[MUSANDAM PENINSULA, OMAN] — When you land in crazy Dubai, the Six Senses driver is there to great you. A kind Indian man from Kerala, as seemingly every helpful service person in this region is, dressed in a nice black suit and tie.
As you weave your way through Dubai’s twenty lane highways, the skyscrapers disappear, the highway gets successively narrower, the gigantic 200 foot-long real estate billboards become faded and empty. Sand dunes start to appear. Camels start to pop up, randomly, in the dunes on the side of the road. Your blood pressure drops a hundred points as you realize “Ahhhh, this is what I came for.”
We’re on the Road to Paradise.
Heading towards Oman’s famed Musandam Peninsula, the sand dunes soon turn into rugged bare mountains, the landscape and houses start to look like the Oman you’re familiar with; everything a soothing monochromatic shades of taupe and brown, Oddly separated from the rest of Oman, with a gap of the UAE in between, Musandam instantly looks like Oman. Beautiful rugged. Sparsely populated. A stiff finger of jagged mountains that form the Straight of Hormuz, a narrow gap between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
The road steepens, crossing a mountain pass and the stacking up of the brown crinkly mountains, folded like crepe paper across the windshield. The hopscotch of distinctive Omani-style houses and their cement walled compounds claiming their land.
We drop back down into the busy seaside town of Dibba. After meandering through dozens of roundabouts we reach the Omani border control, where the driver hands over my passport and papers and slowly rolls down the back window. A stern looking Omani soldier looks over the papers, then looks up at me in the backseat of the large black Yukon And smiles. I’m back in Oman!
You can see just how isolated Zighy Bay is on the Musandam Penninsula, surrounded on three sides by rugged arid mountains and the other by the clear green sea. Until recently, the only way to get here was by boat.
The road leading out of Dibba and soon runs out of pavement. “Only ten minutes more!” my friendly driver exclaims. The road quickly turns violent. As bumpy as can be. Washboarding bumps slow us down as we pass an empty reservoir, “Normally, this is completely full.” my driver says, as he shifts the Yukon into Low.
We hang a sharp right past a guard house, “Six Senses Zighy Bay” the sign says, as the driver waves at friends in the booth who wave us on. The road instantly turns into steep switchbacks, lined with heavy bulldozers and cranes and workers tending to the pavers — nearly the whole road is lined with hand-laid pavers to prevent erosion, I can’t imagine the cost to build it — and laying cables along the side of the road. Upupupup we go, up and over the steep, gnarly mountains. With a swift hard right, “We are ready for you here.”
We are on a high mountain pass, Zighy Bay lies below us, opening its great smile to the sea below. An intense contrast of the yellow mountains and the emerald sea.
There are two ways to get to the resort. You can drive the zigzag road down to the resort, OR… you can paraglide in to the Check In.
It was years ago that I first learned of this place, right after they opened. I’d seen travel articles about the Alila Jabal Akhdar set on a canyon ridge (in my previous post) and Googled it. “Oman? Where’s that?”
And then later, I read about this stunning beach resort, where you could paraglide in. I was SOLD. “I’m in!”
Took me a while to figure out the logistics, but finally, I was here. My heart was racing for what was about to come.
…. and you can either take the crazy zigzag road down….
This is EXACTLY why I came here…
See that little strip of white sand beaches and palm trees down there? That’s Six Senses Zighy Bay. (Mountains used for scale )
Before they built this resort, this was a very isolated part of the Musandam Peninsula, the perfect circular bay, talcum powder beaches, emerald green water surrounded by a stunning wall of straight-up mountains.
A small village was here for hundreds of years, mostly people from the same tribe. This area was so isolated that they developed their own Arabic dialect in each pocket of valleys. (This is a pretty conservative area, local people don’t really use the beautiful beach all that much that I’ve seen.) For years after they first built the resort there was no road in. You could only reach it by boat or microlight (a propeller powered hanglider) — my idea of a perfect location.
But eventually they dug that crazy impossible road, steep zigzags cut directly into the mountainside, so steep you need to keep it in in 1️⃣ to get either up or down. Now you have the choice of arriving by 4×4 or paraglide in. (I think you’ve seen what method I chose)
The resort is big, but not in that way. Only 80 or so villas — all the rooms are villas — tucked under the palm trees, baking in the sun. What makes it feel big is that you don’t really see anybody.
