“Act like a fish to enjoy underwater views like a fish,” says Nasser Abdullah, our boat captain and diving expert. He shares his advice while pulling up the anchor as we prepare to go offshore to explore the underwater life off the coast of Muscat. Excitedly, we buckle our life jackets and await the beauty Omani waters have to offer.
Oman is known for its extensive deserts. However, a surprise to many is that there is plenty to do and see under its waters. Seventy kilometers west of the shores of Muscat, a cluster of nine small islands makes up the Dimaniyat Islands, a nature reserve and home to diverse species of marine animals and spectacular coral reefs. When it was given protected status in 1984 under the international Great Barrier Reef project, public access to the islands was restricted, and only authorized trips were conducted. However, after the country’s economic crisis in 2015, the government boosted tourism activities to help stabilize the economy, and began allowing licenses for tours.
The government of Oman has also been making efforts to restore and preserve the marine life in the surrounding areas of Muscat, Nasser explains, after it was severely damaged by the tropical cyclone Gonu, which hit the Arabian Sea in 2007. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs of Oman has since carried out the Marine Life Preservation project under Reef Check Oman (a community-based NGO partially funded by the government) to restore coral damage.
It’s a short, 30-minute boat ride to the islands, with pristine white sand beaches and more than 22 diving sites ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving. The rich plankton and strategic position of the islands –– the coast of Oman is 60 kilometers north to the Strait of Hormuz, which links the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and serves as a main migration channel for marine animals during breeding season — attract a wide array of marine life including pelagic superstars such as whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays.
The dazzling sunlight slicing into the shallow ocean water makes the entire scene glow.
Closer to the islands, under the bright rays of sun, the turquoise-blue water becomes shallower, and you’ll get a glimpse of gigantic, colorful corals below. Soon, at a diving spot between Kharabah and Huyoot islands, the corals become more visible, and you can see them up close. Green turtles swim along with moray eels, giant kingfish, stonefish and clownfish. The dazzling sunlight slicing into the shallow ocean water makes the entire scene glow. Waves of dense seagrass cover the corals, protecting them.
What makes diving at Dimaniyat Islands special is the shallowness of the water, which offers great visibility and moderate water temperature (there’s high evaporation and low rainfall in the area). And the diversity of marine life here is the highest in the region, with almost 1,500 different species not found anywhere else in the Arabian Sea.
If sharks are more your thing, head to Um As Sakun Island, a series of underwater rocks with two larger rocks rising out to form the island. Here, divers often get to see bull, reef and tiger sharks. The best time to glimpse them in these shallow waters is during the hot summer months. We weren’t lucky enough to see them, but on the way back we saw flocks of migratory birds circling the islands, and the glorious sun dipping into the ocean in the horizon. A perfect end to the journey.
GO there: Dimaniyat Islands
- How: The 70-kilometer trip to the Dimaniyat Islands starts from Al Mouj Marina, Muscat (map). Spots can be booked with local marine tourism companies.
- Cost: A day trip costs around $70–$75, which includes transfer to and from the marina, snorkeling gear, refreshments, towels and life jackets.
- Pro tip: Camp overnight on the islands to enjoy laid-back strolling on the white sand beaches and witness the beautiful sunset views from the beach.
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