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Introducing Masirah

With its rocky interior of palm oases and gorgeous rim of sandy beaches, Masirah is the typical desert island. Flamingos, herons and oyster-catchers patrol the coast by day, and armies of ghost crabs march ashore at night. Home to a rare shell, the Eloise, and large turtle-nesting sites, the island is justifiably fabled as a naturalist’s paradise. Expats stationed here affectionately termed Masirah ‘Fantasy Island’ – not because of the wildlife, but because anything they wanted during the long months of internment was the subject of fantasy only.

Little is known about the history of the island, except through hearsay. At one point it was inhabited by Bahriya tribespeople, shipwrecked from Salalah. Wiped out by an epidemic 300 years ago, their unusual tombstones can still be seen at Safa’iq. The island has been used variously as a staging post for trade in the Indian Ocean, and as home to a floating population of fishermen attracted by the rich catch of kingfish, lobster and prawn.

Masirah, 63km long, 18km wide and lying 15km from the mainland coast, is still remote, with minimal facilities, but the island’s splendid isolation is under threat with hotel chains negotiating for a portion of the eastern shore. For now, though, Masirah continues to offer a rare chance to see nature in the raw: if you can get there it promises a rare trip on the wild side.

A sealed road runs around the entire island but without a 4WD it is hard to get a close-up of the coast without a long walk. The northwestern tip of the island is a military zone and is off-limits.

If you miss the last ferry to Masirah, there are two places to stay on the mainland that are relatively nearby: the sparkling Al-Jazeera Tourist Guesthouse in Mahout (also spelt Mahoot and Mahouth), 63km from the ferry, at the Hijj junction on the Sinaw–Duqm road; or, if you are desperate, the Mahouth Guesthouse in Hijj, 45km from the ferry,