some Bedouin communities are still today closed for non-Omanis. The highest mountain is Jebel Al Harim with an altitude of 2,087 meters above sea level. Most of the roads are still gravel or dirt roads and only the major highway from the UAE border to Khasab is perfectly built for the increasing traffic.
Omanis in the region have for centuries developed close trading ties with Iran. The Iranian city Bandar Abbas is just 65 km or 1.5 hours by boat across the Strait of Hormuz. Locally, Khasab is known for smuggling by Iranians in and out of Musandam. This trading is only illegal for Iranian traders as Oman has a free trade zone and regulates the trade in its port. Today Iranians in general sell cattle, sheep, goats, spices and other agricultural goods in exchange for TV sets, computers and other electronic goods. You can watch the trade in Khasab harbour without major restrictions.
Tourism has become important since the construction of the Khasab Road to the UAE border. The tourist season runs from late October until April. The tourist swell is usually limited to the weekend (Thu-Sat), when UAE residents arrive with their families. During these days, reserve hotels and tours in advance to avoid problems. Also when cruise ships arrive in Khasab, facilities like transport will be stretched to the maximum.
Arabic is the national language and is spoken by locals. The tourism industry depends on migrant workers who speak English with a varying degree of proficiency and dialect. Most Omanis in Musandam only speak limited English and you need to speak basic Arabic to get by in every place outside of Khasab.
The main road access is from Ras Al Khaymah (RAK) on the road E-11 (after Al Darah border called Khasab Road) and with more difficulty from the Dibba border of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. The E-11 road from Ras Al Khaymah is well sign posted to the Omani border, once crossed the check post, roads are beautifully made cutting across the mountains. Breathtaking views indeed. There are also major construction works directly on the Omani side of the border, so expect loads of trucks. If started early from Dubai, it helps a lot, including the quick UAE exit and Oman entry. From Dubai, drive the E-311 to RAK and change on the E-11 road. The whole trip should be done in about 2-2.5 hrs depending on the traffic within RAK.
An entry visa is required if you are entering from the United Arab Emirates. The emigration offices on both sides of the border are painfully slow and require travellers to fill out forms. The process to get a UAE exit and Omani entry visa usually requires 30-60 minutes on normal days but during holiday season in the United Arab Emirates, it can take up to four hours. If possible, team up, so that one person queues while the other fills out the immigration forms (each for every person!). Also note that only the Omani immigration building offers restrooms. If you travel with a group (party of six or more) then the driver might receive a token that you have to hand over at the last border check to do a quick head count. Don't leave without handing it over to the border police.
The Omani visa costs 20 Omani rials or 200 UAE dirhams for most nationalities and can be bought directly at the border. The entry visa to Musandam is free for ten days if you have already entered the UAE on a tourist visa. Non-GCC UAE Residents have different rules depending on their nationality. Diplomatic or service staff residing in the UAE need to check individually but in general need a visa in advance.
If you use a private vehicle, Omani insurance is required and strictly controlled. Ensure that you have a written confirmation; otherwise, you have to buy insurance at an inflated price at the border. Rental vehicles will need a written insurance confirmation, so make sure to check before you go.
Public transport within Musandam doesn't exist. You will need a four-wheel drive vehicle if you intend to see more than Khasab. Be sure to have spare water and tires with you if you intend to drive to Jebel Al Harim, the Arabian Sea beaches or destinations farther off the beaten track, as absolutely no facilities are along the road. Even if the altitude is high, the heat, dust and gravel will test your vehicle. Along the roads to popular sites are military installations that are regularly used by the Omani army forces for training purposes. Military vehicles have priority, so give way and don't photo/film them as this is strictly forbidden.
Fuel is very cheap in Musandam. A litre of gas (95/98 octane) costs close to RO 0.5 (€0.25), which is cheap even for the UAE. Therefore, lots of UAE travellers fuel their cars at Musandam petrol stations, and queues at the start and end of the weekend might require a 10-15 minute wait.
Barren mountains that rise up to 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) above sea level jut out like fingers into the sea, creating countless fjord-like inlets and yield spectacular views.
- 1 Village of Tawi Rock Paintings (Wadi Quida). The new road allows access to Tawi where you can visit some prehistoric drawings and rock engravings of boats, animals and warriors.
- 2 Bukha Fort, Khasab Coastal Rd, Bukha. Sa-Th 09:00-16:00, F 09:00-11:00. Built in the 17th century and restored in 1990, its rounded pear-shaped watchtower is particularly notable.
- Ru'us al-Jabal Mountains (Al Hajar al Gharbi Mountains). Starting from the principal town of Khasab, a graded road straddles a ridge, high above valleys on either side. 3 Jebel Harim is the highest point in Musandam. It's used for military purposes, so the road doesn't go over the top, but veers off about 0.4 km from the summit.
