How to get tickets for the National Ferries Company

The NFC ferry to Masirah Island

We recently returned from a trip to Masirah Island, and the most difficult part of the trip was getting the ferry tickets with the National Ferries Company (NFC). Today I am here to explain exactly how to make a reservation, pay, and, importantly, actually get the ferry tickets with step-by-step instructions so you don’t make the same mistakes we did!

NFC ferries are labeled with the destination on the side

It’s a catamaran ferry!

I will make one caveat: maybe there’s an easier way (and I’m missing something huge). If there is, we are completely unaware of it. However, if you follow these instructions, it should be a relatively painless process.

  1. Email reservation@nfc.om with the ferry dates and times you want, round-trip. Ferry schedules can be found here. Attach copies of the front and back of your vehicle registration license and copies of the passport biodata page for each traveler. Also give them your phone number. They responded to my email quickly, giving us the reservation the following day.
  2. Print a copy of the reservation and go to the office in Muttrah (by the flour factory) to pay. You must pay in advance of the trip.
  3. Now you are ready to drive to the ferry dock, with your payment and reservation confirmation in-hand. When driving to Shannah port, you have to turn right to drive down the long narrow jetty to the pier. Rather than turning right, turn left first to go to the National Ferries Company office to get your actual tickets. This should not take long. [Side note: ferries usually start boarding about 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time and I’ll tell you now that there is not a lot to do at the dock other than take photos and roast in the sun.]
  4. Board the ferry and give your tickets to the NFC employee. Make sure you keep your reservation and payment confirmation papers.
  5. When you are ready to board the ferry to come back from your trip, once again you need to get the actual tickets. On Masirah Island, the NFC office has clear signage and is almost directly across from the ferry dock.

You have to get camels to the island somehow…

Overall, we were really impressed with the NFC ferries. They were good-sized catamaran ferries with separate air-conditioned cabins (with clean bathrooms!) for families and men. M had a blast running around in the cabin with all the little Omani kids. The sun deck is bare-bones, and has no shaded areas and only benches to sit on. And the thin cables under the railing weren’t enough to keep me from worrying about M falling overboard.

The roof deck

I’d definitely rather take the NFC ferry than any of the other options! “Safety first,” indeed.

Some of the other Masirah ferry options available

SAFETY FIRST

You couldn’t pay me enough to get on this boat

 

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Tips and Tricks for Wadi Shab

View along the Wadi Shab hiking path

Wadi Shab is, by far, the most popular wadi for tourists to hike when they come to Oman. It’s less than 2 hours from Muscat, there’s a well-marked path, and the first third is basically flat. All of the basic wadi-hike guidelines apply to Wadi Shab: bring water, sunscreen, snacks, and a lifejacket if you plan on getting in the water but can’t swim.

One of the pools you have to swim through to get to the cave

Wadi Shab isn’t complicated, and we’ve hiked it  numerous times, sometimes with M, sometimes without. Some of the trips there have been more successful and/or enjoyable than others, and here are some tips and tricks that will help you make the most out of your Wadi Shab trip excursion!

  • Go to Bimmah Sinkhole first. It’s so close-by you might as well visit, and I always enjoy it, plus it’s free. Some people think it’s a let-down but I think they’re just no fun. If you save it for afterwards you might be too tired or in too much of a hurry to get back to Muscat and you  might not stop.
  • Do not go on a weekend or an Omani holiday. It will be packed.
  • Don’t go right after a lot of rain. The wadi will contain more water than normal and you won’t be able to easily (or safely) get into the cave at the end. Also the water won’t be as clear and blue because of all the extra sediment.

    We hiked Wadi Shab in October 2018 and this area, which is generally mostly dry, was completely flooded.

    Do you see the white bird?

  • Wear shoes that you can wear in the water and on land. I always wear Chacos, but Tevas, Keens, etc all work well too. You do not want to make the trip to the cave in the back barefoot.
  • When the hike turns to the left and you see a long pool full of people relaxing and picnicking, stop hiking. This is basically where the hike ends, and from here you swim and scramble over rocks to get to the cave.
  • Slide over the rocks on your butt when they get slippery. I have seen numerous people fall on the slippery rocks between the pools by the cave. It might look silly, but if you’re already on your butt and you hit a slippery spot, you don’t have too far to go. This is especially  helpful when coming out of the cave and heading back to the main pool.

