Dolphins, Mountains and Goats Galore in Musandam
We've lived in Dubai for 12 years and have travelled backwards and forwards across the region, including to Muscat in Oman before. But the Country's beautiful cooler, rugged climates of Musandam had remained stuff of Dubai legend to me until this weekend.
Well I can confirm that Musandam and its dolphin full fjords is everything they say it is - and more! My sons are four and five and it was a really special little break for us, which I'd whole heartedly recommend other young families.
[PHOTOS BELOW - IF YOU'RE A PICTURE PERSON]
It was a three-hour drive from Dubai, through Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, crossing in to Oman at the Al Dhara border. Al Dhara is much faster than the Hatta border and If I can give you any tip, save the toilet stop until you are in the Oman arrivals, it's twice as nice as the UAE's customs stop.
From Darwa you follow one coastal highway, lined with small barasti speckled beaches, fishing coves and over windy mountain ranges, with a few viewing spots. It's like a more rugged, untouched Amalfi coast drive, with Thailand-like vistas of the mountains growing out the sea.
Where to Stay
Along this highway you'll pass the Khasab Atana Hotel, which looked quite popular and a little further on is the Musandam Atana Hotel, where we stayed, via Bookings.com. We paid AED1,000 for a duplex apartment with a sea-side balcony, another large terrace, kitchen, TV, two bathrooms, but only one very large bed. They do have cheaper, smaller rooms too.
There's a nice infinity pool, with gorgeous mountain and sea views, a kids pool with a few splash pad type attachments and a sand pit, park and kids club all enclosed on site too. There's only one restaurant, which we had to sit inside to eat as there was lots of flies around that day and it doesn't serve any alcohol at the hotel, at all (although it can be purchased from a near-by external restaurant if necessary). I think it's quite a new hotel, built in tasteful ye olde Omani style. Omani people seem to be lovely; very warm and helpful at every interaction we had. It's a small hotel and was great for our 24-hour stop.
I'd been geeing the boys up about climbing some mountains all week, so before the sun set we drove out to the foot of the safest looking mountain we could find and did a bit of 'climbing', which they loved.
There are goats everywhere in Musandam, which was also a bit of entertainment for our city babies.
Musandam seems to be built around fishing and tourist dolphin watching, so it's very easy to book a tour from the hotel's reception. Apparently morning tours are usually more fruitful, so we booked in for a 9am pickup.
We luckily stumbled across a private charter dhow, costing AED450 for four hours. You can get a family of four on a shared boat for AED300, but having our own, rather plush dhow was well worth the extra dizzers. The boat was captained by Captain Khalid and his mate Mohammed, who gave us a map of the tour and made every effort to tell us about the villages and islands of interest on the route. They also provided coffee, drinks and fruit throughout and were absolute dolphin whistling experts!
Wild dolphin sightings (the only kind to entertain BTW!) are never guaranteed, like anything in nature. But I've never heard of anyone not seeing them in Musandam. We certainly enjoyed a bounty of them swimming alongside our boat on and off throughout the cruise, jumping and playing to the whistling and clapping of our two-man crew. It was absolutely magical. "I didn't think dolphins were even real mummy", said my youngest, Ted, in awe. We actually saw them in the Maldives once (how very Dubai), but the speedboat tour just wasn't as special as our dhow experience. It was so special. I found it really touching and got a bit emotional. The boys were buzzing, mentioning that it was "the best day ever", more than a few times, a sentiment I totally shared.
The boat also provided snorkels, masks, flippers and towels for those who want to swim at one of the island stops where the water is most calm, clear and full of fish (which we fed from the deck and watched for ages). We didn't swim on this occasion, I definitely would on a return trip.
Here's who we used. They'll meet you from the hotel and take you (5 mins away) to the Port.
MUSANDAM SEA ADVENTURE TRAVEL AND TOURISM - Speak to Aziza Kartoubi
00968 267 30424 / 00988 9201 9174 / email@example.com
I'd also suggest asking for Khalid's blue, dhow, with shade etc.
We drove straight back after the tour. All tired from the thrill of the cruise... poor daddy driving the three hours back whilst we snoozed, dreaming of swimming with Flipper and Co. There's another easy passport stop before entering the UAE in Ras Al Khaimah.
Maybe take snacks otherwise all your left with are petrol stations for substance on your road trip. I, for one, don't need any encouragement to eat a packet of Chips Ahoy cookies for lunch [hands over face monkey emoticon].
My friend did the 9am dolphin cruise driving early from Dubai and returning on the same day. She took her three year old at the time and they loved it. She pointed out to allow time for the visa stamping on the way.
I'd also suggest buying a UAE map, which tips in to Oman as your Google Maps suddenly cuts out if you don't have roaming. But it's really one road from the Darwa entry.
If you have any other questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try to help.