OFF THE BEATEN RAK
went in search of a more authentic side of the United Arab Emirates and found it in the hidden gem that is Ras Al Khaimah
RAS Al Khaimah. It’s the Arabian gulf coast emirate you’ve probably never heard of. But probably should – before the rest of the world wakes up to it.
Stepping out onto my balcony at 7.30am and taking a moment to embrace a wall of heat while looking over the pearl white beach was something I won’t forget.
I had to remind myself I wasn’t dreaming, I really had woken up on a paradise island. Or at least in a five-star luxury resort where the morning temperature was warming towards 30 degrees.
I had a packed day ahead, I would be heading off to a traditional Bedouin Oasis Camp with several adventures en route.
The trek would give me a unique insight into a traditional Bedouin lifestyle, but there was a slight catch.
If I wanted to get there, I would have to drive through the desert.
And this wasn’t just a casual trundle through the dunes, it was an adrenaline-fuelled thrill ride through the wind-sculpted landscape.
When the heart-in-your-mouth trackless dune bashing of our 4x4 came to a halt, we found ourselves in a sea of peace and quiet.
We stopped to take advantage of the momentary silence to appreciate our surroundings and watch the sun begin to set before driving on a little further into the endless sands, devoid of buildings, landmarks or roads.
As the car came to a stop, we spotted a traditional Arabian dining area had been created in the middle of the dunes, complete with rugs and cushions.
We all took our seats and poured ourselves a drink, enjoying high tea in silence as the sun went down behind us.
This was an experience I will never forget. I’d found the ultimate retreat from the outside world.
But it’s not all an oasis of calm. With the glitzy lure of Dubai’s skyline only a stone’s throw away, Ras Al Khaimah – RAK to those in the know, attracts visitors from across the Persian Gulf but has yet to see western tourists swarm to the area. That means the cost of staying in the area is relatively low.
One thing that does attract the visitors is the Jebel Jais – a 2,000m-high peak which is the highest in the UAE.
There’s plenty to do here. You can, of course, climb it. Or, if you’ve got the stomach for it, you could hire a fast car and make use of the corkscrew roads leading to the top.
Almost hidden in this vast mountain range is the crowning glory of the region – the world’s longest zipline.
Jabel Jais Flight is an almost 3km-long wire that descends from the highest point in the UAE.
Those brave enough to try it are strapped into a harness, facing forwards before hurtling towards the valley below at speeds of 120kph (75mph). The idea is that you have the sensation of flying like a falcon, the UAE’s national bird.
If, you’re like me, and flying like a falcon isn’t really your thing, you can head into the city and over to the mangroves. There, a unique kayaking experience awaits. Paddling along between banks dense with vegetation, you could be in the middle of the jungle – were it not for the RAK skyline looming above.
The sheer number of acvtivities on offer separates the Ras Al Khaimah region from its sister states – there’s a lot more going on than just beaches.
During our trip we took a stroll into the city itself. We sauntered along the RAK Corniche, a new 470-metre long walkway which passes through the harbour and opens out at a huge fresh fish market.
The sights (and smells) were unreal. With masses of fish laid out for sale to local hotels and restaurants, it also provided a perfect opportunity for a bit of photography.
As we moved on, one of our party asked about a now abandoned pearl mining village which had been one of the few populated spots in the area before the UAE’s oil boom led to an influx of people and cash.
Luckily, the driver knew exactly where he meant and took us off-road and back in time to see how the Emiratis had lived in years gone by.
Pulling into the Al Jazirah Al Hamra village, it was mindblowing to see the deserted buildings which, despite standing empty since the early 1960s, looked like they had only recently been occupied.
We learned that this is because the dry desert climate has preserved the structures, freezing a moment in time for more than 50 years.
The experience inspired me to dip further into traditional Emirati culture by sampling its cuisine.
The Al Fanar restaurant, prides itself on serving authentic local dishes.
The Samak Mashwi Seabream – a simple grilled fish recipe cooked in Al Fanar’s special spices – is one of the most popular dishes on the menu.
Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, you can opt for Jesheed – crumbled baby shark meat cooked with onions and more of those delicious spices.
The highlight for me, though, was the date doughnuts. Coupled with a mango and passion fruit milkshake, they were one of the best things I’ve tasted.
All in all, if you’re looking to visit the UAE, but want to avoid the bright lights of Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah is a less commercialised, more authentic taste of traditional life along the Gulf Coast.
RAK is a fascinating mixture of tradition and modern amenities
Date douhnuts at Al Fanar Dessert:
Enjoy a meal in the dunes Desert:
Al Jazirah Al Amra Deserted: