Despite being 82% desert, Oman is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife. Its seas, beaches, mountains and valleys provide sanctuary to a host of endangered species, from the Arabian leopard and the green and hawksbill turtle to the Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin and, of course, the camel. There are abundant opportunities to see wildlife in Oman, with plenty of local tours available. Read on for the best places to spot Oman’s big five.
Nesting turtles in the Ras Al Jinz Reserve
More than 20,000 endangered green turtles nest on this unspoiled Indian Ocean shoreline every year, each heaving themselves up the beach to lay a clutch of eggs beneath the sand. May-September is prime hatching season, and at dawn or dusk, visitors can watch as scores of tiny hatchings battle to break free of their eggs and scuttle towards the sea. Visitors are kept at a safe distance so as not to disturb the creatures, while The Turtle Visitor Centre has interactive educational exhibitions, and the adjacent research laboratories study the reptiles.
Tours are included for Ras Al Jinz guests, while non-staying visitors can book for £14 (£2 for children).
Leopards at Jabal Samhan Reserve
Approximately 10% of the world’s remaining 250 Arabian leopards live in the reserve near Salalah in Dhofar, and it’s one of the best places to spot one. Limestone quarrying and frankincense harvesting have seen numbers plummet in recent years, but repopulation efforts have met with some success. Big cat fans keen to glimpse the elusive feline will need to negotiate tight mountain passes fringed with acacia and frankincense trees, with the chances of sighting Nubian goats and Arabian gazelles far more likely.
To arrange a trek to one of Jabal Sahman’s camera traps, contact Khalid Al Hakmani ([email protected]). There’s no cost, but you’ll need to bring food.
Dolphins in the fjords of Musandam
Oman’s fjords are home to humpback dolphins. Sailing from the isolated peninsula town of Khasab by dhow (traditional Arab sailing ship) is the best way to see the fjords. Cruise past towering cliffs, admire fish in clear waters and look out for kayakers, snorkellers and locals commuting to school or work on small speedboats. Humpback dolphins are almost always seen as they playfully follow tour boats, frolicking in the swell beside them.
Musandam Sea Adventure offers half-day or full-day dolphin-watching cruises.
Sea life at the Al Dimaniyat Islands Nature Reserve
Nine stunning UNESCO-protected islands, 11 miles off the coast of Barka in the Batinah region. The archipelago is a crucial conservation area, thanks to its diverse marine and bird life. Thousands of migratory birds such as ospreys, and more than 500 endangered hawksbill turtles nest on the islands in summer. Choose to sail, swim, snorkel or scuba to connect with marine mammals such as bottlenose, spinner and common dolphins. Under the pristine blue waters, reef fish such as parrotfish and cuttlefish, and larger predators, including moray eels and zebra sharks, flit among the vibrant coral colonies. Camping is allowed on selected islands, with permits from October-February.
Allu’luah Marine Tourism offers half-day, full-day and sunset trips, leaving from Muscat or Seeb Port.
Camels on the Sharqiya Sands
The camel is arguably Oman’s most iconic and essential creature. The ‘ship of the desert’ is used for transportation, sport, meat, milk and leather. There are said to be hundreds of Arabic words for the camel. Riding a lanky dromedary (one-humped camel) across shifting desert sands a la Lawrence of Arabia has to be the quintessential Arabian experience. October-March visits are best for more forgiving temperatures.
Bediyah Safari offers various camel-riding tours, lasting from one hour (£30) to seven days.