Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is one of the seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is located about an hour’s drive north of Dubai. The name translates to “head of the tent” reportedly after a large tent was erected as a navigation marker by an early chieftain. Recent developments in adventure tourism have propelled RAK as the adventure capital of the UAE.
From Sea to Mountain to Desert
RAK is located along the coast with 40 miles (65 km) of gorgeous sandy beaches where staycationers and tourists alike can choose from high-end beach resorts, like the Waldorf Astoria, to more budget-friendly options.
Also located in RAK is the majestic Hajar Mountain range that spans the emirate, rising from the Arabian Sea to its highest peak of Jebel Jais. Jebal Jais is home to the world’s longest zipline and the first Bear Grylls Survival Camp.
Further inland are stretches of pristine desert where activities like camping, sandboarding, and dune bashing are popular.
As Dubai residents, we often escape to RAK for a change of scenery. Whether for a relaxing staycation or an adrenaline-pumping day trip, there is so much to do. The best time to go is during the cooler months from November to March.
12 Things to Do in Ras Al Khaimah
1. Explore Jebel Jais
Jebel Jais is the tallest mountain in the UAE at the height of 6,345 feet (1,934 meters) and is the heart of RAK’s reputation of Adventure Capital. There is so much to do on Jebel Jais from hiking to camping to ziplining that I’ve written a separate post to highlight this mighty Jebel (which means “mountain” in Arabic). Click here to read 10 things to do on Jebel Jais.
2. Hike on one of the many trails that the Hajar Mountains has to offer.
Besides Jebel Jais, there are other popular trails and one of our favorites is Wadi Showka. Located on the eastern part of RAK, Showka is a 45-minute drive from Dubai and hikers can choose from a few different hikes including the dam circuit (ascend via stone step or adjacent trail) or the pools circuit popular with little kids for finding little fishies and frogs.
For hikes in other areas of RAK, you can hire a guide or find self-guided hiking trails on the Wikiloc app. Always ensure that you bring sufficient water and sunscreen for the trails. I cannot stress this enough. During the warmer months, my kids and I consume 1.5 liters of water per person during a 3-hour long hike and then another liter per person on the car ride home. (Related: How to Guide: Family Hiking in the UAE)
3. Camp, Glamp, or Survival Camp
Fancy camping, wadi camping or desert camping? RAK has you covered. You can bring your own tent and gear or opt for tour operators to bring and set up all the gear you need including bbq meals.
RAK is home to the world’s first Bear Grylls Explorers Camp where you can glamp in recycled shipping containers that are air-conditioned and have en-suite toilet and shower. Each cabin has a double-bed with single bunk and can accommodate three adults or two adults and one child. There are half-day and full-day survival activities to choose from and both are suitable for adults and children.
4. Tour the Only Pearl Farm in the Arabian Coast
Take a boat cruise and tour the pearl farm at Suwaidi Pearls to learn about the rich history of pearling in the UAE. Pearl farming was once a significant industry in the gulf and RAK was the pearl trading capital. But after the global financial crisis of World War I and the rise of Japanese cultured pearls in the 1930s, pearl farming in the Gulf declined to nothing.
However, since 2005, the grandson of one of the last remaining pearl divers in the Middle East is intent on reintroducing Arabian Pearls to the world by opening the first Arabian pearl farm and making it accessible to the public. You can choose to just do the farm tour or add lunch to your itinerary. You’ll be treated to a live oyster opening and chances are high that there will be a pearl inside. And you can pick up pearl souvenirs in the gift shop.
5. Soak up Local History at the Ras Al-Khaimah National Museum
The Ras Al-Khaimah National Museum is located in an old fort that was has been a residence of the ruling family (until 1964), a police headquarters, and a prison before it was finally converted into the National Museum in 1987. The museum houses a collection of ethnographical and archaeological material relating to the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and provides insight into the history and traditions of the Emirate.
