Things to see and do in Ras al Khaimah
A little-known Middle Eastern enclave favoured by those looking for Arabian adventure or simply a peaceful and authentic break, Ras al Khaimah holidays offer much to delight sand-and-sun seekers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Small enough to explore in one trip, RAK's stunning glittering sands, gently ebbing azure waters, deep desert valleys and towering mountain crags make a spectacular holiday setting.
There's plenty to do too – from traditional Arabian pursuits such as falconry and camel racing to classic sightseeing and family activities such as desert safaris, watersports and theme parks. Whether you are looking for luxury holidays in RAK or a budget break in the sun, Ras al Khaimah hotels range from the opulent Waldorf Astoria and fabulous Banyan Tree al Wadi desert retreat to affordable all-inclusives right on the beach.
Unlike RAK's ultra-modern oil-rich neighbours, the ‘rising emirate' offers a glimpse into the real Arabia, with traces of a long history and fascinating culture that gives it a more authentic appeal. Travellers to RAK City can find a good dose of culture just strolling around the corniche and souk with a mix of artisan's workshops and modern stores. The area is flanked by a lagoon on one side and the sea on the other, with plenty of restaurants, green spaces and places to sit along the pathed promenades.
Its chief attraction is the National Museum of Ras al-Khaimah, housed in the stuccoed palace of the al Quawasim family, which ruled here in the 18th century. The museum's fascinating exhibits take visitors through the country's long history with artefacts left over from centuries of lucrative pearl diving, carrying frames once used in the camel trains of the ancient Silk Road and even pottery dating back to the first century B.C. To the south, it's also well worth taking in the beautiful white minarets and domes of Sheikh Zayed Mosque, overlooking al Quawasin Corniche.
For visitors interested in walking through the region's history, the emirate has preserved some of its historic sites including Dhayah Fort, north of Al Rams town, and Jazirat Al Hamra fishing village, close to RAK city. Five-hundred-year-old Dhayah fortress is the only remaining hill-top castle in the UAE and was once an outpost of the ancient Silk Road. Reached by steep stone staircase, there are stunning vistas of date palm plantations and distant mountains from the top.
The 16th century remnants of the abandoned fishing town of Jazirat Al Hamra offer an atmospheric snapshot of times-gone-by in this sleepy corner of Arabia. One of the oldest and best preserved coastal villages on the UAE, its crumbling coral stone houses and public buildings were the base for a traditional fishing and pearl diving industry that dates back to the 14th century.
Travellers curious about RAK's pearl diving heritage should not miss a trip to the Pearl Museum that charts the industry's regional history with quirky exhibits and houses a glittering collection of prize pearls including the huge Miracle of Arabia pearl. You can also take a tour of a Pearl Farm that produces more than 100,000 pearls a year, where visitors have the chance to open an oyster and keep any pearl they may find.
An impressive bird of prey often associated with Arabia, the falcon is the national symbol of Ras al Khaimah and traditional falconry is still going strong in the emirate. Watching an authentic Arabian falconry show and learning to handle the birds at the school in the desert is an unforgettable experience for all the family. The ancient sport of archery is also popular in RAK, and travellers can take part in archery lessons and even follow an archery trail in the desert. Both traditional activities are offered by the Banyan Tree Al Wadi resort, set in the desert dunes of southern RAK.
To experience a key heritage activity in Ras al Khaimah, take a trip to the camel races and watch an age-old spectacle amid the desert dunes of Digdaga and Hamraniya. From October and throughout the milder months, the track is alive with colourfully-clad camels and trainers and locals taking wagers. Weekends are the busiest, with official races also held on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings.
Topped by wild and rugged mountain crags and surrounded by a wilderness of valleys, dunes, oases and beaches, Ras al Khaimah is an exciting destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Taking a desert safari into the glittering orange-pink sands of desert valleys, speckled with trees and home to camel herds and some surprising other creatures such as Arabian Oryx, is an absolute must-do on holidays to Ras al Khaimah. You can choose to take a quad bike tour or join a camel trek, ride on horseback or go on foot. Desert camps and resort hotels offer travellers the chance to spend a magical night among the dunes.
