I am thinking of driving to Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah for a long weekend. What are the important attractions? Can you recommend a local guesthouse offering decent accommodation?
Umm Al Quwain has several key attractions, from historical sites to a nature reserve.
For a quick lesson in the emirate's history, visit the Umm al Quwain museum fort - it once used to be the police headquarters, and features old storerooms, kitchens and a large majlis, besides housing a number of artefacts excavated from nearby archaeological sites, such as Al Dour (along the Sharjah-Ras Al Khaimah road). The settlement, which thrived from 200BC to the third century, is now in the process of being restored.
For great photos, head to the old harbour, where the large dhow-building yard is full of craftsmen hard at work on traditional wooden fishing boats, and where old coral houses still stand around the atmospheric harbour.
For outdoor action, drive inland to the camel racetrack in Al Labsa, located beside magnificent dunes that are usually beset by dune-bashers and enthusiastic off-roaders. On the weekends in the cooler months, the track is crowded with residents and camel owners preparing for the big competition.
Or take the road going to Falaj Al Mualla, a park with green lawns and a swimming pool. The park also has cycling tracks (admission is Dh2 per person, including use of the pool; bike rental available).
Sinniyah Island, one of seven islands off the emirate's coast and visible from the Corniche, is a rich marine reserve spread over 90 sq km. Dotted with shallow lagoons and mudflats, it attracts all kinds of birdlife, including heron, plover, the greater flamingo and terns. This is a good time to go (November to March) if you want to watch great cormorants in action - it's the third-largest colony in the world. The reserve is also home to Arabian gazelle.
Hotel accommodation in Umm Al Quwain comprises a handful of beach resorts, such as Flamingo Beach Resort (www.flamingoresort.ae; 06 765 0000), which currently has weekend packages from Dh420 per night, including breakfast, a crab-hunting safari and taxes. The resort offers comfortable rooms, a pool and water-based activities that include snorkelling, fishing, crab hunting and boating in the mangroves.
The four-star UAQ Beach Hotel (www.uaqbeachhotel.com; 06 766 6647) offers 66 well-equipped villas set on landscaped gardens. A one-bedroom villa costs from Dh750 per night, including breakfast and taxes.
Top attractions in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) - besides the well-known prehistoric tombs of Shamal, the national museum and the old city and souq - include the historic Dhayah fort, the only hilltop citadel in the UAE, accessed by a long flight of rock-hewn stairs; and Jazirat Al Hamra, an abandoned coastal town, also known as the "red island".
RAK's landscape is dominated by the majestic Hajjar range, and no trip to the emirate is complete without exploring these mountains (visit www.desertsafariindubai.org to book a safari). Also visit the natural hot water springs in nearby Khatt and, if you have the time, the spectacular Musandam peninsula - RAK is the UAE's gateway to Oman.
The sprawling Al Hamra Fort Hotel and Beach Resort (www.alhamrafort.com; 07 244 6666) is a good base to explore the surrounding desert. Double rooms cost from Dh1,050 per night, including breakfast and taxes.
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