Oman is not really one of those places you hear about as a Diving Destination per se, but nonetheless, the diving scene in this beautiful country is alive and kicking. Oman is very beautiful above and below the water, with lush green oasis', mountains, wadis and a very long coastline that offers a lot of interesting topography and abundant marine and coral life. Unlike many other places with decent diving - Oman is not over run with tourists/divers, and you are very likely to end up on a gorgeous coral reef with no one else around. The visibility in Oman is not very great, for most of the year you are likely to hit around 5-10 metres visibility with typically green-ish water, which is perhaps the biggest downside to diving in Oman.
The best time to dive in Oman would have to be May. During this month, one has the highest probability of swimming in 'blue water' with visibility well over 10 metres. Generally, Oman is dive-able all year round, although the winter months are not the greatest - the water falls below 20 degrees (C) and the visibility is usually quite bad. I would say November, december, january and february are far from ideal. The summer is also not ideal since the heat is extreme and frankly being out on a boat for 2-3 dives is simply unsafe as you are risking dehydration and a heat stroke - therefore I would rule out June, July and August, leaving us with April, May, September & October as the best months of the year for diving. September and October in particular are considered 'whale shark season' and its during these months that you are most likely to see these gorgeous animals.
I would classify diving in Oman into 4 general areas:
Even though Musandam is technically Omani territory, it is not accessible by land from the main territory of Oman and is surrounded by the UAE. For all extensive purposes, it is easier to consider Musandam a part of the UAE.
This is probably the top place to dive in Oman. The Islands are located northwest of Muscat, the capital city and are definitely the most popular dive sites in the country. You are often going to see 2-4 dive boats at a dive site. That is so for a reason. Since Dimaniyat is located quite a distance away from the coastline, it is slightly more difficult to dive there logistically, but probably this same distance is the cause for better visibility. Another important thing to note is that Dimaniyat Islands are a part of Oman’s only Marine Natural Reserve i.e. a protected zone eliminating all kinds of fishing.
Bandar Khayran is the area of the coastline east of Muscat - and offers some fascinating diving as well. Logistically, it is probably the easiest place to dive in Oman. All the Dive Sites are located along the coast, and are usually at a point where the water meets the mountains, usually in some enclave or lagoon- often around a corner that protrudes. Generally, I would say that the visibility here is worse than in Dimaniyat - probably because of the proximity of land and therefore sand.
Salalah is quite a remote part of Oman and is around 1000km from Muscat. Logistically, it is the hardest place to dive in Oman- although I heard it is great, I have never been there personally.
Overall, Oman is a great destination for someone looking for something peaceful and authentic. The country is not yet spoilt by mass tourism like Thailand or Indonesia, and retains a lot of the Arab culture which is clearly felt, unlike in a place like Dubai for example.
I will choose some of the famous dive sites that I have come across in Oman personally, and the less popular ones that are great nonetheless.
The Aquarium dive site in Dimaniyat Islands is probably the most popular dive site out of all the dive sites in the Dimaniyat Islands’ chain- usually crowded with boats and divers. It’s quite a large dive site though, with an interesting topography and an interesting range of marine animals. It is sort of located a distance away from the main chain of islands and a little bit out in the open sea with nothing surrounding it. The dive site often has better visibility than the rest of the chain, and is known as the place for whale shark encounters. If you go with any of the operators, you will most likely visit this site.
Hayut Run is another staple dive site and usually the first choice for the first dive. From my experience, the visibility on this site gets worse as the day progresses and it’s best in the morning hours. It’s quite a long site, which curves around a corner. I have noticed large shoals of fish that are usually found on the corner; in other regards it’s quite a standard dive site.
This dive site is on the Western Set of Islands, and what makes it a little bit different is the coral blocks that it is littered with.
Overall the diving in Dimaniyat is really good in the right seasons, and if you are fortunate to have good visibility, the diving is world class. More information on the best time to dive can be found in the overview article.
Bandar Khayran, although slightly less rich in diving than Dimaniyat, still has lots of cool sites to offer. The entire coastline, heading South East from Muscat, is littered with dive sites. There are plenty of caverns, lagoons, reefs, pinnacles and even some wrecks.
Jissah Point & Jissah Island
These two dive sites are not far from each other and are the nearest dive sites to both Oman Dive Center and Shangri-La, which makes them a favourite for those dive centers (arguably because it saves the boat ride time) and are often the choice of site for night dives.
I found this dive site to have healthier coral life than a lot of the others in that area- perhaps the reason why it was named so.
This dive site was rather cool due to the various overhangs and little caves that it’s littered with- lots of topography for stingrays and huge lobsters to hide in.
With some of these dive sites, it’s a hit-and-miss; sometimes the viz is really great and the next day it’s awful. It is best to rely on the local guides to plan out the best diving for the day, as they are more likely to accurately predict where the diving will be better based on currents etc.
