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.

Omani mountain range flanking a highway
If you want to surprise a geologist with a bucket list vacation, pick 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

Omani homestead at the foot of a mountain
Road trip views: Omani homestead

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).

Bimmah Sinkhole

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.

Steps leading down the sandstone sides to the water in Bimmah Sinkhole
Go down the steps to the sinkhole

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.

Dagmar Beach

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.

Dagmar beach rock shore
I'm a sucker for rocky shores

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.

Camel on the horizon along a dirt road
Unsupervised camel

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.

Plastic pollution on an Omani beach
Is there no coastline that is free from plastic pollution?

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.

Road approach to Qantab village on the Omani coast
The second most dramatic road approach to a population centre that I know of.

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.

Boat headed towards the setting sun
May we travel with more purpose and authenticity.

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. 


Half-Day Road Trip on the Omani Coast: Bimmah & Qantab

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17 Responses

  1. Ket says:

    I have been planning to visit Oman for a while. I now can get a visa, so will visit hopefully next year. Coastline fascinates me a lot, as well as Nizwa and surrounding areas. As for the authenticity lost because of the development of tourism, that’s just an unfortunate consequence, which I highly doubt can be avoided. The problem are the vacationers (or whatever anyone would wanna call it), not the true travelers. Most people unfortunately visit other countries just to relax on the beach, be in the resorts and maybe do an excursion or two for photos. This is the main reason of overtourism, but honestly, there seems to be nothing to be done about it.

    • Teja says:

      I’ve nothing against relaxing on beach resorts. I see the two kinds of trips as totally different, with the first one being more valuable, but I myself still do the vacation kind on occasion. I think that if a nation can *only* provide for its people through tourism, then you’re right. But it would be a shame, because over time that means everything about a people becomes commodified for tourism marketing, and whatever does not have this value becomes devalued in the society.

  2. Jay Artale says:

    Rocky coastlines are the best places to explore. You never know what you’re going to find in the tide pools. You can spend hours exploring them, and it’s like being transported back to being a kid, when you have all the time in the world and each step is a little voyage of discovery.

  3. Georgina says:

    Have been coming across a few posts on Oman – sounds like an incredible part of the world. Never thought of exploring Oman before. Your experience of sunset boat excursion from Qantab beach sounds fascinating and would be my kind of thing.

    • Teja says:

      Oman has a laidback, non-uptight, unconfrontational way to it that I like. In terms of pizazz maybe it doesn’t have as much as some Gulf neighbours. But, what I remember the most was how the migrant service staff (like in cafes and reception desks) carried themselves with self-assurance and like they’re the same as people they’re serving (idk how to say it better, hopefully you get what I mean). To me, that’s really what makes a country incredible, the evidence that lower status demographies are nonetheless treated with grace.

  4. Slavka says:

    The coast looks very scenic and worth seeing. When I travel to these parts of the world I make sure to incorporate a coastal trip into the itinerary. Thanks for the inspiration :)

    • Teja says:

      Haha yeah! I have a marine bias, so even when I make trips to mountains and deserts, I will somehow end up discovering water-side stuff!

  5. Jen Ambrose says:

    I keep hearing more and more about Oman – it looks like such an incredible place to travel, and I would love to do a road trip like this!

  6. Thola says:

    Beautiful. I’ve never explored this part of the world. Thanks for sharing.

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