In contrast to the better-known emirates of the UAE, the emirate of Ras al Khaimah has remained quiet, cosy and manageable and offers typical Arabian flair at a (still) reasonable price.
The Emirate of Ras al Khaimah ("Tip of the Tent") is located in the north-east of the United Arab Emirates and can be reached via the international airport in the capital of the same name. It consists of two separate regions, with the emirate of Fujairah in between, and is often referred to in common parlance as "RAK".
Table of contents
PICTURES: Ras al Khaimah
Flora and Fauna of Ras al Khaimah
In contrast to the other emirates, Ras al Khaimah is relatively fertile due to the rainfall in the Hajar Mountains of the hinterland. Large date and orange plantations thrive especially in the dry savannahs of the coastal areas, and numerous fish and birds find a sheltered refuge at the idyllic lagoons, which are overgrown with mangrove forests.
In the south, however, where Ras al Khaimah borders on the huge Rub al Khali sand desert, it becomes drier and more barren again.
Visit Ras al Khaimah
Accommodation in Ras al Khaimah is the ideal starting point for further exploration of the UAE. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are only an hour or two away, and the other emirates of Ajman and Fujairah are also close by.
In Ras al Khaimah, tourism and infrastructure are not yet as advanced as in other coastal cities in the country. Therefore, the hotels here are still relatively cheap and the city is comparatively manageable, quiet and cosy.
But Ras al Khaimah itself also offers everything a holidaymaker's heart desires. For those seeking relaxation, pompous hotels, dreamlike beaches and luxurious spas are available, adventurers are attracted by the Hajar Mountains and the foothills of the world's largest sand desert, the Rub-al-Khali, and active holidaymakers can prove themselves in camel riding, trekking, golf, sport shooting, kayaking or falcon hunting.
Ras al Khaimah City
The capital of Ras al Khaimah, similar to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has developed in recent decades from a small pirate's nest into a thriving metropolis whose expansion is still in full swing. Similar to the other emirates, attempts are being made in Ras al Khaimah to extend the coastline with artificial islands, canals and lagoons in order to be able to achieve lucrative prices for the construction projects being built there.
Old Town of Ras al Khaimah
Despite the brisk development, Ras al Khaimah has remained a trace of history, for today the old town of RAK still lies on a small peninsula on a lagoon. Here, above all, are the impressive National Museum historic Al-Hisn Fort, the lively souq and the city's oldest mosque are worth seeing. The old town is connected to the government and business district of Al-Nakheel on the other side of the estuary via the Khor Bridge.
Surroundings of Ras al Khaimah City
In the rest of Ras al Khaimah, the colourful souq makes it worthwhile to visit the mountain village of Masafi, which is also known for its mineral water springs. Thermal springs, on the other hand, can be visited in Khatt, where tourists as well as locals can be treated for rheumatism and neurodermatitis. Near Digdaga, there is also a Camel racecoursewhere the Arabs indulge in their two passions, camels and betting.
In the archaeological sites of Julfar and Shimal, the remains of once flourishing trading cities from the Middle Ages can still be seen. In the latter, a palace of the legendary Queen of Sheba was said to have stood, the remains of which are today the only ruins of a medieval palace in the entire UAE.
Those interested in archaeology will also enjoy the Dhaya Fort, 11km from Ras al Khaimah city. The fort dates back to the 19th century and is the only one in the country built on a hill. The treasures discovered in and around the fort are mostly on display in the National Museum in the old town of Ras al Khaimah City.
Otherwise, the hinterland of Ras al Khaimah is quite rugged and inhospitable, many regions can only be travelled by off-road vehicle. For off-roaders, for example, the former trade route across the Hajar Mountains is recommended. This leads from Wadi al-Bih to Dibba, which is already on the Gulf of Oman and belongs half to the UAE, half to Oman.
Al Marjan Island
The man-made islands of Al Marjan Island ("Coral Island") are located just under 30km from Ras al Khaimah city. Here, too, resorts, hotels, shopping centres, office buildings and private villas are to be built.
A special project on Al Marjan Island is the Al Hamra Village. The approximately 5km² village belongs to the state-owned company Al Hamra Real Estate and, with resorts, villas, hotels, a shopping centre, a golf course and its own marina, attracts not only tourists but also future residents who can afford one of the exquisite residences.
Incidentally, the Al Hamra Palace Hotel is not only the largest hotel here, but also the third tallest building in the entire Emirate.
Similar to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Ras al Khaimah has also overstretched itself somewhat in its financial strength when planning its construction projects. And so here, too, many buildings are unfinished or have to be downgraded in scope.
Ras al Khaimah's history
The history of Ras al Khaimah can be traced back to the Qawasim tribe, a nation of seafarers and pirates for whom today's capital has served as an important base since the late 18th century. At that time, pearls, incense and copper were traded for silk, porcelain and spices from China and India. According to legend, they also gave the emirate its name, because the illuminated top of the tents always brought sailors home safely.
In their most glorious times, the Qawasim spread as far as the southern coast of Persia. There, however, their raids at sea drew the ire of the British, who traded with Oman and its exclave of Musandam via the Strait of Hormuz and reached India by sea.
In 1819, Ras al Khaimah was finally occupied by the British and the then ruling Sultan ibn Saqr had to agree to a maritime peace pact. Gradually, the British gained more and more power over Ras al Khaimah, which at that time belonged to the so-called "Trucial States" of Great Britain. These became independent on 2 December 1971.
Ras al Khaimah was the seventh and last emirate to join the United Arab Emirates on 11 February 1972 and now lives not only from trade and agriculture, but also increasingly from tourism. Today, the emirate is still ruled by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, a descendant of Sheikh ibn Saqr.