Following the murder of the crew of the SS Baron Innerdale by local tribesmen shortly after it ran aground in 1904, it was not until the 1930s that the British finally set up their military presence on what had since become a more pacified Masirah. The well-established base remains at the northern tip of the island adjacent to the capital, Hilf, to this day but was handed over in full to the Royal Air Force of Oman in 1977.
As tourists were not allowed to visit Masirah until the 1990s- and numbers remain extremely low- there has been little incentive to develop anything beyond basic infrastructure in Hilf, which is why most of the island remains a wilderness. There is a relatively new road that circles the island and a couple of fairly basic hotels in the main town, but the opportunity to venture off into the distance and bag a stretch of beach for a few nights still remains. There have been discussions about building a causeway to connect Masirah to the mainland, but so far this has failed to materialise.
With the exception of a few kite surfers (usually Dubai ex-pats), Masirah is not a destination that many foreign tourists or residents think to visit due to the distance and sea crossing involved, but for those who want something a bit different during their time in Oman, I think it is well worth the journey and effort.
Turtle watching is also another incentive to go, with Masirah hosting four species of nesting turtles: Logger-heads, Greens, Olive Ridleys, and Hawksbills. It's also far less popular than Ras Al Jinz on the mainland, which means you can enjoy a more personal interaction with these beautiful animals.
Note: the route I have shown is only to point out the main roads and how to get to and from Masirah. How you plan your visit is entirely up to you :)
- Kitesurfing: The main spot for kitesurfing is in the shallow waters of Sur Masirah /
صور مصيرة Exit the road at 20°24'50.9"N 58°44'01.3"E / 20.414137, 58.733692 on the western side of the island and head directly towards the sea.
- Turtles: If you are hoping to see turtles, the best time of year to go is July to October, though please ensure you are aware of the dos and don'ts when interacting with these animals (I've made a couple of points in the 'Tips and hints' section). You need to be on the eastern side of the island.
- Leave early. The drive to the port in Shannah is roughly 5 hours from Muscat and you need to then allow a couple more hours for the crossing, especially if the sea's choppy. A 0430 departure was typical for me.
- Unlike much of Oman's north, the sea breezes make Masirah actually visitable in the summer. Winter is still the best time to go, but I have camped there in relative comfort in August.
- Check the weather before going. Due to its exposure to the Indian Ocean, the sea can get very rough around Masirah (especially on the eastern side) and the winds can be strong, which makes camping and swimming not only unpleasant but potentially dangerous.
- I don't think it's unfair to say that the safety standards on some of the older, privately operated boats are questionable, which is why it's a good idea to keep a robust buoyancy device or life jacket for each passenger in the car- just in case!
- Beach sand is soft! You should at least have some experience in off-roading, and sand driving techniques and recovery.
- Never enter a wadi (canyon) in rainy conditions (this includes the drive to the starting point), even if you believe the rain might be falling elsewhere. Sudden storms and flash floods are common during Oman's rainy season and result in a number of fatalities each year.
Tips and hints
- The fishing and snorkeling opportunities on Masirah are good.
- Do not light any fires during the turtle nesting season (July –October) and minimize the use of torches. The light disorientates hatchlings. Also, be careful where you pitch your tent, as there may be eggs beneath the sand. Avoid driving on the beaches at night and if moving your vehicle during the day, make sure you camp far back from the high tideline and have someone walk in front of you to check for nests.
Get yourself a decent playlist for the car. This is a big ol' road trip and you'll want some decent tunes.
- Please respect the local people- avoid driving too close to camels, goats, and animal enclosures.
- Please take your rubbish home.
- As of my last visit, you have the choice of making the crossing with either the National Ferries Company / Mwasalat, which you can prebook, or simply turning up mid-morning and taking your chances with one of the privately operated boats.
- The NFC ferries are a lot more comfortable, i.e. they have toilets and aircon, and operate to a timetable regardless of whether the boat is full or not.
- The private boats are cheaper and- in my opinion- a lot more fun, though trying to get your car onto one is a bit of a melee. The last time I went the price per vehicle was RO 10 (cash only)
Getting to Shannah port:
- From Muscat, take Sultan Qaboos Street or the Muscat Expressway to join Highway 15 by the Rusayl Industrial Estate in the direction of Nizwa.
- After 27 km, at Bidbid, take the junction by the Shell petrol station on your right and turn onto Highway 23.
- Continue for 64.2 km then turn right onto Highway 27 by the Shell petrol station in Nabah (22°54'45.2"N 58°15'50.7"E / 22.912565, 58.264074).
- After a further 65 km take the third exit at the roundabout in Sinaw to continue along Highway 27 (signposted Duqm). This will then turn into Highway 32.
- Continue for a further 194 km (the road starts to get very boring at this point!) until you reach Mahoot and take the third exit at the roundabout.
- Continue for 61.6 km in the direction of Shannah. You will see signage for the port and should turn right at this point.
- Continue for 14.8 km until you reach the port. You will pass the salt flats on the right, which are worth a photo or two.
The return journey can be the way you came, but I would sometimes, drive up the coast (direction Al Ashkharah) to join up with the road in Sur, which is longer, but more interesting, as it takes you alongside the Wahiba / Sharqiyah Sands desert.
ParkingYou can park anywhere and everywhere and entirely for free : )
For your vehicle:
- Kinetic recovery rope and soft shackles (if you plan to drive on the beaches)
- Sand boards and shovel (as above)
- Jumper/booster cables appropriate to the vehicle (though a spare battery is also useful)
- Tyre bleeder, pressure gauge, and compressor
- Spare tyre, plug/repair kit, wrench, and either a scissor or bottle jack with sand plate
- ENOUGH FUEL- There are petrol stations in Hilf and on the drive to Shannah, but there are occasions- especially during national holidays- where fuel deliveries are not always guaranteed. For this reason, I recommend you keep 2x 20-litre / 4.5-gallon cans in your vehicle.
- Tools, safety gloves, and lubricants.
- Navigation equipment/downloads of the route
- Charging devices
- ENOUGH WATER FOR YOU, OTHERS, AND IF REQUIRED, YOUR VEHICLE! In case your vehicle breaks down
- A comprehensive first aid kit plus a sting kit
- Emergency contact numbers and details
- Sun protection - hat, suncream, sunglasses
- Torches and batteries
- Tent (if you are not sleeping in your vehicle) and sleeping bag
- Stove and cooking equipment
- Food and snacks
- Toilet paper