Dubai to Musandam Peninsula Road Trip – Driving Arabia’s Norway
A Dubai to Musandam Peninsula road trip could become one of the most memorable things you do and one of the most breathtaking drives you do in your life. It’s winter in Dubai – and the UAE and Arabian Peninsula – with cooler weather and a clarity of light you don’t get in the humid months. Now’s the time to do that drive.
You’ve had enough sun, you’ve tired of the malls, it’s too steamy to keep strolling Deira’s souks, or maybe you just want to get out of Dubai and see a bit of the country. What should you do?
Do as the UAE (United Arab Emirates) locals and expats do on weekends and hit the road and head to Oman. Do a Dubai to Musandam Peninsula road trip, one of the Middle East‘s most dramatic driving routes, and one of our favourite road trips that we do during our 7.5 years living in the UAE.
A Dubai to Musandam Peninsula Road Trip
Why do a Dubai to Musandam Peninsula road trip?
While Dubai is a terrific winter sun destination – and who doesn’t want to soak up some rays and splash about in the sea or a hotel swimming pool after a couple of months of cold? – there is so much more to Dubai than sun, sand and shopping. In fact, there’s the whole country to see, and neighbouring Oman.
Contrary to rumours, Dubai is not a country, it’s a city and a city-state or city-emirate in fact, and the larger country that it’s part of, the UAE, is also worth exploring. While some bits are dull, with lots of flat scrubby sand, some parts are truly spectacular, marked by waves of sand dunes in peach and apricot, majestic craggy mountains with crumbling watchtowers, and lush date-palm oases. And then there’s Oman.
Little do many people realise but in two hours you can do one of the Arabian Gulf’s most spectacular drives to the Musandam Peninsula, an enclave of Oman within the UAE, and spend a weekend cruising dramatic fjords on wooden dhows, snorkelling with dolphins, and taking in some of the region’s most breathtaking views.
Rent a Car in Dubai
The easiest thing to do is to book a hire car online and pick it up when you arrive at Dubai airport and hit the road straight away.
If you are disembarking from a long-haul flight, arriving after dark, or you’ve been drinking on the plane (there’s zero tolerance for drink driving in the UAE), then check in to a hotel near the airport, such as the Airport Meridien or Al Bustan and get a good night’s sleep.
Get the car delivered to the hotel the next morning and start out nice and early (preferably before 7am) to avoid Dubai’s peak hour traffic, which can be horrific around the airport and on the road to Sharjah.
If you’re eager to spend a couple of days working on your tan first at a Jumeirah hotel, then arrange to get a hire car delivered to you the night before your trip; ask them to give you a map or pick up one from the concierge.
How to Get Out of Dubai
Kick off your Dubai to Musandam Peninsula road trip with a clear head and having had a good night’s sleep. Concentrate and stay calm. The driving is actually pretty easy in the UAE but you still need to keep your wits about you.
While there is little of the chaos and anarchy of Cairo and Beirut, this is still the Middle East. People have a tendency to act impulsively on the roads and the Emiratis like to drive fast. I mean really fast. You’ll see a car rapidly approaching in your rear vision mirror and then you’ll see a blur as it whooshes past.
The multi-lane roads are wide and smooth. Signage in English and Arabic is clear. Service stations are excellent, like mini-shopping malls with fast-food restaurants. And the petrol is cheap.
Get up at dawn so you can avoid leaving the city during the morning peak hour when the traffic is grid-locked.
Follow the signs to Sharjah. Easy.
First Stop: Sharjah, UAE
As long as you avoided peak-hour, when the Dubai-Sharjah Road sees some of the worst gridlock in the country, it’s an easy 20- to 30-minute drive to this very traditional of emirates.
Sharjah boasts a scenic lake, lively dhow docks, and brilliant souqs, so it’s worth having a look around. Follow the Corniche Road to the dhow docks where you can look for a parking spot.
Take a short stroll around the Arts Precinct and the Heritage Precinct, both dotted with restored old courtyard houses, where you should wander through charming Al Arsa Souq.
To Ajman, Um Al Quwain and Ras Al Kaimah, UAE
Pick up your Dubai to Musandam Peninsula road trip by staying on the Corniche Road, which will get you to neighbouring Ajman and Arabian Gulf Street in minutes.
There is little to see in this sleepy town, yet it is home to one of the most beautiful beaches and attractive waterfronts in the UAE. There’s squeaky soft white sand and splendid date palms, which you’ll often find families picnicking beneath.
Follow the signs to the emirates of Um Al Quwain and Ras Al Kaimah, respectively. Um Al Quwain sees few visitors, other than birdwatchers who come for the abundance of birdlife at Khor Al Beidah.
