My face is numb from the air that’s been pummelling it for the past two hours, my hair tangled and my nose slightly sunburnt. Yet my mind is settled, after staring steadily at nothing but the endless blue horizon. I’m currently holding onto the steering wheel of a speedboat belonging to a friendly Omani called Mohammed, flying along the Musandam coast back towards Dibba at a breezy five knots.
Fortunately Mohammed is standing next to me, nudging the wheel, while I simply play the part. Today we’ve seen tropical fish, what looked like a turtle’s head bobbing above water and lots of intriguing, slightly eerie caves; it’s only 11am and we’ve already assumed a healthy glow (excluding the red nose). We’re extremely chuffed we chose to escape the big city and head to the sleepier, rockier and naturally stunning east coast for the weekend. Rewind approximately 12 hours: our trip kicks off directly from the office on Thursday night (there’s nothing better than logging off then running off).
We pick up the E311 towards Sharjah airport, before shooting right and following the E88 all the way to Masafi, where signs began to appear for the various hotels and chalets, drawing us up the coast. In about two hours – and after very little in the way of scenery (pre-prepared road trip playlists are necessary) – we arrive at the Fujairah Rotana, a sprawling palazzo-style estate beside Le Méridien Al Aqah, the original towering hotel behemoth of the area (tip: it’s easy to stop at the Rotana and nip over to the Al Boom diving school next door at Le Méridien, should you want a slightly cheaper room).
Having visited the area before, we head directly to Waves, the Rotana’s part-indoor, part-outdoor signature restaurant: its beachside tables are possibly the most romantic in the area, and the steaks mighty. Shisha and coffee at Sharkeys beach bar follow, before a deep, end-of-week sleep. Sunrise finds us aboard the aforementioned speedboat, listening to Mohammed sing in Arabic as we fly over the waves. He is part of Sheesa Beach Boat Tours, a popular 16-year-old tour operation. Functioning out of the sleepy Dibba Oman port, it also offers fishing, diving, dhow and live-aboard trips. Today we speed to a few good spots for snorkelling and enjoy the endless rocky mountains, smattering of sealife (including angel fish and sea cucumbers), and Mohammed’s endless bounty of snacks and soft drinks.
Salt-encrusted and sun-blitzed, we shake ourselves off in the Rotana’s sizeable couples treatment room during a firm Zen signature massage (those with more spending money should check out Miramar Al Aqah’s executive rooms – they include half-hour head, neck and shoulder massages as part of the room rate). Now unwound, and with Thursday a distant memory, we head 20 minutes down the coast road and take our seats at the Oceanic View Hotel’s Al Gargour Rooftop Restaurant for dinner. As the name suggests, its USP is the Gulf views, while the weekend theme nights and live entertainment offer budget bonuses.
Saturday is set aside for sightseeing; time to make sure we’ve scaled every inch of this arid, ancient and skyscraper-free territory. Cruising up the quiet Omar Bin Al Karab Street, the coastal road between Dibba and Khor Fakkan, we spot the UAE’s oldest and smallest mosque: Bidya, dating back to 1446. Comprised of four small domes, it is supported by a central pillar, stone carvings and special shelves for the holy Qur’an.
A short hike up the hill leads to arresting views of the surrounding beaches and date plantations, just about visible through the tiny arrow-sized slits of two old watchtowers.
Before facing the long, straight journey back to Dubai, we stop for a Dhs1 polystyrene cup of chai at the so-called Friday market (it actually operates every day – locals call it Souk al Juma). Whenever you visit, you’ll find the same selection of tat: plants, tiger-shaped rugs, pottery, many, many inflatable animals and dozens of over-enthusiastic salesmen. It’s a surreal end to our cheap, hassle- (and flight-) free weekend. My mind remains calm, ready to take on hyperactive Dubai once again – although my face could do with some serious aftersun.
Dibba is about a two- to three-hour car ride from Dubai, and roughly three to four hours from Abu Dhabi (depending on how fast you drive). Many tour operators will pick you up from Dubai, but if you’re driving yourself it’s not a complicated route and offers views of some splendid rocky mountains and less-splendid cement factories along the way. Remember to bring your passport in case you head into the Omani part of Dibba (the border guards aren’t likely to accept just a smile and a wave). Avoid the Sharjah road on the way back – the National Paints flyover is still prone to jams.
By car: Travel east out of Dubai until you reach the E611; follow the road north until the E88, then continue east toward Al Dhaid (Adh Dhayd). Travel for about 46km until you reach Dibba/Fujairah.
You can’t stay in this area without making the most of the sea: either snorkelling, diving or just sitting on a boat. The craggy coast is full of caves and the water full of turtles, reef sharks and even dolphins.
• In 1580, a Venetian jeweller allegedly first noted a place called ‘Chorf’ on the east coast of the UAE, indicating Khor Fakkan.
• By 1666 the Portuguese had set up camp and built forts, which were believed to have soon turned to ruin during a Persian invasion.
• The ownership of Khor Fakkan volleyed between Persia and Portugal until 1765, when the area came under Sharjah control.
• Portugal also claimed ownership of Dibba for a time. The area can be traced as a popular maritime hub in the pre-Islamic era, and disputes over the land continued into the 1900s.
• Today Dibba is divided into slices between Fujairah, Oman and Musandam. Khor Fakkan and Dibba make up one of the most beautiful areas in the UAE, surrounded by the Hajar mountains, facing out to the Gulf of Oman. There’s little development, aside from a handful of resorts and standard residential housing, though the various construction signs dotted about suggest this could change in future.