Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

MUSANDAM – the Fjords of Arabia . . . A Weekend Excursion from Dubai

The drive from Dubai to Musandam, called the Fjords of Arabia, is described in tour books as being one of raw rustic beauty but otherwise uneventful.

Not so for our intrepid two car caravan.

Diane discovers that camels love her apples.
As we cut across the UAE desert, traveling from the Dubai to the coastline in Ras Al Khaimah, we encounter a small caravan of camels sauntering along the side of the paved desert road.

They appear to be out for a leisurely morning stroll and are totally unfazed by the two SUVs that stop suddenly ejecting eight gleeful expats.

"Drats, I forgot to bring the apples," I exclaim. Roger and I know from our camel ride in Wadi Rum, Jordan, that camels love apples.

"I have some I brought for snacks. Will they work?" questions Dianne our fellow passenger.

Carmen, Karen, Katie and Diane with their new BFFs.
It takes the camels about five seconds to realize they have unexpected guests bearing treats. They circle back pronto to see what is being offered.Carmen produces scrumptious apple flavored Granola Bars.

The camels are so sweet natured, Their long agile lips take food right from our outstretched hands.   Contrary to what we have heard, these camels do not spit or bite.

Our treats expended, I spend the next hour of the trip on a quest to convince Roger to stop at a grocery store to buy apples because I know we are going to see more camels.  

Our expedition to Musandam, located at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula just across from Iran, is a welcome invitation from our adventurous expat friends Karen and Jack Whiteside, Carmen and Ken Clarke (members of the Dubai Camel Chasers)  and Diane and Steve Dolan (my camel auction buddy – blog coming soon). 

Musandam is high on our 'list' of must-do trips so we eagerly accept.

Referred to as the 'Fjords of Arabia,' Musandam is an enclave of Oman laying at the strategically important Straits of Hormuz that separates the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. It is a mere 45 km (28 miles) from Iran. These are the straits Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, keeps threatening to close so as to strangle the flow of Arabian oil exports.

Musandam’s stark rock formations are powerful and the raw beauty of their colorings and scored surfaces are strangely appealing. At their highest peaks, the limestone cliffs can reach heights of 2,000 m (1.25 miles).

Dhow cruising the fjords of Musandam – photo by Carmen 

Created by a collision of rocky plates millions of years ago, Explorer’s Off Road Oman sites, “an unusual consequence of this is that fresh spring water that emerged on land centuries ago now bubbles up underneath the sea. There are reports that 14th century sailors would dive into the sea to bring up leather bags filled with fresh water from the seabed.”

To get to Musandam from Dubai take E311north until it ends and then cross over (where the camel sighting occurred) to E11. From E11 you take E18 north until you reach the border of Oman. The border crossing is at Tibat where the road becomes Oman #01. This takes you straight to Khasab, one of the four wilayats of the governorate of Musandam and its capital. It is about a three hours drive.

We choose to stay at the Golden Tulip Resort - because it is the newest hotel. This turns out to be  lovely. Clean, attentive staff, fairly good food and it sits atop a craggy knoll that affords an unobstructed sweeping view of the Gulf of Oman. We settle into our rooms and then regroup to explore Khasab.

Well, Khasab is no Dubai. In fact, it is a very basic Arab village, a brand new Lulu Hypermarket notwithstanding. I do manage to make an AED 75 ($20) apple purchase with the promise if we don't find camels to feed I will bake my first-ever apple pie for Roger.

We drive on for a bit looking for the elusive old souq with visions of purchasing unique Omani artifacts, like the Omani walking sticks. The axe handle design of these ‘sticks’ is both ornamental and functional with the axe serving the function of cutting things, killing small wild animals and supposedly keeping children in line!

However, the souqs prove elusive and all we find are a few narrow dusty streets with stalls mostly selling daily functional goods like power equipment, pots and pans, etc.

Three Khasab boys with fort's cannon. 
photo by Diane 
Next we try the local tourist attractions - forts - but since it is Friday afternoon all are shuttered and closed.

We do happen upon a group of young boys who are wildly interested in Diane's IPad that she is busy using as a camera.

My initial request to take pictures of the boys with my conventional Canon were not accepted, but, as soon as Diane whips out her IPad the boys become wildly interested in posing and mugging for the cameras. I guess this proves that technology opens lots of doors.

Parched, we return to the hotel and find the roof top terrace bar for some drinks. You know that it is 5 o'clock somewhere and right now that happens to be in Khasab.

Golden Tulip Resort -  photo by Carmen
Overlooking the Gulf of Oman, we see oil tankers, small fishing boats and what appears to be a military vessel. Unfortunately it is so hazy that my newly acquired skill of photographing the sunset does not produce anything exciting.

