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, along the Omani coast. But it was a drive that she had already done many 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. She would rather continue exploring new places, rather than revisit popular ones.

Omani mountain range flanking a highway

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 Omani 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 business 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. I could compromise.

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 road from Muscat to Sur

The road from Muscat that hugs the coastline is not the road that goes to Bimmah Sinkhole.

To get to Bimma, you have to take the road to Sur, a city 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 Omani coast near Qurayyat, and continues along the coast to Sur.

If you’re making a full day or multi-day road trip along a longer stretch of 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 other 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. But it’s still a long drive for a day trip.

Making the road trip more interesting

The actual coastal road that continues on from Muscat is much shorter. It only 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, she 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.

And now that there was something in it for her, she generously agreed to take me to Bimmah sinkhole as well.

You can easily do both routes in full, in one long day. However, we were already tired out from the previous day’s adventures. Instead, we decided to have a lazy morning, and drive 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 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.

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

Getting into Bimmah Sinkhole

As is typical in Oman, there’s plenty of parking near the tourist attraction. Bimmah Sinkhole has been ‘prettified’ with basic amenities and gazebos in a garden, which you will pass through before getting to the sinkhole itself.

Unlike Muqal Cave at the end of Wadi Bani Khalid, there are no puzzles for how to get into the sinkhole here. The staircase is very prominent.

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, and you can see juvenile fish in the clear shallows. It seems to be popular for swimming.

How not to get into Bimmah Sinkhole

While we rested by the water’s edge, we observed that 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 Dagmar beach, which is a coarse sandy coastline.

Oh, who am I kidding. It wasn’t the sand beach that attracted me. It was the rocky shore 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. I thought that was interesting.

In the dry brushland around the sinkhole, and away from the beach, I saw camels! They seemed to belong to someone, 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.

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

I don’t know if there are any recycling facilities in Oman at all. Environmental infrastructure and legislation usually lags behind in rapidly urbanising nations.

The fishing village of Qantab

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 actually hug the coastline. Instead it followed the slopes, branching off to descend into the coves where the coastal villages are nestled in. The cove of 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 and sandstone on the water

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 from the sides of the cove. Roofed boats were bobbing in the breakers, and rows of fishing boats were neatly beached above the tide line.

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.

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.

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 tourist 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.

I thought about the resorts, and the unassuming village next to them. Qantab is the kind of place that travellers appreciate. Since it’s not specifically catering to tourism, it’s possible for you to interact with people, as person-to-another-person, not just as 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, I hope it’s not in a way that loses the culture of people. As a Southeast Asian, I’ve seen culture be packaged as but a tourist offering, rather than alive in people. It happens a lot. It’s good for the tourism business. But you lose a little bit of soul, when you let your culture be sold like that.

I don’t know if more of us have contemplated this during the 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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