Adventure in Oman
Aaron Pinkwasser went in search of the ‘Real Middle East’ on an adventure-rich tour of Oman – a land of unimaginable landscapes and exotic cultures that blew away his preconceptions.
Following three days of business meetings in the artificial oasis of Dubai where it is 44 degrees outside and you can go skiing inside, I went in search of the real Middle East, a region of the world I knew very little about, but was keen to discover. I gladly traded in my business suit for a wetsuit and set out in search of outdoor pursuits that would allow me to experience the stunning landscapes, fascinating wildlife and mysterious people that had begun to intrigue me the more I read about Oman.
The Norway of the Middle East
Scuba diving has taken me to the farthest corners of the world and some of the most unbelievable countries. Oman was no exception. My visit began in Khasab, the capital of the Musandam Peninsula - the sparsely populated tip of the country. Dubbed "The Norway of the Middle East" The Musandam Peninsula is famous for its steep mountains rising out of the desert, creating beautiful fjords. The steep drop-offs and strong currents attract a variety of unusual marine life and the isolated location and lack of dive boats attracts serious divers. The dive sites were rocky rather than coral reef which gave me the opportunity to see species of fish I had never seen before, including huge schools of mobula rays. Not once did I see another dive boat, which meant I had the prolific schools of fish and pelagics to enjoy at my leisure.
Understated Elegance at Six Sense Zighy Bay
While in Khasab, I visited Six Senses Zighy Bay, a luxury resort that came highly recommended. We took a three hour drive on a single road through barren desert until we got to the foothills of some staggering mountains, just north of Dibba. This picturesque village made up of traditional, two-storey Omani villas was nestled on a private beach, completely secluded from the rest of the country by a seemingly impassable mountain range. The resort is the epitome of understated elegance where luxury isn't defined by gaudy chandeliers, but incredibly personalised service with an eco-friendly ethic. The pool villas are simply stunning, made of all natural materials with plenty of sensational views of the mountains to one side and the sea to the other. Each villa had enough indoor and outdoor space to keep the whole family happy as well as a private gym, a kitchen to die for, and a private spa treatment room. Personal trainers, dive guides, chefs, and babysitters come to your villa rather than you having to go to them, which reinforces the homely feeling
For such an unassuming resort, they have thought of absolutely everything to keep guests entertained, relaxed, and well-fed. Before even arriving at the resort, guests are given the option to paraglide into the reception area from the top of the mountain pass. The sports centre offers plenty of options that allow you to explore the surrounding sea, mountains, and desert including hikes, kayak trips, and Bedouin overnight experiences. The legendary spa reminds you that you are staying at a Six Senses Resort - it is a beautiful haven of tranquillity within the resort. Activities at the kids club focus eco-friendly education through gardening, cooking, and watersports. The dive centre is state-of-the-art and the two dive boats were magnificent.
Opulence in Muscat and Adventures in the Desert
The next day I flew from Khasab to Muscat for the next chapter in my travels. Muscat is the most famous city in Oman and by far the most touristic. In its former glory, Muscat was a port town that was the centre of the spice trade. Over time, a wealthy town was established and development continued by way of uber-decadent luxury hotels that allow visitors to live like royalty.
In addition to the sumptuous selection of spas in the five star hotels, there are plenty of historic and cultural excursions available in Muscat, as well as world class shopping, but I used Muscat as my base for extreme sports that are unique to the region. Although the desert looks barren and foreboding from afar, it becomes a playground for adults with limitless combinations of activities that make for a half day, full day or overnight tailor-made adventure. Start your day with a dip in the infinity pool at the Chedi, then go dune bashing in a four wheel drive through epic sand dunes (pray you don't have to push your vehicle when it gets stuck in the sweltering heat, you are guaranteed to lose your shoe in the sand!), then finish off your evening under the stars sipping mint tea in a Bedouin tent. I also had the opportunity to head to a wadi (a deep slice in the stone that rises vertically out of the desert) and try my hand at canyoning – an exhilarating way to experience these natural obstacle courses. You can combine activities with camping in the desert or on the beach which cuts down on travel time from your hotel and allows you to experience the wilderness at night.
Diving the Daymaniyat Islands
I spent a few days exploring the extensive dive sites of the Daymaniyat Islands, a nature reserve about a forty minute drive from Muscat. This area is renowned for its warm water, underwater visibility, and colourful coral gardens. These sites are excellent for novice divers or even first timers as there is so much marine life to observe in the first 15 metres of the dive that you never have to go any deeper. I spent what felt like an eternity watching the esoteric mating rituals of cuttlefish, following around green sea turtles as they lazily poked their noses into hard corals, and staring in amazement at the mesmerising patterns on zebra sharks. I even tried my hand at kite surfing in the shallow, flat water just off the beach in conditions that are ideal for beginners.
My last night in Oman was the first night of Ramadan and there was a decidedly different air about the resort and in town that signified the start of the holiday. I felt like I was in a very special and sacred place. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to immerse myself in unimaginable landscapes and exotic cultures and experience the beauty of a country that probably isn't on most people's bucket list but surely should be.
If you feel inspired to explore the many faces of Oman, we can recommend a selection of beautiful bases for your trip. Speak to one of our travel specialists on 020 7843 3531 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.