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I have recently come back from an amazing 10 days in Oman and have put together this trip report for anybody considering a diving holiday there.

After several weeks trawling on the Internet, I found a good deal with Value Added Travel - http://www.valueaddedtravel.com - this was around £200 cheaper than others (but beware - the customer service and general friendliness wasn’t five star!) but other than that, I had no problems – tickets arrived on time etc. The advantage of booking with Value Added Travel is that you can go for any number of days and are not restricted to a 7 or 14 day package like many other operators offering a holiday here. I have always found that 7 days were not enough, and 14 too much, so I plumped for 10 days, which was within my budget.

I flew with Gulf Air on an overnighter – a good service and 7 hour flight- my only complaint was that the cabin temperature must have been 40 degrees on board- it was so hot! The good news was that there were only around 50 passengers on the flight so everybody spread out after take off. I discovered that near empty flights are quite common with Gulf Air (they fly daily from LHR-Muscat) - one of the cabin crew confirmed that that they will still fly even if they have 2 passengers – not quite sure how they make a profit, but you’ll always get a seat...

I arrived in Oman at 7am – the heat really hit you when the cabin doors opened – it’s hot out there – at 7am the temperature must have been around 30 degs! All buildings and cars are well equipped with AC, so getting around isn’t a problem.

I stayed at the Oman Dive Centre http://www.omandivecenter.com. A great place to be based if your interest is diving – not sure how a non-diver would fancy a holiday here though as this is the main focus of the resort. The ODC is situated out of town – it’s about a 15 – 20 minute drive to the City centre. The ODC is remote – there isn’t anything else around – not even a bar on site and there is no evening entertainment so if you’re looking for fun in the evening, I would suggest either staying at one of the bigger hotels or getting a cab into town – I believe that the hotel run a shuttle service, but I don’t know the details. A one way ride to the city will cost around 5 rials (around 7 quid). I should clarify that alcohol wise- pretty much everything is available at the hotel through the restaurant, but I understand that this becomes limited during Ramadan.

The accommodation is good – not 5 star, but comfortable and clean and serviced daily. Guests stay in one of 30 BarastiHuts – fully air conditioned with a semi outdoor bathroom and terrace. Rooms have a mini fridge and safe (no TV). Note that in Oman, they use the UK style 3 pin plugs which makes things easy for charging up your MP3 player or phone.

Breakfast and Dinner is included for all guests. The restaurant is open for lunch, which is purchased separately, and the cost is added to your room bill.
Food is good –buffet breakfast – continental or full English available. There was always a chef preparing omelettes to order or fresh pancakes. Dinner was varied and freshly prepared. I had no complaints from the food tummy wise – they run a pretty good, clean operation and are regularly inspected (which is statutory in Oman) so cleanliness and hygiene wasn’t an issue.

I was diving in a 5mm shortie which was perfect for me – water temp was on average around 28 deg and air temp around 38 deg. There are thermo clines here so you will go through patches of colder water but they are brief and you can always fin up a meter or so and you’ll be back into warmer water.

You’ll meet loads of people here too - there are lots of ex-pats who live in the Middle East and often travel from Abu Dhabi or Dubai to Muscat for weekend diving!! I met people on this holiday with such ‘different’ careers – I met one German man who was holidaying at ODC who was working & living in Basra as an anti – drug and terrorist officer; another guy who was an engineer working on a brain slicing machine- cutting segments into wafer thin slices for medical research and a lady who specialized in the nuts & bolts for metallic limb replacements (yes – just the nuts and bots – nothing else). The nuts and bolts lady and the slicing machine guy were happily married… I can only imagine the conversations over the dinner table at home…


As I have mentioned, at ODC the main focus is diving. They have a well-equipped dive centre on-site, offer Nitrox and renting equipment isn’t a problem. They run a daily boat in the morning for 2 dives. Meet at 08.30am and back around 2pm. They have a training pool just beside the dive centre which everyone took advantage of and cooled down in their wetsuits before heading out to the boat. The guides are knowledgeable and friendly and you can even suggest where you’d like to go for the second dive. In this area of Oman, there hundreds of dives sites which tend to be situated in little bays and they are all in close proximity of one another. The boat trip would normally take 20 minutes and we didn’t travel more than 10 minutes in the boat to reach the second dive site. The main advantage of diving in Oman is that you will rarely see another dive boat so choosing a site isn’t an issue. You’ll be diving and you wont see anybody else other than your group, unlike the Red Sea.


As soon as everybody is on board, you’ll be given some much needed fresh ice cold water – a nice little touch and during the dive interval, they provide biscuits and coffee (but no tea much to my dismay!!!)

Visibility is ok but not the best in the world – I experienced anything from 10m – 25m but you’ll be rewarded with an abundance of marine life wherever you dive – get close! There is beautiful coral and lots of small fish –you’ll also see turtles and I saw big stingray pretty much on every other dive. On a couple of occasions I saw small black tip reef shark. I didn’t dive any deeper than 28 meters on the whole trip – the floor tended to be between 12m – 30m in many of the spots I dived.

What you’ll see: lots and lots of fish! - Lion fish, loads of Morays (there seems to be an abundance of these!), angel fish, Nudibranchs, trunk fish, parrot fish, broomtail wrasse, snapper, goat fish, butterfly fish, angel fish, anemone fish, puffer fish, fusilier, firefish, scorpionfish, triggerfish, surgeonfish, sting ray, cornet fish, pipefish - to name a few! On one dive, I saw a family of cuttlefish which was amazing! There is lots of nice vivid coloured coral too.

