Awhala Fort

Awhala Fort is on a hidden plain between the Hajar mountains in Southern Fujairah. Although the main part of the fort couldn’t be dated, the locals believe it has been there for around 250 years. What’s more exciting though is that it was built on the site of a much older building dating back to the Iron Age. You will notice the thickness of the walls that led to this discovery. Sherds have also been found dated further back to the Wadi Suq period suggesting the site itself has been inhabited for at least 3000 years.

The site was excavated by an archaeological team from the University of Sydney in 1996 and the fort was restored between 2003 and 2005. There are other areas nearby which have been fenced off for future digs.

After entering the majlis, you can climb the steps made of large stones to the roof and then cross a small bridge to the watchtower and climb a ladder to the top for a view all around.

Entrance: free (but you may want to tip the guard)

Opening hours: Saturday – Thursday 8am -6:30pm, Friday 2:20-6:30pm

Access: asphalt road, either off Sharjah-Kalba Rd or from Kalba

Location: 24.908108 56.303353

As it is in a village, respectful clothing is advised.

Wadi Al Helo

Wadi al Hilo is one of Sharjah’s several enclaves. Just off the old Kalba Road, the valley lies on the old caravan trade route and has applied to be listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site as part of the Gateway to the Trucial States.

One of three watchtowers up on the hilltops overlooking many of the ruins.

Helo, as you may know, means sweet, so it is called The Sweet Valley. This is mainly attributed to the sweet water in the area which has made the land very fertile and particularly good for growing fruit. Farms can still be seen in the area growing different fruits and dates as well as fodder for animals such as goats.

It is also one of the many protected areas in the Emirate of Sharjah due to its biodiversity. It is home to many species of birds, rodents and reptiles as well as fish.

But Wadi al Helo is most famous for its rich history. It has ruins, graves and other archaeological sites from several periods and evidence from digs points to it having been more or less continuously inhabited for at least 10,000 years.

Sites and relics have been carbon-dated as far back as the Neolithic Period with dates given as at least 8000 BC. Later sites indicate settled life in the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pre-Islamic and Islamic Ages.

A copper mining workshop dating back to 3000 BC was discovered during one of several archaeological digs. The larger area was one of the important copper mining centres and it was exported to Mesopotamia. Some relics can be seen in Al Hisn Museum, Khor Fakkan. And if you look closely at the surrounding mountains, you may still see copper veins running through them.

Copper ingot found at Wadi Al Helo, displayed at Al Hisn Museum, Khor Fakkan.

Rock art of people, animals, symbols and inscriptions was also discovered in the area dating back to different periods.

Credit: Michele Ziolkowski, Rock on Art: Petrogylph sites in the UAE, 2007

The mosque, which has been restored, and the village nearby are around 120 years old. The main house had a courtyard and a staircase and was surrounded by about twenty other houses as well as stores, fields, tobacco drying rooms, cemeteries, wells and the nearby watchtower. This indicates that they were fairly well off.

On one side, on top of the hill, you can see three watchtowers in a row which safeguarded the area. If you’re fit it’s a fairly easy climb up from the road in good weather and you can enjoy the view over the valley. There are also hiking groups which run organised trips.

You might see goats on a field trip too.

Park near the fort and explore the ruins from different ages nearby and then as you drive further up, you will pass many other structures on your way. It just goes on and on! The road itself is not paved, but it is a firm surface with grit and small stones. It is also one-way so you may find yourself backing up if you meet someone en route. Watch out for goats suddenly appearing on the road. As always, make sure you’re prepared for going off the beaten track.

What could I combine it with for a day trip?

Masfoot

Lying on plains between the mountains, Masfoot has beautiful views and lots of fresh, clean air!

Head towards Masfoot Fort and most of the places mentioned here are on that side of town. (That’s the Hatta side so it’s an easy stopover if you’re going to or from there). The fort itself stands atop a hill and although it’s not currently open to go inside, it’s worth going for the great view over the valley. On the hill opposite is a watchtower.

The town is an enclave of Ajman and a farming area. There are plans to turn it into a tourist resort but for now, it’s lovely and quiet. During the winter, visit the lake at Masfoot Dam.

Masfoot Walk is a paved walkway from the dam through the lower part of the town and ends near the fort. A waterway has been created which is partly lake and partly stream. There are lots of benches along the walkway to enjoy the view. One area is sheltered. The upper part of the Walk is lit with street lamps whilst the lower half is lit with lamp garlands.

