So Where is Ras Al Khaimah and Why Should You Go There?

By Abi King | Asia

Mar 27
Walking in Ras Al Khaimah - where it is and what to do when you're there

Getting off the beaten track in Ras Al Khaimah

My work with the airline Royal Brunei highlighted an unusual travel destination to explore: the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in the U.A.E. This article forms part of a project produced in partnership with Royal Brunei, RAKTDA and Ritz Carlton. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Now let’s begin!

So Where is Ras Al Khaimah?

It’s a curious place, Ras Al Khaimah, with a curiously interesting name.

Swirling desert sands. A coastline awash with mangroves and pearls, and a natural wildlife menu that counts in oryx and flamingos among the compulsory cantankerous camel.

As the northernmost Emirate of the seven that make up the UAE, it’s also the one with the highest mountain peak.

Arabic customs and culture in Ras Al Khaimah

Coffee with cardamom served from a traditional dallah in the desert, with dates on the side. Oh, and me getting all creative with a camera.

Ras Al Khaimah: Adventure Sports, Nature and Family Travel

It has spent the last few years building a reputation for adventure sports, luxe family resorts, and a quieter, more nature-based approach to life in the desert than its razzle-dazzle neighbour Dubai.

The world’s longest zip line opened this year to add a headline thrill to the constellation of hiking trails, via ferrata routes and mountain bike paths that thread around the Jebel Jais mountain range. And international giant Ritz-Carlton opened a new hotel, the Al Hamra Beach, while cranes on the coastline indicates more luxe places to sleep to come.

But of course, like most places in the Middle East, life in Ras Al Khaimah has been going on long before mankind decided to throw itself off a mountain top.

Or float their breakfast in a beautiful plunge pool.

Abi in Ritz Carlton Al Hamra Plunge Pool in Ras Al Khaimah

Ras Al Khaimah: Building a Name for Luxury and Plunge Pools

So where and what is Ras Al Khaimah?

Northernmost Emirate of the UAE            Year round sunshine   Slightly cooler than its cousins

               Malaria Free*               Zika Free*

Ras Al Khaimah: 7000 Years of History

Life here dates back 7000 years, give or take, with the nomadic Bedouin ranging through the dunes with camels and quiet fishing villages getting by through diving for pearls and trading with India and beyond.

Conquering forces have come and gone, with various levels of bloodshed.

The flag of the Emirates reflects it all: green for agriculture, white for peace, black for oil and red for, let’s euphemistically say, strength and power, rather than my first guess, blood.

Dune bashing in the desert in Ras Al Khaimah

A modern spin on things: dune bashing in the desert

What makes RAK different from the rest of the UAE?

But RAK, as sensible people with a penchant for shorthand say, wears a different identity to its neighbours.

Some customs are shared, some outlooks entwined, but certain others most definitely stand apart.

Each Emirate has a different ruler and with it a different level of interpretation when it comes to political and religious affairs.

RAK sells alcohol and allows women to dress how they like (although it remains a conservative country and it’s wise to cover knees, shoulders and cleavage beyond any hotel resort.)

It also has no oil, a little nugget of information that’s useful to know, as you separate out the identities of countries “in the Middle East.”

Seafood and the coast in Ras Al Khaimah

Ras Al Khimah: more seafood than elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula

So, apart from the geography, why should you visit Ras Al Khaimah?

Well, it’s a great introduction to life in the Middle East and a relaxing base for some sunshine in a quieter, less ostentatious way than Dubai.

Oh yes. And if you fancy throwing yourself off a very tall mountain, it’s got that too.

SUGGESTED ITINERARY FOR

A LONG WEEKEND BREAK OR 7-10 DAYS IN RAS AL KHAIMAH

 

How to plan a trip to Ras Al Khaimah, where to stay, what to do, what to wear and what to seeAs usual, I’ll be writing my more colourful pieces here on this blog as well as bringing you up to speed with some recommended hotel reviews.

But first, an overview to help you find your bearings.

I’d recommend you split your time between the three key regions:

  • 2-3 days on the coast
  • 2-3 days in the desert
  • 2-3 days in the mountains

Travelling distances are fairly short so you can pic ‘n’ mix from there and still have time to relax.

Clearly, some of the adventure sports aren’t suitable for young children but the country, its travelling distances and the hotels mentioned here are definitely family friendly.

Abi from Inside the Travel Lab striding into the desert

Those desert dunes at sunset in Ras Al Khaimah

Ras Al Khaimah: The Desert

Until you’ve seen those deep-red dunes swirl before your very eyes, you live in danger of thinking it’s all a fancy photo filter.

I’ve you’ve never experienced Bedouin life before, then a trip to reconstructed Bedouin Oasis Camp serves as a bite-sized introduction.

If you have, then it’s still good fun to reconnect with camels, sandboarding, kohl and dune bashing and yet be able to get back to your hotel to sleep.

Ras Al Khaimah and Jebel Jais - the longest zip line in the world

Ras Al Khaimah and Jebel Jais – home to the longest zip line in the world

Ras Al Khaimah: The Mountains

With the highest mountain in the Emirates in its repertoire, perhaps it was only a matter of time before someone attached metal to rock and set up the world’s largest zip line.

At 1680 metres above sea level, it’s a dizzying 2.83 km long and “jumpers” can reach speeds of up to 160 km/h (the company, Toro Verde, likes to call each jump a flight.”

It’s the pinnacle of the adventure sports available, but by no means the only one.

And if, er, for example, you’re in no mood or no shape for adrenaline-fuelled sports, the views on the way up deserve a visit in and of themselves.

The sharp, white sails of the canopies against a harsh blue sky and towering stratified rock make a striking sight, all teetering above the glimmering Arabian Sea.

