The United Arab Emirates is a small country, almost the size of South Carolina; however, it is more diverse than as portrayed in, say, the recent Mission Impossible. There’s more beyond the glitzy modern cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai and the vast dune-scapes of the interior. Be sure to explore some of the UAE’s less familiar places of interest. A long holiday weekend should suffice for getting a taste of the charms and attractions of these off-the-beaten-track locales.
-Recommended: TESOL certification United Arab Emirates–
The East Coast
Due east of Dubai, across the Hajar Mountains, you come to the Gulf of Oman and the UAE’s easterly emirate, Fujeirah. This emirate’s got a sleepier vibe than Abu Dhabi and Dubai and is most popular for outdoor activities, like hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing. Culture and heritage are also big here—board a traditional dhow for a cruise out of Dibba Harbor or catch the bull pushing in Fujeirah City. There are interesting archaeological sites to visit as well, such as the Al Badiyah Mosque, the UAE’s oldest. Fujeirah, however, doesn’t lay sole claim to the east coast lure. Sharjah, the UAE’s third largest emirate, controls two patches of prime Gulf of Oman real estate—the charming coastal enclaves of Khor Fakken and Kalba. Have a picnic along the corniche, watch the fishermen haul their catch ashore, or enjoy a swim at a secret beach. For many, the east is the true pearl of the Emirates!
The Top of the Tent
The crowds and pace of Dubai, in contrast, are what makes the northern emirates of Umm Al Quwain (UAQ) and Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) so appealing. Both emirates offer some of the quietest, cleanest, and nicest beaches in the country. As is true for the other emirates, UAQ and RAK boast unique attractions of their own, making them a special pleasure to visit. RAK is particularly stunning, situated as it is between the UAE’s highest mountain peaks and the aquamarine waters of the Gulf. This emirate’s name, which translates as “the top of the tent,” highlights its position at the gateway to Oman’s Musandam territory, the rugged peninsula jutting into the Strait of Hormuz. Take advantage of the opportunity to visit this Omani enclave, especially with a dhow cruise around the waterways and fjords near the town of Khasab.
The Western Frontier
The emirate of Abu Dhabi’s western region, known as Al Gharbia, makes up almost half of the UAE’s 83,000 square kilometers. Comprised of endless stretches of sand desert, coastal salt plains, and a constellation of islands, it has been the primary source of the UAE’s oil and gas riches. A long car-journey through Madinet Zayed, the region’s biggest city, brings you to the uber-oasis town of Liwa. Among the big draws in Liwa is the UAE’s Tel Moreeb, one of the tallest sand dunes in the world. Heading back towards the coast, trek westward from Tareef and check out Sir Bani Yas Island, a massive wildlife preserve, or continue to far-flung Sila’a, the UAE’s westernmost outpost. Dramatic scenery, increased development, and interesting cultural festivals have made Al Gharbia an increasingly popular place to explore.
Head to the Source: Al Ain!
Need to escape the mugginess of the coastal cities, then head to Al Ain, the UAE’s third largest city, located between Oman’s Hajjar range to the east and the open desert to the west. Also known as the “Green City” due to the many oases that dot the town, Al Ain, which translates as “the source”, has offered deep water reserves and a good climate for the thousands of years people have been settling there. The city is also the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed, the erstwhile ruler of Abu Dhabi and founder of the UAE, whose history and legacy is palpable throughout town. Over the years Al Ain has become a particularly welcoming place to a host of expat families from all over the world. If you’re not lucky enough to be placed there, Al Ain’s definitely one of the must-visit places in the UAE.