Nomad Cruising To The Fjords Of Arabia

Did you know Oman has fjords?

For that matter, do you know anything about Oman?

Most people probably know Oman is a country located on the Arabian Peninsula. Most people probably aren’t aware that Oman was once a powerful empire that stretched all the way to Zanzibar, an island off the east coast of Africa that for a time actually served as the Omani capital.

The former home of the Sultan… in Zanzibar

Nowadays the empire is no more. But the country is still officially the Sultanate of Oman with a sultan serving as the absolute monarch (more on that later). And while Oman no longer stretches across the Indian Ocean, it still has a pair of exclaves on the Arabian Peninsula, one of which stretches all the way to the Strait of Hormuz. 

Bear with me. The geography gets a bit confusing. By the end of this post, we’ll be weaving our way in and out, back and forth between Oman and the UAE. But trust me, it’s worth it. Because, yes, the desert really has fjords. 

Back aboard the Nomad Cruise

To provide a little twist to this Middle Eastern trip, I opted not to fly into the Arabian Peninsula. Rather, my voyage to Oman was itself a cruise. A Nomad Cruise, to be more specific. 

You may recall the Nomad Cruise I previously took across the Atlantic. This was pretty much the same routine. But this Nomad Cruise had a much more interesting route, one that traversed Middle Eastern waters and waterways.

Nomad Cruise with a Middle Eastern feel

Would we run into pirates off the coast of Somalia? Would we come under fire off the coast of Yemen? Or would we be set on fire in the Strait of Hormuz? 

Needless to say, this route was a bit more dicey than sailing from Barcelona to Brazil by way of Cape Verde.

The route

In all honesty, this Nomad Cruise route was much scarier on paper than at sea. 

We started in Athens; made our way out of the Mediterranean and into the Red Sea via the Suez Canal; circled around the Sinai Peninsula via the gulfs of Suez and Aqaba; sailed the length of the Red Sea; crossed the Gulf of Aden; sailed the Arabian Sea; wrapped our way around the Arabian Peninsula via the Gulf of Oman and Strait of Hormuz; and finally docked on the coast of the Persian Gulf in Dubai. 

There were some stops along the way. 🙂

A bit about this cruise

On this Nomad Cruise I was again traveling on a Pullmantur Sovereign. If you forgot, Pullmantur Cruises is a big Spanish cruise line. 

Unlike last time, I didn’t get a suite. But I did get a deluxe cabin with a balcony. Having the balcony was very nice. Once we crossed the Suez Canal and entered the Red Sea, the temperatures were pleasant for the rest of the voyage. 

Home for 17 days. At least is has a balcony.

The food was also pretty tasty. And I again made a practice of skipping all of the Nomad Cruise talks and workshops, except for mine, but again playing chess in the disco at 3 am and at times after-partying until 5 am.

3 am chess

On this voyage, I was traveling with about 250 nomads aboard a ship carrying about 2,000 people. There were many tourists from Spain, as well as from Germany, aboard the ship.

Setting sail

Setting sail from the Port of Piraeus

We departed the Port of Piraeus in Athens and set sail through the Aegean Sea, headed for Greece’s largest island, Crete. Upon reaching Crete, our first stop, we got off the Pullmantur and I rented a convertible. 

The Crete convertible

I drove around the island with a couple nomads, exploring Crete and its landscape. At one point we headed up into the mountains and visited a colorful cave, where according to some legend Zeus was born.

While on Crete, I met up with a local fan of mine, a Greek man who lives in Heraklion, the Cretan capital. We explored more of the island with him, and he invited us to his home village in the mountains where we enjoyed a nice lunch. 

Cretan cuisine

After spending a few hours on land, it was time to return to sea. From Crete, we crossed the Mediterranean to the Egyptian coast and the entrance to the Suez Canal. 

Crossing the Suez Canal

The Suez Canal

The Suez Canal isn’t so wide, or so it seemed. It felt like we were traveling on a big ship in a small canal. Still it was a fun part of the journey. I took a lot of photos. 

