MOST OF MY MIDDLE EASTERN DIVE TRIPS over the years have been to the Red Sea. Hearing about divers’ experiences on the far side of Arabia, however, I was becoming keen to expand my horizons and find somewhere new to explore.
As a photographer I was also willing to sacrifice the high visibility for which the Red Sea is renowned for the promise of new underwater terrain and some unfamiliar marine life. My choice for this new adventure was Oman.
Oman lies on the south-eastern coast of the Arabian peninsula, bordered by the United Arab Emirates to the north-west, Saudi Arabia to the west and Yemen to the south-west. The coast faces the Arabian Sea to the south-east and the Gulf of Oman in the north-east.
There are three main diving regions: Musandam in the north, which offers exhilarating drift-diving for more experienced divers; Salalah in the Dhofar region in the far south and, in-between and the most readily accessible, the bays of Bandar al Jissah near the capital Muscat. There are more than 40 recognised sites there, including the Daymaniyat Islands, Bandar Khairan and the Fahal Islands.
The Gulf of Oman is shallow compared to the Red Sea, with depths for diving ranging from 10-30m. The shallow water brings relatively high temperatures that encourage plankton to flourish. This does nothing to help the vis but does provide rich nutrients for the reef, and attracts pelagics including whale sharks and whales in summer.

THE NINE LIMESTONE Daymaniyat islands are split into three groups, western, middle and eastern, with a 10-15-minute boat ride between each group.
They lie 11 miles or so out from the coast, accessible by fast boat. In 1996 they were designated a nature reserve to protect nesting turtles and birds and the coral reefs, and to promote eco-tourism.
I stayed at the 4* El Sawadi Beach Resort & Spa on the mainland to gain boat access to the Daymaniyat Islands, which would provide the largest number of dive-sites. The hotel is just off the beach, and offers clean and spacious rooms and good-quality food. I was happy with the facilities and found the level of hospitality excellent.
The hotel recently took on Euro-Divers to manage its dive centre. Euro-Divers already had a facility in Muscat, catering for many of the expats who live in the city. The local sites are well-dived, but one of the expats told me that the visibility around the Daymaniyats would be much better.
I spent my first day settling in, exploring the empty beaches and enjoying the warm Arabian sunshine.
The following morning after an early breakfast I joined other divers at the centre preparing our kit, and we took the short walk to the beach to help load it onto the new 12m dive-boat.
We set off with a beach-launch, clambering aboard between the waves. Safely past the breakers, the divemaster gave his briefing and we were whisked off over clear turquoise waters to the dive-site, a journey of about 50 minutes.
We were being taken to what is probably the most famous site in the region, the Aquarium, while conditions were favourable at the easternmost end of the islands. The site itself lay about two miles out from the islands.
There was no mooring system, so our divemaster dropped in and placed an anchor near a rocky ledge. The reef came up from 25m to a shallow plateau at 8m, with rocky gullies and overhangs perfect for all the snapper taking refuge there.
We descended through a thick shoal of schooling yellowtails as they swayed in the surging current just under the boat. Near the anchor-point a resident spotted moray eel rested. It twisted and turned in its hole, mouth agape.
Just as I was about to touch down, a group of pulsating cuttlefish momentarily shed their camouflage and revealed their presence. I moved in closer and managed to get some close-up portraits. Wary of the divers and unimpressed by my flashes, they backed away to vanish in a plume of black ink.
My buddy and I split off from the rest of the team and headed down the sloping ledges to the seabed. In the distance I could see a shadow, and as we moved closer I could see that it was a shark.
I was expecting it to be a leopard shark, as these are extremely common in these areas, but as we neared it I recognised the extraordinary shape of a guitar shark.
I had seen one only once before. The ridges running over the head and back make them look prehistoric. As I attempted to get close enough for a photograph, the shy and gentle giant moved hastily away and, with a flick of its tail, disappeared into the gloom. A string of yellow pilotfish swam frantically behind it.
I had been told that there was a resident seahorse nearby at 24m. We arrived at the spot and there it was, wrapped around a piece of soft coral. We spent a few minutes taking photos, then headed back up to the top of the reef.
As if we hadn’t seen enough; there we were greeted by a grazing hawkbill turtle. It appeared completely unfazed by us and just carried on munching coral.
We made our final swim across a coral garden to be greeted by more cuttlefish. Our final few minutes were spent on a safety stop being mesmerised by the amazing way in which they change colour and form. What a great dive!