A tour through the exhibits will give you a glimpse of the region’s traditional lifestyle such as farming, pearl diving, architecture, fishing, and date growing. You’ll also see traditional weapons and a collection of manuscripts, documents, and treaties signed between RAK’s rulers and Great Britain. Closed Mondays.
6. Explore the Abandoned “Ghost Village” at Jazirah Al Hamra
Located next to Al Hamra Village residential development, the abandoned “ghost village” of Al Jazirah Al Hamra has remained almost unchanged since its inhabitants left in 1968. Almost 2000 people are believed to have been living in the village when they suddenly picked up and left. It was populated from the 16th century and is the last surviving pearl diving and seafaring town on this side of the Gulf. Al Jazirah Al Hamra (which means the “Red Island” in Arabic) was a tidal island up until the 1970s, when a large land reclamation project made it part of the mainland. The buildings were built using coral stone. Forts, schools, mosques, and many other buildings still stand in the area.
It was left untouched for many years before undergoing restoration work and is slowly gaining popularity as a tourist site as it shows glimpses of a past life. It has also been a filming location for Hollywood movies in recent years for actors such as Brad Pitt and Ryan Reynolds. Since 2019, Al Jazirah Al Hamra has been home to the annual RAK Fine Arts Festival.
7. Stair Climb to the top of Dhayah Fort
The site of Dhayah Fort has 2 mudbrick forts: one small fort on top of the hill and a larger crumbling one below. Dhayah Fort was the last point of resistance against the British attack in1819. As a last-ditch effort, the British troops hauled the biggest cannon from their ship to attack the fort and force the surrender of the fort’s inhabitants.
The upper fort was restored in 2001 and can be reached via 200+ steps in a zigzagging staircase. Once you reach the top of the fort, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of luscious palm gardens, blue seas, and towering mountains.
8. Kayak Through the Mangroves
Explore the mangroves that meander along much of the coastline of Ras al Khaimah and even parts of the inner city. Mangroves are trees that are tolerant to salt water and their intricate root system makes them attractive to fish and other organisms seeking food and shelter from predators.
Paddle and explore your way through a mangrove trail and bring your binoculars for birdwatching – you might even spot flamingos.
9. Go Wreck Diving and Swim With the Fishies
Ras Al Khaimah has so many wrecks that it would take many trips to see them all. Al Jazeera Diving & Swimming Centre is a Padi dive center and the only certified dive resort in Ras Al Khaimah. They offer scuba diving courses, snorkeling excursions and fishing trips.
If you are a technical diver or would like to further your tec training, contact Titan Divers. They have their own tec shop and offer advanced diving courses such as KMK training, Nitrox, Advanced Wreck, Dry Suit, Gas Blending, and more.
10. Relax in the Desert at the Ritz-Carlton Wadi Resort
To experience the beauty and tranquility of the Arabian desert, head inland to the Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert. Stay in a spacious tented villa with a private infinity pool overlooking sand dunes with opportunities to spot wildlife like gazelles, oryx and camels.
There is much to do at this resort from horseback riding to archery to relaxing in the rainforest spa. Each villa is provided with adult-sized bicycles and helmets (when we stayed there, we brought my daughter’s little bike) and there is a kids club and stargazing center.
11. Soak up the Sun at a Beach Resort
With a continuously expanding portfolio of hotels, RAK has resort options for all budgets.
We have stayed at the Waldorf Astoria and the Hilton Resort and Spa and both are great options for families with children. My kids particularly liked the water slide and kids play areas at the Hilton Resort and Spa. One of our favorite activities is to take long strolls along the gorgeous beachfront while stopping to build sandcastles and collect seashells.
12. Embark on a Desert Safari
There are many tour operators that offer a “desert safari” experience where you are picked up at your hotel or home, driven out to the middle of the desert for some dune bashing, camel riding, and sandboarding. After all the excitement, you then relax at an Arabic-themed buffet dinner while being entertained by belly dancers.
With so much to do in Ras al Khaimah, I hope this list will inspire you to visit and explore this northern Emirate. Please leave me a comment below if you have any further suggestions for things to do and see in RAK.
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