A complete guide to the best time to see turtles in Oman, where to go, the types of turtles in Oman and when you can see both nesting and hatching
The Sultanate of Oman is home to some of the most important turtle nesting grounds in the world with thousands of turtles migrating annually from the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf (and beyond) to lay their eggs on the Sultanate’s shores.
Turtles nest along the entire length of the Omani coastline from Musandam in the north to Dhofar in the south. Among the most popular nesting sites, Ras al-Jinz (the most easterly point of Oman) is famous for its green turtles, whilst Masirah Island attracts the loggerhead in great numbers and, offshore from Muscat, the hawksbill turtle can be found on the Daymaniyat Islands.
What to expect from your turtle watching experience
The drama unfolds at night during nesting season when female turtles drag themselves from the water onto the beach and, using their hind flippers, dig circular holes 40 to 50 centimetres deep. Depending on the species, they are filled with 50 to 200 soft-shelled eggs. Laying takes between 15 and 30 minutes, and after laying, the turtles re-fill the nest and return to the ocean, leaving the eggs unattended. The entire process takes about an hour.
Incredibly, a hatchling’s gender depends on the sand temperature. Lighter sands maintain higher temperatures, which decreases incubation time and results in more female hatchlings. Incubation takes about two months, after which the turtle hatchlings emerge (usually at night) and instinctively scurry towards the relative safety of the sea as fast as they can. The dash to the sea is a magical event and, if lucky enough to witness it, a highlight on a holiday in Oman.
Best time to see turtles in Oman
All Oman’s turtle species follow a similar mating, nesting and hatching pattern, with the females coming ashore to a sandy beach to lay their eggs a few weeks after mating. The best time of year to witness female turtles nesting, or laying their eggs, is from May to August. Turtles are most likely to lay their eggs under the cover of darkness, in the middle of the night and in the early hours of the morning. They tend to avoid the beach at full moon.
Turtle hatchlings emerge from the nests approximately seven weeks after the eggs are laid. Turtles visit Oman’s main turtle beaches throughout the year, but a visit during the summer months will increase your chances of witnessing this incredible spectacle of nature. Generally, the best time of year to see turtles hatching is July to September.
Considering the time lapse between events, visiting in August or September should provide the best chances of seeing both nesting turtles and hatchlings leaving the nest to make their way to the ocean.
Overall, the best time for turtle watching in Oman is during the summer months from May to August. However, turtles are often spotted during winter, and there are good chances of sightseeing turtles at any time of the year at Ras al-Jinz.
If you had to choose one month, it would be August. But unless you are planning a wildlife-centric holiday, don’t get too hung up on this. Events in nature can be unpredictable, and the summer months are also the hottest in Oman.
Which species of turtle can you see in Oman?
Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtle (sometimes referred to as marine turtles) are found in Omani waters. These are the green turtle, the loggerhead turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the olive ridley turtle, and the leatherback turtle. Of these, green turtles are the most prolific and the species you are most likely to see during a turtle watching holiday in Oman. Although the leatherback turtle is found in Omani waters, it does not nest on the Sultanate’s beaches. Sadly, all of Oman’s marine turtles are threatened with extinction and classified as endangered animals. You can find more information about their differences further on in this guide.
Best place to see turtles in Oman
The four main places where turtles can be found in Oman are Ras al-Jinz, Ras al-Hadd, Masirah Island and the Al-Daymaniyat Islands. The green turtle is the most common and can be found on all of these beaches and islands.
Ras al-Jinz is the most important nesting site of the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas) in the Indian Ocean. Thousands of turtles return annually to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs, creating what is arguably the finest natural spectacle in Oman.
As well as being the only place in the Indian Ocean where you can see green turtles nesting in the wild, Ras al-Jinz is the most accessible site for turtle watching in Oman.
How to get to Ras al-Jinz
Ras al-Jinz turtle reserve sits on Oman’s easterly-most tip, 250 kilometres south of Muscat. The excellent roads in the country mean it can be reached in a little over three hours. To the west, are the dramatic dunes of Wahiba Sands.
Where to stay in Ras al-Jinz
Offering relatively modest accommodation, the best place to stay in Ras al-Jinz is Carapace Lodge. Located at the Ras al-Jinz Scientific and Visitors Centre, it is also within a 10-minute walk of turtle beach.
