Exploring Ras Al Khaimah: A Perfect Blend Of Adventure, Culture, And Luxury

Ras Al Khaimah is celebrated for its natural landscapes, leisure activities, adventures, and cultural experiences. With a rich history, this northernmost Emirate of the UAE has emerged as a premier destination in the Middle East
Ras Al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah is the largest city and capital of the Emirate of Ras Al KhaimahShutterstock

My heart pounded as I gripped the unfamiliar controls of the light sport aircraft. "Just like a car," reassured Khizer Hayat, my 26-year-old co-pilot and trainer at the Jazira Aviation Club in Ras Al Khaimah, his voice crackling through the headset. He pointed to the triangular steering wheel. "Don't worry, just move it left or right."

Truth be told, my driving experience was limited to bicycles. The constantly crowded roads of Delhi, coupled with the ever-present frustration of aggressive drivers, had instilled in me a lifelong aversion to getting behind the wheel. So, when faced with the unfamiliar controls of a light sport aircraft, my initial apprehension was perhaps understandable. So after a valiant 30 seconds of pretending to steer, I sheepishly handed the controls back to Hayat, who was busy capturing photos and videos on my phone with surprising ease. Relief washed over me as the aircraft soared gracefully—a far cry from my white-knuckled moments.

The light sport aircraft at the Jazira Aviation Club
The light sport aircraft at the Jazira Aviation Clubvisitrasalkhaimah

This exciting (if slightly terrifying) experience unfolded in Ras Al Khaimah, or RAK for short. The largest city in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, RAK, is actively courting Indian tourists. India is a top-five source market, and 2023 saw a 20 per cent increase in Indian visitors—a trend expected to continue.

Beyond its charm as a tourist destination, RAK, historically known as Julfar, boasts stunning landscapes, world-class hotels, and modern amenities. Indian couples are flocking here for their dream weddings, with options ranging from beachfront resorts like Waldorf Astoria and Movenpick to desert havens like Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert. The newly opened Sofitel Al Hamra Beach Resort offers a fusion of Arabian beauty and French flair, while Anantara Mina Al Arab tempts with luxurious overwater villas reminiscent of the Maldives. This blend of adventure, luxury, and cultural experiences is precisely what drew me to RAK.

An Action-Packed Day

My first stop in RAK, just a short drive from my base at Mövenpick Resort Al Marjan Island, was the Jazirah Aviation Club. Established in 1998, this club is the first microlight and light sport aircraft club in the UAE to be approved by the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA). Boasting over 300 active members and a private fleet of 50 aircraft, Jazirah Aviation Club is a haven for aviation enthusiasts.

"We offer complete training programs for microlights, gyrocopters, powered parachutes, and paramotors," explained Dania Al-Aker, the club's marketing manager. "If you've never experienced the thrill of flight, an introductory lesson with us should be on your travel bucket list."

View from the light sport aircraft
View from the light sport aircraftShutterstock

And that's what I did. Strapped into the aircraft, my heart pounded with excitement and nervousness. As we took off, the world below transformed. The terracotta dunes, a hallmark of RAK, stretched out beneath us. The vast Arabian Gulf, with its scattered islands and coral reefs teeming with marine life, unfolded before my eyes. From our unique bird's-eye view, we spotted flamingo-filled mangroves, bustling ports, and the Jebel Jais mountain.

The exhilaration of the helicopter ride still buzzed in my veins, but our adventure wasn't over. We were headed to Jebel Jais, home to the world's longest zipline. Towering at 1,934 meters, this peak straddles the border of Oman and RAK.

At the Jais Adventure Park reception, a friendly woman noticed my apprehension as I signed the waiver. "Don't worry," she reassured me, "It's safe. Over 70,000 people have enjoyed the zipline since 2018." Her words resonated, but the inevitable pre-activity jitters crept in. Thoughts of family and safety flickered across my mind. Before I could dwell on them, we were swiftly geared up. A quick briefing later, we were whisked away in a car to the launch platform where a group stood together, their faces showing a blend of excitement and fear.

Jebel Jais is home to the world's longest zipline
Jebel Jais is home to the world's longest ziplinevisitrasalkhaimah

Wanting to rip off the bandaid, I volunteered to go first—not to prove bravery but to get it over with. The position felt awkward—a push-up with my legs hoisted and strapped. They secured me further, transforming my body into a streamlined unit. My heart pounded in a frantic rhythm. Then came the countdown: "One, two, three..."

The moment I was released, fear evaporated. Instead, a surge of joy took over. For three minutes, I soared like a superhero, reaching speeds between 120 and 150 kmph. The jagged peaks, deep ravines, and canyons unfolded beneath me. Finally, I reached the braking point and glided to a stop. As they unstrapped me, a realisation dawned. Fear can be crippling, but once you take the leap and surrender to the experience, it melts away. In those moments of pure adrenaline, you exist solely in the present.

