Musandam is a peninsula in the north of Oman, a small isolated region surrounded by the Persian Gulf and separated from the rest of the country by a portion of the land of the United Arab Emirates. Its landscape is dry and mountainous, full of impressive fjords, that can be explored on a dhow, a traditional local boat.
The Portuguese occupied Musandam in the 17th century as a part of a strategic plan to control trade in the Persian Gulf and control traffic in the Strait of Hormuz.
In Oman, they still resort to the dhow, a traditional sailboat, for transportation but for fishing and tourism instead of for commercial trade as it was done in the past. It’s quite usual to see these boats along the coast. You’ll find a big fleet on the ports of Sohar, Salalah, Khasab and Muscat, as well as Sur, where the biggest boat manufacturing center is based.
Visit Ras Musandam
Khasab, the capital city of the region, was founded by the Portuguese. A city they would eventually lose in 1628. Nowadays, Musandam is quite isolated. It struggles for being away from the country’s political center, and it struggles with the weather that makes life there complicated at the hottest time of the year.
The population is scarce, and most communities migrate yearly to the capital city during the hot summer months. For those who want to visit Oman, the Musandam peninsula is quite the attraction. Tourists go for the rugged but charming landscape, boat trips through the fjords, dolphin and whale watching activities, and diving.
I entered Ras Musandam hitchhiking on a cargo truck, coming from the United Arab Emirates all the way to Khasab. After spending some time visiting Khasab, I got a ferry-boat to Muscat from where I started my Oman road trip.
The best time to visit Oman is during the winter months (between November and March), as temperatures are much more pleasant. I visited during September and it was pleasant also, although for some people it might still be a bit too hot.
The Musandam Peninsula is quite an attraction for tourists, where you can enjoy a good range of activities in Khasab and boat trips on Telegraph Island, appreciate the incredible landscape, visit the station’s ruins, and dive and swim with dolphins.
What to visit in Ras Musandam
Khasab is the capital of Musandam, with a population of about 18,000 people that grows every summer with migrants seeking refuge from the scorching heat in their villages. The Portuguese founded Khasab in the 17th century, and its castle was built at the same time.
The Portuguese built the Khasab Castle at the beginning of the 17th century at a place that already had an old fort. At the time, the Persian Gulf trade was controlled by Portugal but, in 1624, the Omanis managed to conquer the castle and ruled ever since.
The Khasab Castle used by the army and as a prison, it currently doubles as a museum. At the museum, you’ll see an exhibition about the History of Musandam and some ethnographic displays, such as the replica of a date warehouse and a summer house. Other collections in the museum include old documents, weapons, jewelry, traditional clothes, and kitchenware.
Outside, you’ll see traditional fishing boats from the Kamzar village and old canons with lots of backstories.
The castle was renovated in 1990, and again in 2017, and it opens from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except on Fridays when it’s only open between 8 and 11 a.m.
Jebel Harim is also known as the “women mountain”. It is filled with incredible natural landscapes, especially when you reach closer to its peak at 2087 meters high. However, tourists can’t climb all the way to the top. It is occupied by military facilities that control the sea traffic at the Hormuz Strait.
Fossil enthusiasts will love visiting the mountain, with lots of findings in one of the highest points of the Arabic region.
From the highest point you can reach by road. Close to an air traffic control radar, you can walk on a path that takes you through several petroglyphs engraved in the rocks.
The name of the mountain comes from the times when women in the area sought shelter in this mountain at the sight of pirates or enemies, while their men were away from home.
Kumzar is one of the most remote villages in Oman, with about 1,700 people, on the north side of the country. It was founded nearly 500 years ago, making a first appearance in the maps of the region created by the Portuguese.
Fishing is the main activity of the population that migrates between Kumzar and Khasab when life at the village becomes almost unbearable in the scorching hot summer months.
Unfortunately, foreigners are not allowed to visit Kumzar anymore because of how uncomfortable the locals felt with some of the foreigners’ attitudes. You can still visit the village from a safe distance, with boats getting close 100 meters away so the tourists can see the atmosphere, the architecture, and the heartbeat of that mysterious place. However, this might have changed recently so make sure you have all the updated information about visiting the village.
