Ras al-Khaima (RAK) can be loosely translated as “headland of the tent.” The highest and northernmost emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the fourth largest among the seven emirates, is about an hour’s drive from Dubai. Unlike its famous and glittering neighbor, you won’t find grand skyscrapers or luxury cars anywhere, but that is part of the charm. A unique combination of desert landscapes, nature, spectacular beaches, and a time-honored fascinating culture makes RAK one of the most intriguing emirates in the UAE.
What sets RAK apart are the local traditions, which allow for a truly authentic and fascinating visit. Here’s a glimpse at what you can see and do in Ras al-Khaima.
For history buffs
The highest fortress in the UAE
The only hilltop fort still standing in the UAE, Dhayah Fort was built in the 18th century and became famous for being the last stronghold of resistance to the British occupation in the southern coastal settlements en route to Dubai in 1819. The fort is about a 15-minute drive from RAK City, with a ten-minute climb on stairs leading up to the hilltop. The cone-shaped fort looms over its surroundings, affording a spectacular view of the Al Hajar Mountains.
Pearling in the gulf
The Suwaidi Pearls Farm, located in the Al Hajar Mountains, is one of the most unique tourist attractions in the emirate. Pearling has been a prominent industry in the Persian Gulf for centuries, and the Pearl Farm tour offers a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes.
The visit to the pearl farm begins with a short crossing in a traditional boat and continues with a guided tour of the farm, situated on a floating structure called Pontoon. On tour, you will get the lowdown on the history of Arabian Pearls, listen to some centuries-old adventure stories, get acquainted with the diving tools and techniques of the Arabian pearl divers, learn how oysters and pearls are formed, and watch a live oyster opening demonstration.
There are morning, afternoon, and evening tours, with or without lunch.
The National Museum
The National Museum of Ras al-Khaimah, or the Late Fort, originally served as the only defensive tower that stood outside the perimeter wall of the Old City. The foundations of the building date from 1809-1819, though later additions were built after the signing of a peace treaty with the British in 1820.
On the museum’s grounds stands a large two-story rectangular tower surrounding a central courtyard, and the various galleries offer various archaeological, historical, and ethnographical exhibits. One exciting find is an ancient tombstone with an inscription in Hebrew. The tombstone was put on display following the signing of the Abraham Accords, with Israeli visitors in mind, no doubt.
The museum is closed on Mondays.
Mohammed Bin Salem Mosque
The mosque was built in the late 19th century and has recently been restored and renovated. Located in the heart of RAK City, it is considered a place of religious and cultural importance, and a visit to the mosque is a particularly authentic Arab experience. However, it is important to note that tourist entry is permitted only outside prayer hours and requires modest and dignified attire.
For nature and outdoor lovers
The highest mountain in the UAE
At 6,356 feet (1,934 meters) above sea level, Jebel Jais is the highest mountain in the United Arab Emirates. It overlooks a desert landscape and sharp cliffs, with the summit offering a breathtaking panoramic view. But being the highest mountain is not the only record broken here because Jebel Jais also has the longest zipline in the world. So naturally, with such a spectacular background, it is one of the most popular attractions in RAK.
There are two zipline options: the Jebel Jais Sky Tour covers a total of 3 miles (five km) and will take you through a series of seven sitting-position ziplines, with a panoramic, bird’s eye view of the towering Al Hajar Mountains; while the Jebel Jais Flight experience is for adrenaline junkies, with lie-down travel at speeds of up to 100 mph (150kph) at the height of 5500 feet (1,680 meters) above sea level on top of the mountain.
Mountain Jeep Tours
The Unveil Arabia jeep tour led by the charming Salua Daghay is a desert tour into the mountains of RAK, with a chance to experience some extreme riding in a 4X4 and even take the wheel with the guide sitting next to you. The tour visits various points of interest so that you can learn about the area’s history, the vegetation and climate, the local culture, and more. As part of the tour, you will also visit the camel race track, a long-standing tradition in the UAE. Camel races take place only in the winter months and are a big draw for the local population.
The Bear Grylls Survival Academy
Bear Grylls, the British adventurer, and narrator of the National Geographic documentary Hostile Planet, has set up an Explorers Camp in the mountainous region of RAK, with various survival courses on offer. The place looks like a military base with a gorgeous mountain backdrop.
There are four survival course options you can choose from: Primal Survival Course is A 24-hour experience with camp cabin accommodations; Family Primal Survival Adventure is designed to strengthen the bonds within the family with a 24-hour outdoor adventure; the Basic Survival Course allows you to learn the basics of survival in only four hours, and Surviving the wild teaches you how to survive in the harsh mountain environment of RAK.
All-inclusive hotels, luxury resorts, family hotels, and more – you will find an excellent selection of hotels in RAK at very attractive prices compared to Dubai.
For an all-inclusive Antalya-style hotel, the Rixos Bab al-Bahr Resort is a great family choice. The hotel has its own beach and eight swimming pools, lots of family attractions, and unlimited food and beverages with a choice of 14 different restaurants. Prices are quite affordable, and the hotel also offers free PCR tests for 2-night bookings till September 30.
For some true luxury, you can opt for the Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah at Al Wadi Desert, which offers sumptuous accommodations but also an authentic experience in the heart of the desert, with large villas boasting private pools. Another option is the Ritz-Carlton, Ras Al Khaimah at Al Hamra Beach, with private villas and secluded private pools set on a stretch of a pristine private beach.