Andy is one of the Co-Founders of “The Travel Hub.” In addition to travelling outside of the United Arab Emirates, there are many places to visit only a drive away from Dubai.
Dubai has become an incredibly popular tourist destination, with many spectacular highlights for visitors –The Burj Khalifa, The Palm, Dubai Mall, Old Town Dubai, Souk Madinat and adventures in the desert – just to name a few. But there are some hidden gems located outside Dubai that people really need to hear about!
The United Arab Emirates is made up of a total of 7 Emirates. Many are familiar with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, however the other Emirates – Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Umm Al Quaim and Ras Al Khaimah are well worth visiting in their own right, whether you are here on vacation or living in the UAE.
Whilst much of the UAE is made up of vast sand dunes, there are areas in the Northern Emirates that have Rocky Mountains and valleys that can be both spectacular to view and great fun to explore.
We joined a group organized by “Zsi Trading” – a distribution group in Dubai specialising in apparel like the outdoor adventure brand, “Marmot.” The hike was led by local adventurer Arnaud Laviolette, who arranged information on what to bring, meeting points and a pre-hike briefing.
We drove just over 1.5 hours from Downtown Dubai into the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah. Our hike started at the base of Wadi Al Afar (wadis are essentially dry river beds) and our aim was to climb to the peak of Jebel Yabanah – around 1,170m above sea level. The terrain is rocky, with very sparse vegetation – looking more like a scene out of the movie “The Martian”. Whilst it wasn’t an overly long hike in regards to distance, it was slow going as the accent is quite steep and very gravelly. We were hiking in what are considered the cooler months in the UAE, however the temperatures still rise quickly in the day and you have almost zero protection from the sun, so carrying enough water is essential.
What to take:
• Water: at least 3 litres per person
• Appropriate clothing: Can be cool in the early morning, but gets warm, so think layers!
• Sturdy footwear
• Sun protection
• Lightweight food: Small lunch, protein bars, snacks…….LOLLIES 😉
• A hiking stick if you have one.
• Camera: If you are conscious of carrying weight, the mobile phone! If you are silly like me, take your DSLR!
• Small first aid kit
• Bags should not weigh more than 6kg maximum!
Remarkably, tribes of local Emiratis lived for centuries midway up the valley and our hike came across a small area where for a long time, they had practiced farming techniques to grow feed for livestock – a large flat area surrounded by a small rock wall which would gather soil over years, enough to sustain grasses to feed livestock in the summer. There was also a small cemetery and remains of traditional stones houses. Not far away was also a small point where water remained at the surface. Further up the valley was another small house – this was equipped with air-conditioning and is still inhabited today!
The final stretch of the hike was a steep, challenging climb – it certainly raised the feeling of satisfaction when reaching the top! The view from the summit was spectacular and despite it being a hazy day, it was still possible to see across to the other side to a small village. We sat and enjoyed a picnic lunch, admired the view and contemplated the age-old hypothesis of what goes up, must come down!
Anyone who has done any hiking up and down mountains will understand that the descent is usually more difficult than the ascent. Its harsh on the legs and you really need to concentrate on gravelly terrain not to slip or roll an ankle. There isn’t a well-defined path on this hike and we did find at times that the route we took on the way down probably wasn’t the “desirable” course – however, the sliding on backsides and slipping between boulders was as entertaining as it was challenging!
On the way up and down, we came across some workers who were carrying various things up and down. Their years of experience was a clear advantage and they made striding across the steep slopes of unstable rocks look easy.
Too often we plan to travel hundreds of miles from our homes and forget to explore the unique destinations just under our noses. For anyone living in the UAE, taking a hike through the mountains and wadis of Ras Al Khaimah is a great experience and a fantastic leg work out! The Wadi Al Afar hike is considered to be an intermediate level, taking around 8 hours across moderately challenging terrain. There are some other intermediate hikes available including The Wadi Shah Loop, Wadi Ghalila & Naqab. For beginners, there are some shorter hikes of around 3 hours available in Wadi Shawkah, Donkey Path Trail and The Copper Hike.
There is an enthusiastic community in the UAE and Arnaud arranges hikes that are possible to join. It is possible to contact Arnaud via email: firstname.lastname@example.org ■
Social Media Links:
Arnaud Laviolette: Instagram – @arnaud_laviolette