Halfway down the Walk (and road to the Fort), you’ll see a watchtower on a mound and a cafe called Prestige. Its a great place to sit and relax, take in the view, listen to the sounds of the birds and enjoy a fresh juice. They also have lots of desserts and fresh drinks and some savoury options too like ‘Salt Crepe” which is very tasty and burgers. They are also very reasonably priced.

Much harder to find is the Bin Sultan Mosque, built in 1815. It is in the farming area at the foot of the mountains on the opposite side of the fort. It was built using gypsum, clay and palm fronds as so many buildings were. It has been restored and is still in use today.

Both Al Warqa Park (Monday and Wednesday for ladies only) and Al Muzeera Ladies Park are well kept and have play areas and facilities.

If you have a interest in rock formations like me, you can see many interesting ones. Drive along the main road in the direction of the Oman border and Madam for some limestone formations which are completely different to the main Hajar mountains behind. The last photo shows the contrast between the two. Other rocks like the ones in the middle below are dotted around. The first one is at the entrance to Masfoot from the main road from Hatta side.

If you want to sit somewhere remote for a picnic, there are wide open plains at the foot of the mountains near the Oman border (not the border crossing, further south.)

To get to Masfoot, GCC nationals can take the road from Al Madam to Masfoot, but other passport holders need to take the Maleha/Kalba Rd. It is signposted from there.

If you’re looking for a place that offers tranquility rather than organised activities, this is the place for you.

Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival at Jazeera Al Hamra

If you haven’t been already, take a trip up to Jazeera Al Hamra to see the RAK Fine Arts Festival in the fort and old village. What a great setting for an art exhibition! Enjoy seeing the restored fort and adjacent buildings as well as the unrestored houses at the same time.

The exhibition is open from 8-6 weekdays and to 10pm weekends when artwork is projected on to the fort also. On Fridays there are art productions and on Friday 13th there will be a StarWars themed event.

Other activities as part of the festival include film screenings, art workshops and tours.

For more information, visit https://www.rakfinearts.ae

For more on the old village of Jazeera al Hamra, see here.

Running/walking/cycling tracks, outdoor exercise areas in the cities and walks away from the city

The number of places to walk and exercise outdoors is increasing all the time. There are many with great views too. This is not a complete list but there’s plenty choice to get you started. Other places and photos will most likely be added at later points.

Sharjah

Wasit – jogging track along the side of Wasit Wetlands – 1600m with public gym (outdoor exercise equipment) halfway. Surface – rubber with narrow parallel paved track, view trees, residential area.

Wasit Wetlands – Round the lake with hides along the way. Requires signing of a disclaimer in the visitor centre and a visit first thing. (No guarantees, depends on weather conditions and how busy it is.) 6-7km Surface – firm sand, view – trees, bushes, lake, birds, gazelles.

Al Majaz Waterfront jogging track 400m, surface rubber with parallel paved track, view – park

Hamriyah Beach, long, beach sand or firm sand higher up. Barbecues, a few shades, no other facilities. View – beach/sea

Al Qarayen Walking/cycling tracks, rubberised walking track and paved cycling track, four public gym areas, behind Sharjah National Park, 2.2km, view – lanscaped verges, residential area.

Sharjah National Park, paved walkways, view – landscaped gardens, entrance 2dhs, facilities – toilets, mosques, shades, play area, kiosks. No cycling allowed on paths.

Heart of Sharjah – a gentle stroll through the old buildings of Sharjah which house museums and souqs, through quiet gardens and through to the Arts Area. Paved. On Sharjah Corniche.

Sharjah Corniche – paved walkway, view of the port, dhows and traditional buildings.

Buhairah Corniche – paved surface, goes right round the lake starting from near Crystal Plaza. Walk along the paved walkway or on the grass through palm groves to Noor Mosque, continue round through Majaz Waterfront along the waterside or through the gardens, continue further to the walkway left under the bridge to Al Qasba or continue straight around the lake to Al Khan Government Building Area or turn off before to Flag Island. If you take the Qasba, you can also continue on under the bridge turning left towards Mamzar or right towards Al Khan and up to Sharjah Aquarium. For walking probably want to choose a stretch but you could cycle the longer route. View – Buhairah Lagoon, palm gardens, landscaped gardens, Noor Island, Arabic architecture, beach, Flag Island.

