From the world-famous “Ghost Village” to the Queen of Sheba Palace, 5,000-year-old tombs to a mountain range that dates back to the time of dinosaurs, Ras Al Khaimah is a hotbed of history just waiting to be explored.
Al Falayah Fort was built in the 18th century and was largely used as the annual summer residence for the ruling Al Qasimi family so they could escape the searing heat. It is surrounded by palm gardens and it provided a welcome retreat from Ras Al Khaimah’s centre during the hot months thanks to its elevated location. It has a similar history to that of Dhayah Fort (more on that later) and was at the centre of the war between British forces and the Quwasim before the peace treaty was signed at the fort in 1820.
Free. 3km south of RAK City.
Ancient tombs of Shimal
In close proximity to the Queen of Sheba’s Palace in the small town of Shimal you can explore several hundred ancient tombs and burial sites. They are pre-Islamic era and date back to around 2000 to 1300 BCE. This is one of the most important archaeological sites in the UAE as pottery, stone vessels, weapons of bronze and copper have all been uncovered here. The Umm an-Nar Tomb is 15 metres in diameter and the largest of its kind in the UAE. Meaning “Mother of Fire”, it was named after similar tombs discovered by Danish archaeologists in the 1950s. Built with enormous physical effort, and wealth, this tomb was used as a communal family or tribal grave in the second half of the third millennium BCE. Digs have led to the discovery of over 430 burials. The Husn al-Shimal Fort is perched on a rock outcrop above and offers a good view of the entire area. This is one for only true history buffs and keep your eyes peeled for old pottery and ceramics hidden among the rubble.
Free. 12km north of RAK City.
This mud-brick fort dates back to the 18th century and it is one of the most important historical structures in the UAE. There are two towers from which soldiers could monitor enemy movement from its hilltop position (it’s the highest fort in the UAE) looking out towards the Gulf. Its strategic location was of huge importance to the ruling Al Qasimi family, who historians believe built the fort, and it remained standing strong for years until the British invaded in 1819 and a violent battle led to the destruction of many surrounding fortifications. The fall of Dhayah sparked the General Martime Treaty of 1820, the first agreement between the ruling Sheikhs and the British government. These days, the ruins are easily accessible and well worth a trip to take a step back in time.
Free. Northern Ras Al Khaimah, 20km north of RAK City.
“Ghost Village” of Al Jazeera Al Hamra
This is one for those who really like to get off the beaten track. Al Jazeera Al Hamra (also known as Jazirat al-Hamra) is often labelled RAK’s “Ghost Village” and it attracts curious visitors keen to explore its abandoned buildings, crumbling mosques and dusty backstreets. It is one of the most unique experiences you can find in the UAE and it oozes history – and eeriness. Jazeerat Al Zaab was an old fishing village where most of the residents made their living from the sea. Those who didn’t survive on fishing, pearl diving and trading sheep and camels, lived off the desert. That was until the 1960s when most of the inhabitants ditched the village in search of better lives. However, thanks to RAK’s dry desert climate, the buildings have been preserved quite well and they provide a wonderful photo opportunity for adventurous explorers. You’ll see the crumbling coral walls used to build the structures, two mosques and deserted schools, all of which are slowly being reclaimed by the sands and plants.
Free. Al Jazeera Al Hamra, 20km south of RAK City.
The lush and fertile palm gardens of Nakheel have always been an important source of food and water for RAK residents. Many people lived inside the shady oasis in mud-brick buildings – only the Sheikhs’ families lived in stone houses. These families constructed large compounds including towers, of which Hudaybah is one. It is the last remaining structure of a former compound and is in remarkably good condition thanks to restoration. It consists of a main tower, reception room, staircase to the open-plan roof and shaded ground area. The ideal spot to flee the summer heat.
Free. 10km North East of RAK City.
