Ras Al Khaimah - The Wild West of the UAE
Often referred to as the ‘Wild West’ of the Emirates Ras al Khaimah or RAK as it is commonly known is one of the seven emirates of which make up the United Arab Emirates. The others being Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ajman. It is located at the northern coast of the Arabian Gulf with Ras Al Khaimah city functioning as the capital of the emirate of RAK. It has the majestic Hajjar Mountains to the East and the Arabian Gulf to the west. A creek called Khour Ras Al Khaimah divides the city.
Old Ras Al Khaimah is on the western side of the creek and comprises The Ras Al khaimah museum, government departments and educational institutions. The Eastern side is Al Nakheel; it houses the Emiri Court which is the office of the ruler, commercial establishments and residential areas of the city. The two section of the city are connected by a bridge and a network of freeways. H.H.Sheikh Saqr Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi has ruled the emirate since 1948. His son H.H. Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi was in 2003 declared Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler.
The emirate has a rich history which dates back to the Bronze Age. It was the cradle of the various Arab civilizations which can trace their history to the Ubaid period around 5000-3800 BC. RAK was previously known as Julfar. Today the district of Julfar houses the biggest pharmaceutical factory in the Gulf. RAK was an important epicenter for the global pearl trade until the 20th Century when the pearl trade lost its luster .The bulk of the trade was with China and India .The British who occupied the area for much of the 19th Century utilized Ras al Khaimah to control shipping routes to and fro from India.
The discovery of the Saleh Oil Fields in the 1980s gave the RAK the needed growth impetus and RAK like the neighboring emirate of Dubai is trying to position itself as an important player in the world trade. The Establishment of a Free Trade zone and an export sea port called Saqr port has further aided the rise of RAK. The development of massive infrastructure and tourism facilities has seen RAK become an important tourist and trade destination of the Gulf.
Getting to Ras al Khaiham
RAK International Airport
RAK International Airport is undergoing a modernization plan which is spread over 15 years. It serves 27 airlines from different parts of the world and it follows an open skies policy. Modern amenities and a wide array of duty free shops are available at the airport which functions round the clock with no restrictions on arrivals and departure times for air carriers.
Saqr Sea Port
Located in the industrial area of Khor Khuwair, the Saqr sea port is a container port and controls trade for the region. It is an important port for the UAE being the closest to Iran.
Road travel to and from other Emirates
RAK is linked to the other emirates and beyond by a modern network of highways. Taxis ply on these highways in addition to private cars and commercial vehicles. A taxi can be hailed from the taxi stand located south of Al Dhaid town near the new RAK police head quarters. The Taxi fare to Dubai from RAK ranges between 100-150 dhs. The ‘Emirates Highway’ is the one widely used by motorists and traveling on this highway gets one to Dubai from RAK in a mere 45 minutes.
The development of a $265 million space port for space tourism is on the anvil for RAK. This plan was revealed in February of 2006.
Travel within Ras Al Khaimah
Metered taxis are the main mode of transport for tourists. Prior to 2001, when metered taxis were first introduced, the fare was a function of negotiation between the passenger and driver. This is one of the developments which was undertaken to aid the promotion of tourism in the Emirates.
Buses are not available for local transport but ply on long distance routes to other towns like Jazeera al Hamra etc.
Like the rest of the Middle East the weather in RAK is extremely hot and dry in the summer months from April to October with temperatures hovering around 40C (90F)during the day. During the so called winter months from November to March the day temperatures are approximately 26C (80F). RAK has a varied terrain composed of Mountains , plains, a 40 Km long coastline composed of white sand beaches and of course the desert. The emirate is trying to exploit the fused terrain is possesses and make its mark on the global tourism scene.
The main spoken languages are Arabic and English. RAK is home to 250,000 people who belong to 128 nationalities. People from the sub continent owing to the historic trade links with RAK make up a substantial part of the local population. RAK is a thoroughly modern emirate with many international schools, hospitals and various other amenities such as malls and resort hotels.
Al Hamra Fort Hotel
RAK’s pride and joy is the Al Hamra luxury hotel built on an ‘Arabian night’ theme. It is built on a gorgeous beach and is surrounded by a natural lagoon. A romantic ambience infuses the hotel which is built like a fort and has 83 rooms as well as 168 villa rooms constructed in the style of an Arabic Village. The rooms have all the amenities required of a modern luxury hotel. Information about rates and availability can be accessed online at www.alhamrafort.com
Part of the world wide Hilton chain of hotels the Hilton Hotel has 214 rooms. The rooms have the distinctive ambience of the region. The hotel has many bars and restaurants within its folds and affords easy accessibility to the malls, souks and the golf course. The chain has another beach front property on a beautiful bay and a private beach. The RAK Hilton Beach Club offers its guests a wide array of water sports such as windsurfing, kayaking etc.