For those who aren’t aware, the Suez Canal was constructed in the mid 19th Century to make the voyage between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans faster and easier. A century later, it was closed for an 8-year period as a result of the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars of 1967 and 1973. We passed through the Bitter Lakes, where cargo ships were stuck for those 8 years. 

Bitter Lakes arrival

Near the southern end of the canal, we passed by the Egyptian port city of Suez. There is also a Gulf of Suez, in addition to a city of Suez and of course the canal. The city of Suez basically lies where the canal connects to the Gulf and hence the Red Sea. The Gulf of Suez is part of the Red Sea. 

Suez, Egypt

At its northern end, the Red Sea splits into two, forming the Gulf of Suez on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gulf of Aqaba on the the eastern side. It was time to sail both because we were on a:

Detour to Petra


Essentially four countries connect at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, they being Egypt, Israel Jordan and Saudi Arabia. And two cities lie at the northern end of the gulf, they being Eilat, Israel and Aqaba, Jordan.

View of Eilat

We didn’t have plans to lounge on the beach at a resort in Eilat. After making our way up through the Gulf of Aqaba we skipped Eilat and Israel altogether. Though we could easily see Eilat form Aqaba.

At this point in the trip the destination was the ancient Jordanian wonder of Petra. To reach Petra, you need to go a ways inland thought the Jordanian desert. We took a day trip, leaving us about three hours to explore this ancient wonder. 

Entering Petra

Petra is a city carved into stone that lies in a basin surrounded by mountains. It’s located in an area that has been inhabited for 9,000 years. Petra was the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom in an era in which it became a trading hub. The Romans then conquered it.

Treasury selfie

Nowadays, Petra, and particularly its amazingly preserved Treasury, are famous for scenes in films like Indiana Jones being shot there.

My new empire 🙂

I set out to explore Petra on my own, discovering lots of hidden places. As you can see the city is full of incredible remains — not just the Treasury. 

Not bad for a stone carving

I really preferred exploring Petra and its rocks, hills and caves by myself — rather than being stuck at the slow pace of 250 other nomads.

The backdrop of the Petra Theater

In the evening we returned to the ship in Aqaba and set sail south on the Red Sea.

Partying through pirate territory 

Following Petra we had 5 days at sea before we would reach Oman. Before we set sail, we were joined by new company.

A security team from the UK armed with lots of weapons boarded our ship. It was there job to protect us from pirates. 

The concern wasn’t running into pirates in the Red Sea. Rather, we needed to be on high alert after making our way out of the Red Sea and into the Gulf of Aden, where we would pass by Somalia along the Horn of Africa. 

Why it’s called the Red Sea 🙂

Initially, we were warned that when passing through pirate territory, everything on the deck of the ship would be closed after sunset. So things seemed kind of serious.

Sun setting over Djibouti as we crossed the Bab-el-Mandeb, the strait separating Djibouti and Africa from Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula

I thought after failing to see any pirates while in Mogadishu, Somalia, I might now run into some out at sea. 

But that wasn’t the case. In the Gulf of Aden, we saw lots of small fishing boats at night, some of which came close to our ship. But no one attacked us or attempted to commandeer the Sovereign, as I had been hoping for. 😉

In fact, we weren’t even forced to stay inside. The deck and the outdoor bar always remained open. So we could party our way through pirate territory. 

Yo ho, a party life for me.

Arriving in Oman in the wrong season

Oman arrival: The Port of Salalah

After making our way around Yemen — and seeing some islands but no civil war — we finally reached Oman.

The first stop in Oman was Salalah. Salalah is located along the Arabian Sea in southwest Oman close to Yemen. It is Oman’s second largest city, behind Muscat, the capital.

Salalah Beach

Despite having a fairly pristine beach, Salalah wasn’t so exciting for us to visit. That’s because we weren’t there in season.

Wrong time of year

The season to visit Salalah is June to September. That’s when they have the Khareef, which is a monsoon that comes in from around India and brings a lot of rain and moisture to the region. This turns a mountain range around Salalah completely green. That attracts visitors, many of whom come to an annual Khareef festival in Salalah. 

