Eid al Fitr (end of the fast) marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and here in Dubai it is a festive holiday. Since Jimmy had an extra day off, we decided to go to the Musandam peninsula of Oman – about a three hour journey from Dubai (four hours if you count the visa stops and more if you have traffic or stops along the way).
The Musandam peninsula is separated from the rest of Oman – it is the northernmost tip of Oman and borders the Strait of Hormuz across from Iran. It is sparsely populated, with only a few cities – the primary tourist destination there is Khasab, at the tip of Oman. The drive from the border of the UAE to Khasab is breathtaking; one of the world’s most scenic drives. You drive along the coast and the view is of majestic cliffs, blue and green sparkling water, and blue sky.
From Dubai it is several hours to the Omani border, where you first have to get clearance to leave the UAE. This involves showing your passport, your car registration card (we almost panicked at this one, but luckily had it in the glove compartment) and paying 53 dirhams. Then you proceed to the Oman side for your entry visa. You can get your visa easily online before you go, but you still have to wait in line when you get to the border to show documents AND you must have Oman insurance for your automobile. Our policy did not cover other countries, but luckily there is an insurance office on site and you can buy a short term policy (ours was 90 dirhams).
After the awe inspiring drive along the coast, we arrived in Khasab where we stayed at the Atana Khasab hotel, which has more scenic views than the newer Atana Musandam, which is a much newer and prettier hotel but without the dramatic views and too close to a Lulu Hypermarket. We booked a massage at the newer Atana and thus were able to use the pool (and nicer fitness center) for the day; it also seems to have a nicer restaurant, where we ate freshly caught fish and prawns (amazing). (The two Atana hotels are the nicest in Khasab).
The town of Khasab is still relatively untouched by tourism – most who go there seem to keep to their hotel and to the water and the mountains and do not go into town itself except to visit the Khasab Castle (more on that later). We found the townspeople very friendly and the town charming. There are goats everywhere, and they politely wait to cross the street (but are not so polite rummaging through dumpsters).
We wanted to experience a bit of the true Khasab, so went to a local restaurant, the Al Shamaliah. We appeared to be the only tourists there, but we had a waiter who spoke great English and we ate the largest lobster that I have ever seen in my life.
Musandam has been called the Norway of the Middle East because of the stunning fjords, and you definitely have to take a dhow (boat) trip out on the water to see the cliffs. There is little green and no snow, so there is no mistaking Oman for Norway, but the views are striking. Most dhow cruises will take you to Telegraph Island for swimming and snorkeling. Telegraph Island was built by the British in the 19th century to serve as a relay station for telegraph transmissions between the UK and India. No longer in service, it is still a novelty and there are lots of fish to see in the coral that surrounds the island. On the way to the island, there are playful (and large!) dolphins that will race alongside your boat. A magical day. (There are tours which will pick you up in Dubai and drive you to Musandam just for the dhow cruise, but I definitely think it is worth spending more time in Khasab so recommend that you drive and stay two nights (or at least one).
On the dhow cruise, we met Russians, Germans, Pakistanis – a melting pot of visitors and we had some great conversations along the way.
On our last day, we stopped at Khasab Castle, which is also a melting pot of sorts – the castle interior is an older Omani structure that the Portuguese later surrounded with a defensive fort. It cost less than $5 for entry, and there are fascinating recreations of an old Omani elevated summer hut, a “lock house” (built of thick stone and a small door for locking up the village’s valuables during seasonal migrations) and other exhibits.
A great Eid getaway, for sure. We went in June – it was extremely hot, and the hotel pool was not chilled (helped us appreciate our apartment pool, which IS chilled), but the breezes and cool ocean water made the temperatures bearable for us. The added bonus to a summer visit is that the crowds are much less than during the winter (according to the staff at the visa office, at least – and it makes sense!).