15 things to do in the UNITED ARAB EMI­RATES

From fly­ing with fal­cons to delv­ing into Ara­bian art, the UAE hoards plenty of se­cret travel trea­sures – here’s how to find them

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Strap - WORDS HAZEL PLUSH

1 Be a Be­douin for the day

Which emi­rate? Dubai A mere 60 years ago, life in the Emi­rates was no­madic. Tribes hunted with fal­cons, trav­elled by camel and lived in tents wo­ven from goat hair. Plat­inum Her­itage’s one-day Be­douin Life tour of­fers a glimpse of those pre-oil boom days, with a camel ride to a tra­di­tional desert camp, an Emi­rati cook­ing les­son, camp­fire sto­ry­telling and a fal­conry dis­play. +971 4 440 9827; www.plat­inum-her­itage.com

2Horse- ride through the desert

Which emi­rate? Ras Al Khaimah The Ara­bian horse is a noble breed in­deed: el­e­gant, pow­er­ful and ut­terly beloved by Emi­ratis. Sad­dle up at Al Wadi Eques­trian Cen­tre, part of the plush Ritz-carl­ton Ras Al Khaimah ho­tel, for trail rides through the sur­round­ing desert re­serve or sun­set jaunts across the dunes. Camel rid­ing is also avail­able on re­quest. +971 7 206 7777; www.face­book.com/al­wadieques­trian

3Go bird­watch­ing

Which emi­rate? Ajman Birdlife thrives in the man­groves, la­goons and beach coves of Al Zo­rah Na­ture Re­serve, a mil­lion-square-me­tre wet­land wilder­ness not far from Ajman’s city cen­tre. Species such as pink flamin­gos, egrets and herons are com­monly sighted – al­most 60 species have been recorded here. Con­tact Quest for Ad­ven­ture for self-guided ca­noe­ing trips, as well as rock climb­ing, trekking and moun­tain bike tours. www.quest­forad­ven­ture.net

4Dis­cover a fortress

Which emi­rate? Umm al-quwain “The UAE has no cul­ture!” is a re­frain we’re tired of hear­ing – it couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth. The coun­try has a wealth of cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions, but none quite like Umm al-quwain’s im­pos­ing 200-year-old fortress, which now serves as a mu­seum. It’s full of old arte­facts, photos and relics; how­ever, the real buzz is stand­ing atop the strong­hold, imag­ing tribes try­ing to at­tack its im­pen­e­tra­ble walls. +971 6 765 0888

5Climb the UAE’S high­est moun­tain

Which emi­rate? Ras Al Khaimah At 1,934m tall, Jebel Jais is the UAE’S tallest peak. Its sum­mit can be reached on a chal­leng­ing day hike – there are some scram­bling sec­tions but this isn’t a tech­ni­cal climb. The re­wards are plung­ing views of a sheer-sided ravine, scooped out of the rugged range like a mini Grand Canyon. Con­tact Ad­ven­tu­rati Out­door for small­group and pri­vate trips. www.ad­ven­tu­rati-out­door.com

6Meet Dubai’s lit­tle­known neigh­bour

Which emi­rate? Sharjah Af­ter fly­ing into Dubai In­ter­na­tional, most tourists head south to the city’s sky­scrapers and shop­ping malls. But ven­tur­ing north will take you to Sharjah, Dubai’s quiet and tra­di­tional neigh­bour. If it’s cul­ture you’re af­ter, you’ve come to the right place: the old Emi­rati dwellings of Sharjah’s Her­itage Area have been care­fully re­stored, along­side mu­se­ums and gal­leries cel­e­brat­ing its oft-over­looked his­tory. www.heartof­shar­jah.ae

7Dive be­neath the waves

Which emi­rate? Fu­jairah The UAE’S east coast is one of scuba’s best-kept se­crets: its reefs are thriv­ing and colour­ful, thanks to the warm cur­rents (and min­i­mal coastal devel­op­ment) in the Gulf of Oman. There are ex­pan­sive coral gar­dens and fas­ci­nat­ing wrecks, and sea­horses, rays, tur­tles and whale sharks are com­monly sighted. Al Boom Div­ing has a per­ma­nent base in Fu­jairah. +971 4 341 4940; www.al­boom­div­ing.com

8See art in ‘an­cient’ Ara­bia

Which emi­rate? Dubai Seek­ing an al­ter­na­tive to sky­scrapers? Head to Bas­takiya, an at­mo­spheric nugget of ‘old’ Dubai – all dusty wind­ing lanes and mud-built bar­jeel (wind tow­ers) – that’s just 25 min­utes from the city cen­tre. It’s now an up-and-com­ing artis­tic quar­ter with gal­leries and stu­dios aplenty; spend the morn­ing ex­plor­ing, stop­ping for brunch in the bougainvil­lea-shaded court­yard of the Ara­bian Tea House Café. +971 4 353 5071; www.ara­bi­antea­house.co