- Coastline. From the water is where to get a closer look at the fjords of Musandam. There are huge chunks of rocks towering over the serene waters and little villages that are only accessible by boat. One of the striking geological features of these mountains is all the twisting and turning they've gone through over the years. It is possible to see many of these on boat trips arranged through agencies in Dubai or Khasab. Dhow cruises take you either out to the Hormuz Strait or to the largest fjord, Khor Ash Sham.
Musandam offers untouched nature, challenging mountains and water activities. Due to the sparse population of the Musandam Peninsula coast, wildlife is abundant in the waters along the coast.
- Diving. Scuba diving is one of the main and most popular tourist activities in this region. There are over 20 established dive sites, all of them also suitable for snorkeling. The water temperature ranges from 22°C in the winter to 30°C in the summer, and the whale shark season is from May to October. There are SSI and PADI certified dive centers in Khasab and Dibba.
- Dolphin watching (fjords). There are several pods of humpback dolphins living in the Musandam fjords. Dhow tours operating out of Khasab and Dibba include visitis to dolphin spots, and specific dolphin tours are available. Don't feed them, and let the dhow crew do the whistles.
- Kite surfing. UAE residents have brought this sport to Musandam. The constant wind and the long coast offer abundant places for kiting.
- Deep Water Soloing. A niche sport activity that is growing fast on the Dibba coastline. It is one of the best areas in the world and offers breathtaking clifflines.
Musandam is known for its fish. Today most of the fish is sold in Dubai as prices are about double those in Khasab. Local goat and lamb are also very popular on the grill as kebab or racks. Due to the big labour migration from India, Pakistan and the Philippines, several traditional dishes of South Asia are known and served as well. Only in Khasab and Dibba will travellers find some choice of restaurants, but only very limited international cuisine. If you travel outside of Khasab, stock your own food beforehand because there are no shops.
Water and tea are the main choices to combat the dry climate. Non-alcoholic soft drinks are available everywhere. The sale of alcohol requires a licence that only few places have. If you want more than beer (mostly cans), basic red or white wines and spirits then you will need to bring it with you. Your main hassle will be to bring the alcohol from UAE to Musandam as the UAE highway crosses some dry Emirates (e.g. Sharjah) where alcohol is strictly prohibited. These rules are strictly enforced, so you are better off not pushing your luck and living with a limited selection.
Accommodation is very limited for travellers. Khasab only has six hotels. The major exception is a luxurious resort at Zighy beach near the Dibba border with Fujairah, the Six Senses Zighy Bay resort. Several hotels and apartment complexes have been planned but due to the financial crisis, property development slowed down. Camping in some places is tolerated (e.g. Bassa Beach near Khasab), but inquire first if you stay near small villages and towns as several Bedouin villages don't accept camping near them, if you are not an Omani or exceptionally well connected to these Bedouins.
Being a peninsula that is bordered by the sea and the UAE, in general the level of safety is very high. There are two main risks:
- Traffic: The roads are steep, corners are narrow and the drivers are reckless. Don't overtake without a clear view, during the night expect cars without lights on both sides of the road as well as cattle. Only the road from the UAE border to Khasab road has street lights, but it also has speeding drivers
- Dehydration: Musandam is very hot, dusty and lacks (drinkable) water. During summer the air heats up to 50°C and the sea gets up to 38°C. Always have something to drink with you!
Omantel operates a good mobile phone network in Musandam. With an UAE SIM card roaming is significantly cheaper than with other international cards. Internet cafes are limited as almost everyone uses mobile Internet.
Non-bottled water in general is collected as rain water in reservoirs and might taste foul/dusty and might be for foreigners a bit difficult to swallow. It's safe to drink but bottled water might be the preferred choice for visitors.
Don't photograph public buildings or military installations. Musandam is on the front line to the Strait of Hormuz and Iran. Omani army forces regularly train in the area and all cameras, smartphones, etc. will be confiscated if seen to try to take photos of sensitive structures. For religious reasons, many people - especially women and elderly people - don't like photos taken of them. Always ask explicit permission to photograph before you raise your camera. Iranians in the Khasab harbour don't like direct photos of their faces as they are smuggling into Iran which involves risks to their lives.
Women should be reluctant to initiate handshakes with male Omanis. Some might not feel comfortable to shake hands with foreign women. Please be defensive and start communication first to get a reaction. Omanis are very hospitable, but Western standards have been only introduced to them for a couple of years and most only very rarely encounter foreigners. Women don't need to wear a niqab but should cover their shoulders and knees during visits of public buildings and remote villages.