Oman’s Musandam Peninsula ticks all my travel boxes
Oman’s Musandam Peninsula ticks all my travel boxes
07 MAY 2018 7:25 AM

A few miles north of Ras al Khaimah is the stunning Musandam Peninsula, which is part of Oman. It has few hotels but a rich tapestry of people, sights, fjords and culture.

Any hotel industry talk on Oman is of its beauty, unique character and selective hotel openings.

Oman, perhaps not wanting to be a second United Arab Emirates, set its identity as an upscale and luxury destination, although its capital Muscat has lower segment provisions, too.

A quick online search yields hotels by Six Senses, Shangri-La, Anantara and The Chedi. The largest hotel firms also are well-represented with their top brands.

I have been to Oman twice, but not to the main section, the largest chunk of this nation stretching from the UAW around the base of Saudi Arabia to Yemen.

Attending the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference held in the UAE has allowed me to investigate parts of glorious Oman.

Two years ago on a drive from Dubai to Fujairah, I traveled north along the coast and slightly west and then found the oddity that is the Omani territory of Madha.

It’s probably not the best idea to send a multinational hotel firm’s development team there, however beautiful it is. It has a population of approximately 3,000, and has two roads, one of which had been washed away by a flash flood and the other that dips as a ford into a river and continues to the even odder speck of Nahwa, UAE, territory completely surrounded by this tiny speck of Oman.

I must admit I have a heightened fascination with such places.

On my visit to AHIC this year, I took advantage of the conference’s relocation to Ras al Khaimah and drove the 25 miles or so north along the Persian Gulf to the third part of Oman, the Musandam Peninsula, which is also separated from the main part by the UAE.

Lazy marketers refer to the area as the Norway of Arabia because of its fjord-like bays of water, stunningly blue against bare, rocky hillsides of pale yellow, gray and white.

If you plan to visit Musandam, you must bring a visa. Well, it’s a must if you are British, but this is available easily and quickly with a payment on a government online website.

Only a few rental car agencies allow UAE cars into Oman. Additional paperwork, which includes a slightly painful fee for a letter covering the driver for insurance in Oman that is in addition to UAE driver’s insurance is done at the airport, and this was not a lengthy procedure either.

The road northeast along the gulf narrows at the UAE town of Sha’am, right before the border.

Musical chairs is required here. A token fee for an exit card and a check of paperwork is conducted before the car can be handed to a customs officer for entry into neutral territory, and the same process is needed to enter Oman, albeit with no fee. On the return to UAE, the procedure entailed a perfunctory customs check of my car’s trunk but no administration.

All of this, both ways, took no time at all, but I have heard of nightmare wait times, so as always it is a matter of timing and luck.

The first few miles of driving in Musandam—and every mile thereafter—was spectacular. The Hajar Mountains, which enter the UAE, too—on the Emirates’ side is the new Jebel Jais zipline, the world’s longest—have already plunged down to the sea, and the impressively engineered road hugs the water.

The first main town is Bukha, with its mosque and castle shimmering in the reflection of its bay. The village of Qadah contains some hard-to-find petroglyphs and the main settlement of Khasab, a creek—with rumors of its boats whizzing to and from Iran with contraband—a number of hotels and the feeling of a place that has grown organically.

I loved it all.

The view across the bay at the mosque and castle in Bukha is one of the first spectacular sites in the Musandam Peninsula after crossing the United Arab Emirates border at Sha’am. (Photo: Terence Baker)

I stayed at the Khasab Hotel, which needs some tender, loving care, I would say. Maybe those development teams might be thinking “repositioning”?

A wooden Omani ship sat outside, despite the hotel being a mile from the creek, and it was tempting to think its shipwrecked nature mirrored somewhat the hotel itself. But it was perfectly nice to stay in and had a “lost, forgotten” atmosphere that I enjoy when I find it.

All Musandam’s hotels that can be reached by the border crossing I came in from are in Khasab. The two nicest belong to two-asset Atana Hotels, which obviously has hotels nowhere else.

The road ends no more than six or seven miles after it goes through Khasab. To get to one spectacular fjord of Khor Najd requires a four-wheel drive ascent of a non-surfaced road, and at the acacia grove at Al-Khalidiya a family invited me to their a house for a cup of tea. Another dusty road travels almost to the UAE border via As Sayh, but a huge sign at its beginning warns of “dangerous blind curves.”

I ventured no farther.

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