450 kms from Muscat
Route: Muscat-Bidbid-Sinaw-Shannah- Masirah
I had been hearing about Masirah Island ever since I have started exploring Oman, however time and people didn’t come together many times. I kept reminding myself about the journey to make to this island which is commonly known as the “Desert island” of Oman.
Masirah Island, the largest island in the Sultanate of Oman, is located on its South-Eastern Coast. The island is almost 100kms long (North to South) and its widest portion stretches to 14kms. Until recently, the main purpose of the island was to serve as a strategic military base for the British and Oman armed forces. It was not long ago when the island was opened for tourists and nature lovers, engaging themselves in turtle watching (it’s the home of the largest population of Loggerhead Turtles), bird sighting (migratory birds that travels across the seas and lands), kite surfing and of course wide option of beaches to pick for.
To reach Masirah from Muscat, the best route option would be Muscat-Bidbid-Sinaw-Shannah- Masirah. The alternative route would be Muscat-Ibra-Bidiyah-Al Ashkharah-Shannah-Masirah, which is about 500kms long (we did that route on return) and I must say one need to try this route as well, especially the stretch from Shannah to Al Ashkharah, where the road is sandwiched between the unending sands of Wahiba Dessert on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other.
We started from Muscat covering Bidbid, Sinaw and finally reaching the harbor at Shannah. Once you cross Sinaw, vegetation gets reduced to a minimum and we shall be travelling through the outline of the vast Wahiba Sands. Wind really catches speed in the zone and we could see packets of sand kissing the tarmac, crossing the road, never minding the commuters. As we approached Mahout/Mahoot, the air slowly cleared up and signs of civilization started to show up. We took a left turn from Al Maha fuel station in Mahout to continue towards Shannah. Mahout was a sleepy town, soon to be developed into a major fishing harbor and once we crossed the town, the next 45kms was again through barren land until we reached a junction where we took a right, from where Shannah was another 15kms. The road from there was right through a tidal lagoon cum salt pan/sabkha (as per geology). It was a first experience for me to witness a huge salt pan and we could see from a distance the turquoise waters of Shannah waiting to float us to Masirah.
It used to be a nightmare few years back to get to Masirah, as the boat timings were dependent on the tides, since the boat jetty was nearshore where water levels were shallow. However, thanks to the new offshore harbor, in deep water, which is connected from the shoreline by a 1km bridge, the boat timings are lesser dependent on tidal levels.
Travel options to reach Masirah
The cheapest option would be to board a conventional landing craft, where you park your vehicle, pay for the vehicle (8 OMR per vehicle – current rate may vary) and passengers ride free (but expect an un-cushioned bench to sit on). But it you want to ride in style inside the comfort of air-condition, then the ferries operated by Government owned National Ferries Company (NFC) should be your choice. The NFC ferry charges for vehicle (16 OMR for sedan and 20 OMR for SUV) as well as passengers (3.6 OMR for Adults and 1.8 for Child – One Way), but is good on comfort as well as speed. For timings visit http://www.nfc.om/.
Honestly, we had never thought of what to do in Masirah, until we landed there, but we went on with complete belief in the beauty of this island. As a start, we visited Masirah Island Resort and the receptionist there (who belonged to Goa, India) provided us with information of tourist spots within the island. Starting from the Northern part of the island, we decided to encircle the island and reach back to North, covering almost 140kms.
Top attractions in Masirah
Masirah Whale Bones
Location : Masirah Whale Bones
This was one of the first places we went in Masirah and there are the bones of a whale on an outdoor display in front of a beach. The location is difficult to identify from the road, therefore follow the google location link shared above.
Rocky beaches on Eastern Side (Wind Surfing and Kite Boarding)
We continued through the highway along the Eastern coast of Masirah and somewhere at the mid portion of the island, we saw a few engaged in kite boarding and wind surfing. We came closer to the sea and beach was rocky and the waves were more active enabling the surfers to have a go with their surfing boards.
Location: Snorkeling Beach
We covered the entire Eastern coast and after reaching the southern end of the island, we moved towards the Western coast. The western coast is more sandy and calm. It has got snorkeling beach as well, few kilometres from the southern end. The beach was sandy and clear, however, we couldn’t find anything exciting worth snorkeling. Perhaps we didn’t explore it well enough.
Location : Sunset
Moving North along the western coast, we reached the beaches of Dawwah. It was low tide and we were able to drive our car on the sands. The dhows (fishing boats) parked nearshore were shaking their heads in tune with the waves, with the sun setting on the backdrop.
Location : Green Turtle Beach
We actually slept in our carand got up very early (at 5:00 AM) to head towards one of the turtle beaches. The beaches of Masirah hosts world’s largest population of Loggerhead sea turtles (15,000 – 30,000) per year on its North-Eastern beaches and also hosts about 500 Green turtles on its Eastern coast. The southern end of the island hosts mixed varieties of turtles (Olive Ridleys, Hawkbills, Loggerheads and Green turtles).
We went to the Green turtle beach but by the time we reached, all we could see was the beach marks of turtles heading towards the sea. Perhaps, we should have reached by 4:30AM. After spending sometime on the beach and watching sun rise, we headed towards the harbour, to catch our ferry back to the mainland.
We decided to take the ferry operated by NFC back to Shannah, even though it was the slightly expensive option. The ferry was well maintained, comfortable and we enjoyed the rooftop and the cabin. After reaching Shanna, we took the route to Muscat via Al-Ashkharah.