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Ras Al Khaimah: Why winter sun and thrill-seeking are in plentiful supply in Dubai's adventure-capital neighbour

A trip to the UAE's sun-drenched cultural and adventure hub is the perfect cure for winter blues

Suspended 6,345ft in the air, facedown, flying high along a zipwire at speeds up to 93mph above the awe-inspiring scenery of the Jebel Jais mountain range, for a brief moment I wonder what on earth has come over me. 

READ: 5 best winter sun holidays to book in 2022

I usually don't have a head for heights. I’m certainly not one for thrill-seeking activities these days. Yet here I was, terrified, exhilarated and screaming my lungs out on the world’s longest zipline (certified by the Guinness World records no less!). And I loved every second of it. 

worlds-longest-zipline

SEE: Time to hit the slopes! The best places to ski this winter

MORE: 16 of the best holidays to go on with babies and toddlers

I think I can thank Ras Al Khaimah for my newfound sense of adventure. From the moment I arrived in the Emirate, located just a 45 minute drive away from its glitzy neighbour Dubai, something came over me. I was up for whatever came my way.

Which is a good thing, really, because there were plenty of activities in store during my whirlwind two-and-a-half-day trip, which provided me with the perfect dose of winter sun ahead of what’s shaping up to be a bit of a bleak winter in the UK... 

First off, forget everything you know about the UAE. Ras Al Khaimah is a world away from the sky-scrapers and bottomless brunches of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Instead, you’ll find an outdoorsy, traditional destination with mountains, desert, beach… and a heavy dollop of culture thrown in to boot.  

cabins

Our first stop was the Bear Grylls Mountain Camp, which is run by a team of highly-trained instructors. They host everything from survival courses to family camping experiences (in one of the simple but comfortable camp cabins) and in our few hours there, I got my first taste of adrenaline for the weekend with a go on an obstacle course 33ft above the ground. To whoops and cheers from our group, we egged each other on as we tackled riding a bicycle over a tightrope, hopping between picnic tables suspended in mid-air and more… before trying our hand at a spot of mountain climbing. 

mountain-climbing

Hooked into a harness, I found myself face-to-face with what felt to me like a sheer rock face, tasked with climbing to the top. As a total novice, I thought it would be impossible. But with encouragement from the amazing staff and a bit of determination on my part, I made it! And that was the easy bit… I then had to abseil back down. 

climbing-rock

Next up was archery (harder than it looks) – just another of a multitude of activities designed by Bear Grylls himself on offer. The whole thing was amazing. Upon leaving the camp, I felt invincible… which I why I found myself agreeing to the zipwire experience. 

But first – lunch. After winding our way further and further up the majestic mountain range, phones poised to take plenty of photos of the blue-skied views outside our van, we found ourselves at 1484 by Puro, the highest restaurant in the UAE at – yes, you guessed it – 1484m above sea level. My Raspberry Mint Puro mocktail went down a treat though my meal not so much – I was so nervous about the impending zipwire, which you could see from the terrace, that I could barely eat, even though I was reliably informed that the food was delicious. It’s a bit chilly up here so, even though you associate the UAE with desert-like hot temperatures, you’ll need to bring extra layers. 

Even with plenty of time to chicken out of the zipwire, none of us did – we sat through our ‘flight’ briefing then got dressed into our equipment, as well as a go-pro to record the whole experience from start to end. What a souvenir! 

zipline

But our action-packed day didn’t end there. It was time for a sunset hike organised by Adventurati Outdoor – the views over neighbouring Oman were breathtaking and we all made sure to pose on a rock jutting dangerously over the sheer drop below… 

looking-over-mountain

We were provided with backpacks containing water and snacks to sustain us on the hike, though admittedly we were taking so many photos we didn’t exactly progress at breakneck speed. 

This was all followed by a group meditation and dinner once we reached the summit at Camp 1770. Campfires were lit and fairy lights were twinkling against the starry sky by the time we arrived – a welcome sight; by this point, it was so cold I was wearing a ski jacket. 

ras-al-kaimah

Local mountain tribes had provided our Emirati feast of chicken mandi with rice and a date doughnut dessert which we washed down with a cup of Karak – thick, caramel tea – while snuggled in warm sleeping bags to keep out the chill. 

faisal

After all that adventure it was lovely to be staying in a beach-front, luxury hotel that felt like a real sanctuary. Our home for the weekend was the five-star DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa Marjan Island – and my suite, with a balcony overlooking the 650m private beach and a children’s adventure playground with waterslides into the sea – was huge, with a massive, cloud-like bed I sleep deeply in. Thanks to a tiny bit of jetlag – the UAE is four hours ahead of the UK – I wake up early and head outside to catch the sunrise before breakfast, served as a huge buffet with every breakfast food you could possibly imagine.

double-tree-hilton

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The food at the hotel was excellent – a particular highlight was in Italian restaurant Vespa, one of 13 restaurants and bars on site. I can also vouch for the wine! There are also indoor and outdoor pools to laze around. In fact, the sprawling 5* property is so big we were given a map when we checked in. And for those looking for the ideal Insta-worthy snap, there’s a swing on the beach, perfect for lining up a picture-perfect photo.  

But there’s too much to explore in Ras Al Khaimah to spend all day soaking up the sun, so, dragging ourselves away from our loungers, we headed out again – this time to find out more about the culture of the Emirate.  

Jazirah-Al-Hamra

We visit Al Jazirah Al Hamra, an abandoned town that pre-dates the discovery of oil in the region and therefore the wave of modernisation that took place from the mid 20th century onwards. Once a small island, whose inhabitants made their living from pearl diving and the sea, the site is now eerily quiet. You can walk around and into houses where people lived, and marvel at mosques, a market and a fortress; it’s the last authentic and traditional town still standing in the whole of the UAE. 

_boat-and-mangroves

We also visited the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, housed in a fort that was home to the ruling family until the 1960s, and saw artefacts from the earliest settlers right up to more recent history. We learned about date agriculture and pearl diving… which we experienced first-hand that afternoon with a trip to the Suwaidi Pearls Farm, excitedly spotting flocks of wild flamingos in the mangroves as we took a short boat trip to the farm for our experience learning about how oysters create the precious jewels, and how they are farmed. Take your credit card if you’re a jewellery-junkie like me – there are plenty of pearl items to buy afterwards!

pearl

Ras Al Khaimah is the perfect destination for winter sun and adventure. Not only that, but the Emirate is dedicated to environmentally-conscious tourism; they’re aiming to become the regional leader in sustainable tourism by 2025. Whether you fancy a family holiday, a long weekend with friends, or you’re flying solo, you’ll find plenty to occupy you here. And although my trip has been and gone, my newfound sense of adventure, I think, is here to stay… 

I flew with Emirates, who have six daily flights between London Heathrow and Dubai. 

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