Exploring Ras Al Khaimah, the Wildest Place in the UAE
Ras Al Khaimah is the place to go in the UAE for adrenaline-fuelled adventure | Courtesy of Visit Ras Al Khaimah
It might not be the best-known city-state in the United Arab Emirates, but Ras Al Khaimah feels like Dubai’s wild little cousin with natural wonders and thrilling attractions. Here’s everything you need to know about one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the region.
When you drive towards Ras Al Khaimah – having flown into one of the nearby international airports – you’ll notice the cityscape shrink behind you and the desert rising in front. The spectacular skyscrapers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are nowhere to be seen in the northernmost Emirati. Instead you’ll find kilometres of beaches, incredible wilderness escapes and mountain hikes that transport you out of the usual trappings of the region. There’s a lot to be said for the high life elsewhere in the UAE, but in Ras Al Khaimah those words can be taken literally.
Jebel Jais, the highest mountain in the UAE, is one of the first places you need to visit, and the Bear Grylls Explorer Camp is a rather exhilarating way to discover the area. There are 16 camp cabins in which to stay and several curated experiences available to guests or day-trippers.
The Bear Grylls Explorer Camp offers survival courses and thrilling adventures | Courtesy of Visit Ras Al-Khaimah
It’s the first Grylls-branded accommodation in the world and, as you peer up at the intimidating mountains as you approach the entrance, you can see why the explorer chose Ras Al Khaimah. Although Grylls himself won’t show you around, there are adventure experts to guide you through the area or take you to the rock-climbing outposts a short distance from the main camp.
The Bear Grylls camp has simple yet comfortable cabins | Courtesy of Visit Ras Al-Khaimah
Like in most of the UAE, one thing the locals love to do here is pack their 4×4 off-road vehicles with a healthy amount of picnic goods and head into the desert. The pastime is known by the aggressive-sounding nickname of dune bashing, and remains a popular activity for residents.
It was once the first thing tourists wanted to experience too, but in recent years there have been serious concerns over the environmental impact to the dunes and the creatures that live there. There’s also the obvious issue of thousands of gas-guzzling vehicles racing unnecessarily though the desert. Locals aren’t about to change the way they enjoy the land, although you will find many families and larger groups driving to designated spots and relaxing with a barbecue before sunset rather than driving into the dunes.
A desert picnic is a classic way to enjoy dusk in the UAE | Courtesy of Visit Ras Al-Khaimah
If you want to experience the sensation of riding through the golden sands, you’re better off with a camel ride and dinner at one of the many desert camps here. The animals are treasured here, so are well looked after, and the entertainment offered at the camps can vary from traditional to touristy belly dances.
Another sustainable way to explore the wilderness is by getting an ebike. Rentals are popping up everywhere with several now available around Jebel Jais and a series of charging stations opening too.
If you’re after fine dining, then 1484 by Puro sits near the summit of the main mountain, and you can hike up even further to enjoy a sunset dinner cooked by locals thanks to a series of routes personally approved by ruler Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi.
Pack your hiking bag and trek up the mountains for a sunset dinner | Courtesy of Visit Ras Al-Khaimah
Before the discovery of vast oil reserves in the region, people in the area relied on the coast to provide for them. You can still find delicious seafood from the waters of Ras Al Khaimah, but there’s another motive to visit – pearls: the reason the area initially grew to prominence.
Suwaidi Pearl Farm showcases the modern processes involved in harvesting the Gulf pearl oyster (pinctada radiata) and how to look for the treasures that sometimes lay within. You’ll also discover the ancient techniques used by divers, how dangerous the practice was and the special bond the Suwaidi name has with the industry.
The vast man-made island of Al Marjan is where you’ll find most of the family resorts and luxury hotels in Ras Al Khaimah. There are several kilometres of private beaches that allow each property the chance to capture the winter sun market – temperatures remain high here throughout the year. Here are some of the hotels we think give you the chance to experience Ras Al Khaimah and its culture.
DoubleTree by Hilton Resort and Spa
Courtesy of Visit Ras Al Khaimah
As one of the biggest hotels in Ras Al Khaimah, this DoubleTree operates as a mini-city with everything you need in one place. There are parts that function as a typical European-style family resort with everything at hand and buffet restaurants serving quick bites and easy meals. Then there are apartment-style residences, ideal if you’re looking for a remote-working option in 2022. We’re big fans of the restaurants here too; enjoy a moonlight dinner with live music.
Courtesy of Hampton by Hilton Marjan Island / Expedia
Not too far from the DoubleTree is another offering from Hilton. The Hampton is a smaller property with smaller rooms overall, but the concept is more modern. The fresh look of the place gives everything a contemporary feel but as we’re in the UAE you can still expect old-school luxury. It would be an odd mix anywhere else, but in Ras Al Khaimah a four-star hotel often comes with five-star customer service.
Jebel Jais Flight is the longest zipline in the world and one of the main attractions for adventure tourists. Reaching speeds of 150kph (93mph), the route is just shy of 3km (2mi) long and gives you the best view of the tallest mountain in the region – if you’re brave enough to keep your eyes open obviously.
Joining the zipline in 2022 are three new attractions that will also be unmissable for every visitor. Jais Wings will be the first dedicated paragliding site in the region and will give you a new way to see the mountains and valleys. If you’re looking for the perfect Instagram shot, there will be Jais Swing where you can sit (and swing) while posing for the ultimate social media brag.
Dangle from a wire while braving race-car speeds at the Jebel Jais Flight zipline | Courtesy of Visit Ras Al-Khaimah
Arguably the most exciting addition, however, is the Jais Sledder. This 1,840m (6,040ft) toboggan run down the slopes of the Hajar mountain range lets the rider control their descent so you can have a thrilling white-knuckle adventure or a more leisurely slide to take in the views.
The huge success of the Bear Grylls Explorer Camp means that new accommodation will also be added in 2022, but these won’t be your only outdoor options. Cloud7 Camp in Jebel Jais is going to be a glamping concept with sustainability at its core. This theme of green tourism is carried through at Earth Hotels Altitude, a 15-cabin property with a pool and ecotheme opening soon.
Find your perfect adventure in the peaks of the Hajar mountain range | Courtesy of Visit Ras Al-Khaimah
If you want to experience a side of the UAE away from the crowds and are happy to do all your gift shopping elsewhere, Ras Al Khaimah is a fantastic option for the adventurous traveller in 2022.