Arabian Dreams at Sea
The Musandam Peninsula at Oman’s rugged northern tip is one of the Middle East’s best-kept secrets. Just 2 or 3 hours by car from cosmopolitan Dubai, this secluded piece of land is ripe for adventure. For the most thrilling overview of the area, travel around for a few days on a dhow—a small wooden sailing vessel traditionally used for commercial journeys to transport goods such as dates, fish, and timber between the Persian Gulf and East Africa. Today, the small boats offer a unique way to visit places that would otherwise be unreachable.
Khasab—the peninsula’s largest town and a picturesque one, set among date palms—is the launching point for any trip at sea. As you drive there from Dubai, a good place to stop along the way is the emirate of Sharjah, just north of Dubai. There are several interesting museums, shops, and traditional buildings to explore in Sharjah City, deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 for its commitment to preserving its Arab art, culture, and heritage. Continuing your ride along the Gulf’s waters is a perfect tease for the epic sailing adventure that comes next.
After an overnight in Khasab, it’s time to board your dhow. Plenty of tour operators offer short cruises, but adrenaline seekers will want to book a longer trip where you travel farther around the peninsula, sleeping beneath the stars on the dhow’s deck or camping out on remote beaches for a couple of nights. (Typically, there aren’t any cabins on board, but a basic toilet and shower are available.) Food and water are kept on the dhow, as well as provisions to make cups of customary mint tea.
During the day, eagles and falcons soar through the sky while dolphins and brightly colored fish glide through the azure waters. You can even hop off the dhow at times to swim or snorkel along with them. You’ll pass Telegraph Island, a rocky outcrop that was once home to British telegraph officers when the first telegraph message was supposedly sent through here in 1865. Today, however, the fiord is a military base that’s off limits to visitors, and the best view of its mostly barren landscape is from your dhow.
On day two, you’ll sail up the east coast to Kumzar, one of the most isolated communities on the peninsula; it can be reached only by boat or helicopter. A mixture of Arabic and Farsai is spoken, demonstrating the influence of nearby Iran. From here, the dhow will continue north past narrow inlets and sweeping bays to Habliyan Beach. After a good night’s sleep, you’ll head back south to a small bay and disembark the boat for a scenic mountain drive to Khasab. Spend the afternoon exploring, and don’t miss the town’s famous well-preserved fort, built by the Portuguese more than four centuries ago. —JS
Oman Ministry of Tourism, Madinat Al-Sultan Qaboos, Muscat ( 968/24-588-700; www.omantourism.gov.om).
When to Go: Oct–Mar.
Dubai International Airport.
$$ Golden Tulip Khasab Hotel Resort, P.O. Box 434, Khasab ( 968/26-73-0777; www.goldentulipkhasab.com).