Sharjah Beach

Al Khan Beach

University City – walk on the paved sidewalks or cycle on the road through University City. View – Arabic architecture, landscaped gardens.

Noor Island for a gentle stroll through different habitats. Entrance Adults 35 , children 20, under 2 free. View – Foliage, design elements, Buhairah Lagoon,

Green Belt Ladies Park, paved walkway, entrance with membership card which can be obtained with EID. View – landscaped gardens. Facilities – toilets, play areas.

Various neighbourhood parks around Sharjah

Ajman

Al Qurm Walk, jogging track 4.5km, surface: rubber, two narrow parallel paved tracks, firm sand either side and beach part of the way. Solar lighting currently being installed. View – creek, mangroves, variety of birds. See Al Zorah

Al Safiya Walk, Safiya Park – rubber jogging track with parallel paved cycling track, circles park, 1600m, small public gym at far end. View – creek, park. Connects to Qurm Walk above. Cycles available for rent and play area in park for small children. (See photos above.)

Al Zorah, paved walkway starting at Al Zorah Marina and continuing until around 100m before the roundabout on Ittihad rd (ca 6km?) View – mangroves, creek, birds, golf course, landscaped gardens.

Ajman Sports Park, rubber jogging track and parallel cycling track (bushes between) , 400m, large public gym, open 24hrs. Facilities – toilets, mosque, children’s play areas, five aside football, basketball and badminton grounds, cafes. View – park, landscaped gardens

Ajman Corniche paved, beach, cafes. View – sea.

Zorah Beach, Ajman – short walk, can walk round creek side also, beach sand and firm sand, fishing permitted with licence, no facilities. View – sea, creek. Bicycles can be hired at Quest for Adventure.

Al Tallah Camel Race Track – paved road circling the race track with a detour round the pavilion and sandy plain along the side. There is also a paved road on the inside of the track. Obviously you can’t use the camel track itself as this is also used for daily training, but the options are outside road with occasional cars, inside road with cars during races only, sandy area on the other side of the road, or inside green, sandy area. If you zoom in, you can see all these. Avoid Thursday mornings as camel races are held every other Thursday (not sure about weekend mornings). View – camel race track, camels, sandy plains, residential area on one side.

Masfoot – jogging and cycling track from dam to near fort. View – mountains, forts, gardens, stream at times. Walk around lake near the dam.

Umm al Quwain

Khor al Baida – Mangrove Forest – firm sand suitable for waking, running or cycling, probably not for scooters. No facilities. View – mangrove forests, salt flats, birds, sea, small beach, mangrove islands, (creek, port at southern end) The full length is around 6km so you could do up to 12 km end to end.

UAQ Beach – long stretch of beach and corniche (could possibly walk all the way to Sharjah Waterfront, Hamriyah on the beach but I’ve not tested that) View – sea. Public gym on Kite Beach. There is a cafe at Kite Beach Centre if you’re peckish after your walk and they have a variety of water sports.

UAQ Coast – between the mangrove forest and Ras al Khaimah, there are lots of areas to walk between the roads and the sea which are pretty green at the moment. Looks like a great place if you have a dog. Some parts have low grassy sand dunes.

Ras al Khaimah

Al Hamra Beach – add in a walk around the old abandoned village. View – sea, traditional buildings.

Ras al Khaimah Corniche

Rams Corniche (follow by climb up to Dhaya Fort) View – sea, harbour, mountains, plains.

Wadi Ghalilah – walks through fields, on road or firm sand, short (and long hikes). Views – mountains, old villages and buildings, foliage.

East Coast and Central Region

Beaches – Kalba, Fujairah, Loulou’a, Zobara, Dibba. Views – sea, mountains

Wadi Shees – climb up I’m guessing around 100 steps but you can also start at the other end with fewer steps then a gentle incline) to and walk through Old Residential Village. View – trees, farms, mountains, old houses

Al Rabi Tower Hike, Khor Fakkan, hike from the tower to the highest mountain in the town of Khor Fakkan. Requires sensible shoes, water, etc.

Al Rufaisah – The Walk, a relatively gentle incline down to Wadi Shie. You can continue into Wadi Shie and Al Miqsar Village. View – mountains, foliage, old village and fort.

Khor Fakkan Corniche – jogging track and paved, view – sea, mountains, gardens.

