Explore the emirates with our pick of bucket list sights
There are few more perfect weeks of the year to be in the UAE than those between February and March, with the sun still darting in and out behind big fluffy clouds and cool breezes whistling across your cheeks. Although the weather’s been a touch chilly so far in 2014, with rain a regular unwelcome visitor (especially this past Sunday), warmer times are just around the corner.
This means it’s time to get off your couch, cancel your routine slouch around the nearest mall and head out to explore a bit of what the region has to offer – and from cave diving to bull fighting to kayaking under a mangrove canopy, there’s an awful lot to do. Every emirate has an adventure to offer, as does our neighbouring Oman, and with temperatures set to rise a few degrees every month from now on, there’s not a moment to lose...
Visit Abu Dhabi’s mangroves Several companies, including Al Mahara, offer kayaking tours of the natural mangroves around Abu Dhabi’s islands. Mahara can take waterborne adventurers on either a trip through the island flora in the vicinity of the Ducks Jetty at Yas Links Golf Club (where you can round off the experience with showers and a meal), or from the Eastern Lagoon on Salam Street – the latter is a more rustic, outdoorsy option. There’s also the chance to try the ultimate mangrove kayak, where Mahara will personalise a trip for you and your group, with the option to add watersports and a barbecue among other things. From Dhs150 for 90-minute Eastern Mangroves guided tour. Al Mahara, Abu Dhabi, www.divemahara.com (02 643 7377).
Find a wadi in Ras Al Khaimah Down the E311 towards Musandam, Ras Al Khaimah has many mountains worth visiting, but we suggest hitting the road and visiting the town of Shawka. For those of you with 4x4s there are lots of off-road trails and wadis to explore. It’s a popular spot with mountain bikers from across the UAE (Hot Cog have a regular meeting point nearby), though it’s also worth heading here to see one of the UAE’s dams. There are a few in the country (which might be surprising since we live in a desert) and one is the spectacular-looking Al Shawka. From the E611 Emirates Road, take the E102 Sharjah-Kalba Road and after passing the E84 road to Fujairah turn left at the first major crossroads.
Take a boat to Shark Island Located just off the Khor Fakkan public beach and behind the port, the small Shark Island offers calm waters for a snorkel, while the abundance of marine life means it also attracts divers from nearby resorts. While you’re unlikely to spot many sharks these days (sadly, over-fishing in the area has led to a sharp decline in their numbers), you can expect to see parrot fish, moray eels and even the odd puffer or ray if you’re lucky. In the height of summer, the rocky formation offers little shade, so if you’re planning to spend some time there, it’s a good idea to take a parasol. Most of the boats lined up along the corniche will be happy to take you across, but make sure you negotiate a reasonable price – tourists are often quoted excessive rates. Khor Fakkan, E99, Sharjah (along the Fujairah coast).
Bull fighting in Fujairah For several years now, Friday bull fighting in Fujairah has been drawing spectators. Taking place most weekends between 4pm and 5pm, the traditional (and thankfully mostly bloodless) matches see beasts go head-to-head, with the winner determined as the bull that butts the other the longest in a one-minute challenge. It’s a noisy, popular affair, with crowds drawn from across the UAE and the local Fujairah community. Head towards Kalba from the Fujairah corniche.
Camp on the beach in Umm Al Quwain Aside from the ever-popular and somewhat retro Dreamland Waterpark (well worth checking out if you haven’t already, not least to simply sit in the moat-like pool while sipping hops and chomping on nachos), Umm Al Quwain has something of a dearth of attractions. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit – and it just so happens to be one of the quieter, more secluded destinations for a spot of camping. On the beach, however, choose your camping spot with care to avoid being flooded at high tide. Once you’ve set up base camp, why not visit the nearby fishing villages at Al Raas, where you can also spot wild flamingos. Take the E311 north towards Ajman, turning off when you see signs for Dreamland Waterpark. Head for Al Rafaah.
Pedal your way around the Palm Jumeirah Dubai’s most complete Palm island is the latest neighbourhood to host bike rental stations by Byky. There are seven spots to pick up your set of wheels from – three on the trunk and four around the crescent (and you can even check on the company’s website whether there are any bikes left at your preferred starting station). We recommend pedalling your way around the crescent, which not only offers uninterrupted views out to sea and allows you to check out soon-to-open hotels, but one tip-to-tip ride will see you cover a solid 11km. Visit the website for exact station locations. From Dhs15 for 30 minutes. Byky, Palm Jumeirah, www.bykystations.com (04 238 4344).
Explore Masdar City If you’re a Star Wars fan frustrated you’ve got to wait until December 2015 to get your next fix of futuristic cities, then we suggest you head to Masdar in Abu Dhabi, which has more than a passing resemblance to Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine from those movies. This eco-friendly community is playing a key role in helping The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development achieve its target of seven percent renewable energy by 2020. Visitors reach the city by hitching a lift in futuristic, driverless cars, and then are free to wander round the unique sand-coloured buildings and admire the spectacular wind tunnel (right) which regulates the temperature, meaning you can stand outside even in the summer months. Abu Dhabi, E10, then take the junction towards Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Hang out in a Bedouin oasis Head to the sandy orange dunes of Ras Al Khaimah to spend the night in Arabian Incentive’s stunning Bedouin Oasis, designed to provide visitors with a traditional desert camping experience. Try falconry, drumming and horse riding, or relax by a campfire with traditional Arabic dishes and a cold drink, while gazing up at the stars above. Round up a few good friends and book the camp out for your own private experience, so you can unwind in complete privacy. They can even arrange a DJ and cater for special requests, should you and your group have any. Price on request. Bedouin Oasis, Arabian Incentive, near Banyan Tree Al Wadi, Ras Al Khaimah, www.arabianincentive.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fish your way around the seven Emirates Online company FishFishMe helps keen fishermen and women find and book fishing trips in the UAE, Oman and around the world from its bases in Dubai and Malaga, Spain. ‘Fujairah is by far the best fishing destination in the UAE,’ explains the website’s managing director and keen fisher Abdullah Alshalabi. ‘There you can do big game fishing and land big fish such as dorado, yellowfin tuna, sailfish, amberjacks and marlins. Dubai is also good during the winter season, from October to April, and you can expect to catch kingfish, barracuda and a local fish called sheirri. Sharjah is good too – we’ve caught kingfish, queenfish and cobia in really good sizes.’
For those with concerns about the impact of fishing on the UAE’s aquatic ecosystems, Alshalabi explains, ‘We ask customers to not keep more than they can consume. We encourage them to return the fish if they have caught more than ten. We encourage people to do the sensible thing.’
Fishing trips can be organised across the Emirates, at sites in Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah, as well as over the border in Oman at locations including Dibba, Salalah, Khasab, Muscat, Quriyat and Masirah to name just a few. Trips from Dhs100. For more information and to book visit www.fishfishme.com.