Muscat tours include turtle watching and spotting dolphins

Two Unexpected Tours in Oman: Dolphins and Turtles

The #1 spot in the brochures in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Muscat Oman offered dolphin watching off the coast of Muscat and an overnight tour to Sur via Wadi Shab to Ras Al Jinz in the south east of the country to watch the rare nesting grounds of the Giant Green Turtles. Who would have thought?

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When thinking about Oman, images of camels crossing the desert, of date palm oasis, steep mountains cut through by dried out wadies or the trade mark round towers of one of the 250 castles dotting the coastline and the interior floated before my mind's eye.

I saw myself swimming in the blue waters of the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea and getting a tan at the lovely white beaches. Hunting for silver bracelets and fingering the colorful fabrics of the souk in Muscat was on my mental agenda as well as a sunset trip on one of the traditional dhows.

We had arrived at 6am to temperatures in the high 90s and humidity which enveloped us like a warm, damp blanket, but as we both thrive on heat and only had five days, we couldn't wait to get under way. The dolphin tour on offer conveniently started at 10am, so after a quick shower and change of clothes we waited in the lobby for our pick up. On the dot, a fairy tale vision in sparkling white dish-dash complete with perfumed tassel at the neck and elaborately folded Omani headdress, appeared to drive us to Muscat's Bander Ar Rawda Marina where a small Chris Craft was waiting. The drive took us through most of the elegant, sprawling city which Muscat has become since 1970 (and we couldn't wait to explore more during the next days). But, for now, the dolphin were waiting.

We visited in August and at the end of Ramadan, the Holy Month of the Muslim world, which meant the highest temperatures of the year but also very few visitors and much, much lower prices. A few excited souls boarded the craft, with a jolly fisherman at the helm. As we left port, the breath-taking coastline of Muscat unfolded before our eyes. White marble, alternating with black granite and tiny sand beaches in between.

A few miles out, we passed a fisherman who proudly showed off his latest catch: a giant swordfish which filled his entire boat. Then, the captain put the engine in idle and, all of a sudden, there they were: literally hundreds of dolphins, swimming in groups around and under our boat, jumping up and somersaulting. I have seen dolphins in several parts of the world before, but never so many in one place.

Omani dolphins are rather small, but the liveliest I have ever had the pleasure to watch. They couldn't stop jumping and frolicking and we couldn't stop laughing at their antics. The waters around Muscat are populated by no less than 11 different species of dolphins, among them the Indian Ocean dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, spinner dolphin and long beaked common dolphin. The captain, being an expert, pointed out the different species to us, but we had no trouble identifying the spinner dolphin: they were the ones which gave us the most pleasure with their leaps and twists. Spinner dolphins can throw themselves out of the water up to 9ft and then twist around themselves up to 7 times before plunging back into the water. They never seem to tire.

On the way back we saw dark patches in the water which seemed to boil. What were they? Again, the knowledgeable captain explained: These are shoals of sardines. Dolphins like to eat them, so where you see these dark patches in the water you know that dolphins are not far away. This trip was not only extremely enjoyable but also educational.

Green turtles in Ras Al Jinz

Following the wide modern motorway we arrived at Sur, located at approximately 93 miles from Muscat, close to the most eastern point of Oman. The city was an important centre of Oman's sea trade during many centuries and still is famous for its ship building, most notably the traditional wooden dhows. We had time to admire one of the still operating ship yards and then proceeded through Wadi Shab to Ras Al Jinz. We were impressed with the ragged coastline and the wide white beaches, nesting home to the Giant Green Turtle.

Oman is home to the giant Greenback turtle, the Olive Ridley turtle and the Hawksbill turtle. We were lucky to visit in August because the nesting period lasts from July to October. The largest species, the one we were watching, is the Greenback turtle, which is also the fastest swimmer. The hull of a grown turtle can reach 3ft. The male never leaves the water and the females only do so to lay their eggs. For this purpose, they drag themselves up above the waterline on their front flippers, leaving giant "tyremarks" in the soft sand. Then they start digging the nesting pit, deep enough to lay the eggs and wide enough to move around in, then cover the nest with sand.

Turtles nest on about 250 beaches in Oman, but only a few are open to the public to watch because the Sultanate is very keen on protecting the endangered species.

Our tour included an overnight stay in one of the 14 rooms of the Turtle Visitor Center. But, the true adventure begins at night. You are not allowed to venture out on your own so as not to disturb the turtles. Again we were a very small group which, lead by an extremely knowledgeable guide from the center, crept out at midnight, slowing making our way across the sand and watching these unique, prehistoric creatures come to life. Digging their holes, breeding their eggs and seeing the young ones make their first steps towards the water. Not surprisingly, photography is not allowed.

The next day, back in Muscat we decided on the spot that on our next trip to Oman we would take a longer two day tour and definitely watch the turtles again. We would also include another, even bigger turtle nesting ground on the island Masirah further south.

Dolphins and turtles, two nature experiences not to be missed on a trip to Oman.

If You Go

Oman is hot year around, but the hottest months are July and August. Although the best time to visit is from October to March, the prices are much higher than during off season. Most nationalities can obtain a visitor's visa at the airport. Cost depends on the length of the stay, the shortest being 10 days at a cost of 5 OMR. Bear in mind, that Oman is a deeply religious country. Although women need not cover their head unless they visit a mosque, shoulders and upper arms need to be covered in public and pants and skirts need to be at least calf length. Men should wear shirts and at least Bermuda shorts.

If you visit during Ramadan, absolutely no eating, drinking or smoking is allowed in public, whether you are a local or a tourist. Public transport in Muscat is practically non existent. Hotels offer shuttles to the Ruwi Shopping center and the Muttrah souk and you can walk from there. Otherwise, taxis are plentiful.

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Born in Germany,Inka Piegsa-Quischotte has lived and worked as an international attorney in Spain, Switzerland and the UK for many years. Two years ago she turned novelist and travel writer and now lives between Miami and Istanbul as basis for her many journeys either West or East. Her articles have been published in GoNomad, The Expeditioner, Literary Traveler, Travel with a Challenge, Europe up Close, Neos Kosmos newspaper, Lighthouse Digest and In The Know Traveler among others.

Photo: Turtle nesting at Ras al-Jinz, Oman - Andries Oudshoorn- wikimedia common license.

Updated: August 23, 2016

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