At Young Pioneer Tours we are totally obsessed with maps and most notably enclaves and exclaves. One that has particularly grabbed our attention is located on the horn of the United Arab Emirates peninsula pointing towards Iran across the Gulf. An unusual exclave of Oman surrounding a small enclave of the UAE – thus forming a unique shape and what I like to call the Oman and UAE donut.
Don’t quite follow us? I don’t blame you. Looking at the map you’ll find the Omani town of Madha located within donut ring, with a population of only 3000 or so. The small UAE village of Nahwa is located within the very centre of the donut technically making Nahwa a counter-enclave to Madha’s exclave.
Brief history of Oman and UAE donut
This all came to be as Madha swore allegiance to the Sultan of Oman, whilst Nahwa swore theirs to Al Qawasim of Sharjah, which is one of the seven Emirates of the UAE. Borders were established and drawn up in 1969 by British representative to the Trucial States and the donut was created!
The Oman and UAE donut is only 120km drive from Dubai and 250km from the capital Abu Dhabi. I took it upon myself to scope out this unusual land and see what all the fuss is about. My wife, Maria, agreed this would be quite the adventure.
The drive to Oman UAE donut
Driving towards the donut is fairly uneventful. UAE is mostly barren desert lands with the occasional gas station stop. What I thought would be small backroads ended up being 6 lane superhighways stretching across the country. The speed limits can go as high as 140km/h but for some reason suddenly drop down to 80km/h with speed cameras planted everywhere. So you really need to keep your eyes constantly peeled. Fines can be from 1000 ($270) dirhams and up.
Before arriving at the border of the Oman donut we stopped off at Wadi Shees in the UAE. It’s a newly constructed park with toilets, picnic benches, a café, a fake waterfall, and a lookout spot that doesn’t really offer that much of a view. After eating our Iftar snack box (we visited during Ramadan) we jumped back into the car and continued our way on.
About a km away from the ring the paved roads stop and the gravel rock terrain begins. You’ll definitely need a SUV or a 4X4 to continue on. There’s really not much out here other than dirt and mountains. The only way you’ll be able to tell that you’ve first entered Oman is by GPS coordinates.
Continuing on there was not much the Oman ring had to offer yet so we continued on and once again entered the UAE. This placed us directly inside the donut center. Surrounded by absolutely nothing we took the opportunity to earlier prepare some Krispy Kreme donuts so we could eat a donut from inside a donut! Pretty cool eh.
With crumbs on our pants and sticky icing fingers we arrived in Nahwa, with UAE flags everywhere and the roads completely paved. The only noticeable building we passed was a government building with portraits of the Sheiks at front. I had been warned about taking pics of government buildings and did not want to push my luck here.
And before you know it, we’re back in the Oman ring. This time greeted by Omani flags lined up along the road and a picture of the Sultan of Oman. We drove our way towards Madha but before stopping at a dry reservoir. Not sure what the plan here was but not a single drop of water was found. A recreational park was built along the dry river beds, what may have hoped to be full of water.
Madha is a much larger town of Nahwa with a supermarket, a mosque and a petrol station with hundreds of UAE cars lining up for cheap Omani fuel. As of writing this article fuel costs have spiked up in the UAE due to the Russian Ukrainian conflict. You can use both UAE dirhams and Oman Riyals at the shops. Network towers of UAE reach across the donut but I was able to pick up Oman cell networks too.
Surprisingly Madha also has its own airport, but was completely shut and we couldn’t get close. From what I’ve read there’s no terminal, just a runway.
Madha also has its own fake waterfall but this one was turned off, and the portrait of the Sultan removed.
Before leaving Madha for good, we stopped off at a lookout point with a small turret with the Omani flag. From here we could overlook both Madha and Mirbah, the UAE city located outside of the donut.
Before returning back to Abu Dhabi, we had a beer and took a dip at the Sandy Beach Resort which has a fantastic beach front and infinity pool with poolside bar.
You can say that doing this trip you have technically visited Oman, with no e-Visa required, no border immigration stamps. We drove back along the Oman border back to Abu Dhabi to conclude our UAE and Oman experience. We managed to cross all 7 Emirate states which added more to the experience.