The beautiful coast of Ras Al Khaimah

The gorgeous coastline of Ras Al Khaimah

Ras Al Khaimah: The Coast

When you live on an island, 40 miles of coastline may not sound like much.

But when you’re in a country that’s mainly the desert, that coast becomes a lifeline.

Pristine beaches with soft white sand. Clusters of mangrove swamps where flamingos stand in their comical one-legged way.

And small fishing villages where boats bob and tilt and glisten in the sun.

Flying with Royal Brunei to Dubai for Ras Al Khaimah

Flying with Royal Brunei to Dubai to get to Ras Al Khaimah

So how do you get to Ras Al Khaimah?

Map of Ras Al KhaimahWhile RAK does have its own airport, for choice and ease of connection, most people fly in to Dubai. From there it’s a 45 minute drive, which makes it faster than getting into central London from Heathrow on the Piccadilly Line.

I flew with Royal Brunei, an airline I’ve travelled with before.

Flying to Ras Al Khaimah with Royal Brunei Airlines (into Dubai)

Royal Brunei Airlines, is the national flag carrier airline of Brunei Darussalam and operates one of the youngest long-haul fleets in the world based on 40 years of aviation service and winning the Luxury Travel Guide’s Airline of the Year Award Asia & Australasia in 2017.
It’s the only airline to guarantee a Boeing 787 Dreamliner service on all long-haul routes, to 18 different destinations. And it remains one of the few airlines to offer a Dreamliner service from London to Melbourne (via Dubai and Brunei).
They operate daily flights from London Dubai. From there, it’s only a 45 minute drive or 25 minute scenic trip by seaplane with Seawings to reach Ras Al Khaimah.

(As a side note, Brunei itself is not in the Middle East. It’s sandwiched between Malaysia and the South China Sea and just happens to be the richest country on earth. )

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight offers a quieter journey with larger windows that self-tint so you don’t have to argue with your neighbours about whether or not to have the shutter up or down.

Service is friendly and efficient and it’s one of the best value airlines when it comes to price-checking flights into Dubai.

Inflight Royal Brunei photos above from the ever-entertaining Travel Dave UK

It’s worth mentioning that the airline doesn’t serve alcohol (which may also make for a quieter and more restful flight) and screens out certain “adult” material on the in-flight entertainment. Families with young children are allowed to board first and it’s possible to book your seats in advance.

Seats have USB power points and on my six or so flights with them, the staff have always been exceedingly helpful and polite. What’s more, even the Economy seats have a generous 30kg check in luggage.

Travel to London Heathrow

From London Heathrow, the quickest way into the city is on the Heathrow Express which whizzes you in to London Paddington.

Fares start for as little as £5.50 if you book in advance on heathrowexpress.com. Children 15 and under travel for free at all times.

Getting Around Ras Al Khaimah

Getting Around Ras Al Khaimah

The roads are silky smooth with tarmac and the public transport is next to non-existent. So, hire a car or hire a driver, either through hotel transfers or through a dedicated on-the-ground tour. I’d recommend Safarak for customised tours, especially with Avas as guide.

Driving up towards the mountains, the roads are rather winding but they’re far, far better than driving in Morocco, the Italian coast or the Sierra Nevada in Spain.

Food in Ras Al Khaimah

What to Eat in Ras Al Khaimah

International food abounds in RAK, so you’ll need to make a bit of an effort to find some authentic Emirati cuisine.

The Emirates chain Al Fanar claims to be the only traditional restaurant left in Ras Al Khaimah, with segregated family rooms and smoky incense wafting between the cream pillars and carvings.

Expect hummus, flatbreads, tabbouleh and spiced meats and seafood, with honey-sweet baklava and camel and goat’s milk flavoured ice cream.

What to wear in Ras Al KhaimahMore about the luscious Ritz Carlton foodie offerings in the dedicated hotel reviews to come.

What to Wear in Ras Al Khaimah?

If I had to sum things up, I’d say conservative but casual and designed to keep you cool.

It is hot in the middle of the day so bring a hat and wear long sleeves and trousers to avoid sunburn and heat stroke. It can cool off in the evening, so a jacket or scarf can come in handy. The temperature doesn’t plummet here as it does in other desert environments so there’s no need for the fleece and down jacket with warm hat and gloves (ahem.)

Obviously, be practical for the adventure sports. Wear nothing loose that will flap up into your face or get caught in the cables and harness. Have gripping, sensible soled shoes and keep the heels for the rest of the trip.

Anything goes in the hotels and resorts but do keep skin to a minimum when roaming around.

Finally, a scarf comes in very handy for protecting yourself against the beautiful but abrasive swirling sand. There’s a reason why this style of dress caught on around here after all…

Sand and seafood in Ras Al Khaimah

 

In Conclusion: Visiting Ras Al Khaimah

 

So there you have it, a bite-sized, nutshell, mixed-metaphor introduction to this northernmost Emirate in the UAE, the one with the curious name.

Yet explore just a little and you’ll realise it’s not so curious after all.

For Ras Al Khaimah translates to mean the one “at the top of the tent.”

The tallest mountain, the northernmost part.

It makes perfect sense to me.

I’ll be back soon with more…

Nature all around in Ras Al Khaimah

Nature all around in Ras Al Khaimah – even in the plunge pool

 

Disclosure: This article forms part of a project produced in partnership with Royal Brunei Airlines, Ras Al Khaimah Tourist Development Authority and Ritz Carlton. Heathrow Express provided complimentary transfers.

 As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, what’s the point?!

 *At the time of writing. But always, come on, you know this already, always check with your own medical professional before booking and travelling.

So how about you? Have you heard of Ras Al Khaimah? What would you like to know before you go?

 

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