    The cave with the waterfall at the end of Wadi Shab

    Squeezing out of the tiny narrow opening from the cave

  • Bring at least one large waterproof bag. When you reach the part where you have to start swimming, transfer all valuables and anything else you can’t stand to lose into the waterproof bag and then just stash your backpacks and camel backs.
  • Bring a carrier for children three years old and under. This hike is definitely possible with little kids, and I’ve seen a strong two-year old complete 90% of it on her own. When we take M we always carry him in a pack, and if he wants to hike it, fine, but it’s always good to have the option to easily carry him. If your kids are experienced careful hikers, they’ll have no problems with Wadi Shab.
  • If you’re not a relatively strong swimmer don’t go to the cave without a life jacket. There’s nowhere to rest and you have to tread water the entire time.

Even though I’ve been a number of times, I enjoy Wadi Shab and each time I notice something new. The beauty of Oman never ceases to amaze me!

Time to swim!

More beautiful views along the trail

Snapshots: Muqil Pools at Wadi Bani Khalid

The first large pool at Muqil Pools

First, a housekeeping note. I’m introducing a new series of posts on the blog called “snapshots” (super inventive, I know). There are lots of neat things do to in Oman that don’t require a lot of explanation, or, even though I enjoy them, I simply don’t have much to say. But what I do have is lots of neat photos! First up is the Muqil Pools at the northern end of Wadi Bani Khalid.

Swimming in the crystal blue pools further up the wadi

The best way to finish off a desert glamping trip is with a stop at the Muqil Pools. It’s about an hour away from the major desert camps in the Wahiba Sands, and you can enjoy the beauty of a wadi without any of the work. You can find it easily in Waze, and then it’s just a quick walk. There’s a restaurant where you can get lunch and there are also a number of nice picnic spots.  Keep walking up the wadi to find some nice swimming spots. If you want to do a real wadi hike, Wadi Bani Khalid goes in the other direction too and is called Wadi Hayer or Hawer. OmanTripper has a good post about that. We haven’t checked it out yet, but we hope to before July!

The view of the pools, looking in the direction of the parking lot

Looking towards the parking area, from even further back in the wadi

The wadi gets a lot prettier the further in you go. There are also a lot less people.

The big pay-off: swimming in the beautiful pools all by yourself!

Let’s go to the fair! I mean, the Muscat Festival.

Omani women preparing traditional foods and coffee at the Muscat Festival

The Muscat Festival is back in town! It runs until February 9 in Al Amerat and Naseem Park (near Seeb).  We’ve only been to the Al Amerat location and it’s a lot of fun. It’s basically Oman’s county fair, and there are rides, animals, performances, vendors, fireworks, and everything else you could hope for.

There are essentially four parts to it: the heritage village (which is where we spend most of our time), the rides, the performance stages, and the exhibitor booths. The heritage village has camels, goats, Omani street food, traditional music and dancing, donkey rides, etc and is the most fun to explore. The rides are over-priced and not really suitable for toddlers.

One thing that threw me for a loop: each seated performance venue has one entrance for men and one for families. So if you’re a woman, don’t use the men-only entrance, and if you’re a dude with a family, use the family entrance. And if you’re a woman without a family, still use the family entrance (because why would you go out in public without your family?). There are also separate booths for men and women to buy entrance tickets. The lines on the women-only were nonexistent, so Nate waited with M while I bought our tickets. The tickets were super-cheap, by the way: only 200 baisa (about 50 cents) for adults and 100 baisa for kids.

There’s fried dough balls dipped in honey or chocolate, Omani crepe things, samosas and other yummy food, plus a food stand (with seating) selling biryani, corn on the cob, Omani food and shawarma in the heritage village. I think the food options there are definitely the best.

If you haven’t been yet, make sure you find time to visit the Muscat Festival by the end of the weekend!

A traditional music performance in the heritage village. The guy with the white beard is balancing a sword on his finger!

Chilling out in a traditional Omani tent

Bedouin women selling their wares. And goats.

Camels! M got to pet the one wearing the muzzle.

Every country seems to have its own version of the ubiquitous group circle dance

The men aren’t the only ones who get to dress up and perform!

There are several performance stages; this is the main one.

Mosquitoes, a half marathon, a trip to the vet and other Muscat happenings

This photo has nothing to do with anything in this blog post. I just think it’s pretty.

