“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.”
There are seven Emirates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Fujairah could well be one of the most underrated of them all.
Initially it was the promise of diving into the azure waters around Snoopy Island, at Al Aqah Beach, which enticed us to explore this area. Yes, here in the desert you would expect sand and lots of it however, it might surprise you to learn that, along with the gorgeous coastlines perfect for diving and snorkelling, there are rugged mountain ranges to drive across and Fujairah is also home to some of the oldest buildings in the UAE.
We decided a road trip was the perfect way to explore this hidden gem and see the diversity of the Middle East at our own pace. Sometimes you just need to get away. Submerse yourself in a different landscape. Explore an area you haven’t yet discovered and experience something new. A long weekend marked on the calendar provides the perfect opportunity to do just that.
1. Experience a Road Trip in the Middle East
The best thing about a road trip is the emphasis is placed equally on enjoying the journey as well as the destination. Seeing children excited to be spending their time glued to the car window and engaging in conversations about the real-life documentary going on around them is also uplifting. In our case watching the open and almost barren landscape stretching out in front, as the city lights are left behind, is quite a novelty.
Spotting the highest sand dunes as we enter the desert is something you don’t see every day and noticing road signs which warn about camel crossings creates a surge of excitement. On that note stopping to get a closer look at the camels, who have wandered up to the fence on the side of the road, is mandatory.
Our road trip to Fujairah began in the more familiar region of Dubai and we chose to set off on the mountainous route. Yes there are mountains in the UAE in fact, the Hajar Mountains in Fujairah are the highest in the Arabian Peninsula. Small clusters of buildings are dotted in the valleys and the bright green from the Oasis and Date Farms provide a contrast to the jagged rock formations and otherwise neutral earthy tones.
Construction has become a familiar scene in the UAE and we were surprised to see such strong evidence of infrastructure growth in some of the lesser known areas we passed. These modern developments create a divergence with the industrial areas and the more basic structures, housing the workers.
Colourful market stalls line the side of the road and we couldn’t resist the enthusiastic hand gestures from stall holders to stop and inspect their produce. It is quite acceptable to pull up and simply beep your horn for service at a ‘souk’ (market place) or shopfront in the Middle East however, for us, getting out of the car and wandering around, taking in the fresh smells from the fruits such as the oversized mangoes, is all part of the fun.
Although this area isn’t considered a typical tourist route, written English is quite commonly used alongside native Arabic on most buildings and road signs, which is very handy. Being a Middle Eastern country, visitors should respect the local’s preference to dress conservatively and, while traditional dress code is enforced at places of worship, covering your knees and shoulders is fine everywhere else. Once you enter the tourist resort areas a more western dress code is perfectly acceptable.
2. Explore 70 Kilometres of Stunning Coast Line
Fujairah is the only Emirate in the UAE whose coastline is not along the Arabian Gulf. Due to its location along the eastern side, the 70 kilometres of Fujairah’s beaches sit on the Gulf of Oman. Our destination was Al Aqah Beach, located about an hours drive north of the city of Fujairah and yes, the capital shares the same name as the Emirate which is common practice in the UAE.
Al Aqah Beach is home to a string of luxury Resorts that hug the coastline and enjoy the most contrasting elements of nature. The rich blue of the ocean dominating their view surrounded with rugged mountains and sandy desert landscape.
Our family checked into the Le Meridien Resort which was buzzing with visitors all escaping the larger cities for this long weekend. We were impressed with the number of family friendly facilities available and the outlook was nothing short of spectacular as it faced the full expanse of the Gulf of Oman. It never ceases to amaze me how instantly calming it is being in such close proximity to the ocean and what a treat it is being able to breathe in the fresh sea air.
Through out the weekend we enjoyed lounging by the pool and swimming up to the pool bar, had our first game of croquet, played mini golf, visited the bird aviary and feasted on a seafood-inspired dinner right on the beach, while we were still in our swimmers, with the sand beneath our toes.
I could talk in more detail about the Resort however, the main intention of our visit was to explore the waters of the renowned Snoopy Island so for us, the most important detail was the onsite dive centre. Fujairah has the reputation of having some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving in the UAE and we were keen to get out amongst it.
The following day, joined with another family, we chose an early morning transfer from our hotel to the island. All the snorkelling equipment we needed was available for hire, easily accommodating our two young children (4 and 8 at the time) including fitting them with flotation devices. The water was remarkably clear and we could see fish the moment we had our heads under the water.
Unfortunately this snorkelling experience was suddenly cut short as Mother Nature intervened and we were unexpectedly joined by huge clusters of stinging jelly fish. You can do all the planning in the world however the elements and natural inhabitants are factors beyond our control.
