Set against the backdrop of the majestic Hajar Mountains, the northeastern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah offers everything you need for a luxury getaway or an outdoor adventure
It takes just over an hour to drive from Dubai or Abu Dhabi to Ras Al Khaimah, but entering the UAE’s northernmost emirate can feel as though you’ve stepped into another world. Gone are the skyscrapers and megamalls of the larger, glitzier emirates, replaced instead by historic sites, sweeping mountain ranges, rolling desert dunes and pristine beaches. With so much to offer, it is little wonder that Ras Al Khaimah is a playground for the UAE’s weekend warriors, nature lovers and thrill seekers during the cooler months.
The emirate is home to a diverse landscape, boasting swathes of desert dunes, an ocean teeming with sea life and rugged mountain ranges and wadis that beg to be explored, whether on foot, four wheels or even four legs, if you opt for a camel trek or horse riding tour. It is also home to an array of fascinating historical sites that date back centuries, which means visitors looking for a dose of culture will also find plenty to explore across its magnificent terrain.
Discover precious pearls
Long before the discovery of oil, pearls were an important source of wealth for the people of the United Arab Emirates. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, pearl divers would sail for four months at a time, working from sunrise to sunset, scouring the depths of the Arabian Gulf waters for this natural treasure. It was a very dangerous practice and pearl diving equipment at the time was rudimentary. Divers had to take to the waters with just a nose clip, fashioned from goat or gazelle horns and hold their breath to search for pearl oysters on the seabed. Their only lifeline back to the boat was a rope that would be used to haul the divers back to the surface.
Pearling in the UAE died out in the early 1930s when the introduction of Japanese cultured pearls changed the face of the industry. Fortunately, the UAE’s rich pearling heritage is now undergoing a revival, thanks to the efforts of RAK Pearls Holding that operates a dedicated pearl farm in the emirate. And you can now gain an in-depth look into the fascinating world of pearls by booking a tour of the Suwaidi pearl farm in Al Rams, Ras Al Khaimah. Your guide will regale you with tales of pearl divers, while also showing you how to open oysters. And you can keep any pearls found as a souvenir of this remarkable experience. 07 2211124
Become one with nature
Trading luxury and comfort to get up close to nature isn’t the norm in Ras Al Khaimah. Dotted throughout the emirate, you’ll find five-star hotels and family-friendly resorts offering the best of both worlds. In fact, it’s this multi-faceted appeal that makes the emirate popular among visitors seeking a luxury break as well as an active getaway. For the ultimate escape, plan a trip to The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert. The resort forms part of the Al Wadi Nature Reserve, which is a protected area spanning 500 hectares in the Arabian desert.
Making the most of its natural surroundings, the property offers guests the chance to connect with the great outdoors through a series of experiences. Begin your day bird-watching or embark on a desert safari to observe the Arabian oryx in its natural habitat or a baby gazelle taking its first unsteady steps. You could also go horse riding among the dunes through a maze of ghaf trees. At sunset, take a step back in time to learn more about the region’s age-old traditions by careering through the sands with a camel caravan. Those keen to take up a new hobby can try their hand at training the majestic falcon or perfecting the skill of archery.
Al Hamra Sailing Club in Ras Al Khaimah is one of the most exciting additions to the UAE’s sailing scene. Located just a short walk from the Al Hamra Marina and Yacht Club, it has been open for little over two years, yet it is already a hive of activity for the area’s sailing enthusiasts. Instructor Philip Reeves, a British expat who moved to Ras Al Khaimah to manage the club, is on a mission to build a thriving sailing community that not only serves the emirate, but also the wider region. Al Hamra is an idyllic location for a sailing hub, with a serene coastline that nevertheless gets enough of a breeze to power Ras Al Khaimah’s fleet of vessels. The sailing clubhouse is well equipped and provides a warm, welcoming base where the community can meet.
Most of the lessons on offer are aimed at children and teens, but the adult sailing lessons are becoming increasingly popular. Over the weekends, residents from all over the emirate flock to the club to sail and to socialise. Some even make the drive from Dubai and Abu Dhabi every weekend to participate in the activities on offer. Even for the absolute beginner who can’t tell their port from their starboard, Ras Al Khaimah is an ideal place to learn to sail. The wind speeds are well suited to both racing and relaxed sailing, while there are plenty of choices for both open and closed water sessions. Al Hamra Marina, for example, has an enclosed lagoon that makes for a very safe learning environment.
Head for the hills
Wadi Showka is popular among the UAE’s fitness community for hiking, mountain biking and trail running, with miles of four-wheel tracks that are easy to follow. The walls of the valley offer shelter from the elements, while the flat wadi floor makes the perfect base for campers to pitch their tents. It’s a far cry from a five-star hotel, but the tranquil surroundings and starry skies make for an unforgettable experience.
It’s a wonderful feeling to trade the bustle of the busy emirates for serenity among the hills. You’ll be surrounded by craggy mountains on all sides with some lonesome palm trees scattered along narrow, pebbly paths. Small ponds and natural springs are present almost all year round and it’s not uncommon to find yourself in the company of local wildlife including mountain goats, camels, donkeys and birds.
Step back in time
For history buffs looking to journey into the emirate’s past, few places offer as much of an in-depth look into the region’s heritage as the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah. The UAE’s past is brought to life with a series of rare artefacts and interesting finds that paint a picture of life in the ancient towns dating back almost 7,000 years.
Housed within a 19th-century fort – the residence of Qawassim rulers until 1964 – the exhibits include archaeological artefacts unearthed from local digs, traditional weapons and ethnographical objects ranging from the Neolithic period up to the Islamic era. 07 2333411
The UAE’s highest mountain, Jebel Jais, stands tall at a staggering 1,934 metres above sea level. Part of the Hajar Mountain range, its dramatic landscape is a favoured playground among the region’s adventure enthusiasts. Choose to hike its craggy terrain on foot or with a mountain bike or experience a world’s first at the newly opened outdoor ice rink, situated approximately 1,300 metres above sea level at the Jebel Jais viewing deck park. But if it’s the ultimate adventure you’re after, nothing beats the thrill of tearing through the air at speeds of up to 150 kilometres per hour on the world’s longest zip line. This exciting attraction has put the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah on the map as the holder of a Guinness World Record for the Jebel Jais Flight.
Stretching 2.8 kilometres through the mountains, 1,680 metres above the ground, the zip line is a must for thrill seekers in the region. Alternatively, Ras Al Khaimah’s Via Ferrata offers a (slightly) more sedate aerial experience with three zip lines that transverse more than one kilometre along the mountain. A must-try for those in search of an adrenaline-packed afternoon, the Via Ferrata is one of the emirate’s most popular activities. This four-hour adventure begins at the foot of the Jebel Jais and sees participants follow a protected climbing route of cables interspersed with heart-pumping zip lines, the largest of which is around 300 metres long. It’s an unforgettable way to experience the emirate’s spectacular mountain ranges.