Ras al-Hadd beach is just a 20-minute drive from Ras al-Jinz and is also a good place for turtle watching in Oman. More or less the same number of turtles visit Ras al-Hadd as they do Ras al-Jinz, but the beaches at Ras al-Hadd tend to receive fewer human visitors making it a slightly better choice for seeing turtles in Oman.
How to get to Ras al-Hadd
As with Ras al-Jinz, Ras- al-Hadd can be reached from both Muscat and Wahiba Sands. The short distance between the two turtle reserves means that visiting both is easily achievable.
Where to stay in Ras al-Hadd
The best place to stay at Ras al-Hadd is Turtle Beach Resort. Accommodation is simple but its location, steps away from the crystal blue waters of the Gulf of Oman, sets it apart from other options in the region. Turtle Beach Resort is also a good base for visiting the reserve at Ras al-Jinz.
What makes Masirah Island special is that all of Oman’s five turtle species visit the island or its waters: the island is home to the green turtle, the loggerhead turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the olive ridley turtle, and the leatherback turtle. Masirah is an important nesting site for the loggerhead turtle which visits the beaches in large numbers.
Masirah is an archetypal desert island – isolated but beautiful – with attractions beyond turtle spotting. In addition to its marine life, Masirah is a birdwatchers’ paradise with species like the pink flamingo a big draw. Active visitors can enjoy kite surfing, snorkelling and diving, and hiking up the island’s modest mountains or along its deserted beaches, spotting photogenic shipwrecks in the sand.
How to get to Masirah Island
Masirah Island is 65 km long and just 5 km wide at its narrowest point. The island is reached by a one-hour journey by car ferry from Shannah port. Shannah is between a 5 and 7-hour drive south of Muscat, depending on how scenic a route you take! Due to the distance from the capital, a visit to Masirah Island is best incorporated into an extended tour of Oman. For example, Wahiba Sands can be reached from the port in around an hour and a half.
Where to stay on Masirah Island
The best hotel on Masirah is Masirah Island Resort, a beachfront resort on the northeastern side of the island close to the turtle nesting area
The Al-Daymaniyat Islands are an archipelago of nine small islands located about 40 km off the coast of Muscat. A designated nature reserve, the islands are surrounded by crystal clear turquoise waters and pristine coral reefs that are perfect for snorkelling and diving. Along with Ras al Had Turtle Reserve and the Heritage Site of Ras al Jinz, Daymaniyat Islands Nature Reserve is on UNESCO’s World Heritage tentative list due to the unique nature of the island’s biodiversity. The preservation order aims to conserve the turtle nesting beaches, as well as protect its coral reefs, birdlife and scenic beauty. The waters around the islands are home to many sea turtles – the green turtle is the most prolific, although hawksbill turtles also visit the reserve.
How to see turtles on the Daymaniyat Islands
Unlike other turtle nesting sites in Oman, the beaches of Daymaniyat’s nature reserves are completely off-limits to visitors during the turtle nesting season. The only way to maybe glimpse turtles here is on a snorkelling excursion on which you can expect to see a variety of marine life such as rays, moray eels, and clown fish.
How to get to the Daymaniyat Islands
The islands can only be reached by boat, and the easiest way to visit them is on a speedboat excursion departing from Al Mouj Marina in Seeb, in Muscat’s northern suburbs. The 16 or so kilometres from the mainland to the islands takes around half an hour.
Where to stay on the Daymaniyat Islands
There are no hotels on the Daymaniyat Islands, so Muscat is the best base for visiting the islands. We have a range of luxury hotels in Muscat that we recommend.
More about the species of turtle that can be seen in Oman
When you go on a turtle watching holiday to Oman, your guide will share fascinating facts about turtles, but here is some basic information about the various species found in Oman’s waters.
Green turtles (Chelonia mydas)
Taking their name from the colour of their shell, green turtles are found around the world and are the most prolific of Oman’s turtle species. Despite their relative numbers, green turtles are classified as an endangered species. They are highly migratory and swim distances of over 2,000 km to find a nesting site.
Size: Adults average between 83 and 114 cm in length and weigh from 110 up to 190 kg. The largest green turtle ever found was 152 cm in length and weighed 395 kg.
“The most valuable reptile in the world… as the best recognised of the sea turtle species, the green turtle is an icon of popular culture today“Peter C. H. Pritchard, world-renowned turtle zoologist, also known as the father of turtle conservation
Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta)
With a distinctive head and a large jaw, female loggerhead turtles only lay eggs every two to four years. They are also less likely to lay on the shore so opportunities for spotting one are much rarer. Like the green turtle, loggerheads are extensive travellers.
