A trip to the Oman Aquarium

The coral reef exhibit at the Oman Aquarium

Recently the Mall of Muscat opened in Seeb, and it contains the Oman Aquarium, which is supposedly the largest aquarium in the Middle East.

A few weeks after its opening, M and I decided to go check it out! It’s nice to have something new indoors to do close to Muscat, especially with the heat of the summer months upon us.

So many sharks!

In a nutshell: I’m glad we went, but it’s not worth visiting more than once.

The aquarium does a good job of showing the indigenous fish and creatures that you’ll see in different habitats in Oman. You’ll see a lot of the same animals in the exhibits that you’ll see in the mangrove swamps, reefs, and wadis throughout the country.

Sea life in a traditional Omani village

Getting up close and personal with turtles (in what may have been a Daymaniyat Islands exhibit? I don’t know. There were no signs)

Black-tipped reef sharks and sting rays in another interesting, but un-explained, exhibit

There’s also a neat shallow reef area with sea cucumbers and starfish, were you can put your hands in and touch everything. There was even a hand washing station next to it. It reminded me of that scene from “Finding Dory.” “Hands! Hands!”

The penguin exhibit was also pretty cool, and M was really excited about it. He also loved the few jellyfish exhibits. They even had the same jellyfish we saw in Musandam!

Penguins!

There’s a really cool huge under-the-sea exhibit with lots of fish and sharks, plus a few rays and turtles. There were several different viewpoints into the exhibit, and each offered something different. The huge eagle ray preferred to just relax in the sandy area in one particular spot, and we spent a lot of time standing there watching him relax next to a leopard shark.

A huge eagle ray!

Brought to you by Bank Muscat

Unfortunately a lot of the sea life didn’t look very healthy. Aside from sea anemones, there was no live coral. The eels were lying there on their sides, barely opening their mouths. The yellowbar angelfish were grey rather than blue. There were dead fish lying at the bottom of some of the exhibits.

Healthy, happy yellowbar angelfish the waters of Musandam

 

This is what eels are supposed to look like

I was looking forward to finally figuring out the names of a lot of the fish and other things we see while snorkeling and diving, but there were hardly any signs or informational panels.

Lastly, the cost. It is expensive. For something that you can easily see in 45 minutes, the price tag is painful. It’s 8.5 OMR ($22) and 6.5 OMR ($17) for children ages 3 and up.

A note on logistics: go early. The aquarium opens at 10 am every day but Friday (I think, I could be wrong) and I’d recommend getting to the mall by 9:45. You’ll have time to get a good parking spot and find the aquarium entrance on the 1st floor.

Unfortunately I just wasn’t impressed by this aquarium. Given that it’s Oman’s first major aquarium, I thought it would rival the Dubai aquarium in the Dubai Mall. It doesn’t. Not by a long shot. Maybe they’re still sorting out the kinks, putting the signs up, and getting everything sorted out. I’ll give the aquarium the benefit of doubt and say that it’ll probably be better in the future. Insha’Allah, as they say!

The tunnel is supposed to resemble a mangrove swamp (I think. Once again, no signs.)

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Snapshots: Petroglyphs in Musandam

Can you spot all the petroglyphs?

There’s not a ton of cool stuff to do near Khasab without a boat or a 4WD vehicle. These petroglyphs, however, are very easy to get to, even in a sedan, and are only a 15 minute drive from Khasab! Drive to the coastal town of Qadah and then take the main drag through town into the wadi. The approximate location of the petroglphys is in Google Maps as “rock carving”, but as you’re driving in they are on the left in an area that is overrun by goats. There are several different rocks with petroglyphs on them, and climb on the rocks and boulders around the area to spot even more. We lucked out because a tour came through and the guide pointed out a bunch that otherwise we might not have noticed. M loved running around pointing out all the camels and horses on the rocks!

A hunter riding a horse with a bow and arrow

Camels?

More camels? Or horses? Who knows.

Another hunter riding a horse, next to a goat enclosure

A handprint!

