The Musandam Peninsula: The old Arabia outside modern Dubai and Abu Dhabi

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28 November 2012

Our insider takes a tour into the more traditional outskirts of two of the world’s most thriving modern metropolises.

It takes a fairly close examination of the map to see that the Musandam Peninsula isn’t actually part of the UAE. No, the very tip of the Arabian Peninsula is governed by Oman, even though the majority of that country lies disconnected to the south of the UAE. This little tip is a strategically important point – the logic is that if you hold it, you can have a say on who does and who doesn’t pass through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Arabian Gulf.

However, for tourists looking to do something outside of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the Musandam is an easily achievable day or overnight trip. At times, Dubai feels so international and forward-looking that it’s easy to forget you’re actually in Arabia, but the three-hour drive north to the Omani region provides a very quick reminder. 
See also: Building higher, longer, faster. Dubai and Abu Dhabi want the world to know they’re sitting on an almost bottomless ocean of black gold and can afford the biggest and best of everything. Here's our guide to the city's biggest attractions.

Within half an hour, the skyscrapers and record-breaking monuments to grandeur have receded; within two hours, most people on the side of the road are dressed in traditional dishdashas, shepherding goats from one dusty village to another.

But it’s when the border with Oman – the gateway to the Musandam – is reached that things change dramatically. Suddenly, away from the traffic of the city, free from the dust of the desert, the sky is a deeper shade of blue. The drive into the Musandam hugs a coast of jagged outcrops and dramatic cliffs that fall into a brilliant turquoise ocean.

If you only plan a daytrip to the Musandam, then this drive is really the highlight. Break it up with a stop at the Golden Tulip, a little hotel that sits on the apex of a hill, offering commanding views into the Gulf. From there you can organise a cruise to see some of the resident dolphins that patrol the waters between the mainland and rugged Telegraph Island, which, 150 years ago, was an important outpost for the British Empire, used to boost the signal of their ambitious London-Karachi telegraph cable.

The road in the Musandam runs out around the sleepy town of Khasab, but if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, the journey doesn’t have to stop there. Local fishermen are happy to take tourists to remote beaches accessible only by sea. It’s important to haggle on the price for this service, but not so aggressively that your lift doesn’t return the next morning! On lucky nights, alone in the middle of nowhere, splashing around in the water under the moonlight will create eerie swathes of colour courtesy of phosphorous plankton. Theirs is a colour that can’t be replicated, not even by Dubai’s city lights.
Insider tips

Jamie Lafferty


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