"Looks like this is a popular place for gatherings." says Karen as we watch the ebb and flow of Omani men on the piece of rock just over the railing from our front row seats.

"This must be the preferred site to watch the sunset," she innocently concludes.

Just barely able to see a steep cliff on the other side of the rock formation, Diane asks, "I wonder what is on the other side of that cliff."

Contemplating Diane's question, we enjoy the afterglow of the beautiful sunset – discounting the haze.  

Captain of our dhow - photo by Diane
Gathering in the hotel lobby we board the bus that takes us to the docks where our dhow, a traditional Arabian sailing vessel, awaits boarding. We are scheduled for a half day trip to see the fjords, dolphins and do a little snorkeling.

There are about 20 other people on the boat and we each take a position on the cushions placed along the sides of the boat. The weather is perfect, still a little hazy, but clear enough for some good photos of the primitive beauty of the jagged edged fjords.

The color palate of the volcanic and sedimentary rocks and the curious patterns on them run the gamut of rosy to sandy to muddy hues creating a unique patterns and surreal beauty.

photo by Diane

"There on the right. Dolphins!" I yell as I see the big splash off the starboard side of the dhow.

Four dolphins are enjoying surfing in our wake and delight the passengers with their graceful maneuverings. Soon we have a whole pod entertaining us.

Along the way our captain's assistant points out the remote villages of Qanah clinging to the side of the rocks. He explains that the big infrastructure improvement has been the delivery of electricity noting the electrical poles that mar the landscape.

There is a water boat twice a day and water and electricity are free. The people’s homes are the white structures, with the stone structure being for animals – primarily goats.  The children go to school in Khasab returning to their homes here only in the weekend.

Village of Qanah - photo by Carmen
"Why would anyone want to live out here in such a desolate existence?" Roger questions.

As if on cue, our guide Khalid explains that the village inhabitants earn their livelihood from fishing tuna, king fish and sardines . . .  and smuggling.

It seems that the smuggling of cigarettes and other commodities into Iran is big business; a business that has been going strong for more than 200 years. Since it adds considerable weight to the meager local GNP, the officials cast a blind eye on it with the exceptions of weapons and drugs.

Khalid tells us that officials who search the boats are only looking for the contraband and lets everything else go so the local and Iranian entrepreneurs can continue in their trade. The smugglers return to Iran in speed boats loaded with . . . goats. Just picture that!

Telegraph Island -  photo by Diane
Enough dolphin and village watching we head to Telegraph Island for snorkeling.

Telegraph Island so named . . .  would you believe . . . because it was a British telegraph outpost in 1864. Our guide claims it was the first such outpost in the world.

Snorkel time! I take a good look at the manner in which one disembarks and re-embarks the boat and decide that I could probably get into the water but getting back in the boat would be troublesome. Visions of Roger and assorted crew members trying to push and pull me into the dhow sends chills down my spine. I pass on snorkeling.

Ace snorkelers Roger, Karen & Carmen – photo by Carmen

Oh, but we do have some brave souls. Carmen is first to take the plunge - with a yelp because the water has a slight chill to it. But she certainly has a big smile on her face. Roger suits up next followed by Jack and Karen. They all proceed to explore the ' briny deep' Omani style.

The water is crystal clear with lots of ‘aquarium’ fish to see along with unique coral and oyster beds. Our guide, Khaled, ensures a good show by dropping chunks of banana over the side of the boat. 

" Ken, throw me a banana please," requests Carmen.

As paddles in the water she crumbles the banana and is immediately engulfed by hungry - but friendly - fish.

"Whoa! National Geographic eat your heart out," she exclaims. And we though fish liked worms.  

Roger, Carmen & Ken photo by Carmen
Karen & Jack
photo by Carmen

As we head back to the Khasab docks, everyone reclines into their chosen pillows to relax and enjoy this soul refreshing time on the water. Tea is served and all is right with the world.

Diane has chosen this moment to reveal that at dawn she found out what is on the other side of the cliff - a beachhead with a number of camping sites. She also found that the area, where we saw the men enjoying the sunset, was one big party later based on the large number of empty alcohol bottles strewn about.

"Must have been a big party, and we weren't invited," Diane laments.

But Diane's real coup is the beautiful sunrise photo she captures on her early morning forage - such a classic case of the early bird getting the worm, or the sunrise as the case may be.

This IS the photo of the trip capturing the surreal simplistic beauty of this part of the world.

Khasaba Dawn - photo by Diane 

As we exit the fjords and head for the dock Jack exclaims, "There on the horizon speed boats. Smugglers boats?" the question is put to our guide who responds, "Most likely."

photo by Carmen
As we watch motor boats with plastic covered cargo make for the open waters at top speed, Carmen remarks, "Can you imagine a TV show taking place out here? Khasab Vice!"