Snapshots: Khor Najd in Musandam

Khor Najd, located 15 minutes past Khasab

If you see a photo of Musandam, it’s probably a photo of Khor Najd. With the winding road in the foreground, turquoise water and rocky mountains dropping into the sea, it makes for a lovely picture!

There’s not a whole lot to do at the lagoon itself, unless you’re taking a boat from there. It’s a working beach, full of slimy rocks, boats on trailers and a few boat slips. There’s one area where you could theoretically camp, but it’s rocky and there’s zero privacy. It also get hotter than hell once the sun comes up because there’s no breeze.

A photo stop at Khor Najd definitely needs to be included on your Musandam itinerary!

The rocky green beach at Khor Najd

 

This lagoon off Khor Najd was full of black-tipped reef sharks and sting rays

Fishing boats inside the lagoon

Mountains dropping into the sea

Fjords past Khor Najd

Snapshots: Khasab Castle

The Khasab Castle

As far as castles and forts in Oman that teach you about what life was like in the area when the castle was built, Khasab Castle is a clear winner. There are lots of neat exhibits with signs in English, both indoors and outdoors, and kids love running around and exploring. There’s also a nice, clean bathroom.

Cannons at the main entrance

The courtyard inside the castle

A rock house (explained here) and a summer house

A not-at-all-creepy exhibit inside the castle

The bathroom is handicap-accessible!

The central keep and palm trees

The view from the castle walls

Dhow trip through the Musandam fjords

An unusually dark and stormy day for Oman

We did a full day dhow trip through the fjords of Musandam, and, in extraordinarily rare turn of events for Oman, the weather was cold, windy, cloudy, and rainy. It was definitely not the sunny, snorkeling-filled day that I’d envisioned. But we made the most of it and had a memorable day.

Clouds!

Our dhow left from the Khasab port and we made our way into the fjords, towards Telegraph Island. In the 1800s the British set up a telegraph repeater station there to strengthen the Karachi-London telegraph cable line. Those that were stationed on Telegraph Island regularly went insane, due to the hot temperatures, isolation, and attacks by local tribes. This phenomenon gave rise to the expression “going around the bend,” because, to get to the island, you have to go around the bend in the fjords. Interesting, huh?!

Telegraph Island

Our snorkeling spot with Telegraph Island in the background

We stopped for swimming and snorkeling, and only a handful of people got in the frigid water. M watched one young man dive off the side of the dhow and declared him a “silly little guy.” Indeed.

The “refreshing” snorkeling/swimming spot

Lunch was surprisingly good. It was a delicious hot buffet of rice, chicken, stewed vegetables, flatbread, hummus and some salad. The boat also had all the karak tea and Omani coffee that we could drink, which was particularly appreciated given the weather.

A delicious lunch!

There are a number of villages on the coastal inlets in the fjords, and they are really interesting to see. The guide explained how they built these rock houses which were used to store food and other valuable goods when villagers had to leave during the summer to seek out cooler temperatures. By building the houses out of the same rocks that make up the mountains, the houses were practically invisible until you were right on top of them. The floors were dug out by about a meter, and the doorways were child-sized. Then once you made it through the doorway, it room was of normal height. The door also had a double-locking mechanism (that I don’t fully understand) which generally prevented the thieves from entering. But, on the off-chance that a thief spotted the house and was able to enter, villagers stored foodstuffs in huge clay jars too large to fit through the door to keep thieves from stealing anything.

One of the coastal villages 

Old village on the right, new village on the left

After lunch we explored the other side of the fjords and headed back to port. The sun never came out, but it did eventually stop raining. Poor M wanted so badly to see dolphins, which never happened. There were a lot of enormous jellyfish though, and he had fun pointing them out. These jellyfish weren’t poisonous, and when one of the snorkelers caught one and brought it on deck, M was very excited to touch it!

These jellyfish were huge!

Nate went snorkeling and got this neat shot

The weather unfortunately didn’t cooperate during our dhow trip and we spent most of it trying to stay dry and warm. But we still had fun and we appreciated the novelty of being cold and rainy weather someplace where the sun shines 99% of the year. Hey, at least we weren’t hot!

A cloudy and cold day in the fjords

The sun was trying to shine

Did I mention it was cloudy that day?