Frequently visited cruise destinations in the Sultanate of Oman are its capital Muscat (Muscat) and the port city in the southwest of the country Salalah. Only very rarely do cruise ships make a stopover in Khasab (Al-Chasab), the capital of the Musandam exclave belonging to Oman.
Khasab Cruise Terminal
Useful to know
Musandam is a peninsula of about 1.800 square kilometers isolated from Oman. The exclave lies on the strategically important Strait of Hormuz. The opposite side belongs to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Emirates of Ra's Al-Khaim and Fujairah, which belong to the UAE, separate Musandam from the mother country. Khasab is 360 kilometers as the crow flies from the capital of Oman, Muscat.
Khasab - Fiordland
Twenty years earlier, the peninsula that extends into the oil tanker route was still a restricted military area. In the meantime, the barren mountain region has been developed for tourism. Because of the coastal landscape reminiscent of Norwegian fjords, Khasab is dubbed the "Norway of Arabia".
In the early 17th century, Portugal ruled the region. The seafaring nation used the territory around Khasab as a haven and provision station for water and food. The peninsula was notorious and feared as a pirate coast at the time. This circumstance prompted the Portuguese to build several forts in Khasab at the beginning of the 17th century. To secure the oil tanker route, the Sultanate of Oman maintains a military base in the Khasab region.
Khasab - the city fortress
The population of Musandam is given as 49.000 (as of December 2020). Almost 22.000 people live in Khasab.
Khasab - Cityscape
A closer look at Khasab
Visitors coming to Khasab from Oman's capital, Muscat, feel like they've stepped back in time. Muscat has skyscrapers, a wonderful, large mosque and with "Al Alam" a magnificent sultan's palace. The clocks tick differently in Khasab. The inhabitants of the remote provincial capital live mainly from fishing, date cultivation and the activities of Iranian smugglers. The latter line of business is a phenomenon: early in the morning, Iranian smugglers bring sheep and goats to Khasab with small, agile messengers, sell them under the eyes of Oman's customs authorities and buy American cigarettes and electronic items in supermarkets in return. Before nightfall, the smugglers leave Khasab for legal reasons and return to Iranian waters after dark. Although the Iranian Coast Guard is trying to stop these activities, the business model appears to be thriving on both sides of the Strait of Hormuz.
Khasab - Port with Iranian smuggler boats
Iranian smuggler boats leave Khasab
Musandam is far removed from the tourist streams that flood the Arabian Peninsula. And yet the peninsula is a destination worth seeing because of its rugged rocky landscape and fjord-like bays, which is also visited to a limited extent by cruise ships. In the 2021/22 season and also in 2022/23, Khasab is on the route list of AIDA Cruises and TUI Cruises (Overview of Tui Cruises cruises with a stop in Khasab ).
Musandam's landscape is shaped by the foothills of the Hajar Mountains, which rise to over 2.500 meters. Typical of the mountain landscape are barren, unforested mountains, steep cliffs and wadis. A special attraction are the fjord-like bays at the tip of the peninsula.
Musandam - rocky landscape
Musandam - Fiordland
Activities in Khasab
Khasab is Musandam's administrative center and military base. The only attraction is the old fort. The round tower of the fortress, which once served as the last retreat of the garrison during attacks, is striking. The tower is currently used as a museum.
Popular local tourist activities include "jeep tours" with SUVs into the hinterland and boat trips with a dhow. As guests of Mein Schiff 6 we tested both offers in December 2021 during an Orient cruise. Below we report on our shore excursions.
Jeep tour in the hinterland of Khasab
Khasab - tourist dhow
Jeep tour in the hinterland
The destination of the jeep tours is Mount Jebel al Harim, more than 60 kilometers from Khasab. The destination is at an altitude of 2087 meters. The jeep tours - cars cannot cover part of the route - lead near the city on asphalted roads. Later the roads turn into dusty gravel roads. The route leads past barren, steeply rising rocks, dry streams and high plateaus used for agriculture. During the trip we see military trucks whose task it is to supply drinking water to the inhabitants of the hinterland. Nothing unusual in the dry mountain country.
A stop will be made at the viewpoint of Khor Najd. The lettering “I♥OMAN” greets you at the top – rather unexpectedly. We enjoy the panoramic view of the gigantic mountain landscape and the fjord country.
At another stop, the guide shows us fossils of sea creatures millions of years old. Why are such fossils found at an altitude of 1.600 meters? The explanation is simple and plausible: the Arabian tectonic plate has been pushing under the Eurasian plate for ages. We're talking about two centimeters a year. Over the course of millions of years, the fossils were gradually transported upwards. The shaggy brown goat roaming around looking for food is probably not at all interested in this geological phenomenon.
The journey finally ends next to the radar station and a transmission mast on Jebel al Harim, the "mountain of women". Once again we enjoy the view of the grandiose rocky landscape from an even greater height than before. Afterwards the journey leads back to Khasab on the same way we came. In the wasteland there are the smallest settlements along the way.
Discover the fjord landscape by dhow
It is an experience to take a look at the valley from Jebel al Harim. A trip on a dhow converted for tourist purposes into the Musandam fjord country is just as much fun. From the berth of Mein Schiff 6 we walk a few hundred meters over to the dhow that is waiting. Our first impression: With comfortable upholstery and some carpets, the boat seems almost comfortable. Drinks and the obligatory dates for refreshment on the way are ready. On a dhow it is easy to endure when the sea is calm. The trips are generally offered as excursions lasting several hours and as full-day trips with meals and bathing stops.
Khasab - traveling by dhow
The wooden boats navigate the 17 km long Khor Sham estuary (also called Khor Shimm). Initially, the landscape is not very spectacular. In the foreground there are flat hills, even some sandy beaches, in the background the mountains rise up.
Khasab - Scenery after leaving the port
Soon after, the coastline changes. Jagged rock formations now determine the landscape. After a sharp right turn, the boatman turns into the "fjord". The rugged, steep cliffs quickly gain height. The different colored rock formations give connoisseurs an insight into the history of the earth. In front of Musandam, the meeting of the Arabian and the Eurasian tectonic plates can be observed by means of the faults in the rock.
Opposite us, at a great distance, at the foot of high rocks, there is a settlement consisting of a few houses. A second settlement soon followed on the opposite side. In front of it there are small fishing boats in the water. We learn that only three families live in the settlement. Such tiny little fishing villages are not connected to the road network. Everything that is needed for subsistence has to be brought in by boat. In some cases there is even a lack of electricity and water supply. The children are transported daily to school in Khasab by speedboat.
Khasab - Settlement beneath huge rocks
Khasab - fishing settlement
In between we meet other dhows, some of which offer their guests full-day tours with bathing stops.
Khasab - dhow with tourists
Khasab - dhow with tourists
Both excursions are worth their money. It is advisable to complete the jeep ride in the first half of the day. In the afternoon follows the decelerated trip with the dhow. In travelogues you can often read about dolphin sightings. It is said that there are many dolphins to be seen in this area of the sea. Unfortunately, we are not offered the pleasure; the animals probably have other obligations. However, the lack of marine mammals does not detract from the pleasure of the dhow trip.
Cost of jeep tours with TUI Cruises: 63,20 euros (as of December 2021)
Cost of the dhow trip with TUI Cruises: 52,00 euros (as of December 2021)
Alternative Khasab tours at GetYourGuide