There were two big downsides I found of diving with ODC
  • They offer a daily afternoon dive which leaves the center around 2.30pm. If you are on the morning boat, you get back around 2pm – not leaving anytime for lunch or much of a break. As a result, I didn’t do one afternoon dive as there simply wasn’t time. This left my afternoons for relaxing (nothing wrong with that, but after coming such a long way, I would have rather spent my afternoon diving than sitting on the beach). They ODC really need to address this as I think they are missing a trick…
  • They don’t currently offer trips to the Damaniyat Islands – which is THE place to dive in Oman. They are refurbishing their big boat (It’s about a 2-3 hour boat trip). I was told that because they aren’t offering trips, I couldn’t go (at all!) also, a family I got friendly with were told that the islands were closed!!! This simply isn’t true!
You can go, it’s well worth it - details later!


I was traveling alone and luckily through the Yorkshire Divers forum, I got in contact with Neil Bedwin who is Chairman of the local BSAC club and lives in Muscat with his family – it’s always good to know a ‘man who knows’ !! I was treated to a lovely meal and sight seeing tour around the city by he and his wife, Irene (thank you! – if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have seen Muscat by night!). I am a PADI trained diver, and wasn’t familiar with the BSAC system, so it was interesting to find out how it all works. Neil took me out with his club diving at the weekend (incidentally weekends are on Thurs and Fri in Oman). The immediate difference I noticed was that it was like a family – the members dive with people they know & trust on a regular basis – as opposed to many commercially run centres when your buddy could be a stranger from one day to the next (one of the pitfalls of traveling alone!) I had two great dives – Novice Bay and Cockleshell Bay and vis was good on that day. (Neil I can’t thank you enough for your hospitably and kindness – thank you for my packed lunch of turkey sandwiches and chocolate muffins!)


The Damaniyats
I mentioned to Neil about the unfortunate situation with the Damaniyats – he promptly got on the phone to Yanick who runs Global Scuba and a days diving in the Damaniyats was sorted for the next day! http://www.global-scuba.com

The common misconception is that you need to be situated in Al Swadi to dive the Damaniyats – not true! The Damaniyats are situated between the ODC and Al Swadi further North. The drive to Global Scuba (which is around 5 mins from Muscat airport) took around 35 minutes from the ODC and then it was further 40 minute boat trip to reach the islands.

Global Scuba was a good operation – the kit looked well looked after, they guides knew their stuff and looked after the guests well. The diving here was awesome!! No kidding, the vis was around 35 metres and if you want to see big stuff come here. I saw leapoad sharks, turtles and even dolphins from the boat! The snorkeling here is also excellent with such good vis. I only discovered Global Scuba in my last few days so only got in 2 days worth of diving, but if I were to go to Oman again, I would want to dive here…
On my last day of diving, there was only me and the guide diving- what a treat!! Here again, you wont find another dive boat anywhere near you.

The reason why the vis is so good here is because the islands are in the middle of the gulf stream and gets a current flowing through. In bay areas (where you’ll dive in the most part with ODC), all the sediment and plankton gets trapped in the coves and bays which leads to reduced vis but you’ll get a rich and varied marine life feeding off the plankton – both types of diving are good in different ways and it’s well worth experiencing both.

To summarise:

The ODC is a great place to stay as everything you need is in one place – good accommodation, food & diving – and the staff are all very friendly. No evening entertainment, but when the focus is diving early nights don’t go amiss! The marine life is excellent, but vis isn’t always crystal clear. They visit Fahal Island which has excellent diving – about 40 mins in the boat. They are sorting out their boat for Damaniyat Island trips (which I believe will be in Sept 07) which is good news. Not sure how ODC would work for non-divers as there isn’t anything else to do there – they do have a nice beach though! They organize lots of day trips however to the wadi’s and grand temple amongst others. I unfortunately didn’t take advantage of these as I was underwater most of the time! If I visit again, I would spend more time looking above water…

Muscat is probably the cleanest city I’ve ever visited – the Omani people are very friendly, the markets are great for shopping, a very beautiful and culturally rich place to visit. Oman is a Muslim country - Ladies – cover up if you are leaving the resort – especially your shoulders and legs.

Diving - there is everything here: good macro life, wonderful coral, loads and loads of fish, some big stuff & wrecks. Also, there was very little current (if any) & the diving isn’t deep which makes diving good for all levels.

My highlights:

Seeing 2 whales off the boat on the way to Fahal Island with ODC
Seeing lots and lots of dolphins
The genuine caring people at the BSAC club – thanks Neil
Diving the Damaniyats
Al Munnassir – wreck dive
Getting real close to a leopard shark and not being scared!!

I would highly recommend Oman if you fancy something a little bit different and a step away from the commercialism of Egypt. You won’t be swamped with other dive boats and the diving on all levels is excellent! A little more expensive than Egypt, but well worth it!
 

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Thanks for ane excellent report Mary Jane.

I grew up in Oman and am desperate to get back out there now I dive but knowing the area have a couple of reservations (such as lack of nightlife unless you're in a substantial hotel / company club) which you've addressed.

Roll on next year's holiday entitlement ;):D
 

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A VS Cash Cow
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that all brings back memories, did the Dimanyat Islands a couple of years ago and came down to Oman Dive Centre when it was too windy at Al Sawadi cos ODC has some sheltered areas.

keep meaning to go back cos i really enjoyed it.
 

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The Artist known formerly as 'ScubaRGN2'
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Great report Mary, I learnt to dive out there in 2000, a truley great place with many happy memories.
 

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Good report Mary Jane....and welcome to the boards. Glad you met up with Neil he's a good lad. During my stay I was at the Hyatt which was great but I never managed to get a dive in because of work :( I do hope to return someday soon though and dive the Damaniyats.
 

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My advice column is always open..........


Thanks to MJ for the glowing report....brings a tear to my eye :)

Neil
(yes, the one in Oman)
 
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