Telegraph Island is located on the Musandam Peninsula of Oman. Also known as Jazirat al Maqlab, it is a small rocky island with massive fjords.
In the 19th century, Great Britain and India needed to communicate between them and agreed to interconnect a fixed network system, which led to installing a submarine cable in the Persian Gulf (from Gwadar to Karachi). This same cable led to Telegraph Island, where there is a station. At that time, the mail took at least one month to arrive (between Great Britain and India).
Through the submarine cables, it took from two hours to five days for the message to arrive at the destination, which simplified communication and defense.
Kor ash-Sham is the name of one of the most iconic fjords in the Musandam peninsula. Stretching for 16 km, always surrounded by rocky, bare mountains, with brown tones that bring up the deep dark blue color of the water.
By the shore, you can see small villages, accessible only by sea, with no more than ten families living there and completely dependent on supplies brought by boat. Those are migrant populations who live there in the coldest months of the year and move to Khasab during the scorching hot days of summer.
An incredible number of dolphins travels in these waters, and the tourist going on a full day trip will have high chances of spotting dolphins at least once.
Telegraph Island is in this fjord, named after the telegraph station the English installed. You can still see and explore the remains of that station. This small island is a usual stop during the dhow tours, but boats can only get close to shore during high tide.
Seebi Island is an excellent place for scuba diving or snorkeling. A visit to the island is typically included in most of the full day tour packages organized by the dhow tours companies and agencies.
Tours in Musandam
Khasab City Guide
For tourists, Khasab city is a much-needed touch base. There you have all the needed infrastructures, including a modern hospital and an airport. There are also some interesting must-sees.
In addition to the castle, I recommend a trip to the souk (traditional market), visiting the Sultan Qaboos Mosque in the south of the city, finished in 2009, visiting the Al Khmazera Fort and the palm tree fields that supply the city with dates, and the old port. Khasab port has a unique energy, with the many dhows moving around that make up the postcard-perfect image, spiced by the activities of the Iranian smugglers who stock up and unload some cargo here, especially supplies for the United Arab Emirates.
Most famous sites
- Khasab Fort
- Sultan Qaboos Mosque
- Central plaza
- Khasab Castle
- Khasab Palm Groves
- Port of Khasab
- Dhow Tours
- Tawi Village (Cave Paintings)
- Fjords of Khasab
- Khawr Najd Bay
The Khasab Fort was a pleasant surprise during the three days I spent in the city of Khasab in the Ras Musandam region, an exclave in the north of Oman, in the Hormuz Strait.
The Khasab Fort is a military building built in 1623 by the Portuguese under the command of Rui Freire de Andrada, General of the sea of Hormuz and the Persian and Arabic coast after they lost the Forte de Nossa Senhora de Ormuz the previous year. That fort was taken by the Omani between 1648 and 1650, thus putting an end to the Portuguese presence in the region.
Nowadays, the fort is well-preserved and looks almost new. It has several exhibition rooms, including local culture and historical museum with films and objects, contextualized and explained. The admission fee to the fort is 500 Baisas (half a Rial), and it includes a small catalog illustrating the history of the Fort and the Portuguese presence.
I got a ride from some British who were staying at my hotel, and they took me to a very secluded fort out of the city. If I hadn’t traveled with them, I don’t think I would’ve found it.
The Alkmazrh Fort is an excellent example of resisting the Portuguese and, because it belongs to a specific tribe, it’s still guarded by people from that tribe – a group of very nice young people who offered us a bottle of water and a tour of the fort.
Boat tour in the Ras Musandam
The Musandam boat excursion was definitely one of my Best Travel Experiences. I loved going on a four-hour trip along the coast of the Ras Musandam Peninsula, inside a traditional Omani boat called Dhow.
There are several companies in Khasab that do these types of boat tours in the Musandam Peninsula, but I booked with the company that partnered with the hotel I was staying at – Khasab Hotel. The trip cost me 15 Rials because I was sharing it with more people. If I had gone alone, it would have cost me 30 Rials.