With the exception of Salalah, diving in Oman is rather straightforward if you base yourself in Muscat. From there you are able to dive Dimaniyat Islands & Bandar Khayran easily. The easiest thing to do is fly into Muscat International Airport and stay in one of the many Muscat Hotels. I will suggest four hotels/resorts that I personally have stayed in. The two most diver-friendly resorts with dive centres are Shangri-La (Bar Al Jisah) and Oman Dive Centre, which are both around 30 minutes East of Muscat. As mentioned before, diving Musandam 'from' Oman is difficult since it’s not connected to mainland Oman territorially. I suggest reading the 3-part series on UAE for that.
Shangri-La (aka Bar Al Jissah)
Shangri-La is a 5-star hotel with all the facilities and luxury that one would expect. They have a very well run Extra Divers operation that offers daily trips. All the trips are done in Bandar Khayran, and I would rate the diving somewhere between 3 and 4-stars on most days. I would avoid diving in the winder months, as frankly the visibility is quite bad. More on general diving conditions in Oman can be found here.
You are looking to spend around 120-150 riyals per night (for 2), which is around $350-500, unless you get a special rate.
Oman Dive Center
The cheaper, yet arguably more charming, option is Oman Dive Center, located around 1km from Shangri-La in a beautiful lagoon. ODC is not a luxury experience but definitely has the appeal of a cosier, quieter place with thatched huts and a very well run dive operation located in it. The lagoon within which ODC is located is amazing, and that to me compensates for the lack of quality service or 'glamorous' 5-star comfort.
Using both those hotels as a base will open you up to plenty of dive sites in Bandar Khayran with very easy logistics. Note that you cannot dive Dimaniyat Islands directly from any of the 2 dive centres mentioned above, although you can easily take a drive down to Al Sawadi or Global Scuba (around an hour drive- see below) and dive from there while basing yourself in Bandar Khayran.
You are looking at around $200 per night for 2 for a Barasti chalet and a pretty decent dinner, which is around half of the Shangri-La Cost.
If you are intent on diving Dimaniyat Islands- the easiest way is to stay in Al Sawadi Beach Resort, which has a Euro Divers operations that runs daily trips. Another place that I recently discovered is an operation called Global Scuba that is located inside the Civil Aviation Authority Club.
Al Sawadi is located about 50 minutes west of Muscat, and is a go-to base for anyone looking to Dive Dimaniyat Islands. The dive centre facility there is large and spacious, and they have a number of boats - as many as 4 per day. The dive centre used to be managed by Extra Divers who recently left the location and now it is taken over by Euro Divers. I cannot comment on the operation, as I have not been there since they changed management, but judging by their reputation, it is likely that you will get a high level of service.
The accommodation is decent (bungalows)- a little run down, but located on the beach and walking distance from the dive centre, which makes it quite comfortable. Prices are around $200-$250 per night with a decent dinner as well.
Here’s another option for diving Dimaniyat - Global Scuba LLC, located in the Civil Aviation Authority Club. This is easily the cheapest option to dive Dimaniyat. The price of the bungalow, which was shockingly good - was a mere 400 Riyals, just over a $100, and was perfect, with a kitchen, great shower, TV etc. There is not much to do in the club itself, and the facilities aren't great, but if you are focused on diving this is a great option, especially if you rent a car and go to Muscat in the evenings. The dive centre is quite well equipped and their service is decent, although not great. The boats are all right but sometimes quite crowded, and I didn't like that they would really speed on the way there and back, which made for a rough ride.
Overall, if you are not super picky, have your own gear and are looking for a budget option, this is a great find. They are also one of the closest options to Dimaniyat i.e. a relatively short (45-minute) boat ride each way.
Salalah- from what I have heard from many friends- is gorgeous: totally green lush surroundings and a completely different experience to the rest of Oman. It is however very remote, and the drive from Muscat is over a 1000km, so I would not advise that. The easiest way is to take an internal flight from Muscat to Salalah airport, which to my knowledge does not accept international flights, and dive with the Extra Divers operation there.
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Oman Dive Center is located in one of the most beautiful lagoons I have seen. The dive centre is big and the boats are well equipped for diving. The diving around the Dive Centre - i.e: within boat rides is also rather decent, often great visibility and lots of marine life.
Dived with Extra Divers in November 2015. Not impressed!! Whilst there was a briefing regarding the dive site there was NO safety briefing. There did not appear to be any life-jackets on the boat. Dive guides were unfriendly and inattentive. No assistance with taking fins or assisting divers out of the water. It might be he only dive operationin the area but it leaves a lot to be desired.
I had a great time. I understand where the previous review is coming from. The guys there are a bit relaxed, because I guess they follow an assumption that the divers that come there are more experienced. For example me, I don't like to be helped onboard etc, I prefer to just dive in after brief briefing and be left alone with my buddy :)