Dubai and Abu Dhabi may have made their mark as tourist favourites, but the United Arab Emirates’ fourth largest city, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is striving to establish itself as an attractive tourist destination. In recent years, RAK has demonstrated a strong economic diversification policy, becoming a manufacturing hub across industries like ceramics, pharmaceuticals, construction material, auto and petrochemicals. It is the headquarters for prominent global companies such as RAK Ceramics and Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries, also known as Julphar. While the presence of free zones and industrial areas has definitely attracted foreign investments, it is the tourism sector that is fast-growing. The emirate was also named the Gulf Tourism Capital for both 2020 and 2021 by the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Blend of luxury and Arabian charm
While some of the other emirates have emerged as extravagant, modern urban centres, RAK is more of a hidden gem and has attempted to stay true to its roots, promising a more authentic Arabian experience for tourists. That being said, the emirate does offer a wide range of accommodation options, from luxurious beachfront resorts to family-friendly and affordable hotels. Among these is the sprawling, plush Cove Rotana, along a private beach, blending dining and leisure with Arabian charm. Aside from Rotana, vacationers can also choose to stay in other world-class properties such as Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree by Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, Radisson and the InterContinental Mina Al Arab. The emirate has scenic locations with varied landscapes, including sand dunes, pristine beaches and mountains, and for most of the year, has hot and arid weather.
November to February are the best time to travel, since temperatures are usually under 30°C at that time.
Since no vacation is ever complete without sampling local delicacies, a visit to RAK means you absolutely must indulge in Emirate cuisine favourites like the machboos (meat or fish cooked with rice and special spices) and fareed (vegetable stew with bread). Aside from local specialities, the emirate is a melting pot of cultures and offers a host of cuisines from Lebanese and Italian to Thai and Indian. While RAK is a meat lover’s paradise with juicy steaks and delicious grilled meats, it offers plenty for vegetarians and vegans too. Most restaurants present an excellent mezze platter, so that should be a must-eat when you are in RAK.
If you have limited time and are seeking an exciting local experience, head to the Bassata Desert or the Bedouin Oasis Desert camp to for an unforgettable Arabian experience set in the sand dunes, complete with Egyptian dancing, fire dancers, camel rides and henna painting. One of the highlights of the experience is an authentic Arabian spread, featuring a wide variety of meats, rice, hummus and much more.
For those seeking adventure sports, Jebel Jais, the highest mountain in the UAE should find a spot in your itinerary. It would be advisable to spend an entire day here, since there is a lot you can do, from hiking and mountain biking to sledding on the Jais Sledder (an exhilarating toboggan ride through the mountain).
Adventure junkies should try the Jais Flight, the world’s longest zipline (a Guinness World Record), that lets you travel back to ground level at an estimated 150kmph speed. Also check out Puro 1484, at the top of the Jebel Jais, the highest restaurant in the UAE, which offers various international delicacies paired with refreshing cocktails, not to mention a breath-taking view.
Tourists can explore the region’s pearling history at the Suwaidi Pearl Farm, established by Abdulla Al Suwaidi in 2005.
The farm is located at the foot of the Al Hajar mountain range, and starts by boarding a traditional pearling boat to sail through mangroves and reach a floating pearl farm. The experience is immersive and offers fascinating insights into how pearls are cultivated and harvested.
If learning more about RAK is what you’re after, then the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah houses artefacts and antiquities that provide a glimpse into the region’s rich culture and history.
Before you head back home, stop by at the local souks (local markets) if you plan to purchase garments, fabrics, perfumes, shawls and even gold jewellery.
(The writer was hosted by the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority and IndiGo, and stayed at Cove Rotana)