From treks into the dunes to staying in a traditional Bedouin camp, the Al Wadi Nature Reserve is a great destination for travellers wanting to experience Arabian desert adventure. The Banyan Tree Al Wadi offers an exciting programme of activities including camel caravans, archery, quad biking and nature trails amid smooth peachy sands. Treks into the dramatic Jebel Jais mountains can also be organised from the resorts. Travellers looking for offroad adventures can hire a 4x4 and pilot it through the dramatic scenery of twisting wadis and shifting dunes.
The Bedouin Oasis Desert Camp is the perfect place to experience desert living under the stars with traditional goat hair tents, antique gaslights and a roaring fire adding to the magic of the setting. Alternatively, the Bassata Desert Village offers an all-round desert experience with an Arabian belly dancing show, camel rides and dune bashing capped off with a sunset barbecue.
Taking advantage of its prime position beside the warm, calm waters of the Arabian Ocean, Ras al Khaimah offers the full range of watersports and aquatic activities from sailing, jet skiing and banana boat rides to scuba diving, snorkelling and wake boarding. Nature lovers can kayak in Ras al Khaimah's mangroves and thrill-seekers can try a range of aquatic adrenalin-inducing activities offered by Adventure Sports. Al Jazeera Diving and Swimming Centre next to Al Jazeera Port, south of RAK City, is the place to go for expert scuba instruction and guided dives, while the nearby Iceland Water Park is ideal for a day of carefree fun splashing about in the water.
Rest and relaxation
Aside from a wealth of cultural attractions and outdoor pursuits, RAK is the perfect destination for recharging your batteries. Blue skies, shimmering sunshine and 64kms of pristine sandy coastline combine with a bewitching hinterland of desert and mountains to create a tranquil setting for rest and relaxation. A collection of modern hotels and resorts provide all the facilities a traveller could wish for just a stone's throw from the warm crystalline waters of the Arabian Gulf. For some serious pampering, travellers can choose from a clutch of spa resorts offering a range of rejuvenating treatments to nurture your wellbeing.
Chief among RAK's spa experiences, the natural hot springs at Khatt are renowned for their healing properties. Channelled into the pebble-floored pools of the Harmony Ayurveda Centre, the mineralised waters bubble up from 90 feet underground and are said to cure a number of ailments. Ayurvedic spa treatments compliment the healing thermal waters and entrance is free to guests staying at the Golden Tulip Khatt Springs Hotel and Spa, which manages the springs.
Visitors to Ras al Khaimah also have ample opportunities to enjoy a relaxing round of golf or a peaceful cruise on the ocean. The emirate has two 18-hole championship golf courses – the Tower Links Golf Club and Al Hamra Golf Club. Set amid four lagoons that merge with the Arabian Gulf, the Al Hamra Golf Club is the ideal place to unwind and offers everything from beginner's lessons to golf under the stars. Tower Links Golf Club has an equally beautiful setting between mangroves and majestic mountains. Both cater to members and non-members and have clubhouses and restaurants.
Another great way to relax in RAK is to take a catamaran or yacht cruise along the picturesque coastline. You can charter a yacht from Ras al Khaimah corniche or join a sunset cruise for dinner and cocktails, spend a day snorkelling and cavorting in the translucent waters or take a tailored fishing trip on the catamaran yacht Freedom. For a day of soothing sun, sea and sand in a specially-designed beach haven, take the ferry to the newly-created Al Marjan islands and luxuriate on soft golden sands gently shelving into the clear calm ocean, with top-notch tourist facilities close to hand.
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International luxury hotel chain, Movenpick Hotels and Resorts are expanding their properties in the UAE with a new project in the up-and-coming holiday hub of Ras Al Khaimah. Set to open in 2019, the Al Marjan Island will feature over 500 lavish lodgings spread across a cluster of stunning man-made keys.
Jannah Hotels and Resorts has announced that it will open its first hotel in Ras Al Khaimah this month. Jannah Resort and Villas Mina Al Arab will be located within the seafront Mina Al Arab project, and it will have 100 apartment suites, and 24 luxury villas, as well as facilities including swimming pools, restaurants, and the signature Karim butler service.
The first Ras Al Khaimah 2016 Golf Challenge took place recently, with a tee-off on the emirate's highest mountain. Three contenders from Sweden, the Netherlands, and Monaco battled it out at the unique "High Tee" box which was created by Ras Al Khaimah's Tourism Development Authority, and was located just a few hundred metres from the 1,934-metre peak of Jebel Jais, while hitting drives into the rocky terrain of the Al Hajar mountains.