The Jais Sledder
The Jais Sleddervisitrasalkhaimah

Just as I was coming to terms with this revelation, we were whisked off to the Jais Sledder. This thrilling ride reaches up to 40 kilometres per hour as you race down the Hajar mountains. The descent, entirely under your control, took me about eight minutes, winding through 1,840 meters of hairpin turns and dips.

A Step Back In Time

RAK boasts a remarkable history. For 7,000 years, this region has been continuously inhabited, making it one of the longest-settled places in the world. This rich history and culture were the focus of my second day's exploration, beginning with a visit to Al Jazeera Al Hamra, the only remaining historical pearling (occupation of diving or fishing for pearl oysters) village in the Gulf region.

Al Jazirah Al Hamra is a town to the south of the city of Ras Al Khaimah
Al Jazirah Al Hamra is a town to the south of the city of Ras Al Khaimah visitrasalkhaimah

The moment I stepped into the village, I was surrounded by the traditional elements that define such a neighbourhood: a fort and watchtowers, a mosque, the central souq, and extensive courtyard houses. There were small, simple dwellings, cosy courtyard homes, and even two-story buildings. One particularly grand residence stood out, belonging to a wealthy pearl merchant.

Our guide for the day, Haseena, shed light on the village's construction. "These buildings were built traditionally using local materials such as coral blocks and fossilised beach rock," she explained. "They incorporated mangrove tree beams, date palm trunks for roofing, matting and ropes, and even layers of seashells for drainage."

Haseena went on to paint a picture of the village's past. "At its peak, around 1900, the Zaab tribe called this place home. Over 500 houses stood here, divided between the northern quarter of Umm Awaimir and the southern quarter of Manakh. The Zaab people thrived on the pearl trade, with a fleet of 25 boats and hundreds of livestock. But the 1920s brought a crash to the pearl industry, and the discovery of oil deserted the village. Between 1968 and 1971, its inhabitants moved on."

The Suwaidi Pearls Farm was Established by Abdulla Al Suwaidi
The Suwaidi Pearls Farm was Established by Abdulla Al Suwaidi visitrasalkhaimah

In our quest to unravel RAK's deep-rooted connection to pearls, we set off for Suwaidi Pearls Farm in Al Rams. Once a quaint fishing village, this area is now the city's farthest north neighbourhood. RAK boasts a pearl fishing tradition stretching over seven thousand years. Suwaidi Pearls Farm, a tribute to his grandfather Mohammed, was established by Abdulla Al Suwaidi to celebrate RAK's pearling history. Abdulla held his grandfather in high regard, who could stay underwater for what seemed like ages and resurface with translucent spheres, which would later adorn the bodies of royalty.

Suwaidi Pearl farmhouse on the floating pontoon
Suwaidi Pearl farmhouse on the floating pontoonvisitrasalkhaimah

Upon arrival at Suwaidi Pearls Farm, we embarked on a traditional pearl fishing boat. Our journey began with the guide highlighting the significance of the shallow bay and its protective mangroves. He also shared stories of the fishermen, their ancient diving techniques, and their tools, which we explored from the trader's box called "Bishtakhtah." We then delved into the scientific methods employed in pearl farming today and toured the Suwaidi Pearl farmhouse on the floating pontoon. The grand finale was oyster opening—and to our delight, we discovered our very own Arabian pearl.

Our day continued with a trip to the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, where we explored archaeological finds and historical artefacts, including pottery collections, illustrations of ancient sites, and reconstructions that brought the Iron Age, Sassanian period, and early Islamic period to life. Even fishing nets found their place in the museum's displays.

Our exploration then shifted to Dhayah Fort, the sole remaining hill fort in the UAE. Our guide, clad in a traditional "Kandura"—a simple, flowing garment—explained the fort's rich history. "It dates back to the Late Bronze Age (1600 – 1300 BC) when locals used it for settlement and fortification." He continued, "This is an important historical monument where the 1819 battle between British troops and local Qawasim tribes took place."

National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah
National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah visitrasalkhaimah

Rejuvenation In Desert

On my last day in RAK, we visited The Rainforest at the Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert. This spa offers 16 hydrothermal stations with alternating hot and cold water experiences designed to relax and revitalise the body. Upon entering the thermal space, I was guided through a series of steam rooms, showers, and saunas before immersing myself in the pool with numerous hydromassages.

Stepping out of The Rainforest, I felt rejuvenated. The desert sun, once a relentless force, now seemed warm and inviting. This luxurious escape was the perfect ending to a RAK adventure, leaving me relaxed and ready to face the journey home with renewed energy.

Getting There

Getting to RAK from India is convenient with direct flights operated by IndiGo to Dubai International Airport from major Indian cities. A shuttle bus journey from the airport to RAK city centre typically takes about an hour. Alternatively, taxis, such as those provided by Arabia Taxi, are available from both the airport and city centre, with travel times to RAK around 45 minutes.

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