Along the Strait of Hormuz, where the waters narrow to just 20 miles between the southern coast of Iran and the northern tip of Arabia, lies rugged beauty of the Musandam peninsula -- a pristine paradise located in the heart of the Middle East.
Jutting out into the supremely strategic passage -- the strait sees 40 percent of the world's shipped oil pass through en route to the Indian Ocean -- Musandam hosts gorgeous beaches, dramatic vistas and water so clear that you can see bustling marine life in the depths below.
The Musandam peninsula is an isolated enclave of Oman; the UAE separates it from mainland, much the way Canada sets Alaska apart from the continental U.S. Its red-rock Hajjar mountains seem to melt into the ocean -- an avid geologist can find fossils of marine life from when the jagged terrain was below sea level. The clear, blue-green waters of Musandam have some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the region, while on land lies a fascinating corner of the Middle East just emerging on the tourist map.
Like the place itself, the people of Musandam stand alone. A cousin of the Omani Arabs on the mainland, the centuries-old inhabitants include the Shihi tribe, who speak a hybrid of Persian and Arabic and live in mountain and coastal villages on local fare of honey, fish, and dates. Musandam's capital city of Khasab is a haunt for Iranian smugglers, stocking boats with American-made cigarettes and traded goods.
Dhows, the traditional wooden boats of the Gulf, are a common sight, some chartered by tourist passengers on day trips to secluded beaches. Overnight passenger dhows, outfitted with comfortable cabins, offer good value and the best way to see the craggy coves and secluded bays of Musandam. On-board chefs prepare buffet meals, while the boat makes a series of swimming stops designed to maximize scuba and snorkeling -- visitors routinely spot dolphins and massive underwater turtles. Musandam Sea Adventures can arrange three-night trips at for up to 30 people per vessel. They can also arrange overnight camping trips on beaches and islands, some with Oman Folklore & Music programs.
Adventure sports prevail in Musandam. In hikes along the jagged Hajar mountains ("hajar" means rock in Arabic), desert plants and wildlife make for a serene, but invigorating climb. For the courageous driver, renting at 4x4 can get you around unpaved desert and mountain roads for incredible views of skyline layered with rocky peaks. Jebel Harim, the highest mountain in Musandam at 6,800 feet, is a good day's excursion.
Kayaking and canoeing are ideal, in waters often clear enough that you can see down to the seabed from the surface. At Zighy Bay, an idyllic inlet with a pristine beach, Al Marsa Musandam will take you paragliding from the tip of a mountain to the soft sand below. Parked in a soft chair, strapped to an expert glider, you'll slowly float in a zigzag pattern down to the water. They also do paramotoring, using a small engine to help you go higher, for longer.
At the bottom of the mountains, sitting beside a sleepy fishing village, the boutique Six Senses Zighy Bay Hideaway makes for barefoot luxury in an eco-friendly setting. Each of the 65 private villas is built as an Omani home from the outside, with five-star amenities inside. Buildings are made from local materials, palm tree wood with stone floors, while local trees green the landscape.