Last summer, I gained my PADI open water scuba qualification in Thailand. Now that I'm back in the UAE, I want to keep diving but everywhere I've found that offers weekend dive packages on the east coast seems to be tied to five-star hotels. One of the things I really liked about diving in south-east Asia was the laid-back feel of the dive centres. Is there anything like that here?
There is, and while it's not in the UAE, it's so close that it might as well be. Dibba is a town split between the UAE and Oman on the east coast of the Musandam peninsula and a five-minute drive north of the border is Nomad Ocean Adventures (www.discovernomad.com; 00 968 268 36069). It's billed as an "eco lodge" - a slightly long bow to draw, considering it's a slightly down-at-heel collection of three aging villas - but it certainly lives up to its claim not to have "the bells and whistles of a five-star hotel".
But it has everything you need: a fully-equipped dive centre, a pool in which dive classes are held (it's a relatively cheap place to do your open water or advanced qualification because you can do the theory by e-learning beforehand and then do the actual instruction in the pool and in the ocean) and it's a few minutes walk from the port from which speedboats or dhows will transport you to the dive sites to the north. The journey along the spectacular coastline, featuring craggy cliffs and tiny bays, is worth the boat ride on its own.
More importantly, it has that laid-back vibe you experienced in Thailand, particularly because the weekend dive package is fully inclusive. For Dh1,100, you get a divemaster, equipment, transport, accommodation on Thursday and Friday nights, and all your meals and soft drinks.
Compared to the devastation of the area a couple of years ago by a combination of a typhoon and a red tide, the sea life has made an impressive comeback and it's now common to see turtles, moray eels and lion fish among the coral. If you're lucky, you'll see some of the whale sharks that frequent the area.
The good thing about Dibba compared to Khasab, the Omani town on the western side of the peninsula, is that UAE residents don't need to pay for a visa and all you need to cross the border is a UAE identity card. It takes between two and a half to three hours to drive from Abu Dhabi.
If you can muster a larger group, you can hire a dhow for the weekend and reach dive sites further north than the usual locations frequented by Nomad and most of the other dive operators. After sleeping on the dhow overnight, you return after another couple of dives the next day.
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