Last month, Weekend published 10 recommendations to add to your UAE bucket list, which caused plenty of debate among our readers. Hareth Al Bustani investigates five of their finest suggestions.
1 Hatta, Dubai
The journey to Hatta can be confusing. First you’re in the UAE, then you’re in Oman, then you’re in the UAE again. (Make sure to take your passport and/or Emirates ID with you.) But it’s a romantic drive, watching the sand change colours; catching glimpses of camels and the surprisingly versatile natural foliage and passing through small hamlets along the way.
Hatta’s landscape is powerful: mountains oversee Dubai’s original home with judicial authority, inhabited by goats. Beyond, the wadis reveal a more playful “wadi bashing” experience, where couples, friends or families can carefully navigate to a beautiful picnic spot, far from the stresses of cosmopolitan life. The Hatta pools, also to be found amid the Hajar wadis, are great, refreshing fun, too.
Some would say that no trip to Hatta is complete without a bit of wadi bashing, but this isn’t true. There’s much more to Hatta than that.
The Heritage Village museum, for starters, is almost surreal in its location amid small, humble houses with meagre vegetable gardens. However, it was once home to the fort of Dubai’s ruling family.
Visitors can take a look at what life was like in Dubai before the discovery of oil. While some of the videos don’t work, and some mannequins are missing beards, this only adds to the quirkiness of the museum.
The highlight is an old military watchtower, used in the 18th century for defence purposes. You could spend an hour up there on a windswept day, studying the town and its rugged landscape, contemplating how quickly things have changed.
Hatta is also home to a few of the country’s prominent sources of mineral water — Jeema, Hatta and Gulfa all have factories there. Jeema abstracts its water from natural, 7,000-year-old pools 800 metres below the earth’s surface. Meanwhile, the Hatta dam collects the rainwater that trickles down from the nearby wadis.
“You can walk along the wall of the dam and it has a great view,” recommends one reader. “It also has a very steep but short, sealed road up to the dam wall, which is a thrill in itself. Hatta also has the Heritage Village and you can enjoy a lovely lunch at the Hatta Fort Hotel.”
• Hatta Fort Hotel arranges day trips to nearby locations, call 04 809 9333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
2Kayaking in the mangroves, Abu Dhabi
Mangroves cover thousands of hectares of the UAE’s shoreline, providing a fertile natural breeding ground for many of the country’s most iconic species, including sea snakes, turtles, shrimp, snapper, grunt fish and sea bream.
Because mangroves struggle to grow above 35°C, Sheikh Zayed, the founding president, began a large-scale forestation programme to maintain sustainable numbers. This initiative continues today.
Home to 75 per cent of the country’s mangroves, Abu Dhabi runs several ambitious forestation projects, such as the reintroduction of a long-extinct mangrove species Rhizophora mucronate. The capital, therefore, offers a rare insight into one of the country’s more obscure natural habitats.
If you want to experience the mangroves for yourself, and you’re up for a rigorous workout, you should definitely consider kayaking in the mangroves.The mangroves on the eastern coast of Abu Dhabi island and Yas Island provide a remarkably serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Don a life jacket, grab an oar and propel yourself through the green walls of lush foliage. Some prefer to go alone, but sharing a kayak with a friend can be hilariously calamitous or empoweringly synchronised. Tour operators can also provide a guide for larger groups.
Al Mahara offer 90-minute tours, either at Yas Links Golf Club (Dh200 per adult and Dh150 per child) or the Eastern Lagoon (Dh150 per adult and Dh100 per child).
Alternatively, Noukhada Adventure Company offers a similar package — 90- to 300-minute tours for Dh150 per adult and Dh110 for children, who must share a double kayak with an adult. The 300-minute Eco package is Dh220 for adults and Dh170 for children. Minimum four people, though this is flexible.
Tel Moreeb, south of Liwa, is one of the tallest sand dunes in the world at 300 metres tall, and has a 50-degree incline. It hosts an annual race at the Liwa International Festival, challenging cars, motorbikes and off-road-vehicle drivers to reach the summit first. Thousands attend the festival every December for the race, while there is also falconry, camel competitions and more.
It’s popular throughout the year among dune-bashers and, being close to Liwa, there are plenty more places to visit on the way, such as the Emirates National Auto Museum.
It takes roughly two-and-a-half hours to reach from Abu Dhabi. The drive offers views of Al Gharbia’s moody desert landscape, with dunes climbing over one another into the horizon.
The National reader Christoffer Banglid says that one of the highlights of his trip was a camel enclosure, where a shepherd let him pet his camels.
Banglid advises: “The lonely shepherd will let you walk among the 50 camels and pet them. Remember to tip him. If you don’t speak Arabic, gestures are the only way to communicate.”
Bolder hikers can also try to climb the Tel Moreeb dune — though they do so at their own risk of harm and failure.
It’s not recommended that people venture into the Empty Quarter, Rub Al Khali, unless they are highly skilled or experienced hikers, travel in a group with multiple vehicles, ensure they have adequate equipment and go with someone who knows the area.
• For more information on Tel Moreeb and other Al Gharbia attractions, call 02 444 0444 or email email@example.com
4Al Badiyah Mosque, Fujairah
Pay a visit to Fujairah’s Al Badiyah Mosque, which is the oldest in the UAE. The mosque, which is perched atop the emirate’s mountainous coastline, was built some time between 640 and 1446. However, because of a lack of historical records, there doesn’t seem to be an objective consensus on who built it.
The 53-square-metre building may have served other uses before becoming a mosque. It was built from materials available in the area, such as stones and mud. Atop its roof are four domes, which is unusual, as most mosques in the UAE have between seven and 12 domes.
Despite renovations and the installation of air-conditioning and fluorescent lights, the mud-and-brick exterior has changed very little since it was built.
The mosque holds regular prayers, but it’s also open for non-Muslims eager to learn more about the country’s heritage.
Funtours arranges day trips of Fujairah, incorporating Al Badiyah, Fujairah Museum, Fujairah Fort, the Heritage Village, the beaches, lunch and the Friday Market.
The mosque is in Fujairah’s Al Badiyah area – north of the city, about halfway to Dibba.
For an authentic experience of Dubai’s culture and history, visit this Bur Dubai restaurant, which opened in 1978, celebrated its 35th anniversary last year — a rare feat in such a rapidly changing city.
It was founded by an Iranian, Mohammed Al Ansari, who travelled to Dubai by dhow in 1941. He was nine years old at the time. Ansari’s father had set up a grocery and bakery in Bur Dubai years earlier and asked the family to come and help him.
While the entrepreneurial Ansari ventured into a wide range of different businesses, his Iranian restaurant is the only one that survived the economic effect of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, not to mention Dubai’s rapid metamorphosis.
Today, he knows most of the regulars by name, among whom are celebrities such as the Bollywood star Salman Khan, whose photographs adorn the walls of the restaurant, which is on Mussalla Road.
Ansari has also collected hundreds of currencies, with over 5,000 notes donated by tourists. Also on display is a chronological progression of UAE currencies; from the Gulf rupee to the Bahraini, Qatari and Dubai dinars and, finally, to the dirham.