I went on the tour in the morning, which started at around 11 a.m. The hotel minivan took me to the port. The trip included lots of tea, fruit, water, and biscuits.
During the boat excursion, I had the time to enjoy the unique scenery of the Musandam Peninsula, the crystal-clear waters, lots of dolphins, birds, the fishing villages of Nadifi, Qanah, Maqlab, Sham, and Seebi – places you can only reach by boat.
Further along, we stopped near Telegraph Island where I jumped off the boat and swam to the island. Then they handed me some diving goggles and mask to enjoy the fish swimming around such clear waters. I absolutely loved it.
On this trip, I also saw many birds and dolphins that traveled alongside the boat. It was an unforgettable trip to an impressive region with massive desert mountains and rocky fjords. When you visit Musandam, you cannot escape a boat trip such as this.
My top suggestion of where to eat in Khasab is “Musandam Restaurant” in the city center. The staff is friendly, and the place is always full and looks clean.
There are several restaurant options in Khasab. In the city center near the grand mosque, there are at least five or six restaurants offering vegetable stews, chicken, fried fish, and salads. The average price of a meal is 1 Rial, and it can go up to 2 Rials, depending on what you’re having.
As a vegetarian, I always ate the side dishes but considering that the food at Musandam is Indian-inspired, there were plenty of dishes with chickpeas and lentils, rice, and other stews I couldn’t quite put my finger on. All I know is they were spicy.
I had four meals at Musandam Restaurant and paid 1 Rial per meal. I always drank tap water – if you don’t want to pay for bottled water, ask for the water jug.
Musandam Restaurant: PO BOX 1 / 811, Ras Musandam, Oman – Phone: 26730569.
Other restaurant options in Khasab
I stayed at Khasab Hotel for two nights. Back in 2009, there weren’t that many hotels to choose from in the city so to not complicate matters I chose this one. Why this one? Because I tried staying at a hotel for Indian workers but had no luck, no one would rent me a room. It was sweltering so I decided to follow the hotel sign I had seen in the city center.
Khasab is located in a beautiful place. The sunrise and sunset are memorable. The Khasab hotel was charming, with high-quality amenities, a pool, and free WiFi. The receptionists were very friendly and thoughtful.
At this hotel in Khasab, you can book jeep tours of Ras Musandam and also tour boats down the Arabian Gulf coast to Telegraph Island on Dhow (traditional boats). I negotiated the price down to 23 Rials per night, considering it was the low tourism season and I checked in on a weekday. The price includes a buffet breakfast, which means you can eat all you want.
Ferry boat from Khasab to Muscat
What a great trip from the Musandam Peninsula to Muscat, the capital of Oman. There’s a boat that connects the two cities twice a week. The Musandam Peninsula is a small peninsula in the east of Arabia that is separated from the rest of Oman. Either you travel by boat between Khasab and Muscat, or you have to enter the United Arab Emirates via Ras al Khaimah and reenter Oman.
There’s a boat departing from Khasab to Muscat every Tuesday & Fridays at 12 pm. Tourist class tickets cost 23 Rials, one way, and 44 Rials return ticket. First-class tickets cost 45 Rials, one way, and 85 Rials return ticket.
It’s a lovely trip alongside the Musandam coast with rocky mountains, where you have the opportunity to see the sun setting at sea. It’s really gorgeous. Dinner (I ordered the vegetarian meal) and some drinks are included. Don’t be afraid to order because you can drink whatever you want. The boat has free WiFi, so you can travel while browsing the web.
You have to book and buy your tickets 24 hours before departure.
National Ferries Company official website
Coming from the UAE, you will cross the Al Dhara Check Point. When crossing the border from the United Arab Emirates into Oman, you obviously need a valid passport. If you are a citizen of any Schengen area country, Canada, Australia, USA, and Japan, you can easily get your Omani visa at the border, paying 200AED.
NOTE: you should not rely on US dollars to cross this border and pay your visa. I was refused entrance because I only had dollars to pay for my visa. Thankfully, a guy at the UAE customs office was friendly enough to make me the cordiality of exchanging me to better currency such as AED.