Dibba al Hisn, round the long Corniche of Hisn Island. View – sea, mountains, Dibba (Oman) bay.

Dibba al Hisn Canal – jogging track and parallel paved way along the canal, small public gym at either end of the Corniche. (Can continue along to Dibba al Hisn beach.) View – sea, mountains, canal, gardens.

Kalba Corniche Walk, along Kalba Lake, paved. View – lake, mangroves, mountains, gardens. (This is further south than Kalba beach)

Buhais Geology Outdoor Trail, near Madam. View – mountains, plains, Bronze Age tombs. 10 dhs entry 12 and over.

Jebel Buhais, near Madam, is an archaeological site with findings several ages back to the Stone Age. Climb the hill and also visit the tombs, etc nearby. If you prefer, you can book a guided tour with Discover Mleiha.

Discover Mleiha trail around archeological sites. View – mountains, desert, plains, caves.

Fujairah Hiking Trails

Fujairah has several hiking trails to follow.

Rams

Rams lies to the north of the city of Ras al Khaimah and relied on fishing and pearling in the past. You can still see many fishing boats going out today and Al Suwaidi Pearl Farm is flourishing.

Head over to the newly developed corniche for views of the harbour, drive around the town and look out for old buildings and watchtowers, visit the Museum of Beautiful Time and take a walk along the mangroves and look out for the myriad species of birds around, especially during the migratory season.

On the opposite side of the town, the early 19th century Dhayah Fort perches upon a hilltop giving a fabulous view across the whole town. In 1819 the fort was the last point of resistance when the village was attacked by the British in 1819. Despite the strong resistance, nearly 800 villagers were taken.

Behind the fort lie the Hajar Mountains with their mesmerising rock formations and the sandy plains below.

Don’t miss the relaxing and scenic boat trip around the coast and the visit to Al Suwaidi Pearl Farm where you’ll be surprised just how much there is to know about pearl farming. (Advance booking required) A few sneak preview photos below but click here to see and find out more.

I thought we would spend a couple of hours here, but you can quite easily spend a whole day. In fact, I need to go back to see more! Have fun exploring!

How to get there – take either the E611 and follow signs for Ras al Khaimah, then look out for the turn off to Al Rams and Oman shortly before RAK.

If you have time left over, Wadi Ghalila is just a few minutes further up the coast.

Places to visit during school breaks

Some parents have been asking for ideas for what to do with their children during the upcoming school break and so I have compiled a list and sorted it into categories and a lot of them are educational. Some are repeated as they fit in more than one category. Those that I have written blog posts about include a link. Please remember I don’t cover anywhere in Dubai or Abu Dhabi as they tend to get enough coverage already. Also as this is a general list, there are some busier places you may want to avoid at this current time.

(The prices were correct at my last visit. If you find them to be different, please let me know. )

Science-related

Transport-related

Archeology/history-related

Nature/plant-related

  • Botanical Museum, Sharjah Desert Park 15dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Islamic Gardens, Sharjah Desert Park 15dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Mangrove forests, Ajman, UAQ, RAK
  • Noor Island adults 35, child 20, butterfly house 15 dhs extra (combined ticket 2 for 1 in Entertainer)
  • Walk through Old Residential Village, Wadi Shees

Animal-related

  • Noor Island adults 35, child 20, butterfly house 15 dhs extra (combined ticket 2 for 1 in Entertainer)
  • Arabian Wildlife Centre and Children’s Farm, Sharjah Desert Park, 15dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Wasit Wetlands Nature Reserve, 15dhs including buggy ride round lake, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Kalba Mountain Conservation Centre, Adults – 25dhs plus VAT, children under 12 free
  • Kalba Bird of Prey Centre, Adults – 15dhs plus VAT(free return within one month), children under 12 free. (was still closed recently, not sure if now open)

Geology/natural history-related

  • Buhais Geology Park, closed Tuesday
  • Natural History Museum, Sharjah Desert Park, 15dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Discover Mleiha – Children’s workshops on fossils, paleontology – book in advance
  • Dhaid Wildlife Centre, entrance 10 dhs? for adults, children under 12 free, closed Tuesday (please note, there are no animals here)

Art

  • Sharjah Art Museum, free
  • Sharjah Art Foundation
  • Bait al Naboodah, free
  • Calligraphy Museum, Heart of Sharjah
  • The Rain Room art installation Adults 25dhs Children 6-12 15dhs, under 5s go free.
  • Arabic Architecture – Sharjah government buildings in Al Khan, Government House Roundabout, Quran Roundabout, University City, Sharjah, Sharjah Municipality Building, Sharjah Mosque.

