Welcome to Musandam, the most rugged, unique and beautiful part of the Arabian Peninsula
Many visitors miss the Musandam Peninsula off their Oman itinerary due to its difficult geographic location – separated from the main part of Oman by the UAE. However, this is what makes it such a beautiful, fascinating, unexplored and truly magical corner of the world! In this article, we will cover
- How to get to the Musandam Peninsula
- What to see and do in Musandam
- Where to stay visiting Musandam
- Other practical visitor information
This post is part of our series exploring family travel in the Middle East.
For more on Oman and how to road trip around the country, pop over to our Oman Road Trip Guide, or head over here for more on outdoor adventures and camping.
First though before we dive into it…
How did the Musandam Peninsula come to be?
This is truly one of the truly fascinating yet difficult to explain geography lessons! Politically, although part of Oman, it is enclave separated from the rest of the country by the United Arab Emirates.
During the early part of the 20th century, boundaries were drawn up in the region and tribal elders needed to pledge their allegiances. Oman retained control of the peninsula with its strategic position over the Strait of Hormuz – one of the world’s busiest waterways.
If you ever study the map of the UAE you will see it gets even stranger. Within the Emirate of Fujairah you will find the Omani enclave of Madha – or also called Wadi Madha – which includes the village of Nahwa, part of Sharjah Emirate!
Also within the Emirate of Fujairah, you find another Omani enclave Dibba Al Hisn, which borders the Gulf of Oman and almost the Omani border. Both of these enclaves are part of the Governate of Musandam. Clear right?
These smaller enclaves have no formal border crossing (however your mobile phone will apparently welcome you with a message from Omantel!)
Crossing into Musandam though is a formal border crossing which we’ll explain below. Geographically, the region is just fascinating. The Arabian continental plate juts on to the Eurasian plate and is apparently slowly sinking 5mm a year.
Over thousands of years, the valleys of Kumzar in the far north has now filled with water. Kumzar is still attached by land, just, by Khor ash-Shams. Beneath the vast limestone cliffs, a vast amount of marine life calls these gentle waters home.
It is the stark, natural beauty of these fjords that has seen the area often nicknamed “the Norway of Oman” or “Norway of Arabia”.
How to get to the Musandam Peninsula
Precariously perched at the end of the Arabian peninsula where the Gulf of Oman meets the Arabian Gulf (Persian Gulf), there are three options to get to the northernmost regional centre, Khasab; fly, drive or boat.
Flying to Musandam from Muscat
You can catch a twice-daily Oman Air flight from Muscat to Oman and vice versa. It’s only a small regional aircraft. As you are flying domestically there is no border control. Prices are variable, so search current timing and costs here;
Boating into Musandam
It is unclear the exact timetable as we write this, but it looks as though there are options to take a ferry from Muscat (Shinas) direct to Khasab. You can also catch a ferry from Dibba al Hisn to Khasab that takes 2.5 hours and operates twice a week, or to the small port of Lima on the east coast. Ferry ticketing and further information on schedules can be found on Direct Ferries.
Note you can also catch day trip boats from Dibba (the enclave in the UAE, via Fujairah) that take you into the waters of Musandam without touching land. Check details with each tour operator but you may not need to formally cross the border taking this option (certainly saving you on visa exit and entry fees for a day trip)
Driving to Musandam
This is the most common approach whether you are driving from the main part of Oman or starting your journey from the UAE. Approximate driving distances and times (without border stoppage time which can add 30 minutes to 2 hours approximately):
- Muscat to Khasab – 500kms; 6 hours 15 minutes
- Sohar to Khasab – 300kms; 4 hours 15 minutes
- Ras al Khaimah to Khasab – 120kms; 2 hours 15 minutes
- Dubai to Khasab – 200kms; 2 hours 45 minutes
- Abu Dhabi to Khasab – 335kms; 4 hours
- Muscat to Dibba – 380kms; 4 hours 20minutes
- Dubai to Dibba – 145kms; 1 hour 45 minutes
A guide to border crossing into Musandam
The west coast crossing into Musandam if you are headed to Khasab is via the Al Darah border post, at the northern tip of Ras Al Khaimah emirate, literally where the mountains start touching the ocean.
The crossing posts for UAE and Oman at Al Darah are immediately next to each other so its a popular spot for tourists in Dubai and the UAE to do ‘border runs’ (extending their 30-day tourist visas) as you need only stop once and walk between the 4 entry and exit offices; those visitors making the trip all the way to Khasab who are not GCC citizens will need to make two stops each way.
We have a fairly detailed account of what to expect crossing into Oman in this post if you are crossing into Oman at another border crossing so you can know what to expect. Most importantly note these things in crossing the UAE-Oman border (at November 2017);
- The Oman entrance fees are 5OR for GCC residents or 20OR for a 30-day tourist visa (the 10-day visa no longer exists) UPDATE APRIL 2018 – you can now apply for your Oman e-visa in advance.
- Leaving the UAE you will pay a 30AED per person exit fee (normally included in airline tickets)
- For all of these border crossings, foreigners must go inside the office to have their passports stamped and to pay (this includes everyone in the car, sorry that’s the sleeping kids too!)
- Check your vehicle is insured to be driving in both the UAE and Oman. If not, you will need to purchase insurance (and make sure you have the vehicle owners permission to cross the border – eg if you have a hire car)
- There are no exit fees from Oman or re-entry fees to the UAE but make sure you pull over and get passports checked at both with your insurance docs
What to see and do in Musandam
Get out on the water
Much of the beauty of Musandam is that it cannot be reached by road, you will need to get into a boat to see the khors and fjords that make up this amazing coastline.