Between the activities, the beach, the boat rides, the two big pools and multiple restaurants, people are spread out all over, so you rarely run into anyone.
The weekend I there, it was a big holiday in the UAE and the place was completely sold out, but it felt like it was at 25% capacity. Now THAT is what luxury is.
Ooooohh look, they have a pool! 😳
When you first look at them from the outside, the 80 different villas don’t look like much. Just a bunch of jangly fences made out of driftwood in the local style.
That’s the point.
But inside they are a dream. Each villa is basically its own stick-walled compound, using natural materials to meld into the landscape. Each is tricked out with its own pool, outdoor showers and huge interiors, like a walled compound so you have the most incredible privacy. You could be naked the whole time, unseen in your private space… which I may or may not have been most of the time. 😬
[CLICK ON ANY PICTURE TO OPEN THEM UP TO A SLIDESHOW, WITH MORE STORIES UNDER EACH PIC.]
The villas are basically built right on the sand, you walk barefoot most everywhere. And sand is your friend the whole trip, it becomes part of the experience. You really do feel like you’re coming home to you own Robinson Crusoe shack on the beach — if Robinson was played by the World’s Most Interesting Man, in smoking jacket, Osklen board shorts and sandy feet… and the shack was on the cover of Architectural Design.
Like a gnarly oyster with a rough shell on the outside, this is the soft succulent inside. Pass the Tabasco, please.
[CLICK ON THE GALLERY BELOW TO OPEN UP THE SLIDESHOW]
Up by the collection of the main restaurants, there’s a delightful freshwater pool.
Nothing better than waking up before everyone else to watch the sunrise.
One of the most special nights at Zighy Bay is their super cool restaurant on top of the mountain called Sense on the Edge, a couple thousand feet above the bay — perched on the edge of a steep cliff… right next to where you launch for the paragliding. The views are unreal, as is the food. As my dumb luck would have it, I was there during this week’s amazing full moon. 🌝 Kill me now. They have a fixed course meal of five-, seven- or nine-course meals, complete with a wine pairing for each course. Thp-thp-thp. My awesome business partner @yobananabones pulled off an amazing feat: he tracked down my travel agent @scottdunn_travel he won’t tell how, and they surprised me with the nine course setup. Complete with nine, count ’em NINE, different wines. Full glasses! 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷 By the time I was finished, I was speaking six languages, badly. And I was in love with everyone and everything in the world.
Zighy Bay is similar to a lot of amazing new “adventure hotels” — killer destinations in the middle of nowhere, that are not just for relaxation and spa time but also oriented around creating cool experiences.
Some people use the word “experiential” to describes these cool places, but to me that’s too clinical, too antiseptic. And years ago a lot of hotels watered down the term; they threw a couple of mountain bikes with bad brakes out front, added a basket weaving class and called it an “experience.”
I’m talking about places like here, in this killer green bay, in the middle of the remote barren mountains. Where Lowa trail runners are more appropriate than Gucci driving moccasins and popped collar.
It’s not necessarily new. Safaris and the Explora and Tierra hotels in Chile have been doing this since the 90s, but luckily there are more and more amazing desstinations added each year, in undiscovered places like this one.
Think: African safari, but in other places.
Zighy Bay is similar. In addition paragliding in to the jaw-dropping location in the middle of nowhere, they have guides to take you hiking or mountain biking, Arabic cooking classes, rock climbing, or they’ll take you for a sunrise or sundown in some remote location.
The weather in December was some of the best I’ve ever experienced, anywhere. No humidity. 80s in the day, cool at night. Barely any breeze at all. Uni-Temp™️ as we would call it in college — where you can stand naked and feel neither hot or cold.
In addition paragliding and microlight flying, they have guides to take you hiking or mountain biking, snorkeling, Arabic cooking classes, rock climbing, or they’ll take you for a sunrise or sundown in some remote location.
You can also take a dhow cruise along the rugged coast, stopping to snorkel in the crystal clear waters and then do some Omani-style line fishing and catch your own dinner that the hotel will grill up just right.
The hotel is also awesome at arranging special moments all around the area. On a mountain top. On the beach. In a canyon. To celebrate the sunrise, or sunset. Everyone likes a sunset.
Saving one of the best things for last, I took the hotels sunset adventure to the Sabatyn plateau, a ridge overlooking vast canyons. As picture-perfect as they get.
