Over the past few years, the Sultanate of Oman, where I lived and worked from January 2008 until August 2016, has received a steady stream of accolades from top travel publications such as Lonely Planet and Condé Nast Traveler.
Words such as ‘a hidden gem’, ‘a startling variety of beautiful landscapes’ and ‘rich in history’ have been used to describe this friendly and peaceful country located on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the clear waters of the Arabian Sea (part of the Indian Ocean).
According to Rough Guides:
Amid the ever-changing states of the Arabian Gulf, Oman offers a refreshing reminder of a seemingly bygone age. Over-development has yet to blight its most spectacular landscapes and cultural traditions remain remarkably undiluted, making the sultanate one of the best places in the Gulf to experience traditional Arabia.
For this series of posts, I’ve divided Oman into three regions: the far north–the governorate of Musandam; the central north–the areas immediately to the north and west of the capital, Muscat; and the south–the governorate of Dhofar, which includes the resort city of Salalah.
In this post, I want to share some of my favorite photos from Musandam, along with a bit of background information about the people and places presented in the images.
Musandam–Mountains of Stone
Musandam is a mountainous stone peninsula that watches over the politically strategic Strait of Hormuz which separates the Arabian Sea from what’s internationally known as the Persian Gulf or simply the Gulf. Some Arabian Gulf countries reject the name ‘Persian Gulf’ since it ignores the shared nature of this body of water, and instead identifies it only with traditional Iranian empires. In this and other disputes between Iran and the Arabian Gulf countries, Oman remains neutral, and in fact is often the country which arranges and leads negotiations between Iran and other world powers. Of additional importance, the Strait of Hormuz is the waterway through which much of the world’s oil-bearing sea traffic must pass, so it’s of vital importance that a country with friendly and reasonable leadership should maintain control of this resource. Oman’s wise Sultan made sure this strategic strip of land remained under his country’s control following border negotiations with next door neighbor United Arab Emirates even though it meant this governorate would be separated from the rest of Oman by Emirati lands (see map). Musandam’s importance to Oman’s stature and to world commerce, as well as peace in this region, cannot be understated.
Beach Camping on a strategic waterway
On weekends and holidays I enjoyed beach camping and snorkeling with expat friends. This is a shot of our camp outside the town of Khasab, located at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz on the far northern tip of the Musandam Governorate. Beach camping in early summer in this region can be a sweaty affair, especially since low temperatures at night still hover in the 30s (90s for my fellow Yanks!), especially in Musandam where the surrounding rocks retain the heat of the day. However, the time out on the water made it tolerable and it was always exciting to watch the parade of smuggler’s boats making trips back and forth across the narrow waterway, bringing their contraband (mainly cigarettes) from Iran.
Traditional boats known as ‘dhows’
Oman was once a great sea power, controlling territories as far away as Zanzibar in present day Tanzania. Traditional ‘dhows’, similar in shape and design to this boat, were used to transport goods as far away as India. These boats are still constructed in the Sultanate (especially in the town of Sur), but these days they’re used more as recreational vessels to support Oman’s burgeoning tourist industry. This photo was taken in early summer when atmospheric conditions create a perpetual haze due to the extreme heat, humidity and dust particles suspended in the air. The best time to visit Oman is during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter when the skies are crystal clear and the temperatures are perfect.
A great location for viewing sea life
On one of our Musandam dhow trips to the popular snorkeling spot of Telegraph Island, dolphins followed along beside the boat all the way from Khasab and back again. It was such an amazing sight! While there are some signs of over-fishing in Oman’s coastal waters, the country’s beaches are still the best place in the Gulf to view a wide variety of sea life while snorkeling and diving or while simply sitting on a soft cushion in a dhow!
A laid-back lifestyle with warm and friendly locals
Here’s a shot of our friendly local Omani dhow crew in Musandam. Most visitors to Oman, as well as those like me who worked there long term, comment on how warm and welcoming the local people are. It was rare for me to walk down a beach without being stopped multiple times by local men wanting to chat. Inevitably, they would ask what I thought of their country. Oman’s Sultan has done an amazing job of uniting the various tribes into one cohesive nation, which is no small feat in this region of the world where rugged mountains, vast deserts and traditional tribal affiliations often present formidable barriers. I like this picture because it shows locals in their normal relaxed posture, not the Islamist zealots often portrayed in the international press. In other parts of Oman, it was very unusual to see locals smoking cigarettes, but it seemed to be the norm in Khasab, possibly because of those cheap smuggled cigarettes from Iran.