Ras al-Khaimah is one of the seven emirates constituting the country of the United Arab Emirates. Located to the north of the country, Ras al-Khaimah, or 'RAK' for short, borders the Hajar Mountains in neighbouring Oman. Although it is only just starting to become known among the tourist crowd, RAK is extremely popular with visitors wanting to do a city and beach combo. RAK is about 45 minutes' drive from Dubai and about 30 minutes from the Omani enclave, Musandam.
RAK is a great mix of beautiful beaches with warm turquoise waters and golden sand dunes, making it a great alternative to spending time at Dubai's very average beaches.
Beaches aside, there isn't much else to do in Ras al-Khaimah, which is known in the Gulf as a primary pearling harbour ; the emirate has a Pearl Museum where visitors can learn all about the art form of pearl diving.
Beaches, desert and the mountains aside, Ras al-Khaimah city is a very bizarre place to spend time. The Manar Mall, with its unusual bold colours and minimalist shapes, is the main attraction in the city. That, and the string of car shops and garages; in fact it doesn't take long to realise that 'pimping' one's car is a favourite pastime among young men in Ras al-Khaimah.
Apart from its beautiful deserts and beaches, there isn't much else to see in the area. Guidebooks will recommend seeing the Khatt Springs, close to the Ras al-Khaimah airport, which are natural springs, but the health centre built on top isn't anything to write home about.
We would recommend visiting the Pearl Museum (see more here), as this gives insight into Ras al-Khaimah's pearl diving heritage.
Throughout the Emirates, hotels are clusters of activity, and in Ras al-Khaimah it's no different. For the moment, there are less than 20 hotels, but they include two beautiful Banyan Tree hotels and soon a Waldorf Astoria will be opening its doors. See our Ras al-Khaimah hotel reviews. We recommend spending an afternoon at the Rainforest spa at the Banyan Tree Al Wadi (the other Banyan Tree is on the beach) as it is one of the most elaborate spas we have had the pleasure of visiting. If you can, spend a couple of days at the hotel - it is right in the middle of the desert and offers fantastic spots for wildlife spotting. Expect to see gazelles, wild goat and falcons.
Also taking place at hotels, are beach parties. Check with the hotel you are staying at, but the most notorious are at the Al Hamra Fort Hotel.
When in RAK, you mustn't miss out on attending the camel races. A little out of the city centre, is the main race track. Races start early in the morning and end by 9:00am (learn more on camel races).
We enjoyed visiting the Pearl Museum (check for opening times) along the Ras al-Khaimah cornice, which was a very entertaining way of learning more about the emirate's pearling heritage (learn more about Ras al-Khaimah's pearling heritage here).
For sport fans, there are a couple of golf courses close to the Al Hamra hotels (one on either side) and there is a watersports centre on the Ras al-Khaimah creek in town. Otherwise, there is also the Iceland Waterpark, which you'll spot on your way into town from the airport due to its 'icy mountain' peaks.
For thrill seekers visiting RAK, there is also the possibility of organising various light aviation activities above the Hajar and the desert. Most hotels will be able to organise this.
Wherever you choose to visit in the Gulf, you need to think about climate. The summer months (June-September) are unbearably hot and are best avoided.
Think about the clothes you are packing and make sure you have a few sensible alternatives to the usual beachwear for the city if you want to avoid unwanted looks in your direction.
Like in most of the country, public displays of affection and being drunk in public are against the law. Also, when in town, ladies should cover their shoulders and legs, and men should avoid wearing sleeveless tops.
Avoid staying at Golden Tulip Khatt Springs; it is far from the rest of the city and it is extremely old-fashioned and grim. Also avoid the Ras al Khaimah Hotel for its unhygienic practices and pool. The City Hotel is also one to avoid although the staff here is extremely friendly and efficient.
Ras al-Khaimah is more of a place you come to wind down away from all the usual bustle, so there isn't much to do. For visitors who haven't tries spending a night in the desert, then either go for the luxe option by staying at the Banyan Tree Al Wadi or at a Bedoin Desert Camp like the Bedouin Oasis Desert Camp and the latter is the only place in RAK where you can try real Emirati food.
Although there isn't much to keep you busy for hours on end, you could try visiting the National Museum of Ras al-Khaimah, Dhayah Fort, and Jazirat Al Hamra, an abandoned fishing village.
If what you're looking for however is true luxury, then try sailing on the Prince of the Sea yacht, which can accommodate up to 75 people.
Like in the rest of the country, there isn't much to bring home due to the large number of imported goods. Budget-allowing, Ras al-Khaimah is a reliable place to buy natural pearls. Otherwise, there isn't much else in the way of souvenirs.