Khatt Springs Hotel and Spa
The Hotel is located at the base of the Mountains which contain the medicinal and curative waters of the Khatt Springs. The Spa hotel has a tranquil setting and conveys the ambience of well being with a Middle Eastern Feel.
Ras Al Khaimah hotel
Located in the heart of the city, the hotel is a convenient location for the golf enthusiast as well as the beach lover as the famous Tower links Golf Club is within walking distance while the beach is just a short drive away. www.rak-hotel.co.ae is the hotels website which can be accessed for further information.
Bin Majid Beach Hotel and Bin Majid Beach Resort
Both hotels are located on private white sand and azure sea private beaches. They both offer a splendid variety of aquatic recreational facilities as well as many bars and restaurants.
Activities and Sights of the Emirate
The varied and diverse terrain of Ras Al Khaim with mountains, beaches, desert and plains as well as archeological sites offers a tourist a wide array of activities.
Ras Al Khaimah with its mountainous terrain of the Hajjar Mountains and their visually stunning landscape is paradise for hiking enthusiasts. The Emirate is trying to develop tourism but this is being undertaken in a responsible manner with respect for the environment. These tours and hikes follow a ‘Green’ theme with camps that use solar energy and encourage the recycling of wastes. Musandam Pearl Route is one such hiking tour which traverses a rocky terrain while adventure seekers investigate the ancient pearl trail. Walk in the Clouds is yet another expedition in the Hajjar Mountains, while Lost Villages is a trekking expedition to Wadi Bih conducted along a scenic route in isolated peaceful natural beauty enhanced environs. Information about these treks can be got online at www.mountain-extreme.com
Mountain Trips in a 4×4
For those who don’t like to trek the mountains can be explored with the aid of a guided tour in a four wheel drive .These half a day trips traverse through Wadis and isolated villages of the mountains whose inhabitants live in seclusion. A highlight of the trip is the view of the sunset in the mountains.
Desert Safari in a 4×4
Like its neighboring Emirates, RAK offers a trip to the sand dunes in a four wheel drive. A drive in the dunes can be extremely exciting and can be combined with a visit to a Camel Farm. The desert safari gives one a chance to observe the lives of the Bedouin people. The Bedouins are a nomadic tribe who live in the desert. These Bedouins work at the various Camel Farms where racing camels are bred for a sporting tradition that has been handed down from generations. RAK has an excellent 10 km camel racing track.
Dhow cruises in Musandam
These cruises traverse coastal villages and afford opportunities for swimming and snorkeling amongst the languid dolphin inhabited waters.
The road leading to the RAK airport leads one to the Ostrich Farm where these gigantic birds are bred.
A trip to a Date Farm should also be a part of a tourist itinerary to see how the fruits of the region are cultivated and processed for export.
These Therapeutic Spring waters attract many tourists to the region. They are in the mountains of RAK and are composed of three natural springs which have hot (almost 40C) waters which are thought to have medicinal value. Palm trees encircle the area and enhance the natural beauty of the springs. The area is also famous for a large number of archeological sites which bear witness to the old civilizations which inhabited the region.
National RAK Museum
Located near the old police station in the heart of the city the National Museum must be visited to see the exhibits that portray the illustrious history of Ras al Khaimah.The Museum was constructed in 1987 and is located at Al Husen Fort which was the residence of the Sheikh during the 19th century. Old Manuscripts including treaties signed by the ruling family with the British are on display in the museum. Antiques and Islamic objets d’art are displayed as well. Some of these date back to 5th millennium BC. The Museum has different winter and summer times as well as a different schedule during Ramadan which is the Muslim holy month of fasting. Information about the schedule of the RAK museum can be obtained online at www.rakmuseum.gov.ae .
Julfar was the prominent trading center of RAK in the ages past. It was the center of manufacturing of pottery and ceramics as well. This trade continues until today and ceramics from Julfar are exported to 135 countries. The Souks and Bazaars of RAK are typical of the region and contain many Arabic delights and wonders. Apart from these traditional bazaars there are world class malls which retail designer and western wear and electronics. Some of the malls in RAK are Waha Shopping center, Lulu Shopping Center and Al Manar Mall. The latter is spread over 45000 square meters and offers a fantastic mall experience with stores, food courts, a Cineplex and an atrium for art and other exhibits.
RAK has undertaken many steps to develop tourism further. Along with the up gradation of the airport, an Al Hamra village is under construction with residential villas, four luxurious hotel resorts and an 18 hole golf course in addition to the Tower Links Golf Club. The Khor Qurm project is yet another tourism initiative along the coast. This project will highlight the natural wonders of RAK’s coastal region including its vibrant marine life. Yet another ambitious project due to be completed over the next 8 to 10 years is the construction of a self sufficient multi million dollar Desert Snow village which will have its own monorail system and a 20 room ice hotel as well as residential units. These future developments promise to make Ras Al Khaimah a true tourist oasis in the desert.