Once in Khasab, there are many options for hiring a boat from the harbour. Some offer very specific dolphin watching tours, while others are small private vessels that can be hired for exploring deep into Kumzar and the fishing villages that literally hug the coastline (which will undoubtedly include dolphin spotting too).
As well as dolphin spotting, many companies also offer snorkelling, deep-sea fishing, water skiing, even kayaking. Note, many operators don’t have websites, you can try your luck simply heading to the harbour and negotiating but it’s understandable if you’ve travelled this far you don’t want to come away disappointed!
Our dolphin watching experience from Khasab
Some companies operate services that pick up and drop off at Dubai hotels and will take you through the whole border crossing process. If you are not familiar with the Middle East ways, I’d recommend this is the best option. I recommend booking through a reputable agent such as Get Your Guide who use fully licenced and experienced local operators ~ always read reviews!!
Don’t forget the mountains
Whilst much of the mountains that surround Kumzar in the extreme north are pretty inaccessible, with a local guide there are some hiking options (not one we chose to do with kids!).
Further south there are 4WD tracks that can take you to Jebel Hareem and there are various wadi’s to explore – make sure you pack a ground mat if you’re camping!
Things to do in Khasab
To be fair, we didn’t explore much in Khasab town. The vast majority of the action is all in and around the harbour. There is Khasab Castle for the history buffs which like many of Oman’s castles has been well preserved and contains a small museum. Lulu’s supermarket with its vast car park seems to dominate the centre of town and might be your rendezvous point with a guide or a good point to pick up supplies before hitting the water.
Bassah Beach is a wide sandy stretch located just before you enter the town of Khasab. To be honest it didn’t look over appealing but had a number of vendors set up there. If it’s a beach you’re after, hire a boat and ask them to take you to one of the more remote places along the coastline.
There are also small playparks and beaches dotted all along the coastal drive from the border up to Khasab, if the windy drive is getting too much there are plenty of beautiful little spots to pull over but all rather close to the freeway.
Where to stay in Musandam
Accommodation of the four-walled variety in Musandam is fairly scarce. In Khasab, there are only a handful of hotel options to choose from. We stayed at Atana Musandam Hotel, which was great did the job.
It is pretty, though facilities fairly limited, one small pool and restaurant for breakfast included, it is dry. They also have a sister hotel Atana Khasab Hotel with some great ocean views and more dining choices.
Another neat and clean family option is Kamzar Beach Furnished Apartments – don’t let the ah, period features put you off too much. No on-site facilities but a self-catering kitchen.
All are acceptable accommodation though I’m not sure compared to other resorts in the northern Emirates and east coast of the UAE you’d come here in preference, more a brilliant location to base yourself for the night.
If you are coming from the other coast of Musandam via Dibba, you can try Golden Tulip Resort Dibba with pool, kids play park area and a range of leisure facilities or……
Best Resort in Oman
If, however, you are looking for that amazing once in a lifetime experience, head to the east coast of Musandam via Dibba. Just north of the Golden Tulip, you will find one of the world’s most exclusive and remote resorts Six Senses Zighy Bay.
When the menu of choices for entering is via boat, 4WD or paraglide you know you’re in for something special. Offering private villas with pools and a plethora of recreational activities, you’ve simply got to add this one to the bucket list! (Trust me, it’s on ours before we finish our time in the UAE!!)
Camping in Musandam
A popular choice for outdoor explorers and to get the most of the Musandam experience is to pitch your tent. Camping on the beach at Khasab is permitted.
If you’d like some of the work done for you in an organised camp with toilet block facilities, you can go with Khasab Musandam Campsite (note this costs about the same as the hotels though – and you get a 2-man tent only, not the best for families).
If you book with a private operator, many have their own magical spots away from the crowds where they will take you for an overnight experience on your own private beach, or even camp overnight on a dhow.
We went with a private provider Mohammed who operates several boats – he does not have a website but please contact us directly if you’d like his details.
We have a further detailed guide on Khasab tours on our Family Travel in the Middle East website. Note camping on the beach at Dibba now is expressly prohibited. I believe the mistreatment of the beach and excessive litter forced the municipality to close this off as an option.
If you’d like to know more about how to camp in the UAE and northern Oman, pop over to our detailed desert camping guide. It has loads of practical advice and where you can set up camp.
Other practical information and resources for visiting Musandam, Oman
- Grab yourself the Explorer UAE Off-Road guide. This covers the Musandam Peninsula.
- A standard saloon car will easily get you up to Khasab with sealed roads all the way (and extensive reinforcement works going on to stop the cliffside drive from collapsing!), but if you want to explore any further inland, particularly from the Dibba side you will need a 4WD.
- Don’t forget your passports! Although the border connections might seem fairly seamless and it’s hard to believe you’re in another country, you are!
- The official currency is Omani Rial but your dirhams may well be accepted by local operators (they get a slight upside in the exchange rate using 10AED:1OR.
- Power plugs we saw were round two-pin, not the British 3 rectangular pin; from the UAE you might need a converter plug if staying in a hotel – or heading out on the water and beyond just unplug altogether!!
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Have you visited Musandam yet? Do you have a favourite spot you’re willing to share!?
Need more travel inspiration?
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Disclosures: We paid for all activities and accommodation on this trip for ourselves. We have included some affiliate links to activity and hotel partners who we trust which may earn us a small affiliate income that helps us keep this website running as a free resource for travelling parents. You can find our full disclosure policy here.