If you’ve ever wanted to check out the Oman diving sites, then don’t miss out on this review from our time spent diving in Oman!
Tucked into the south-eastern corner of the vast Arabian Peninsula, Oman is one of the Middle East’s untapped jewels: a land of sweeping sand dunes, saw-tooth mountain ranges and lush canyon oases. At first impression, it seems an unlikely diving destination.
But Oman also edges the sea for more than 3,000 kilometres, an epic coastline lapped by super-charged, nutrient-rich water feeding pristine coral reefs that are literally teeming with marine life.
As keen scuba divers, we’re always on the lookout for off-the-beaten track diving destinations, and it was this vibrant underwater world that captured our imaginations when we were planning a trip to Oman.
With limited time and a mission to get under the waves on an Oman diving adventure, we joined the crew at Extra Divers Qantab for a day of wreck and reef diving just thirty minutes south of the bustling capital, Muscat.
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Scuba Diving In The Gulf Of Oman
The Gulf of Oman, which channels waters between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, is a strait with an age-old seafaring history. Ancient boats called dhows still ply the waters here, while below the surface, an abundance of sea life bustles, from the tiniest coral dwellers and grazing sea turtles, to huge, shy whale sharks.
Sperm whales, humpbacks, blue whales, even the occasional orca pod are just some of the cetacean species that have been spotted cruising the Gulf, thrilling those lucky enough to be out on the water at the right moment. Dolphins make daily appearances.
Word is starting to get out about the thriving reefs and marine life to be found in Oman, but scuba diving is still a relatively new activity in the country. Just a handful of dive centres run daily trips to the scuba hot spots, which dot the coast from Musandam in the north to Salalah in the far south.
In the Gulf, Oman’s most popular dive destinations cluster off the coast of Muscat: the UNESCO-listed Daymaniyat Islands, rocky Fahal Island, and the Al Munassir wreck and reefs of Bandar Kharyan.
Daymaniyat Islands & Fahal Island
Many scuba divers argue that the best diving in Oman is to be found at the Daymaniyat Islands, a 90-minute boat ride from Muscat.
The World Heritage archipelago protects turtle nesting beaches, marine bird colonies, and beautiful coral gardens full of fish. Whale sharks visit the waters off the islands through summer and autumn, and divers stand a good chance of spotting the zebra shark, a smaller relative of the whale shark.
Closer to Muscat, the limestone wedge of Fahal Island, also called Shark Island, offers divers healthy soft and hard coral gardens, wrecks, a cave swim-through, and opportunities to see various species of shark resting on the sea floor.
Both Daymaniyat and Fahal were initially in our sights, but with Daymaniyat’s distance and protections requiring advance planning by dive operators, minimum numbers needed for trips, and daily dive conditions setting the agenda, our lastminute approach meant it wasn’t to be.
The takeout? If you’re determined to dive the Daymaniyat archipelago, book well ahead. For both Daymaniyat and Fahal, make sure you have extra time to deal with any changes to your dive plans caused by weather and sea conditions.
The good news, as we went on to discover, is that Daymaniyat and Fahal aren’t the only awesome dive locations off the coast of Muscat.
The best of Muscat’s nearby dive sites lie just half an hour east of the city, on the reefs and wrecks of beautiful Bandar Kharyan.
Extra Divers’ Muscat dive centre is located in the village of Qantab, close to the Shangri-La Resort, and tucked away in a sheltered bay surrounded by mustard-coloured limestone cliffs that drop away to a turquoise sea.
On arrival, we were greeted by Barbara and Damiano, the dive centre’s enthusiastic managers, before being whisked off to fill out the requisite dive forms, meet the team – a multilingual band of Omani, Italian, German and Argentinian divers and crew – and get kitted out for our day under the waves of Bandar Kharyan.
More than a dozen regular dive sites pepper the coast here, along with the country’s showcase wreck dive, the Al Munassir, and the crew at Extra Divers Qantab know each of the area’s dive sites intimately.
Geared up in the centre’s quality dive kit and ready for adventure, we were soon cruising out of the harbour aboard a dive boat with ten others, en route to the first of our three dives along this ancient coastline.
Dive 1 – Al Munassir Wreck
Our first dive of the day was Al Munassir, Oman’s premier wreck dive: a 3,000-tonne navy landing vessel deliberately scuppered by the Royal Oman Navy in 2003 to become an artificial reef.
Onboard the boat, divemasters Faisal and Ari walked us through a detailed whiteboard briefing of the site.