RAK is surrounded by the fierce Hajar Mountain range and is therefore a must for outdoor enthusiasts with a taste for history. The mountain range was formed more than 70 million years ago meaning it was five million years old when dinosaurs were wiped out. Standing at 1,934 metres, Jebel Jais is the UAE’s tallest mountain and is even occasionally dusted with snow (crazy, but true). Strap on some comfy shoes, drive up the snaking 20km road to the top (although not quite to the summit), pick your spot to park and head out for a hike. Yes, Jebel Jais now boasts a viewing platform, the world’s longest zip line and even a faux “ice skating” rink, but for a true taste of the area’s geological history there is nothing more spectacular than walking along the eroding cliffs, deep canyons and barren water tracts here.
Free. 55km north-east of RAK City.
Khatt Springs and ruins
This area is famous for the mineral-rich hot pools, where the water is sought out for its therapeutic properties and pure relaxation. There’s a no-frills Golden Tulip resort, lined with palm trees set against the mountainous backdrop, where you can jump into the 90 foot-deep pools, which stay at a very toasty 40C. However, leave the hotel walls and you’ll find yourself surrounded by 170 archaeological sites. Visit the mud-brick watchtower, the beehive tombs from the Hafit period or burial sites from the Umm Al-Nar era. Don’t miss the Khatt Fort either, which dates back to the 19th century. It was formerly the RAK National Museum, before it was moved to the city centre. It is currently under renovation, however you can still explore the three stone watchtowers and surrounding area.
Free. Khatt, 30km south of RAK City.
Queen of Sheba’s Palace
Also known as the Qasr Al Zabba (Palace of Zenobia), this is an archaeological treasures from the Middle Ages. It is the only known ancient Islamic palace in the UAE and it dates back to the Julfar period between the 13th and 16th centuries. The Queen of Sheba’s Palace refers to the famous monarch who visits King Solomon in the Quran and who is said to have ruled the Kingdom of Marib (modern-day Yemen) around 1000 BCE. However, there is a historical link to this site leading scholars to believe her name was attached to it as a result of local legend. The ruins sit 200 metres above sea level on top of a rocky hill and provide sweeping views across RAK. You can access the palace by climbing a stone staircase. Here you’ll find several rooms, water storage, out buildings and defensive walls. There is, unfortunately, a rusty old fence that hasn’t managed to keep out vandals. Be prepared to hike over rocky and unstable grounds to reach it.
Free. Near to Shimal village, 13km north-east of RAK City, www.rakheritage.rak.ae.
Ras Al Khaimah National Museum
This fascinating step back into the history of the region is housed inside a 19th century fort. The structure – home to the ruling RAK family until the early 1960s – is filled with archaeological artefacts found within the emirate. Some of the items in the collection include traditional weapons, tools and ceramics highlighting RAK’s past as a significant trading post. Local digs have uncovered artefacts ranging from the Neolithic era (9000 to 3000 BCE) up to the Islamic era (622 to 1258 CE). Plus, there are displays about the first settlers in the area, while the museum also explores traditional life in the emirate, including its architecture, pearl diving, date growing, farming and fishing.
Dhs5 (adults), free (kids). Sat-Thu 8am-6pm; Fri 3pm-7.30pm. Al Hisn Road, RAK City, www.rakheritage.rak.ae (07 233 3411).
Sheikh Mohammad Bin Salem Mosque
The original mosque on this site dates back to the 16th century, however scholars have found evidence to show it was destroyed during the British occupation from 1819 to 1820 and that a new mosque was later built on its foundations. Several renovation projects have transformed the building, helping to restore its original architecture built from coral and beach rock. The late Ras Al Khaimah ruler Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed used to pray shoulder-to-shoulder with his people. It is open to Muslims to pray and regularly welcomes hundreds of locals to break their fast
Free. RAK CITY, www.rakheritage.rak.ae.
Must-try RAK experiences
Jebel Jais Flight: the world’s longest zip line
Your favourite song, a job interview or a grizzly bear with its beady eyes on you. These are all fine examples of instances when your hairs stand on end. But lo and behold, the most headline-grabbing attraction will not only give you the feeling of an ursine quizzing you on your ‘career plans’ while playing Freak Me but also take you to Another Level (other ’90s boybands are available). The Jebel Jais Flight (aka the ToroVerde) is the world’s longest zip line. In other words, there are no greater thrills for those adventurous souls who love tearing across sublime scenery at more than 140kmph at heights of 1,600m-plus. Those three minutes spent hurtling down the wire are the most exhilarating, life-changing experience we have come across in RAK. And once you’ve completed the main line, you’ll be sent zipping down a second, more relaxing but similarly satisfying zip trip to the bottom. Hugs and high fives come as standard.