WE HAD AN HOUR TO KILL during our surface interval, so we decided to head west to the islands nearest the resort and dive Mousetrap, a favourite site of our divemaster Stefano. With the boat tucked into a rocky outcrop he gave the briefing.
Mousetrap lies on the more-exposed northern side of the island, so the sea can be quite choppy on entry. We jumped in and descended quickly to the silty bottom at 22m. The visibility was just 6-8m and the water quite green, with a lot of large suspended particles.
The dive was in any case relatively gloomy, as we were on the shadowed side of the island – it wasn’t unlike diving in the UK during those springs blooms.
Stefano guided us along a wall covered in purple whip corals waving in the gentle currents. We came to a large boulder area containing a labyrinth of tunnels, which I always enjoy. You never know what you might encounter in a dark cavern!
This was a great site for getting a few shots of divers exploring overheads. I got my dive-buddy to pose with my small LED torch near some of the colourful corals tucked under the ledges.
The temperature changed during the dive. I could see as much as feel the change, as I swam through the thermoclined water. One second I could see clearly, the next I was in a soupy blur.
We had been down for 40 minutes, and came across huge schools of yellowtails at what appeared to be the end of the island, marked by a rocky outcrop on the bottom and strong currents that had encouraged many fish to congregate. Wherever you looked there were fish – it was a great site for hanging out to observe the scene.

I LOOKED DOWN TO SEE, just below me, a leopard shark, lying motionless on the sandy bottom. I signalled to Stefano to go round to its other side and move in slowly. I approached cautiously from the opposite direction across the bottom until I could fill my image frame with the 2m shark.
I manage to rattle off some shots before the spotted giant decided that it had had enough. It left with a flick of its tail and headed off into the distance.
Continuing across the bottom, we came across an even larger area of whip corals covering huge boulders and gullies. But it was time to make our way into shallower waters at 10m.
The sun started to appear from around the southern side of the island, its light dappling the coral ledges. The brighter it got, the better the coral appeared. We were soon presented with a beautiful coral garden with large areas of untouched fragile table corals.
It was strange transferring from one extreme to another at Mousetrap. The north side offers diving similar to that of the Mediterranean Sea, but a short swim around the corner takes you to the equivalent of an Egyptian coral reef.
We spent 15 minutes enjoying the shallows, watching pairs of Moorish idols darting in and out and a free-swimming spotted moray snaking its way through the reef, looking for its next hidey-hole.
It was time to make our safety stop. We finished the dive with a shallow drift along the reef, peering down on the busy reef to watch the underwater world go by. What a great day’s diving!

OVER MY WEEK IN OMAN I logged 10 dives, and the two sites I’ve described seemed to me to be the best in the area. Most of the dives on the islands were very similar, with steep walls on the north sides and shallow reefs on the south, but each had its good points, and we would invariably see something different.
On Blacktip Reef in the central islands we saw at least 10 blacktip reef sharks, and although they were skittish it was great to see them in quantity.
On other sites such as Haynut Run we saw leopard sharks and large sting rays.
If you’re used to doing a couple of dives a day in Egypt on a typical day-boat from Sharm, with plenty of deck-space and ample shade, the Oman experience is rather less relaxing. The Euro-Divers team has a spacious covered boat that’s extremely comfortable, and the free drinks, snack and fruit are a nice touch, but spending every day on it in sweltering midsummer heat could be a bit much.
Euro-Divers runs two trips a day to the Daymaniyat Islands. Divers have the option of two morning or two afternoon dives, though the really keen can skip lunch (the turnround time is short) and do four consecutive dives.
Aquarium Reef is the furthest reef from the resort, so if you decide to visit nearer sites such as Mousetrap in flat waters each boat trip can be as short as 30 minutes.
Doing four dives could involve spending a lot of time transferring to and from the resort. I met a number of customers who had tried this, but most found the four boat trips exhausting, especially if it was a bit choppy.
There are other sites to dive, such as the Al Munassir wreck in 28m, but the vis can be very poor in the Muscat region.
A holiday in Oman is also more expensive than one in Egypt – the diving and hotel were good value, but shop around to make sure you get flights at a good price.
I thoroughly enjoyed my week in Oman and would recommend it highly. The Egyptian Red Sea offers more colour and better visibility but Oman has its own rich and varied marine-life offering.
If you want something a little different, it may be for you.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE Direct from London Heathrow to Muscat with Oman Air on a seven-hour flight. Visa on arrival.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION Euro-Divers, www.euro-divers.com at Al Sawadi Beach Resort & Spa, www.alsawadibeach.info/en
WHEN TO GO May-September, water temperature ranges from 24-32°C so a thin suit should suffice.
CURRENCY Omani rial.
PRICES Regaldive can offer a package from £899pp, including flights, transfers and seven nights in a garden-view room at Al Sawadi (twin-share). Five days’ diving (two boat dives a day) costs £223. www.regaldive.co.uk
VISITOR INFORMATION www.omantourism.gov.om