It’s possible to dive without a guide at any of the sites in Bandar Kharyan, and the comprehensive site, safety and navigation briefing provided ahead of each dive by the team at Extra Divers ensures divers have all the information they need to safely explore each site with their buddy.
We opted for a guide anyway to max our opportunities for searching out the local marine characters and dive site highlights.
From the surface, we followed a chain into the greenish depths until the sharp bow of the Al Munassir emerged below us.
The wreck rests on the seabed complete and upright, 84 metres long and 30 metres deep at the keel. Ahead, we could see the ship’s watchtower standing tall in a shaft of sunlight, less than ten metres from the surface.
Dense schools of snapper eddied around us as we floated slowly over the bow. Within moments, Faisal was pointing out a long, honeycomb moray eel threading its way through the rusted, coral-covered equipment on the deck.
Up close, we found the ship covered in a thick coat of sponges and corals, attracting grazing boxfish, angel fish, delicate nudibranches, and plenty of toothy morays hiding in dark corners.
Passing through a chilly thermocline to the ship’s keel, we searched out the twitching eyes and circular depressions of stingrays buried in the sand, while above us, tight schools of silvery fish dodged and weaved in the greenish light.
Before we knew it, we’d circumnavigated the entire wreck and our time was up. Back on deck we were buzzing, the sheer volume of fish life on and around the ship was a thrill, and an awesome introduction to the Oman diving experience.
Dive 2 – Mermaid Cove
A little over an hour later, we dropped into our second dive in the rocky bay of Mermaid Cove. The water here was crystal clear and 27 degrees.
On this lovely, easy dive, we explored a healthy reef of hard and soft corals bustling with fish life. Juvenile barracuda zipped by while territorial clown fish defended their pink-tipped anemone homes. Closer inspections of the reef revealed lobsters, delicate pipefish, tiny anemone shrimp, nudibranches, and eels in almost every nook.
Towards the end of the dive, we came across a grazing green sea turtle. Encounters with these shy creatures are always exciting, and with Oman being one of the world’s turtle nesting epicentres, the prospects of seeing one on a dive are high.
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 along this stretch of coast to lay their own eggs.
Only a fraction of the hatchlings survive the arduous journey from egg to adulthood though, and – with other pressures also threatening marine turtle populations globally – these docile animals are today at risk of disappearing, making a chance sighting like this one even more special.
Dive 3 – Seahorse Bay
Oman’s vibrant underwater world owes much to the sea’s nutrient-rich plankton soup, which attracts creatures right up the food chain. For Oman diving, that means an abundance of sea life to get excited about, but it can also mean highly changeable visibility.
With two awesome dives under our weight belt, our third dive of the day was a case in point.
Under a scorching afternoon sun, we back-rolled off the boat into the clear, warm water of Seahorse Bay. As we finned away along the rocky reef, the water started to cloud and within seconds we were swimming through a thick haze, with visibility just a couple of metres.
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 action on the reef right in front of you.
It was there in Seahorse Bay too, by the bucketload.
Keeping each other close and our guide Damiano in sight, we spent the next hour peering under rocks at countless moray eels, spying tiny anemone shrimp, colourful nudibranches and flighty blennies, all the while facing off against belligerent clown fish.
Throughout the entire dive, clouds of schooling fish billowed around our small group, while the loud crackling soundtrack of the reef accompanied us.
In the rocky shallows towards the end of the dive, with the visibility clearing, Damiano tapped his tank. Within moments, a dozen lightning fast shots of grey darted past: baby black-tip reef sharks, sleek and beautiful with dark racing stripes down their flanks. With a flick of their tails, they disappeared into the depths, a thrilling finale to our last dive of the day.
A Sea Of Surprises
Back on shore, with the heat finally dipping, we swapped excited sightings with other divers as we washed our gear. Our day of diving at Bandar Kharyan had offered us a tantalising 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 Extra Divers Qantab, with their professional, well organised, safety-first approach.
For us, diving in Oman was both unexpected and unpredictable; chilled one dive and challenging the next. It’s a place where no dive is ever the same, no two underwater experiences alike. Damiano captured it perfectly as we said our farewells: “it’s a sea of surprises.”
Best Season For Oman Diving
Diving is possible year-round along the Gulf of Oman. In the south however, a monsoon season – locally called the ‘khareef’ – affects the region from around June to September, with no diving off Salalah during this period.
Taking various factors into account, like the scorching 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.
[box] We discovered Oman’s underwater world in collaboration with Extra Divers Qantab. All thoughts, opinions and clown fish stand-offs are our own.[/box]