Half-Day Road Trip on the Omani Coast: Bimmah & Qantab
At first Chian was undecided about taking me to Bimmah Sinkhole. A popular tourist attraction due to its arresting aqua green water, Bimmah Sinkhole was within day trip distance from Muscat, a drive along the Omani coast that she had already done several times by then.
I could empathise. After all, I get to see Bimmah sinkhole for the first time. But there really wasn't anything in it for her. Besides, we had just returned from a day trip to Bahla.
- How to Pick a Road Trip Route
- Bimmah Sinkhole
- Dagmar Beach
- Qantab Fishing Village
- Carbon offsetting information to Oman
How to Pick a Road Trip Route
"If it's too far, we could go to one of these nearer places," I said, looking at a map. Although I had wanted to see the sinkhole because of pictures I had seen of it online, ultimately it was the coastline that I was interested in this time.
I wasn't sure when I would have the chance to go to Oman again. Projects move slowly in Oman, and visits are expensive. I've been lucky to have had the chance to see the Omani desert, a wadi, a hill village, and even an Omani marine park.
So I applied my trusted method of determining a road trip route: open a map along a route I was interested in, pick out names along the way, and go: Oooo, I wonder what I'll find there?
The Omani Coast from Muscat to Sur
The coastal road from Muscat is not the road that goes to Bimmah Sinkhole. To get to Bimma, you take the road to Sur, in the Ash-Sharqiyah region of Oman (the same region as Wadi Bani Khalid and Wahiba Sands). The road goes inland for a while, and then rejoins the coast near Qurayyat and continues along the coast to Sur.
If you're making a full day or multi-day road trip along the Omani coast, Sur itself seems like it would be an interesting stop. It had once been an important port in Oman's maritime history, back in the day.
Bimma, on the hand, still lies within the Muscat Governorate. Its landmark sinkhole is to the north of it, so you don't have to drive all the way to Bimma if you just want to see the sinkhole.
On the other hand, the actual coastal road that continues on from Muscat is much shorter. It goes to several fishing villages along the northern Omani coast, ending in As Sifah. Chian looked over the map with me, considering. There were villages there that she hadn't been to before.
After some deliberation, Chian chose Qantab. It was a smaller coastal village than its neighbour Al Bustan, which has a tourist resort. She was as curious as I was about what it would be like.
Why we chose to do a half-day road trip from Muscat
You can easily do both routes in full, in a day. However, we were already tired out from the previous day's adventures. So we decided to have a lazy morning and do the Sur route only up to the sinkhole. Chian took me to an Omani brunch place, which I really liked, and we only began the road trip after noon.
This also meant that we would arrive at the sinkhole (hopefully) when it is not absolutely blazing. Heat stress is an important consideration for any road trips in the region, especially in the summer. (Our trip was in September, which was tolerable but still hot).
As is typical in Oman, there's plenty of parking near the tourist attraction. Bimmah Sinkhole has been prettified with basic amenities, gazebos and garden, before you get to the sinkhole itself.
Getting into Bimmah Sinkhole
Unlike Muqal Cave at the end of Wadi Bani Khalid, there are no puzzles for how to get into the sinkhole here.
Bimmah sinkhole is indeed a very charismatic place. Sinkholes (or cenote in Mexico) are formed by erosion hollowing out a cavern under a rock formation, until the top of it collapses in. The one in Bimmah is a bright green colour, a pale aqua that deepens to emerald at its deep centre, ringed by orange sandstone stacks.
The sinkhole is still connected to the sea, since you can see juvenile fish in the clear shallows.
How not to get into Bimmah Sinkhole
Technically, there is a second way to get into Bimmah sinkhole for a swim. However, I don't recommend it. There are no lifeguards or other means of rescue here that I noticed.
On the other side of the old coastal road lay the Omani coast. We walked across from the sinkhole to the coarse sand beach.
Oh, who am I kidding. It wasn't the sand beach that attracted me. It was the rocky coastline next to it. I have a soft spot for rocky shores, ever since I combed the north Wales shoreline during my Master's degree. I always want to see what critters and seaweeds can be found in the tidal pools amongst the rocks.
Here, I found funnelweed algae, plenty of snails and hermit crabs, and juvenile gobies. It was also so hot here, that you can actually find deposits of salt in the rock crevices, where the saltwater had evaporated away.
In the dry brushland around the sinkhole, and away from the beach, I saw camels! They seemed to belong somewhere, because they were hobbled. Semi-free range, they grazed unsupervised on the coastal vegetation.
Plastic pollution on Dagmar Beach
Unfortunately, Dagmar beach was popular enough to attract enough leisure visitors that it isn't free from plastic pollution. There wasn't too much of it, but there were still plastic water bottles here and there.
That said, I don't know that there are any recycling facilities in Oman at all. Environmental infrastructure and legislation usually lags behind in most places, and more so in rapidly urbanising nations.
Qantab Fishing Village
It was nearing sunset by the time we reached Qantab on the northern Omani coast. The road was not a strictly coastal one after all; it did not hug the coastline. Instead it followed the slopes and branched off to descend into the coves that villages are nestled in. Qantab, for instance, is ringed by craggy jutting slopes.
I would recommend a visit to this coastal village by the dramatic approach alone.
Sunset boat excursion from Qantab beach
We didn't quite know what to do at Qantab, so we headed straight to the beach. It was a coarse sand, and ledges of sandstone extended out on the sides of the cove. Roofed boats were bobbing in the breakers, and rows of fishing boats were neatly beached above the tide line.
It didn't take long for a local fisherman to notice a couple of foreign women idling, and offer us a boat ride. We quickly agreed a price. He called out to his son, and the boy jumped at the chance to be on a boat (I get ya, kid). Then the fisherman settled us onto the seats and weighed anchor.
Come to think of it, the sandstone features in this part of Oman are similar to features found along Australia's Great Ocean Road. Sandstone ledges stretch out to sea. In places the waves had bored an arch, or rain had scraped out a piece from the top - in the decades to come you know the rock would collapse into the sea, making an islet of sandstone.
Just a little bit off the beaten track
Qantab is in that sweet spot of not being about tourism, but is tourism-adjacent. From the sea we could look out south to Bandar Jissah, where there were several seafront resorts. Al Bustan to the north also has resorts. But Qantab seemed to have retained a small coastal town vibe.
It was close enough to tourism, though, that the fisherman knew enough English to communicate with us.
Chian asked him about whether he does more fishing or more excursions these days, and what he felt about the resorts sprouting in the adjacent towns. Fishing is still good, he told us affably. He didn't mind the tourism.
The dilemma of tourism
Qantab is that kind of place that travellers appreciate. Since it's not specifically catering to tourism, it's possible for a visitor to arrive and simply be treated like a visitor, not a tourist. It's possible for you to interact directly with people as you explore the place, as person-to-another-person, not business-to-customer.
It may be selfish of me to wish that such places stay that way. For all I know, people in Qantab might want to diversify into tourism. All I will say is, when decision-makers consider downsides of tourism development (if they do at all!), they almost never consider the loss of authentic contact between visitor and local. Without it, travel loses its value in enhancing understanding between peoples, the recognition of our mutual humanity.
So we saw an age of unprecedented travel, but the benefit to enhancing human understanding fell far short of what it ought to have brought.
And I don't know if more of us have contemplated this during pandemic lockdowns. Whether we would choose and promote a different kind of tourism, when we travel again in the post-COVID19 age.
Carbon offsetting information to Oman
A return flight between Kuala Lumpur and Muscat produces carbon emissions of approximately 4,184 lbs CO2e. It costs about $21 to offset this.