Sunrises here are 💣
The village of Zaghi used to be the only thing around here, isolated from the rest of the world an accessible only by boat. Populated mostly by the same tribe, they work in partnership with hotel, with some locals working in administrative positions or as licensed drivers. Omanis don’t really do manual labor, so most of the service roles at the hotel are done by guest workers from India, the Philippines and Indonesia.
This is the amazing Taner, from Bodrum originally, the GEM — Guest Experience Maker — assigned to me for my five night stay at Six Senses. (Poor guy). As GEM — the operative term is “maker” — boy, did he make everything happen. A GEM is your personal daily contact at a Six Senses for anything you want to happen, or not.
Taner was ever-present, from greeting me as I climbed out of my paragliding entrance to Zighy Bay to shaking my hand as I left. He was everywhere, or invisible.
I swear the guy implanted me with a GPS chip. No matter where I was in the resort — climbing out of the saltwater pool or coming back from a hike; sometimes I was just thinking about doing something cool — and out he popped with his notebook of my personal activities.
“Hello, Mister Daniel, what are your plans today? (Knowing it already) Is there anything else you’d like to do today? I know you have your ‘Thai singing bowls’ treatment at 4, but do you want to do anything else today before or after?”
Or “I noticed you asked for an ice bucket at 7pm every night, (pre-dinner martinis, obvs) would you like sliced lemons or anything else?” I felt like this resort was mine, not theirs.
And if I added something to my busy busy schedule, soon I’d have an updated Agenda printed out, delivered to my villa to help me keep it all straight, since I obviously didn’t even know if it was a Wednesday or Thursday. I was on vacation.
It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in a hotel, anywhere.
I’d never stayed at a Six Senses resort before, but time and again I’d heard how amazing they are. “You’re going to love it.” my travel agent said, which is why she was also smart to to book @sixsenseszighybay at the end of my trip.
It ruined me for life, it was so good.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: By the time you come here, Taner will probably be gone. He’s going to help open up the new Six Senses in Turkey after he gets married. I plan to go visit him. “Come, I’ll introduce you to my family!”]
You should go here.
You should go here.
Last Visited December 2017
Here is Six Senses Zighy Bay’s website. And on the great boutique hotel site Mr & Mrs Smith.
A great review of Zighy Bay in The Telegraph. Another review of Zighy Bay in Forbes. A great family perspective of Zighy Bay from Eric at Travel Babbo, with much better pictures than mine.
Here’s great info on the spa and hotel from Conde Nast Traveller. and a review in Jetsetter.com.
Here’s link to a Google Map I made tracing the route I took over my two weeks in Oman. You can bookmark it to use for later. You can also zoom in to check out the incredible satellite maps of Oman’s changing geology.
I used Louise Brooks at Scott Dunn Travel to book my entire trip and she was amazing. They have a fantastic website that has tons of pictures and details and different itineraries for what you’re in the mood for. I wasted a year and a half trying to book through another well-known British travel company and they kept giving the run-around, or forcing me into a fixed two-two-two trip — which would have been a total waste. I swear, I spent half an hour on the phone with Louise Brooks and just got exactly what I wanted, full detailed two week itinerary in half a day. Easiest vacation I ever planned, a full two week trip planned in half a day, bought and then I left the following week! (DM me if you want my agent’s contacts).
Here is Conde Nast Traveller’s Oman Travel page. I think the UK version has a lot more destinations and detail in it than the US version… which just repeats the same 12 travel places every year. And an even better Oman Overview that has tons of stuff I’ve never seen before. Gotta go back!
Here’s a good overview article from the US Conde Nast Traveler on Why You Should Visit Oman, then Gulf’s Undiscovered Gem.
A brief article in Vogue on why you should go to Oman. If Vogue is suggesting it, you know it’s a safe country!
Here are some perfunctory facts and helpful info from Travel & Leisure on How To Travel to Oman.
Lonely Planet’s Guide to Oman. And a short article on 9 Reasons to Visit Oman from CNN Travel.
A terrific collection of articles from The Guardian on Oman. And from The Telegraph Top 10 Reasons to Visit Oman.
Here is the Alila Jabal Akdar’s website. And the Canvas Club Luxury Tents’ website.
And lastly Fodor’s deep guide on Oman.
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