From Dhs605 per person. Open daily 9am-6pm. Jebel Jais, www.toroverdeuae.com (07 204 6250).
Canyoning at Wadi Showka
Want to feel the rugged mountain terrain under your feet and the cool wadi waters around your legs? Then canyoning (in this instance, hiking in water) is the activity you’re looking for – and there’s nowhere better for it than Wadi Showka. During a half-day trip, which you can book with tour operator Adventurati Outdoor, you’ll learn to navigate your way on wet ground, get to jump and swim in fresh water pools and also climb and scramble your way through the stunning wadi. To join in with a trip, you’ll need to be comfortable in water and pack a change of clothes, while Adventurati offer pick-ups and drop-offs in both Al Hamra and Marjan Island locations. The organiser also provides snacks and water for the hike, safety gear and an authentic Emirati lunch. You can’t really get more immersed in Ras Al Khaimah than this.
From Dhs450 (25 percent discount for UAE residents). Visit www.adventurati-outdoor.com for bookings and more information.
In this part of the world we are blessed with truly remarkable scenery, and one way for RAK visitors to really experience their new surroundings is to head out to the Bedouin Oasis Camp. Run by the genial gang at Arabian Incentive, this experience gives you an insight into Bedouin culture. While some of you will enjoy the more modern pursuit of a desert safari, we believe you should combine this with one of the countless other adventures on offer. Falconry shows, camel trekking and dinner in the desert are three ways to enjoy this remarkable venue but why not try a spot of overnight camping? You’ll be set up in your own Bedouin-style tent before sitting down for dinner beside the camp fire, learning more about life in the olden days and gazing at the stars above you. After a light breakfast the next day you’ll enjoy a camel ride and some sand boarding as a fitting finale.
From Dhs50 (call for overnight camping prices). Activity times vary. Bedouin Oasis Camp Road, www.arabianincentive.com (07 233 8828).
Jebel Jais Via Ferrata
Via what? If you’re not acquainted, “via ferrata” is Italian for “iron road”, and is a kind of climbing route found in places such as the Alps. In RAK, the route traverses more than a kilometre along the face of Jebel Jais. Using a ferrata kit, climbers clip on and off the route, secured to the mountain wall. Depending on the ability of the team, a typical tour can take anything between two and four hours. The route reaches heights of up to 120m and also includes three zip lines of increasing length, starting at 50m followed by 60m and then a heart-stopping 300m, which will really get the blood pumping, if clinging onto a rockface like a mountain goat doesn’t already have you jittering like a shorthaired chihuahua in December. Go on, you first…
From Dhs342. For bookings and more information visit www.toroverdeuae.com.
Cycle up Jebel Jais
The modern-day UAE is world-renowned for having lofty ambitions, and that fact has rarely been better set in stone than on Jebel Jais. Recent years have seen this perfect perch developed as a major RAK attraction. Previously out of bounds for those of us not au fait with a pair of crampons, there now lies an almost mesmeric 30km stretch of road that snakes up to the very top. So, if you’re fit enough for it, jump on your bike and tackle one of the UAE’s mightiest fitness feats. And once you’ve arrived at the top, the views are truly remarkable, aided by the brilliant Viewing Deck Park with its seven decks and a dozen mounted binoculars.
From here you will be able to enjoy unobstructed vistas of the Arabian Gulf and the array of Hajar valleys – all from 1,240m up. Head here in January or February and you might even be lucky enough to see some snow – now that truly is a wonder to behold...
Viewing Deck Park is open Sun-Thu 8am-8pm, Fri-Sat 8am-11pm. Visit www.jebeljais.ae for more information.
Need to know
Riders must be a minimum of 45kg and a maximum of 150kg, with a minimum height of 120cm.
Only those aged between 12 and 65 may ride the zip line.
The whole experience takes a little over an hour, excluding travel time to and from the destination.