We arrived in December. Salalah was dry, and the mountain range wasn’t green, but it was still impressive to see. 

After we docked, I chartered a taxi with four fellow nomads. The taxi driver first took us to the old bazaar where we got to see and smell Salalah’s top export, frankincense.

Oman and especially Salalah are widely known for their frankincense trees.

We then made a stop at the nearby beach, followed by a shop that sold coconut water. I enjoyed my Islamic version of a Coco Loco. 🙂

Coco Loco of Arabia

We paid a visit to a mosque, where I got to see nomad girls in hijabs for the first time. While in town, I also ate McDonald’s for the first time in 3 months.

First Nomad Cruise mosque visit

After seeing the sights in Salalah, we drove up into the mountains to a waterfall. Unfortunately, there was only a little water flowing. But in season, there’s a lot of water and it’s something worth seeing. We also checked out some caves and some of the many camels in the area before returning to the ship.


From Salalah, there were another 2 nights at sea to reach Muscat. We were already about 12 nights into the 17-day voyage at this point.

Arriving in the capital

In Muscat, I again went on a city tour with some friends. The first stop was the large Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a pretty building with colorful shrubs in front of it. We then visited the national opera, a shopping center and of course the beach.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

We then drove across the city to Old Muscat, passing a beautiful coastline and luxury hotels along the way.

Coast of luxury

Some of the luxury hotels are nestled in the mountains, kind of like the old city. 

Old Muscat

The Omani sultan’s Al Alam Palace sits along the waterfront in the old town.

Al Alam Palace (right)

We also visited some old mosques. The area is very beautiful, and there were yacht marinas under construction. It gave the impression that things are happening in Oman.

Muscat’s a happening place

Actually, we were some of the final tourists to visit Oman during the rule of its then-sultan. In January 2020, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said died. He had ruled Oman for approximately 50 years, starting in 1970, when he overthrew his father in a coup supported by the British. At the time of our visit, Qaboos bin Said was the longest serving leader in both the Arab world and Middle East.

Exclave-Enclave border hopping

It wasn’t just far off Zanzibar that was once part of Oman. Imperial Oman once controlled the territory on which the Emirates now lie. The area later became part of a British protectorate prior to the Emirates gaining independence in 1971. 

From Muscat, we sailed much of the Gulf of Oman before reaching our first Emirati destination, Khor Fakkan. 

Khor Fakkan is a city on the east coast of the UAE along the Gulf of Oman. It is part of the Emirate of Sharjah, even though it is surrounded by the Emirate of Fujairah, making it an exclave of Sharjah. 

Khor Fakkan

That may sound confusing enough, but the border hopping was just about to begin. Rather than spending a beach day with nomads, I chartered a taxi in Khor Fakkan to pick me up and take me on a special tour. 

Khor Fakkan borders Madha, an Omani exclave. In addition to being an Omani exclave, Madha is an enclave within the UAE. And in addition to that, there is an enclave within Madha that is an Emirati exclave. This area is called Nahwa.

You may be wondering… what even is the term for an enclave within an enclave? 

It’s a second-order enclave, aka a counter-enclave. There aren’t many of these in the world.

But I was determined to see one, and Nahwa represented my big chance.

Despite all the complications on paper, believe it or not, there are no boded controls. From Khor Fakkan, you drive right in Madha (Oman). As you’re driving through Madha your phone switches to an Omani network. After a couple of kilometers, you start driving a scenic mountain road. Then you enter Nahwa (UAE), where everything switches back and the infrastructure becomes better and the area has a wealthier feel. 

Entering Nahwa, reentering the UAE

We drove around a lot, appreciating the scenery, which consisted of beautiful mountains with a surprising amount of greenery and palm trees. The area gets a decent amount of rain. 

Mountainous Nahwa

We traveled on a newly built road that Google Maps didn’t even know existed. It was a beautiful drive. 

Within the second-order enclave, we stopped at a rare Emirati freshwater lake. There was a big dam with quite a lot of water in it. Many families were playing there. Kids were feeding ducks.