Glad we explored Musandam. Fishing and diving are also offered. Hindsight says we should have done that too. But enjoying new places with good friends just doesn't get any better. Thanks to everyone for including us on this excellent adventure.

Oh yes, on the way home not a camel in sight. But we are able to introduce everyone to Barracuda in Ras Al Khaimah. Great liquor store (you skip the 30% Dubai tax) that now has a Fine Foods store which is fabulous. Just a note of caution . . . Be very careful driving through Sharjah on your way back to Dubai. Sharjah is a completely dry Emirates and being caught with a trunk load of liquor would be really bad.

Postscripts . . .

Wild camels . . . Now, one would think that camels roaming around the sand dunes would in fact be wild but I have been told that is not the case. All camels are owned by someone and the camels GPS is so sharply attuned that it's owner does not worry about it wandering off because the camel always know where to return. I thought elephants were the ones with the great memory.

Oman border crossing  ... To cross the border in Oman you need your passport, if you are driving you need your car registration and proof of Omani car insurance and a copy of your marriage certificate can’t hurt. UAE dirhams are accepted everywhere in Oman. Make sure your car is clean – you can get a ticket for having a dirty car! Visas are purchased at the border – check the Oman government web site to see if you are eligible.  We were cautioned about not bring alcohol with us as sometimes your car and bags are checked.  

Apple pie recipe . . . Yes, I made Roger’s apple pie. Thanks to the serendipitous arrival of Holly Warah’s apple pie recipe. Well, there was only one small problem – Roger distracted me while I was making the crust and I missed one procedure. Oh well, I will try again because, except for the crust, the pie was delicious. Thanks Holly


  1. You managed to make Musandam sound very colorful and attractive, Katie! We may just have to take a weekend trip to see it for ourselves. Love that sunrise photo.

    Thanks for sharing your adventures!


  2. Another wonderful adventure I am envious of not doing with you.

  3. Another interesting (and informative) adventure! Who would've thought that apple pie and camels would wind up in the same story?

  4. Hey Katie!
    Sounds awesome. When Doug and I did our Musandam adventure we were one of 'those people' camped on the beach (but we didn't get invited to the party either). All night long it looked like headlights were headed straight for our tent and then would veer off towards the biggest tent at the very end under the cliff. We actually had to get up in the middle of the night too because the tide was coming a little too close to the tent for our liking. Other than that, we had a great time on our trip as well.

    Can't wait to see where you head next :)
    Anne :)

  5. Musandam is a great weekend getaway from Dubia. The country is so different and it is only a short drive. We are off to Muscat in Oman in a couple of weeks for a long weekend. Roger actually said he would go to their new Opera House - can you believe that???

  6. Saying hello from LinkedIn! Love your whole blog! I hope I have adventures like these one day! Keep sharing! I look forward to seeing more :)

  7. I would like to know if it is posible to do a day trip from Dubai to Musandam Dibba& where should seek hotel.

  8. Dibba or Musandam are really easy weekend trips from Dubai. In Musandam, we stayed at the Golden Tulip hotel which was quite nice with decent food and an awesome view. In Dibba, we have stayed at most of the big chains and all were nice. You should enjoy both sites. Have fun!

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  10. Musandam Dibba
    is a great weekend getaway from Dubai. The country is so different and it is only a short drive. We are off to Muscat in Oman in a couple of weeks for a long weekend.

  11. In my view Musandam Dibba attractive place in Dubai, i love this place & wish to visit again all the time.

  12. I like to visit beautiful places to spend holidays last time i visit Musandam Dibba, its a beautiful place for the traveling.

  13. There are so many beautiful place in Dubai but i personally like Musandam Dibba.

  14. I really want to visit Musandam Dibba? Any suggestion for me or weather situation is this weather is good for trip?

    1. It is a lovely place to visit . . . weather can vary just check the weather on line . . . it was very pleasant when we were there,

  15. I have discovered your blog today and I love it!! You make very beautiful things and your tutorials are very good. Musandam Dibba

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  20. Hire a yacht in Dubai is very nice location for the trip i love to visit it again and again

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  26. Musandam Oman is wonderful place to visit with family & friends. There are many attractions for tourist and best one is dhow cruise trip into glittering fjords of Musandam. include snorkeling in a crystal clear water as well dolphin watch.

  27. it’s good to see that Dubai is evolving more as a tourist spot for all the regions in world. This effort is surely going to open new ways of tourism for Dubai and the local economy as the travelers are really crazy about the adventure and fun they can have in Dubai, especially for the famous musandam tour, so looking forward for more countries to sign the mou for the Dubai.