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This travel guide on all the places to visit in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, aims to show you how the combination of coastline and culture, mountains and rich history, make this emirate more than just an embellished desert.
And that’s because when you hear of travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), scenes of gleaming, imposing buildings, man-made islands and the ultra-indulgent lifestyle of Dubai and Abu Dhabi predominate.
However, little is known of the rich and varied natural landscape of the northernmost of the seven Emirates: Ras Al Khaimah. The fourth largest of all the Emirates, despite constituting only 2.17% of the country’s entire territory, it is the most adventurous inland compared to its luxurious neighbours, which have been around for decades.
Visiting Ras Al Khaimah is a window into the ancient history and terrain of this region, where centuries-old ruins and remnants of a once nomadic way of life can be found near the golden shores and within the rugged, mountainous landscape.
While I could talk at length about the pros and cons of the rapid construction of the “new” country that is the UAE and travel within each of the Emirates, tourism in Ras Al Khaimah strikes an interesting balance.
Not only does it combine the relaxing luxury of the coast with local culture and adventure, but it also offers a very different image to the flashy, extravagant one associated with the UAE today.
Where is Ras Al Khaimah & How to get there?
Ras Al Khaimah is the northernmost emirate above Ajman, Sharjah and Dubai. It is most commonly, but not always, accessed through the Dubai gateway via a 45-minute drive, where its tourist numbers come mainly from Dubai residents and day visitors.
Dubai is still quite a distance from London (there are no direct flights to Ras Al Khaimah Airport from London), where almost seven hours of flying time is accumulated. However, it doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable journey.
As a media geek who is always happy to try a new airline despite the distance, I was finally able to experience Royal Brunei’s Dreamliner, which was introduced in 2013 as a higher quality and more comfortable flying experience in terms of space, noise reduction and cabin pressure.
In both Economy and Business Class (there is no First Class, so Business Class is as close as it gets), the Dreamliner lived up to its propositions. Business class is spacious, with only 18 fully reclining seats, and even in Economy (a daunting prospect for long flights), there was more legroom than you’d find on a standard economy flight.
The noise level was noticeably lower, the windows magically tinted from light to dark at the push of a button, and I felt less cabin pressure (no stuffy ears or my usual dizziness on takeoff and landing). Along with the better air quality, I felt less tired and groggy, though that can also be attributed in part to the incredibly comfortable duvet and pillow provided in the fully reclining Business Class bed on departure.
If you book a flight and hotel package to Ras Al Khaimah, a round-trip transfer will most likely be included. However, if booked separately, it is easy to arrange a taxi from the airport or a rental car at the airport upon landing.
Best time to visit Ras Al Khaimah.
The best time to visit Ras Al Khaimah is from November to March, in what is the European winter season.
November and December are popular months for visitors, as are March and April, before the heatwave arrives. From May to July, temperatures reach uncomfortable peaks, making any time spent sunbathing and sightseeing uncomfortable.
Where to stay in Ras Al Khaimah.
Although Ras Al Khaimah remains more remote and untouched by mass tourism, it is not without the touches of luxury and comfort that are synonymous with the UAE’s dominant cities.
There are a handful of resorts in Ras Al Khaimah to choose from, appealing to those seeking a coastal retreat without the ostentatious grandeur that Dubai boasts. You won’t find glass skyscrapers here, but you will find international brand-name resorts, such as the oceanfront Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort & Spa, where I stayed.
This particular resort, of hotel rooms and villa-style accommodation, is built within a private bay of yellow sand at the northern end of the Arabian Peninsula, overlooking the sea, though it is very close to other city and resort venues.
It also has a beach club with water sports, a spa and a variety of international cuisines, from Arabic to Brazilian to snacks and gourmet dishes (although local restaurants are also within easy driving distance).
The main attraction of the resorts in this area – between which you can hop between for more dining options, alternative spa treatments, and activities such as falconry shows and camel rides in the desert – is that you get more for your money. Ras Al Khaimah’s relatively unknown status makes a stay here much cheaper than in its southern neighbours.
Getting around Ras Al Khaimah – Outside the resort.
Tourist infrastructure in Ras Al Khaimah is not prevalent, but it is also not difficult to find a way to visit local sites and other resorts. The means of getting around is by private car, via two routes:
Using the town’s taxi system, which can be easily booked from the hotel and can take you to local restaurants, other resorts, sand dunes and ancient ruins. You can set a pick-up time or negotiate a price where the driver will wait and take you back. This list of taxi companies and prices in RAK is also a useful resource.
Book a rental car. This can be a cheaper option for those who are going to discover the city over several days and allows you to have your own time and explore it, even if you are only renting a car for one day. Renty.ae has a good selection of car rental options in Ras Al Khaimah.
Best places to visit in Ras Al Khaimah.
A vast desert, mountainous plateau and ancient history complement the coastline, making Ras Al Khaimah a destination where you can combine relaxation with active outdoor exploration. If you think it’s all about the sights of the resorts, think again and seek out these landscapes and cultural activities.
