The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is best known for its glamorous city life in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Most outsiders will be surprised to know that the country is full of natural beauty, small-town charm, and ancient history. The Emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah is the perfect destination for visitors with a refined idea of vacationing, as the city is full of sleepy beaches, fascinating museums, thrilling hiking trails, and luxury resorts.
There are a number of compelling reasons to head north to RAK. The emirate sees the most rainfall in the country and is receives a higher share of water from underground mountain streams. As a result, it is the most fertile region in the country. The landscape is a mix of date palm plantations, turquoise coastlines, and towering mountains.
How To Get To Ras Al-Khaimah
Ras Al-Khaimah, known as RAK by locals, is located at the northern tip of the country, near the border of Oman. It takes less than two hours to drive there from Dubai.
The Emirate is served by a small international airport, but it is considerably less trafficked than Dubai International Airport (DXB).
The History Of Ras Al-Khaimah
In antiquity, RAK was occupied by a sophisticated culture of farmers, fishermen, and pearl divers. At the National Museum of Ras Al-Khaimah, there are exhibits dating back over 4,000 years. Among them are ancient coins that were used by the Indus Valley Civilization, suggesting that the mysterious civilization stretched up as far as the Arabian peninsula. The museum itself is a repurposed royal palace, that was later used as a military fort to regulate the flow of trade passing through the city.
In modernity, RAK was an important location for the Portuguese, Dutch, and British East-India companies. In the global market of the 1600s, RAK was a big exporter of pearls, dates, and fabrics. Additionally, it was a resting place for global voyages and an access point to the Middle East. RAK had a notorious reputation for piracy, but the validity of this reputation is greatly debated. The British East-India Company referred to RAK as "Pirate Coast", as passing ships were regularly attacked and pillaged by the skilled aquatic inhabitants of RAK.
What To Do In Ras Al-Khaimah
Tourists with a penchant for history will enjoy visiting the many ancient attractions. Dhayah Fort, for example, is a hilltop fort in RAK that served as an outpost of resistance during the war with Britain in 1819. The British launched an offensive against the, then incumbent, Al Qasimi royal family for the crime of engaging in trade protectionism against the imperial regime.
Sheba's Palace, the ruins of an ancient castle. is another interesting attraction in Ras Al-Khaimah. It is the oldest palace in the UAE, and while little is known about it, some speculate that it was one of the palaces of the Queen of Sheba, a powerful Arabian queen referenced in the Hebrew Bible and numerous Middle Eastern legends.
Explorers will love Al Jazirah Al Hamra, a desert ghost town just south of RAK that was once a pearling port. Due to abandonment, the architecture of the port has been preserved.
Outdoor Activities In Ras Al-Khaimah
Across the UAE, both locals and expatriates flock to RAK for relaxing vacations and outdoor activities.
Jebel Jais is the tallest mountain in the UAE. It is a part of the Hajar Mountain range, which connects the land with Oman. At an elevation of nearly 6,500ft (2,000m), the air is cool and the sunrises are spectacular, which is why it's a popular day-trip destination for Dubai and Sharjah residents, especially in the summers.
Apart from views, there are several activities available on the mountain itself. RAK is home to the longest ziplining adventure in the world, allowing brave visitors to glide above the clouds from one mountain to the next. The price for ziplining varies throughout the year, being the lowest in the summer months.
- Place: Jais Adventure Park
- Price: $300-$450 per person
Amazingly, Bear Grylls has a survival camp in Jebel Jais, Ras Al-Khaimah. The Bear Grylls Explorers Camp teaches adventurous participants how to survive in the harsh, Arabian mountain, where water is scarce and temperatures are extreme. The camp includes essential survival skills such as mountain climbing, tent pitching, fire starting, and food foraging. There are several packages available, ranging from four hours to multiple days.
- Place: Bear Grylls Survival Camp
- Price: Multiple packages from $120 to $350
Where To Stay In Ras Al-Khaimah
As the resort capital of the UAE, RAK is home to all the major chains and more. Most resorts take a unique thematic approach and model themselves after Arab motifs. The Waldorf Astoria in RAK is inspired by the beachside palaces historically found on the Arabian peninsula. The resort is choc-full of facilities including an 18-hole golf course, private beach, luxury spa, and seaside views.
- Resort: Waldorf Astoria Ras Al-Khaimah
- Address: Vienna Street, Al Hamra Village, Ras al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates
- Price: A classic room at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al-Khaimah costs at least $800 a night, while the royal king suite costs over $5,000 a night
- Amenities: Rooms are fully equipped with rain showers, walk-in closets, and palatial architecture.
Another classic Ras Al-Khaimah resort is the Ritz-Carlton. Interestingly, the Ritz has two locations in RAK, one in Al Hamra Village and the other is in the Al Wadi desert.
Al Hamra Village is a luxury resort island with long stretches of white sand beach. The Ritz-Carlton Al Hamra is different from other branches as it offers secluded, private beach villas. Each villa has its own infinity pool and is designed to complement its Arabian setting. The architecture is tent-like, in accordance with nomadic desert norms, and boasts floor-to-ceiling views of the gulf. In addition to the usual luxury resort facilities, the Ritz at Al Hamra offers special aquatic activities such as snorkeling, water sports, and marine life discovery.
- Resort: Ritz-Carlton Al Hamra
- Price: A 1-bedroom beach villa costs around $2,000 a night
The Al Wadi Ritz-Carlton takes a different approach, focusing on the Bedouin experience. Guests can go on a desert safari, ride a desert horse, or lounge in their private pool. Al Wadi desert features the only rainforest in the entire region, which allows for cooler temperatures and a myriad of forest activities.
- Resort: Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi
- Price: A villa costs between $800 and $2,200 a night
Ras Al-Khaimah is a unique mix of thrilling outdoor activities, historical exploration, and luxurious relaxation. Travelers should make sure to visit the resort capital of the United Arab Emirates the next time they're in the region.