To continue your Dubai to Musandam Peninsula road trip follow the signs to Ras Al Kaimah, which has developed into something of a tourist destination in recent years, is more interesting. In the centre you’ll find a ramshackle old town dotted with simple tailor shops and a small colourful market.
It’s a short drive through the tiny communities of Rams, Ghalilah and Ash Asham to the border.
The Musandam Peninsula, Oman
If you drove directly from Dubai, you should reach the border in around two hours. With leisurely stops along the way, the trip could take you three to four hours.
How long it takes you to get across the border depends on whether the staff at the immigration offices have closed for lunch or tea. If they’re open and you have your passports and some Omani currency, you should be out of the UAE and into Oman in a matter of minutes.
Here’s where your Dubai to Musandam Peninsula road trip really gets exciting…
The Drive from the UAE-Oman border to Khasab
Khasab is the Musandam Peninsula’s main town (there are no proper cities) and the 40-km drive from the border to Khasab is – for the most part – one of the most jawdropping we’ve ever done and you’ll ever do.
Bukha, the first settlement past the border, has a splendid fort with a single stout watchtower, sited rather picturesquely by the turquoise-coloured sea. On the hill behind there is another terracotta watchtower.
The route from Bukha to Khasab must be one of the world’s great drives. We loved it so much we drove it twice in one weekend.
The smooth road skirts the coastline, hugging the colossal, rugged Hajjar Mountains the whole way. On one side of the road are these striking lofty ranges and on the other, right beside the road, creamy sand beaches separating the crystal-clear shimmering sea from the bitumen.
The route takes you by simple mosques serenely situated on one beach, the peeling hulls of old wooden dhow boats, and dilapidated palm-frond shelters where fishermen maintain their massive nets.
On the mountain side of the road are dramatic ravines secreting away small fishing villages of modest houses with colourfully painted iron doors decorated with kitsch palm trees, arabesque patterns and Omani flags.
In the tiny town of Al Jadi there are remnants of old houses and goats clambering over piles of stones. Al Jerry village has a picturesque beach lined with fishing boats and a blue domed mosque. On a desolate plateau at Al Harf village, we often watch locals playing football.
The drive from Al Harf, around the point, down to Hana and on to Khasab, is the most scenic part of the route with gob-smacking views of a rocky coast of creamy cliffs and the Musandam’s famed khors, or inlets.
Hana village has half a dozen squat, flat-roofed, mud-coloured houses set amid a lush date palm oasis, while Mukhi boasts old crumbling stone houses with colourful painted doors, now used to shelter sheep and goats.
At Qida, the dilapidated old residences, some built into rocks, have pretty decorative arches above their windows. Nearby, Tawi is home to prehistoric etchings of warriors on horseback, boats and houses.
Sadly, your Dubai to Musandam Peninsula road trip is soon coming to an end…
Khasab, Capital Of The Musandam Peninsula
Khasab is indeed where your Dubai to Musandam Peninsula road trip finishes.
There’s little to see in the dusty streets of the Musandam’s somnolent capital, Khasab, aside from a few mosques and a souq.
However, Khasab is the departure point for two rewarding outings offered by local tour groups. The first is a jaw-dropping journey by four-wheel-drive up to mighty Jebel Hareem, the ‘mountain of women’, the peninsula’s highest ‘hill’ at 2078 metres.
The ride up Jebel Hareem can be somewhat harrowing, climbing a steep, narrow dirt road that winds around the rocky mountain. But it’s worth it. The scenery is extraordinary, from the stone houses built into the sides of precipitous cliffs to the surprisingly fertile Sayh Plateau with its farmed fields of almonds, mangoes, and date palms.
At the top of the mountain, the end of the road for non-Omanis, you’ll find a purple-hued mountain ridge that drops dramatically into the Grand Canyon-like Rawdah Bowl.
Nearby, there are unbelievable birds-eye-views to Khor an-Najd, the Musandam’s most breathtakingly beautiful bay, which is where we met our friend, the black goat, alone, above.
Alternatively, you can take a half-day or full day dhow cruise on a traditional Omani wooden boat to Khor as Sham, a stunning rocky fjord that has earned the Musandam the title ‘the Norway of Arabia’.
On the way you can recline on cushions and Persian carpets and savour the views or you can dive over the side to snorkel and swim in the cobalt sea with dolphins.
And when you’re done? You can do the easy three-hour drive back to Dubai to lie by the hotel swimming pool. Or you can do as Terence and I did the first time round, and do the drive to the border and back to Khasab again just for the fun of it.
If you prefer not to drive yourself, or you don’t have a few days to spare, you can always visit this magic part of the Arabian peninsula via the same route on a tour to Khasab with a full day dhow cruise through the majestic fjords or you can do a tour via Dibba in the UAE with full day cruise on a dhow.
For more information see the Oman Tourism website.