9Visit an oa­sis

Which emi­rate? Abu Dhabi

The lush palms and fruit trees of Liwa rise from the desert like a thirsty trav­eller’s mi­rage, just as they have done for thou­sands of years. Thanks to its ground­wa­ter, Liwa pros­pers de­spite be­ing three hours from Abu Dhabi city. Spend a day ex­plor­ing the small fort and date farms. Or visit in Jan­uary to catch the Liwa Sports Fes­ti­val at Moreeb Dune, one of the world’s high­est sand hills. www.abud­ha­bievents.ae

10 Test your head for heights

Which emi­rate? Ras Al Khaimah With much fan­fare, the world’s long­est zi­pline (mea­sur­ing 2.83km) opened on Jebel Jais moun­tain in Fe­bru­ary. But few trav­ellers know that the UAE’S high­est peak is also home to a new via fer­rata route. Away from the squeal­ing crowds, this lofty 1km course tra­verses sheer drop-offs with knee-wob­bling views aplenty. Look out for ea­gles soar­ing over­head. +971 50 265 6224; www. je­bel­jais.ae

11 Ex­plore the desert on two wheels

Which emi­rate? Sharjah Move over, camels! These days, se­ri­ous ad­ven­tur­ers are cross­ing the desert by ‘fat bike’ – a moun­tain bike rigged up with su­per-thick tyres to make light(ish) work of those golden dunes. Only the su­per-fit need apply to Real Ex­pe­di­tions’ Desert Cy­cling Ad­ven­ture, a full day’s sand cy­cling with a night un­der the stars in a Be­douin-style camp. +971 56 545 2588; www.real-ex­pe­di­tions.com

12 Visit a wildlife sanc­tu­ary

Which emi­rate? Sharjah Sand­wiched between Sharjah’s busy air­port and sprawl­ing CBD, Wa­sit Na­ture Re­serve is a true ur­ban oa­sis – a vi­tal sanc­tu­ary for both wildlife and city-weary trav­ellers. Its land­scape of sabkha (salt plain), sand dunes, mud flats, salty la­goons and freshwater lakes is rich in bio­di­ver­sity, in­clud­ing 198 dif­fer­ent species of birds plus small mam­mals, rep­tiles and in­sects. A vis­i­tor cen­tre, hides and ob­ser­va­tion points al­low you to take a good look. +971 6 531 1501; www.epaashj.ae

13Learn about Is­lamic his­tory

Which emi­rate? Sharjah The Mu­seum of Is­lamic Civ­i­liza­tion was once a busy souk, stuffed to the rafters with spices, camels and car­pets. Now it is filled with the UAE’S largest col­lec­tion of Mus­lim arte­facts. Manuscripts, ta­pes­tries and pho­to­graphs bring Is­lam’s sto­ries and scrip­ture to life, and the souk’s old shops have been trans­formed into gal­leries of ex­quis­ite re­li­gious art. +971 6 556 6002; www.shar­jah­mu­se­ums.ae

14Make a meal of the Mid­dle East

Which emi­rate? Dubai Dubai is famed for its fancy five-star fare, but the real foodie gems lie in the back-streets of its Deira neigh­bour­hood, where Ye­meni, Ira­nian and Pales­tinian restau­rants rub shoul­ders with Le­banese cafés and Turk­ish street food. Frying Pan Ad­ven­tures’ Mid­dle East­ern Food Pil­grim­age squeezes ten (ten!) de­li­cious dishes into a four-hour evening walk­ing tour, fin­ish­ing with cof­fee and baklava. +971 56 471 8244; www.fry­ing­panad­ven­tures.com

15Fly with fal­cons

Which emi­rate? Dubai Af­ter the hub­bub of Dubai, a dawn flight over the desert is the per­fect tonic. You’ll rise with the sun over the rip­pling dunes, spy­ing clus­ters of camels and graz­ing gazelles, the si­lence un­bro­ken but for the burner’s brief roars. On Bal­loon Ad­ven­tures’ flights you’ll also be joined by pere­grine fal­cons, which swoop and soar between the bas­kets. A spine-tin­gling way to start the day. +971 4 440 9827; www.bal­loon­ing.ae

Cul­ture hit Visit 200-year-old Umm al Quwain Fort

Hid­den her­itage Find the tra­di­tional UAE in quiet Sharjah

Dubai high Start your day with a dawn float above the desert

Mus­lim marvel Get a his­tory hit at Sharjah’s Mu­seum of Is­lamic Civ­i­liza­tion

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