Laura Collacott mixes camel racing with water sports on a whirlwind tour of the UAE’s newest hotspot.
Al Sawan Camel Track
Often overlooked by visitors to the UAE in favour of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah – meaning “top of the tent” – is making its mark on the country’s business and leisure scene. So when you’re in the neighbourhood forging new links in the fast-growing freezone, drop in on some of its tourist attractions as well.
At 6am, before the heat kicks in, hire a local driver to take you to the Al Sawan camel racing track 15km from the city centre. (Ask them to wait as you’re unlikely to get a passing taxi later.) Races take place from 6.30am-9.30am September to April (weather permitting), over 10km, and see the beasts urged on by remote-controlled robots instead of child riders, as they were in the past. It’s free to attend but for a more exciting experience befriend a local and ride in one of the official cars that follow the camels around the course. Visit rakpedia.com/sightseeing
If you visit outside of camel racing season but have a hankering for the desert, consider dune bashing. The desert is on the city’s doorstep so you don’t have to go far. New Rak Travel and Tourism (newraklt.ae) company arranges tailor-made tours, although your hotel will also be able to help.
Banyan Tree al wadi
Once the races draw to a close, make your way by taxi to the sublime Banyan Tree resort (Al Mazraa, banyantree.com). It is one of the country’s newest and most luxurious hotels, situated in the desert-proper, just outside Ras Al Khaimah. Individual tented suites stud the red-hued dunes, but you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy the scenery. Drop in for breakfast or take advantage of the luxury spa with a massage or facial. Alternatively, if you have an interest in wildlife, you might like to book one of the resort’s guided nature walks (daily, on request), where an expert will point out tell-tale signs of life and, hopefully, an Arabian oryx or two. Tel +971 7206 7777.
National Museum of RAK
Next, head to the city centre and the National Museum of RAK in Al Hisn Fort on Al Hisn Road. Once the home of the Qawasim sheikhs, and dating back to the 1700s, the fort is a fine example of Arabian coral architecture – the wind tower rising above it was an early form of air conditioning, channelling cool breezes to the rooms below. It also played a key defensive role in Ras Al Khaimah’s history and was attacked by the British in 1809 and 1819. Inside, there are sections on local archaeology, ethnography and natural history.
Open daily (except Tues and Fri) Sept-May 10am-5pm; Jun-Aug 8am-12pm, 4pm-7pm. Entry is Dhs 3 (50p).
Iceland Water Park
Drive down the road to “new” Ras Al Khaimah. Significant development in recent years has seen the city stretch further along the coast – as with everywhere in the UAE, seafront property is desirable. Among the gleaming houses and hotels, you will find Iceland Water Park. It opened last year and has been nothing but wholehearted in the application of its glacial theme. On approaching it, you’ll see a giant, artificial mountain covered in incongruous penguins and fake snow. If you’ve been to Dubai’s Wild Wadi and Aquaventure parks, prepare for something a bit different – less slick and with more novelty value. It’s tacky, it’s silly but it’s good fun and a great way to cool off in the heat. Entry is Dhs 150 (£25).
Open 10am-7pm Mon-Thurs, until 8pm Fri-Sat. Visit icelandwaterpark.com