A guide to visiting Ras Al Khaimah: 9 things to do in RAK

Samira Banat
Sep 10, 2020

From the world’s longest zip-line to a haunted island, here are our picks for the places to visit and things to do in the scenic Emirate

One of seven of the emirates that make up the UAE, Ras Al Khaimah – or RAK to locals – is home to many hidden treasures.

From exploring the centuries-old forts to taking a bird’s eye view of the emirate by riding the world’s longest zip line, here’s what you need to add to your weekend itinerary.

Visit the National Museum

Sandy-coloured home of the country’s oldest history

The UAE is only 49 years old and prior to its establishment in 1971, the Trucial Sheikdoms of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Fujairah, and Ras al-Khaimah were under a British protectorate. Even deeper in the past, this fort in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah withstood more than just desert sandstorms, but two whole destructions – one by the Portuguese in 1621 and one by the British in 1820.

For most of its ‘in-use’ lifespan, the ‘Early Fort’ served as a residence for the ruling family until it was eventually given up around 1920 for a bigger one, just 700 m to the south. The ‘Later Fort’ was constructed between the British attacks of 1809 and 1819 on the outskirts of the Sheikdom’s town wall. Illustrations of its square-like defence structure, three round towers and a single big tower can be found on ancient British maps. However, it was later developed into a larger, fortified complex. The ruling family’s new residence was only home until 1963 when the desire for a more modern accommodation took over.

Following their moving out, the sandy-coloured bedrooms and traditional kitchens were turned into police headquarters and a prison, before it was finally converted into the National Museum we know it as today in 1987. As a tribute to its little-known, yet remarkable history, the ‘Late Fort ‘ exhibits historical, ethnographical and archaeological artefacts. This is the place to go to explore the country’s deepest roots.

Visit the zoo

Rare white lioness

Built on an impressive area of one million square metres, RAK Zoo holds the title of the UAE’s third-largest zoo, after Al Ain Zoo and the Emirates Park Zoo in Abu Dhabi. Along its sandy footpaths live African lions, black panthers, cheetahs, both grey and Arabian wolves, deer, wild buffalo, and a variety of birds bearing some of the most striking colour palettes. Also inhabiting the wildlife park’s enclosure are rarer species like the white and golden tigers, white lions and antelopes.

Take a dip in Khatt Springs

The Golden Tulip Khatt Springs Resort & Spa

Deep within the heart of Khatt Springs road lies an embellishment of the Hoggar mountainscape. According to archaeological findings, the thermal springs making up the oasis were known to region’s locals for centuries. Additionally, the pottery and stone artefacts found as a result of archaeological diggings in 1992 proved that the springs were known in ancient times even outside the country.

Although the surrounding landscape has evolved over the years and developed into a resort and spa, the healing properties of the water contained within it has not changed. The therapeutic baths are recommended for people who suffer from diseases of the joints, arthritis, or those in need of a getaway from the stress of urban life.

Suwaidi Pearls

Arabian pearl farming along a mountainscape

With a range of activities and experiences, the Gulf’s first Arabian pearl farm offers an opportunity to swim into the past – literally. A symbol for growing prosperity, pearling traditions shaped the identity of the Gulf and its people. For centuries, nomadic traders, herdsmen and fishermen roamed the shores of the Gulf, in search of the fruit of the seas. Evidence of this treasure hunt can be linked back all the way to the first century CE.

Located in the small fishing village of Al Rams, nestled at the bottom of the Al Hajar mountain range, the history-rich trip would be accompanied by striking views of mountains against sandy plains and turquoise waters.

Try eco mangrove kayaking

An adventure through the region’s ecosystem

Mangroves are an essential part of the region’s ecosystem, and right at the centre of the emirate, green canals wind their way through equally green mangroves. You can explore these canals and the wildlife bursting around them on a guided kayaking adventure. A paddle along the canals and an encounter with the vast variety of terrestrial and marine life inhabiting the region is a great way to connect with nature after a long week within the bustling concrete jungle.

Camp-out on Jebel Jais

Stunning views from above

The northern regions of the UAE are home to some of the most stunning mountainous landscapes, formed over 70 million years ago. Ras Al Khaimah is home to the highest of these ancient peaks. Towering at 1,934 m above sea level, Jebel Jais boasts breath-taking vistas, guided hikes and mountain climbing, viewing deck parks lined with food shops and picnic areas, and the world’s longest zipline.

Take on the world’s longest zipline

The world’s longest trip through the rocky mountains

If witnessing the beauty of Ras Al Khaimah’s landscape from a viewing deck sounds too mundane, then the Jebel Jais Flight, the world’s longest zipline – spanning a distance of 1.76 miles or 2.8 kilometres – might be what you’re looking for. At a height of 1,680 metres above sea level, you can experience the feeling of flight through an ocean-side mountain range at speeds of up to 120kph to 150kph.

Visit Wadi Shawka

Still emerald waters against an earth-toned landscape

Whether you’re a fan of hiking, cycling or camping along mountain trails, this location can satisfy your cravings for all of the activities listed. An opportunity to witness the strongest assets of UAE’s nature, the wide wadi area by the dam is home to an emerald pond and tranquil walkways, which see some of the brightest sunsets and sunrises known to the region. A short walk/ride away from the oasis, discover little villages scattered along the roads, home to local shepherds.

Visit the ghost town

Abandoned coral and mud dwellings

Located about 20 km from Ras Al Khaimah’s main town is the little-known gem called Al Jazirat Al Hamra, directly translated into The Red Island. Once a thriving community, the old pearl fishing village is buried beneath the desert sands, bedouin tales and alleged hauntings.

Originating sometime around the 1830s, an estimated 200 people, most of whom were pearl fishermen, lived in the village. As the 20th century rolled around, close to two thousand people filled the coral homes. By the ’60s, however, the people and woven date palm roofs were gone, leaving just the empty shells of abandoned buildings.

Various stories circulate behind the villagers’ swift and sudden departure. Some have linked it to tribal conflicts, promise of prosperity elsewhere, or even the ghosts haunting the mud dwellings. Visiting this open-air museum would give you access to the Emirate’s rich and fascinating history and perhaps, even an encounter with its ghosts!

For more travel guides, see our Bali to-do list for when its borders open next year.