Size: Typically 80 to 110 cm in length and 70 to 170 kg.
Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea)
Also known as the pacific ridley, the olive (named after its colouring) is one of the smallest breeds of turtle, growing up to around 60 cm. They nest en masse with thousands of turtles gathering to lay eggs at the same time.
Size: Adults measure around 60 to 70 cm and weigh 35-45 kg.
Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Another of the smaller species, although growing up to around 90 cm in length, the hawksbill is far from diminutive! This species is also on the endangered species list. Unlike some marine turtles, hawksbills often nest alone or in small groups.
Size: Adults are 71–89 cm in shell length and can weigh 46 to 70 kg.
Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea)
Leatherbacks are the largest turtles on Earth. They are also distinctly different from the other six species of sea turtle, so much so that they are the sole species of a different family of turtles, Dermochelyidae. They are the only marine turtle that lacks a hard shell. Instead, their carapace, or shield, is formed of a tough, rubbery skin that gives it its name. Another difference is that the leatherback’s flippers are clawless. Their favourite diet of jellyfish is a tragic hazard as discarded plastic bags floating in the ocean resemble their favourite meal.
While leatherback turtles visit the ocean around Oman while migrating, they do not come ashore to nest, so only scuba divers and snorkellers have the opportunity to spot one.
Size: Typically 130 to 183 cm long, weighing between 300 and 500 kilograms. The largest leatherback recorded was three metres from the tip of its beak to the end of its tail and weighed in at 916 kg!
Flatback and Kemp’s Ridley turtles
The other two species of sea turtle are the flatback turtle, which lives off northern Australia’s shores, and kemp’s ridley, the smallest and rarest marine turtle which lives in the Gulf of Mexico and the shallow waters off the eastern coast of the USA.
Interesting sea turtle facts
- Sea turtles inhabit all temperate and tropical oceans, spending virtually all of their time in the water.
- Sea turtles are migratory and it remains a mystery how a female turtle finds her way back to the beach where she was hatched decades before, so that she may lay her eggs
- Only female marine turtles leave the sea when they come ashore to nest; a male may never leave the sea in his entire lifetime – which could be fifty years.
- Marine turtles have flippers which function like efficient paddles. Each flipper has one or two claws, except for that of the loggerhead which has none.
- Turtles are one of the oldest animal species – they have been roaming the world for millions of years – some believe up to 220 million years!
- There are over 300 species of turtle in the world – just 7 of these are sea turtles, and the rest are freshwater turtles and tortoises (land turtles)
- Sea turtles don’t have teeth
- It is believed that only one turtle in every thousand survives to maturity
- Depending on the species, a turtle may nest up to six times in a season – returning to the sea to mate at approximately two-week intervals
- Most sea turtles don’t lay eggs annually – every two to three years is more typical
The Do’s and Don’ts of Turtle watching
- Always follow any instructions your guide gives you
- Remember that torches are not allowed
- Never approach turtles emerging from the sea
- Never disturb nesting turtles
- Leave only footprints – Do not leave any litter on the beach
- Avoid making noise around the nesting beach
- Wear dark, natural or muted colours
Additional etiquette is required for swimming with turtles and your snorkelling guide will brief you: don’t swim towards them, instead drift on the surface of the water and see if the turtle wants to swim with you. Essentially, don’t invade their space and above all, do not attempt to touch them.
What about filming and flash photography?
Bright and flashing lights are forbidden on the beaches. Therefore, if you are hoping to capture this magical experience on camera, the early hours of the morning as the sun is rising is the best time to be on the beach.
Turtle watching holidays in Oman
So now you know where to find turtles in Oman and the best time of year to visit, you might still be left wondering how to incorporate turtle watching into a holiday to Oman. Get in touch, and we can take all of the hard work out of researching and organising your trip. At Corinthian Travel, we specialise in tailor-made holidays to Oman and can include a turtle watching experience as part of your holiday.
Seeing turtles is a fantastic experience to include on a family holiday in Oman, although bear in mind younger children may get restless waiting for the action to start. Our Oman Family Holiday itinerary includes a night at Ras al-Jinz with the opportunity to watch turtles.
Please contact us for further details of our Oman tailor-made holidays.
Additional images © Kathmandu & Beyond