Musandam Governorate, with its soaring cliffs, magnificent coastline and stunning natural landscapes, has the potential to emerge as a major tourism hotspot of the Sultanate. More and more tourists are discovering this relatively new destination – the latest addition to a growing number of tourist havens spread all around Oman.
Located in the far north of the country, the Governorate of Musandam is endowed with many distinctive tourist attractions and fine stretches of coastline as well. It is also home to the only fjords found in the Sultanate – where the sea cuts into the mountainous shoreline to create spectacular inlets of turquoise green waters where dolphins and other marine creatures abound. These diverse natural attributes make Musandam a destination for nature-loving, as well as adventure-minded tourists.
Getting to this enclave jutting into the Strait of Hormuz is now a breeze. Most visitors prefer to drive from Dubai to this scenic corner of Oman, taking their 4WDs to enjoy the dramatic landscapes on route. The coastal route, which is cut alongside the mountainous shoreline, offers a fascinating insight into the geology of the governorate. Alternatively, flights from Muscat operated by national carrier Oman Air offer a speedier option to reach Khasab, the administrative centre of the governorate.
For tourists and visitors travelling in from Muscat, National Ferries has its world-class, high-speed catamaran service that runs between Muscat and Khasab. Visitors have the option to load their SUVs or other vehicles onto the ferry if they plan to go off-road to explore the incredible and contrasting landscapes of Musandam.
Given the region’s growing tourism importance, a number of hotels and lodgings have proliferated in Khasab and other towns. The Atana Khasab, a four-star property managed by state-owned tourism investment and development vehicle Omran, offers splendid views of the shore and the sea beyond.
Among the major natural attractions of Musandam is Jabal Mahram, the nation’s second highest mountain summit after Jabal Shams the interior part of the country. Located in the Wilayat of Khasab, Jabal Mahram sometimes has snow on its summit, particularly when a weather front sweeps in from the north. Access to these lofty parts is possible only by 4WD.
Hassan al Kumzari, a native of Khasab, says the governorate is a major draw for visitors hailing mainly from the Gulf states. “We are seeing an influx of tourists from around the GCC, as well as from countries further afield, eager to enjoy the magnificent natural environment of its wilayats and villages,” he told the Observer.
“Many of the tourists find Musandam a magical place, not limited to just mountains and the sea, as most people think it is. There is so much else to explore that a visit here exceeds their expectations,” he said.
Two popular islands located just off the peninsula are Um Al Ghanam Island (‘Mother of Goats’) and Telegraph Island, the latter dating back to the Second World War. There are other islands that tourists can visit by boat.
Kumzar Village has all the delights of an island, but isn’t one. Yet access to this remote village, home to around 2,500 residents, is possible only by boat. Narrow alleyways separate clusters of dwellings in the main part of the village.
Life in Kumzar is quite rudimentary, yet lively and joyful, say local natives Hasan and Adel. “The emphasis here is on the traditional; the people of Kumzar pursue livelihoods that are in keeping with their heritage and culture, and this value is passed on from one generation to the next.”
Fishing and farming are the principal pursuits in this part of Musandam. “The local folks have livestock as well. In summer, when temperatures are relatively high, they set out in boats to spend the season in Khasab,” Adel, speaking in his native Kumzari dialect, remarked.
Musandam is also home to some rich archaeological wealth, according to Abdu Rahman, a local tourist guide. Rock art can be found in remote parts of the governorate, he says. “I remember visiting places as a child with ancient drawings etched on rock surfaces, believed to be more than 2000 years old. Some of these drawings, depicting humans and hunting equipment of that era, date back to the late Bronze age.”
Little-explored Musandam has the potential to yield more interesting insights into its rich geology, archaeology and natural history as the influx of tourists, nature-lovers and adventure-seekers continues to grow. As an emerging tourist hotspot, this rugged corner of Oman has a promising future, Abdu Rahman adds.
HAMMAM AL BADI
Photos by Shamsa Al Harthi