A rare freshwater lake in the Emirates

We basically covered every corner of Nahwa and Madha before heading back to Khor Fakkan.

Upon returning to the Emirati city, I went to the beach where most of the nomad were, or at least had been. Many female nomads ran into problems at the beach.

Sharjah is the most conservative emirate in the UAE. The nomad girls were wearing bikinis on the beach. As you might imagine, some people took offense to that.

Burkini or bust

I returned from my exclave/enclave hopping to find some of the girls from the cruise had been ordered to put on more clothes and were kicked off the beach.

Nonetheless, we salvaged the rest of our Khor Fakkan stay finding someone with a boat who agreed to take us to a nearby island.

This island is called Shark Island. It’s just a short boat ride away from Khor Fakkan’s harbor — basically a 50-meter channel separates the two.

Shark Island

After we arrived at Shark Island, I went for a swim. No, this wasn’t like the Cage of Death in Australia. Actually, there was no cage this time. But there weren’t any sharks or Jaws-like crocodiles either.

I did have to be careful, though, because there were heaps of sea urchins, which can be very painful to bump into.

We mostly stayed on the island and did some exploring. One German friend of mine climbed a big hill on Shark Island. I didn’t.

Pretty quickly it was time to head back to the Sovereign and board the ship for the final leg of the voyage.

Sailing by Musandam

Upon departing Khor Fakkan, we had two nights left at sea but less than a day until reaching our final destination of Dubai. We just needed to sail around the Musandam Peninsula and through the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway that separates the northeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula from Iran and serves as the only passage from the Persian Gulf to the open seas. The Strait of Hormuz is a very strategic choke point and it’s been the site of recent tensions between the U.S. and Iran, as well as place where oil tankers have been attacked.

Once making it through the Strait of Hormuz we’d be approaching Dubai, where we would have one day to spend in town before wrapping up the Nomad Cruise.

Crossing the Strait of Hormuz

While our passage through the Strait of Hormuz was uneventful, for my sake at least, Musandam was not to be overlooked. My fellow nomads might not be stopping there, but I would be. That’s because Musandam is the home of the fjords of Arabia, aka the Norway of the Arabia. 

What is Musandam, you might ask.

Well go figure… it’s another exclave. 

It’s an Omani exclave that forms a peninsula that juts into the Strait of Hormuz. It also forms the northeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Musandam shares a land border with the UAE and is otherwise surrounded by the Gulf of Oman, Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. 

Plus it’s home to rare fjords, which I would explore… but not before wrapping up the Nomad Cruise.

My aerial tour of Dubai

Dubai Marina

We arrived in Dubai. At last, the Sovereign had reached its final destination. We nomads were left with a full day to explore Dubai before returning to the ship for one last night. 

The AnCap life

I opted to explore Dubai in style… in a helicopter. 

My helicopter ride lasted nearly 45 minutes. We flew over parts of Dubai I didn’t even know existed.

The Palm

I saw pretty much all there is to see in Dubai from above — the Dubai Marina, the Palm Islands, the World Islands and island pools I didn’t know existed.

The World – 300 artificial islands forming a world map that’s hard to make out from this angle. The vast majority of the islands are still undeveloped.

I saw the Atlantis Hotel, the new Royal Atlantis, which was still under construction, and the new Ain Dubai — the world’s largest Ferris wheel and the London Eye of Dubai.

Old and New Atlantis

The helicopter also flew all around the central business district. I snapped a bunch of photos of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. We also flew right by one of the world’s tallest hotels, the floating Burj Al Arab. 

Burj Al Arab

I even got to see a bit of desert to go along with the city. It was very enjoyable to see Dubai from the air. 

The world’s tallest building

Upon landing, I took a quick trip to the Dubai Mall at Burj Khalifa and had a glance at the aquarium before buying some new clothes. 

Goodbye nomads

That evening, back aboard the Sovereign, we had a goodbye party. I didn’t get any sleep, but in the morning, I felt quite happy and special as I was disembarking from my second completed Nomad Cruise. 