I’m not sure how much my readers get out of my random posts about our life here in Oman, but they are my favorites to go back and read later, full of little details and anecdotes that I’ll otherwise forget.

My public health and Oman worlds are finally colliding! Given the lack of vector-borne diseases here, I thought the “Beware of schistosomiasis” signs at the wadis in Salalah were all I’d get.  But last month a few cases of locally transmitted non-imported dengue were reported around Muscat. Now the Ministry of Health is going house-to-house distributing information on how to eliminate breeding sites and decrease the number of mosquitoes. They are also fogging and spraying around town, including in our neighborhood. One morning I stepped outside at 5:15 am to go for a run to find a cloud of chemicals sitting in our carport. My half-asleep first thought was, “Huh. I’ve never gotten to run through fog like this before! Good thing E [my running buddy] has a head-lamp.” Then I took a breath a realized it was not the nice kind of fog. Another time I was running by a construction site and I had to go through another thick chemical cloud. Luckily the other side of the street wasn’t as bad. Who knows how many years I’ve shaved off my lifespan by inhaling all those chemicals. But hey, at least all my mosquito knowledge is coming in handy!

Speaking of running, I ran my second Muscat Half Marathon a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it sucked more than any race has ever sucked before in my life. I had a super-strong training cycle, full of intervals, tempo runs and long runs at my fastest paces yet. But the temperature on race day was unseasonably high and there were only hydration stations on the half marathon course, plus I went in with tired legs. I drank all the water I was carrying in probably the first 7 miles, and I was hot and exhausted. I didn’t do myself any favors by snorkeling for 2 hours and then hikingthe Muttrah Geotrek on Wednesday, with which I followed up by hiking Wadi Shab on Thursday, the day before the race. All that activity right before the race might have been a poor choice, but I don’t regret it. My sister was visiting and I’d much rather do all those fun things (which were perfect, by the way. The snorkeling at Daymaniyat Islands has never been better and we had the crystal blue waters of Wadi Shab to ourselves. I was literally the first person into Bimmah Sinkhole that morning!) and have a sub-par race than to skip those things and potentially PR. A race is a just a run, of which there will be many more, but experiencing Oman with my sister and her fiancé only happens once.

Sunrise over the start of the Muscat Marathon races this year

Was a day spent in these waters worth a disappointing race? Definitely!

When my sister was visiting, we went to Desert Nights in the Wahiba Sands. Everyone said that Desert Nights is the best way to experience the desert in Oman, aside from actual camping, and this is 10000% correct. It’s also the most expensive glamping option available, but it is definitely worth it. I didn’t like 1000 Nights. I drafted a blog post about why it sucked, but I have yet to publish it. 1000 Nights wasn’t particularly bad, but a lot of factors came together and it was a less-than-pleasant experience. Did we have fun there with our friends? Yes. Would I stay there again? Nope. Desert Nights, on the other hand, gets an enthusiastic two thumbs up!

Sunset over the Wahiba Sands

Sunrise over the Wahiba Sands, 11 hours later

We’ve recently had our first real experience with veterinary care in Oman, and overall it was very positive and inexpensive. We’ve been lucky with Athena over the past few years because she hasn’t had any serious health problems. Somehow she made it through Dhaka without a single issue, which was great because there was like one qualified veterinarian in the whole country. Anyways, lately she’s been coughing, hacking and vomiting a lot. Like, puking at least once a day, sometimes more. We had dewormed her and we started giving her chicken and rice, in hopes that a bland diet would help. It didn’t. We took her to vet and they did a physical, ran a blood panel, and prescribed a week of gastric-acid decreasing medicine and some prescription dog food. His diagnosis was that she’s an old dog with a sensitive stomach who might be allergic to chicken. Sure enough, ever since then she’s stopped coughing and hacking and she hasn’t vomited once. Oh, and the whole bill, prescriptions and everything, was less than $200. Whew!

Things are also falling into line for our Windhoek PCS. Trainings are scheduled, home leave is getting sorted, M has preschool lined up, and Athena has her 2-month long boarding reservation in the books. I know that no matter how much we square away now, there’s always going to be a final rush to get everything done. But the idea is that the more we deal with now, piece by piece, the less we’ll be slammed at the end and we can still take our last weekends here to enjoy Oman. Time will tell on how that pans out. Until then, more adventures await!