Our cruise from Italy to Dubai on the MSC Lirica had several port stops in Oman, one of them at Khasab. Due to pre-cruise research where everybody on all the websites I could find about cruising to Oman said there was nothing to do in Khasab and recommended booking an excursion, we booked a Dhow boat tour through the ship that included fishing and snorkeling. I like to snorkel and John likes to fish and we both like boats so this excursion seemed perfect for us.
Dhow boat tours are a very popular thing to do in Khasab. They sail through the fjords of the Musandam Peninsula, which is where the town of Khasab is located. Whether just taking a scenic tour through the fjords, or one that includes fishing, dolphin spotting, snorkeling, or all three, it’s a fun way to spend a day. Many of the dhows used for these tours are made of wood in an authentic looking style resembling historic boats of that area.
We booked pre-cruise, so it was cheaper than booking on the ship. As it turned out we could have gotten it for less by booking last minute after getting off the ship, but we didn’t know beforehand that this tour or anything else would be available there. People who booked their dhow boat ride last minute at the port had pretty much the same tour as those who had booked through the ship, but on a different boat.
There were lots of the dhow boats, most similar in appearance so even those who booked through the ship did not all sail on the same boat. Everyone on ours spoke either English or Italian so speakers of other languages went on other boats. At the port there were tours available inside the port building, and even lower priced tours available outside.
Cruise ship excursions often don’t measure up to expectations, or don’t turn out as described, but this one was one of the better excursions we’ve ever done. It was one of the highlights of the entire cruise. From the ship we were led down the road to a row of waiting dhows. Similar to boarding a gondola from a crowded stand in Venice, people walk from one boat to the next until arriving at their assigned craft.
We had just 11 passengers on our boat, though it could have held more. Which meant everyone had lots of space. Most spoke English, but there were a few Italians. There was also a girl from the ship’s shore excursions department. She said she was from Iran, but she also spoke both English and Italian. She wore shorts and no headscarf, and a regular western style 1-piece bathing suit with a skirt. Most of the women from the ship had long pants or skirts rather than shorts as we had been told to dress conservatively, though at the snorkel stop not everyone with 2-piece bathing suits put t-shirts over them as was recommended since Oman is an Islamic country.
The boat had a fairly open deck with a raised edge all the way around. One side sat higher than the other so the deck sloped down toward the low side. It also sloped up at both the bow and stern ends. The deck had Persian carpets covering most of it, and cushions all around the edges for people to sit on.
The center console near the engine pipe had room for coffee and tea service as well as a platter of fruit and one of dates. They also handed out water at the beginning to anyone who wanted it and soda after we finished snorkeling. The boat had one small restroom, just barely big enough for a small person to change clothes in. Everyone who wanted to snorkel had their swimming suits on under their clothes at the start and most of them just put their clothes back on over their wet suit on the way back. I was one of very few who changed out of their wet things in the tiny bathroom.
We started our tour by cruising out of the harbor and made a stop for fishing early on. Now and then a different style dhow boat with an upper story and less authentic look went by. There were tour options that just cruised around without the snorkel or fishing stops so perhaps they used that style boat. Ours was made of wood like the traditional boats would have been, but some double decker ones were not.
Nobody caught anything at our first stop so we headed into a fjord to try a different fishing hole. Fishing on this tour was done with line wrapped around a little plastic donut thing rather than using a fishing rod. Besides bait and a hook there was a little weight on the end of the line so it would sink when held over the water and allowing the line to spool out. Nobody caught anything at our second fishing stop either so we went to a place where the 2 guys who made up the boat crew said dolphins like to hang out.
I spotted the biggest dolphin I have ever seen in my life, but did not have my camera out. It popped out of the water 3 times before disappearing into the depths not to be seen again. Most of the people on our boat missed seeing it. The crew turned the boat around and went back to where the dolphin had been, but the big guy must have swam off because he never showed himself again. Instead we found a pod of about 5 small dolphins, of which the total of all of them probably wouldn’t equal the size of the first one. These popped playfully in and out of the water, sometimes just one, but sometimes all, or one followed by another and then another. The hung out by our boat for awhile so everyone had a chance to see the smaller dolphins.
Next the boat cruised to into a small inlet that looked like someone either lived on the beach or had set up a pretty elaborate camp there. It appeared like they might drop anchor, but then they seemed to change their minds and instead headed over to an island where a number of other dhow boats were already anchored up with swimmers and snorkelers in the water. Some people wandered around the tiny island, having gone up a stairway from the sea.
Apparently the fish there like bananas. At our snorkel stop some came up to our boat to nibble on banana bits the crew threw into the water for them. Bananas on a boat are considered bad luck for fishing and we did not catch any fish. Maybe we should have used bananas for bait since the fish had no interest in the bait we used.
The crew put a ladder down one side of the boat and people donned their snorkel gear and went in. The deeper water near the boat was pretty murky, but shallow water by the island was clear and had enough structure to support sea life.
There was more life under the water than on the barren rocky desert hills surrounding it. That area had a few small corals, lots of spiny sea urchins, some clams, a giant sea slug, and all sorts of fish.
We saw lots of the small striped sergeant major fish you see snorkeling in warm waters pretty much anywhere, various bigger fish, and a few smaller ones.
There were some pretty blue fish that liked to hang around the anchor, unless any people came nearby. They were a bit shy and swam off quickly when anyone came near. The sergeant majors seem to have no fear of people. You can swim right through a school of them, but the others all tried to make themselves scarce when anyone came around.
On the way back we made one more short fishing stop with no luck. There were still bananas on the boat, which were not used for bait. This was a great excursion, which made Khasab one of my favorite ports of the entire trip. It was quite relaxing sitting on the pillows on the deck and watching the scenery go by, and I’m always happy for a chance to go snorkeling.
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