Ras Al Khaimah – The Emirate of Yesterday
While Dubai and Abu Dhabi showcase the shiny skyscrapers of the future – Ras Al Khaimah will take you back into the country’s past.
7,000 years of history, 64 kilometres of white sandy beaches, and a spectacular mountain range formed over 70 million years ago. For anyone who thinks the United Arab Emirates is just about swish beach resorts and sunbaked deserts, then Ras Al Khaimah is about to prove you wrong!
The most northern region of the United Arab Emirates, Ras Al Khaimah, or RAK, as it is often referred to, is the most traditional of all the emirates partly due to its large Emirati population. It’s also one of the most picturesque, as it is backed by the mighty Hajar Mountain range which rolls dramatically down to the sea. This rugged mountainous spine runs down through Fujairah and Sharjah too, but RAK has the best bit: Jebel Jais, the UAE’s tallest mountain. This is the ideal destination for outdoor pursuit enthusiasts, culture vultures and adventurers, eager to soak in the stunning natural scenery and traditional culture.
In addition – there are also inland mangrove forests, hidden lagoons, rolling dunes, and dusty forts steeped in history – all this and more, just one hour’s drive from Dubai!
Here are just a few of the awesome things to do in this forgotten emirate:
Climb the UAE’s highest Mountain
The highest peak in the UAE at 1934m, Jebel Jais is part of the Hajar Mountain range. You can hike to the top – or take the easy way and drive up the switchback road, no 4×4 is needed. This beautifully maintained road winds between foothills and across rugged, rocky terrain boasting lots of interesting geological features. Stop at the various viewing platforms on the way up to capture the jagged landscape with its craggy peaks, deep canyons and barren cliffs. There’s a café at the top where you can relax and just take in the far-reaching views.
Fly across the Hajar Mountains
Experience the ride of your life on Jebel Jais Flight – the world’s longest zipline, as certified by Guinness World Records. Located on the top of Jebel Jais, thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies can travel at speeds of up to 120kph to 150kph at a height of 1,680 metres above sea level. The flight takes approximately two to three minutes to traverse the mountains. Fitted with a special harness, take off from the incredible transparent-flooring Launching Platform. The flight ends on a state-of-the-art suspended platform, a 10-tonne structure hanging in the middle of the mountain 1,200ms above the sea level and 50ms above the ground. From here, you will enjoy another perspective of Jebel Jais before exiting via a short zipline towards the ground.
Climb Rugged Peaks
The Middle East’s first commercial Via Ferrata, a protected mountain climbing route, is also located at Jebel Jais. The Via Ferrata (Italian for “iron path”) is a steel cable which runs along the route and every few metres is fixed to the rock. Harnessed to the cable, three thrilling zip lines will take you more than one-kilometre along the mountain route.
Learn Bear Grylls’ Survival Skills
Also on Jebel Jais, disover your wild side at the Bear Grylls Explorers Camp. It’s run by Bear’s team of highly trained instructors and experts in their field. Programmes have been designed by Bear Grylls and developed by the local team based on Bear’s survival experiences, his dynamic methods and techniques. The courses vary from 12 to 24 hours and teach skills including fire lighting, abseiling and natural navigation.
Travel back in time at Dhayah Fort
Moving away from Jebel Jais and into the bay of Dhayah, about 18km north of the city, we’ll find the hilltop Dhayah Fort. The original fort was the last outpost of Al Qasimi resistance to British forces in 1819. The current fort was built a few years later on its foundations, and is the only hilltop fort still existing in the UAE. It’s well worth climbing the zigzagging staircase to this twin-towered hilltop fortress to enjoy the sweeping 360-degree vistas of the RAK area, including views of other ruined fortifications and watchtowers as well as the Hajar Mountains.
Explore a Ghost Village
Frozen in time and dusted with a layer of ochre desert sand, Al Jazirah Al Hamra is the last-surviving pearl diving and seafaring town on this side of the Gulf – all the others have been lost to modern development. The crumbling coral-stone houses in this 200-year old village once supported a bustling community, but was abandoned in the 1960s when the pearl industry collapsed. The village was left untouched for years and has now undergone some restoration works, however much of the original pearl diving village remains untouched, invoking feelings of taking a step back in time to the 1950s and 1960s. Rumoured to be haunted, it has also become a favoured filming location for Hollywood movies in recent years.
Read more about pearl diving in the UAE here.
Tour Ras Al Khaimah National Museum
Located in a fort that was the residence of the ruling family up until the early 1960s, this museum houses an excellent collection of archaeological and ethnological artifacts. There are documents, manuscripts and treaties concluded between the rulers of Ras Al Khaimah and the British government, as well as traditional weapons belonging to the ruling family. In the museum’s section on ethnology, you can learn about traditional life in the emirate, including architecture, pearl diving, date growing, farming and fishing.