Tucked into the south-eastern corner of the vast Arabian Peninsula, Oman is one of the Middle East’s untapped jewels. It’s a land of sweeping sand dunes, jagged mountain ranges and lush canyon oases that, at first impression, seem like an unlikely diving destination.
But Oman has an epic coastline that spans more than 2,000+ miles (3200+ km) with pristine coral reefs that are literally teeming with marine life.
It was my fascination with the Middle East that opened my eyes to the country. However, as an avid scuba diver that is always searching for an ‘off-the-beaten-path’ diving destination, it was the vibrant untouched coral reef that captured my imagination and placed Oman in my #1 bucketlist position.
SCUBA DIVING IN THE GULF OF OMAN
With limited time and a mission to get under the waves on an Oman diving adventure, I joined the crew at SEAOMAN at Al Mouj marina for a day of reef diving.
The Gulf of Oman, which channels waters between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, is a strait with an age-old seafaring history. On any given day, you can still observe old-school boats called dhows surfing the waters here, while below the surface, an abundance of sea life bustles.
The most popular dive destinations cluster off the coast of Muscat:
- the UNESCO-listed Daymaniyat Islands
- Fahal Island
- the Al Munassir wreck and;
- Bandar Kharyan.
I wish I would’ve had time to visit them all the sites but I chose a 2-tank dive at the Daymaniyat Islands.
DIVE #1: ADVENTURE
The Daymaniyat Islands are located approximately 60 minutes from the marina (via boat). Many divers argue that the best diving can be found here as it offers healthy soft and hard coral gardens and opportunities to see various species of sharks, sea turtles, and other colorful marine life.
On arrival at the dive center, I was greeted by the owner, and the dive centers enthusiastic captain and team – a multilingual group of Omani, Italian, and Argentinian divers.
I was asked to fill out the requisite dive forms, and before I knew it I had my gear and was cruising out of the harbor aboard a dive boat with five others.
Onboard the boat, the divemasters walked us through a detailed whiteboard briefing of the site and their experiences.
One aspect that I found amazing is the World Heritage archipelago protects turtle nesting beaches, marine bird colonies, and beautiful coral gardens full of fish and the dive centers have to pay a fee to access the water around the island (every time they visit).
As soon as we arrived, the (for lack of a better term) “park rangers” appeared within minutes on a speed boat and the fee was paid. I was extremely surprised as it felt like we were in the middle of the ocean so I had no idea where these gentleman come from and so fast.
Once we arrived at the islands, I took a quick dip just to enjoy the warm waters.
After a few minutes of swimming, I grabbed my suit and tank, and joined the group as we descended to roughly 20m in the crystal clear water. There was so much sea life that it was challenging to focus on one thing.
Dense schools of giant snapper surrounded us as we descended and within a few moments, the divemasters were pointing out several long, honeycomb moray eels threading their way through the rusty colored coral.
After nearly an hour of exploration, we were back on deck buzzing with the sheer volume of life we had observed.
We took a slight break, ate some snacks, and watched as other boats began arriving.
DIVE #2: VISIBILITY
A little over an hour later, the captain moved the boat to a different side of the island where we dropped in for our second dive. The water was 80 degree Fahrenheit (27 degrees C) but this time the visibility was just a couple of meters.
While low-vis diving can be disorienting and sometimes disconcerting, it can also be a revelation, the kind of diving that forces you to narrow your focus and concentrate on the reef right in front of you.
We saw countless moray eels, tiny anemone shrimp, colorful nudibranchs, baby black-tip reef sharks, flighty blennies, and clown fish while juvenile barracuda zipped by our heads.
An even closer inspection of the reef revealed lobsters, delicate pipefish, more tiny shrimp, and eels in almost every nook.
Personally, one of the biggest highlights for me was when I came across a grazing green sea turtle. Five of the world’s seven sea turtle species can be found in the waters off Oman, and four of the species return each year to their beaches of birth to lay their own eggs.
With Oman being one of the world’s premiere turtle nesting epicenters, encounters with these shy creatures are extremely high and exciting.
Sadly, only a fraction of the hatchlings survive the journey from egg to adulthood. With other pressures also threatening to wipe out marine turtle populations globally, having the opportunity to observe this docile animal was special.
OTHER POSSIBLE MARINE LIFE ENCOUNTERS
If you’re lucky to be on the water at the right moment, there have been sightings of sperm whales, zebra sharks, humpbacks, blue whales, whale sharks (typically during Summer and Autumn), or even the occasional orca pod cruising the Gulf. In fact, during my visit, I saw a number of dolphins.
Back on shore we swapped our sightings with other divers as we washed our gear. Our day of diving had offered us a glimpse into an exciting, emerging dive destination in an incredible country still flying largely under the tourist radar.
The experience was made even better by the fun and lively team at SEAOMAN, with their professional, well organised, safety-first approach.
BEST SEASON FOR OMAN DIVING
Diving is possible year-round along the Gulf of Oman. However, in the south (near Salalah), a monsoon season affects the region from around June to September, with no diving during this period.
Taking various factors into account, like the blazing summer heat and cool winter water temps, April to May and September to October are said to offer the best combination of surface and sea temperatures for diving in the north, with May better for visibility, and September to November the best months for whale shark encounters. This is Oman diving though, expect the unexpected!
One of the questions that I am asked frequently is “what is there to do in (insert international city)?”
“What is there to do in (insert domestic city that the person is living in)?” is my typical response.
My response is not intended to be mean-spirited but I’ve discovered that if the city that you live in is “boring” and there is “nothing to do” then, the city that you will visit is probably going to yield the same results.
Generally, I don’t “review” cities or experiences because there are a plethora of things to do in every city. However, if there is something unique about a city/country that you may not see or experience anywhere else on the planet, I may highlight it.
As an avid diver, this experience blew me away! I’ve logged countless hours around the world over the last few years and although the Great Barrier Reef is still on my bucketlist, it’s hard to imagine anything could top this experience.
Although scuba diving is still a relatively new activity in the country – just a handful of dive centers run daily trips to the scuba hot spots – word is starting to get out about the thriving reefs and marine life to be found in Oman.
If you are a diver, I would highly recommend this experience (particularly before the crowds “influence” it).
Have you ever been scuba diving? What has been your favorite destination?