Off to the Norway of Arabia 

A driver picked me up at a meeting point, and we headed out of Dubai. The drive to Musandam was nice because I got to cross through emirates I had never been in before. 

We drove through the emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah. We actually had to driver all around Ras Al Khaimah for an hour in order to pick up some family that was going on holiday in Musandam. Ras Al Khaimah is beautiful, and it’s an emirate in which you can live in single-family houses or villas. 

Minus the detour, the drive from Dubai to the Omani border at Musandam is about 3 hours. 

Upon reaching the border, it’s not like entering Madha. You actually have to stamp out of the UAE and into Oman. 

Then once you enter Oman, you follow a coastal road that travels along mountains and fjords. It’s an impressive introduction to Musandam. You quickly see how Musandam is a very rocky part of the Arabian Peninsula.

Khasab Castle

The road leads you to the city of Khasab, which is about an hour’s drive from the border. Khasab is the main town and regional center of the exclave. 

My tour of Musandam kicked off in Khasab. It was supposed to be a Jeep tour. But unfortunately, there had just been a large rainfall in Musandam, and a lot of the streets were completely washed out. 

This is the Middle East?

Nonetheless, we set out deep into the valleys and up into the mountains of Musandam.

4x4ing into the mountains

My guide briefed me that it probably would’t be possible to navigate certain roads. We managed to drive over some that were in very bad shape, but eventually we hit an area where the roads were completely washed out and had giant potholes a meter or two deep. Even a tank would have troubles crossing.


At this point, we turned back. But my guide showed me another part of Musandam, where there is a lovely bay. We drove up a mountain to an overlook of one of the fjords. It was a great view: 

We then drove down to this bay, where there were a lot of fishermen. I just relaxed, watching the fishermen and enjoying the surroundings. 

Fjord level

This made for a pleasant first venture in Musandam. After getting a tasted of the exotic peninsula, we headed to my hotel, a nice resort, and I got some much needed rest. After taking a nap, I ate a tasty dinner and then called it a night to prepare for my big boat trip the next day.

The dhow cruise

Do you remember my visit to a beautiful Indian Ocean archipelago in Mozambique? If you do, then the word dhow might ring a bell.

As a reminder, dhows are boats commonly found in the Indian Ocean and Arab world that often have triangular sails. Some are very old-fashioned. Other dhows are actually motorboats. 

It was interesting timing for me to be boarding a dhow. I had just spent more than 2 weeks on a huge cruise ship. And now in Musandam I was running into more cruises.

Dhow vs. cruise

But when sailing the fjords of Arabia, the dhow is the way. 😉 Even if you come in by cruise, you board a dhow to cruise the fjords.

Luckily, on my big day of sailing the fjords of Arabia I was on a dhow with regular visitors, isolated from the tourists hordes disembarking the cruises.

Our tour began. We sailed all along the main, large fjord. To my surprise, there were lots and lots of dolphins. They were jumping right next to our boat.

Dolphin waters

Twice we made snorkeling stops. The corals weren’t the nicest, but there were a lot of fish to see.

We also hopped into kayaks at one point and had a little paddling party with music blasting from our dhow.

The scenery was really magnificent. I understand why Musandam is called the Norway of Arabia. It looks quite similar to Norway. It’s just missing the snow.


After a relaxing day of sailing, snorkeling and kayaking the fjords of Arabia, I returned to my resort, ate dinner and wrapped up my stay in this exotic exclave.

This wasn’t the end of my Arabian Peninsula stay, though. I’d be returning to the UAE for extended time in Dubai, followed by my first visits to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Oman impressions

I must say Oman left a strong first impression on me. The country has a certain flavor to it, and I like it. I might return at some point.

Out of everywhere I sailed and hovered on this extended Nomad Cruise voyage — including the famous Suez Canal and the Dubai skyline — it was my time in Oman that was most memorable.

So now you know there are fjords in the Middle East and they require a little border hopping to be reached. Don’t be deterred. Let the dhow be the way for you to embark on your next fjord cruise.