To say we were disappointed is a complete understatement. Morale was certainly low during the transfer back to the hotel and was raised only by joining in with the almost comical water aerobics in the main pool. Not deterred we all agreed then and there that we were super keen to head back in the not so distant future.
Sandy Beach Resort is located on Al Aqah Beach directly across from Snoopy Island and was the place we were initially recommended to stay. This was however, fully booked due to the timing of our visit. Although this accommodation doesn’t offer the same luxuries as the newer resorts it does have the advantage of offering more direct access to the island. You have the flexibility of kayaking from the resorts beach at any time which means, you aren’t paying for boat transfers from a third party.
3. Discover Historical Buildings and Local History
Like every successful road trip, the journey home is preferably a different route. As we came via the mountains we set off home passing through the city centre of Fujairah, travelling on the Sheikh Khalifa Highway which links the Emirate with Abu Dhabi. It is difficult to estimate the exact travelling time as we had regular stops along the way however, I believe the direct journey takes roughly around a couple of hours.
The first stop of the day, a definite highlight of this road trip, was the Al-Bidyah Mosque. It is thought that the Masjid Al Bidiyah dates back as early as 1446AD, making it the oldest Mosque in the UAE. The mosque is only a short drive from Al Aqah Beach; you need to pass through the Hajar Moutains via the tunnel which is something else you wouldn’t expect to do here in the UAE.
Mosques are a part of our everyday landscape here in the Emirates however, this is the first time we have come across one as unique as this. Al-Bidyah Mosque is a distinctive structure built of stone and mud bricks, coated in many layers of white washed plaster. It sits on a total of 53 sqm with four helical domes featuring on the roof. When entering this place of worship men and women are required to dress in traditional Arabic clothing. An abaya and hijab for women and a dishdaash for men – both are available for visitors to borrow, free of charge, at the entrance.
Definitely allow enough time to wander around the Mosque and the grounds, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Fujairah is full of history and has many sites to explore many of which, as mentioned above, are the oldest in the UAE:
- Fujairah Fort is recorded as the oldest fort
- Al-Hayl Castle was built 250 years ago
- Fujairah Castle
- Awhlah Fort
- Local memorabilia proudly preserved in Fujairah Heritage Museum
Fajairah is also home to many wadis (valley/riverbed) including Wadi Wurayah complete with a waterfall. The natural springs of Masafi, the Gulf’s leading mineral water producer and Ain al-Madhab Hot Springs at the foothills of the mountain just outside the city.
There is also Masafi markets which sound like a great opportunity to be submerged in everyday local activities.
Unfortunately we didn’t manage to see all of these sites during our weekend visit, however you can find out more information from Carla @ My Yellow Bells, who has visited the area on more that one occasion. She also shares her experience watching the Bull Fighting in Gurfah.
The Return Road Trip cont…
Another absolute must see when visiting Fujairah is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the second-largest Mosque in the UAE, standing proud in the centre of the city. The Mosque can accommodate 28,000 worshippers and you can’t help but be in awe of its grandeur, which supports six minarets towering 100 metres above an impressive 65 domes.
During our homeward journey we also came across the Fujairah Port dominated with large circular oil-storage containers. This multipurpose Port is the UAE’s only access to the Indian Ocean and, as you travel through other relatively underdeveloped sections of this Emirate, you are reminded how this important resource is responsible for the growth the Nation has enjoyed in recent years.
Speaking of oil, this is the perfect time to note, at the time of publishing, parts of the round trip from Abu Dhabi/Dubai to Fujairah are quite isolated and petrol stations are still quite few and far between. Better to be safe than sorry and make sure you leave the city with a full tank of petrol.
Visiting Fujairah and skirting the adjoining Emirates along the way gives you a real sense of the past. Here life moves at a much slower and more relaxed pace compared to the hive of activity we are used to in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It is a welcome change to visit a city which has all the conveniences you would expect without the added hustle and bustle.
Many Expats who live in the Middle East and travellers to the region commonly move between Abu Dhabi and the neighbouring Emirate of Dubai and unfortunately, miss out on exploring further afield during their visit. When you find yourself in the UAE the challenge you will be faced with isn’t having to look for adventures, it is deciding which one to choose.
I hope this has inspired you to set off and explore, especially if you are reading this during the cooler months when the weather is just I N C R E D I B L E and perfect for outdoor adventures.
If you are keen for some more inspiration and must see places in the UAE make sure you head over to Our Globetrotters where Keri has compiled 100+ Family Things To Do In The United Arab Emirates and visit her new Facebook Discussion Group here.
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Have you got a favourite road trip in the UAE to share? Have you discovered a #hiddengem considered a bit off-the-beaten-track? Love to hear any great tips about your adventures:
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Until next week,