The desert sands of Ras Al Khaimah.
No trip to the UAE is complete without Dune Bashing, a thrilling adrenaline rush and the only way to get deep into the heart of the endless rolls of golden desert. Our jeep safari ended at the Bedouin Oasis Camp, with food and entertainment under the starry desert sky, keeping an ancient nomadic tradition alive.
The mountain heights of Ras Al Khaimah.
Ras al Khaimah is home to Jebel Jais, the highest mountain in the country at over 1,900 metres and marking the border with Oman. Accessible via a modern road, you can drive to several viewpoints, although the road is still under construction to reach its highest point.
Jebel Jais is home to the world’s longest zip line, 2.8 km long, rising 1,680 m above sea level at speeds of up to 150 km/h (93 mph). Sadly, it wasn’t finished when I visited, but you can. Book your exciting bird-shaped adventure here.
The ancient history of Ras Al Khaimah.
There are many prehistoric sites on the island, although they are small and easily overlooked if a local does not point them out to you.
The 16th-century Dhayah Fort in the Rams area was largely destroyed during the British operation of the 1809 Battle of Ras Al Khaimah and remains a symbol of independence and a window into the former United Arab Emirates. I also welcomed the dawn of a new day from atop the crumbling ruins of “Sheba Palace”, said to be the oldest palace in the UAE.
Both sites are free to access and lack definite infrastructure, especially the “Saba Palace”, whose climb is so untouched that one seems to be the first to find it.
Further information: The history of Ras Al Khaimah and the mysteries of the UAE.
The adrenaline rush of the Ras Al Khaimah coastline.
Want something more than a dip in the pool or the warm waters of the Persian Gulf? My favourite adrenaline activity was a jet ski ride around the bay, as I always opt for speed, but other water sports include parasailing, banana and doughnut boating and stand-up paddleboarding in the resort’s private bays.
The local culture of Ras Al Khaimah
From a traditional souk and fish market to an abandoned “ghost town” of Al Jazirah Al Hamra and the bold Sheikh Zayed Mosque, a walk through pockets of Ras Al Khaimah city sheds light on the Emirate’s local culture: both the nomadic past, its continuing customs and its developing future.
Further information: The ghost town of Ras Al Khaimah and the pre-oil UAE.
Rules of Ras Al Khaimah
Alcohol in Ras Al Khaimah
There remains confusion about alcohol consumption in the Islamic UAE. Despite a higher proportion of non-UAE nationals, the UAE remains a Muslim country, where local customs must be respected.
Alcohol can be purchased and consumed in most bars, restaurants and nightclubs in the resorts. Regulations on the purchase of alcohol here may be more fluid than those of its neighbours – for example, many people come from Dubai to Ras al Khaimah, as alcohol can be purchased from liquor stores without a license – although alcohol is not served in local establishments outside of these licensed stores and private resorts.
As far as flying with Royal Brunei Airlines is concerned, the airline is “dry”, meaning no alcohol is served on board. However, you can bring your own alcohol and drink it on board, something not found on other airlines.
Dress code in Ras Al Khaimah – Is it strict?
Ras Al Khaimah is considered the most liberal Emirate and is not as strict with the dress code for tourists to follow. However, modest dress is still expected, as well as the custom of covering knees and shoulders when entering a public place.
Is it safe to travel through Ras Al Khaimah?
There is a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding the safety of travel in Arab nations. Despite the political disputes in the Middle East region, the UAE remains neutral on these issues and is therefore almost detached from it. Therefore, security is not a concern, and I never felt uncomfortable here as a woman traveling in an Arab state.
Respect local customs and act appropriately, as you would in any culture that is significantly different from your own, and you won’t encounter any problems.
Do I need a visa to visit Ras Al Khaimah?
UK citizens do not require a visa to enter the UAE (via Dubai) and are granted entry for 30 days.
Citizens of the following countries can obtain a visa on arrival:
United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Finland, Spain, Monaco, Vatican, Iceland, Andorra, San Marino, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Romania, Latvia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Croatia and Canada will get a free single visit visa on arrival in the UAE.
Visit the Visa Project for detailed information.
Currency in Ras Al Khaimah and the UAE
The local currency in the UAE is the Dirham, which can be obtained from ATMs at both Dubai airport and hotel resorts.
Why you should visit Ras Al Khaimah.
More than just a land of ornate desert, RAK has plenty to keep even the most curious travelers busy as it begins its journey to lure tourists to its wilderness.
Combining coastline and culture, mountains and historical mystery, it’s time to discover Ras Al Khaimah and see the UAE in a different light.
Plan a trip to RAK
Ras Al Khaimah from Dubai
Many choose Ras Al-Khaimah as a cheaper alternative to Dubai when it comes to travel to the Emirates. However, being neighbours, both are easily accessible to each other, regardless of how much time you choose to spend in each.
I travelled to Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of a collaboration with Ras Al Khaimah Tourism, Royal Brunei and iambassador on a campaign called “Discover RAK”. All opinions are my own as I continue to discover the Middle East region.
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