Discover incredible beaches, five-star hotels and learn about the history of the UAE.
Jump in a car and drive to one of Dubai’s spectacular tourist attractions such as the Burj Khalifa and you’re surrounded by wealth, fast cars and skyscrapers.
But things are done a little bit differently in Ras Al Khaimah. During a quick pit stop at one of the emirate’s many archeological sites, at this one known as Al Jazirat Al Hamra, we’re met not by tour guides and Ferraris, but by a goat, taking a leisurely stroll past our car on the dusty streets.
But that doesn’t mean RAK is devoid of its fair share of the high life you’ll find in the more famous emirate we call home. RAK is home to jaw-dropping beaches, stunning five-star hotels, some spectacular scenery and plenty of things to do for all the family – from fishing expeditions to falcon shows, desert camps, kayaking trips and even archery lessons.
The lure of Ras Al Khaimah is just as much about the history of the region, as it is modern amenities. Its location is regarded as the most trafficked maritime crossroads in the area, meaning the emirate has for hundreds of years been essential for traders around the Gulf region. Records show that inhabitants from RAK travelled as far afield as Bombay, China and Zanzibar as early as the 10th century.
Ras Al Khaimah means ‘Top of the Tent’ and the emirate, of course, is in the northern part of the UAE, bordering Oman’s exclave of Musandam. The current population now stands at about 416,000 according to official Tourist Board figures, and its international airport means it’s fast becoming a more popular location for holiday goers and with good reason.
Where to stay
RAK is home to many spectacular hotels such as the picturesque Banyan Tree Al Wadi, set in the deserts sands of Wadi Khadeja (07 206 7777), and the less exotic-looking but more affordable Hilton Ras Al Khaimah (07 228 8888) situated by the nearby Al Araibi Fort, which is close to amenities such as Al Manar Mall, (you’ll find a Carrefour nearby if you need supplies). But for our visit we opted to stay at the recently opened Waldorf Astoria Hotel (07 203 5555), a short drive from the emirate’s theme park: Ice Land Water Park. The Waldorf Astoria only opened its doors to the public back in August 2013 and is a magnificent site to behold as you drive over a bridge towards this imposing beach front location. The resort is well and truly huge with gorgeous neutral toned decor and featuring 42inch HD TV screens, i-Docking stations for your MP3 players and marble bathrooms. They even have a ‘pillow menu’ featuring heated cherry stones, buckwheat or feathers.
There’s plenty to do as well. You’ll find a tranquil spa here with floor to ceiling windows and a gym. On holiday with the kids? There is an exclusive area for the nippers aged three and over which is open daily 9am-6pm and features an indoor play area, climbing frame and swimming pool.
If you’re staying at the Waldorf Astoria, you have a choice of ten restaurants and bars to choose from, including US-inspired steakhouse Lexington Grill, and its circular, bright all-day dining eatery Qasr Al Bahar and UMI, the new Japanese eatery with a Teppenyaki grill.
Away from the Waldorf, the amusingly named Hoof ’N’ Fin at the Hilton serves a decent selection of surf and turf. Away from the hotels, Lebanese restaurant Al Sahari (07 233 3966) will satisfy any mixed grill or taboulleh cravings you have and is popular with local residents. If you’re on a budget, there are options in RAK Mall, including a UAE favourite, India Palace, and Thai eatery Siam Palace.
Sport and outdoor
There’s a real sense of adventure to be had when you get out and explore RAK. Ice World Water Park (www.icelandwaterpark.com) looks a tad old-school, with fake, snow-covered rock formations greeting you at the car park, but there are plenty of fun rides for all the family, including the adrenaline-pumping slides of Mt. Fury and the jocular Great Tornado sink plug-style ride.
Another reason people visit RAK is to experienced the healing powers at Khatt Springs, a natural thermal spring which is a small walk down 175 steps from the Golden Tulip Khatt Springs Resort and Spa (07 244 8777). The springs are meant to be of benefit to those suffering from a variety of ailments, from skin complaints, asthma, nerve pain, joint pain, and much more. We can’t testify whether it works or not and we suggest you’re not put off by the rather low-key spectacle that are the springs (a pool of dark, murky-looking water with rocks in it).
Also worth a visit (if you can find it) is the aforementioned Al Jazirat Al Hamra – one of the oldest historical sites in the UAE, with forts, deserted narrow streets, schools, mosques and old buildings that were occupied from the 16th century and abandoned only 40 years ago. The villagers who lived here were mainly fishermen and pearl traders. There is also a pearl farm, which produces more than 100,000 a year, Dhayah Fort, a military castle built in the 16th century and the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, which opened in 1987.
If you want a bird’s eye view of the emirate, we recommend a trip on a plane with Jazirah Aviation Club (07 244 6416). Or if you want to stay more grounded, take in the coastline on the Prince of Sea, a two mast-sailing yacht. (www.facebook.com/princeofseaemirates).
It might not have the razzle dazzle of Dubai, but if you want to escape the big city and go on an adventure (and learn a thing or two along the way), we can certainly vouch for getting away from the skyscrapers and recommend a weekend in RAK.
Need to know
Take the E311 towards Ras until it joins up with the E11. Turn left after Al Hamra Golf Club. It’s on the right after the Water Park.