Just for fun!

  • Al Rafisah Dam – lake, play areas, picnic areas, nature, ducks, pedalos, kayaks, etc starting from 30 dhs.
  • Khor Fakkan Corniche
  • Kalba Corniche Park
  • Kayaking and other water sports – Ajman Marina, RAK, KIte Beach UAQ, Khor Kalba
  • Al Majaz Waterfront – restaurants and cafes, more happening 4pm onwards – mini golf, splash park, boats, car rides (pretend old style cars), multiple play areas, jogging track, park
  • Al Qasba Canal – restaurants and cafes, paid play areas, occasional festivals
  • Ajman Marina – play areas, boat rides, restaurants and cafes, beach, caravan site, birdwatching, golf
  • Al Suwaidi Pearl Farm with boat trip, Al Rams, Ras al Khaimah 300 dhs, children 200 (?) dhs
  • Discover Mleiha – dune-bashing, horse-riding, UniMog tour, workshops, stargazing and more (all need to be booked in advance)
  • Jebel Jais – Sky Maze, Sky Tour, Sky Flight, food trucks, picnic areas, views, camping, hiking

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Al Tawyeen Heritage Village

Al Tawyeen Heritage Village in northwest Fujairah is a nice little stop on the way to or from Dibba if you’re taking Shohada Rd. It has several small buildings of different olden styles and small play areas.

One of the buildings houses a collection of artefacts and more recent items like old telephones, televisionss and radios.

Entrance is free and is from 8 to 8.

What else to do around Tawyeen

If you take the road to the right of the heritage village, you will find remains of a number of old buildings along the way.

If you have an interest in rock formations, on the other side of Shohada Rd, there are some great ones there. Click here to see more.

Visit Dibba al Hisn

Kalba

Kalba is the furthest south of Sharjah’s five Eastern Region enclaves and has very diverse habitats for its size – mountains, plains with acacia forests, mangroves, beaches, marshes and palm groves. It is home to the Al Hafaiya Protected Area and Mountain Conservation Centre and Bird of Prey Centre as well as a lovely park with a hide overlooking the protected area and a great play area.

Al Hafiya Picnic Park is open from 9-9 weekdays and till midnight at weekends. Entrance is 5 dhs. The last two photos show the hide and the view over the protected areas from the hide.

Kalba also has several other parks including the Corniche park and Al Sidra Ladies and Children’s park, both of which have play areas, facilities, etc,. The Corniche park lies between the road and the beach. On the beach there are amusements for children such as bouncy castles, trampolines and go karts. The sand on the beach is the same as that of its neighbour Fujairah, so a darkish rougher sand. You can camp at the beach and also fish during certain times of the year.

Corniche Walk is further south opposite the government buildings and on Kalba Lake. There are plenty grassy areas to sit on with a view of the lake, mangroves and mountains. Pedal boats are available for hire here.

Qurm Mangroves are not as accessible as they used to be but you can still visit by booking a kayaking or paddling trip (in advance). Absolute Adventures do Kayak Kalba, Sunset Paddle, Sunrise Paddle and Full Moon Paddle. They do go in the mangroves, but not the inner channels which are now closed off.

You could also treat yourself to a stay at the Kingfisher Retreat, the first eco-retreat in Sharjah. Activities are also available from there.

The bridge to the boats to the Kingfisher Lodge. In the background are the luxury tents.

(Photo credit for last photos – Kingfisher Retreat)

Whilst Kalba has a rich history, the fort and Bait Sheikh Saaed bin Hammad al Qasimi are currently undergoing restoration but should reopen soon. The fort will house a museum. Al Ghail Fort is open and situated inside the Bird of Prey Centre.

There are also archeological sites dating back to the Bronze Age around Kalba which are fenced off but some can be seen easily. A new site was recently discovered in Khor Kalba which is thought to be remains of a Portuguese castle.

For more on Al Hefaiya Mountain Conservation Centre and the Bird of Prey Centre, see the related post here. In the meantime, here’s a taster.

Finally a selection of photos around Kalba – a beautiful new mosque in white and gold, Sharjah government buildings in Arabic architecture styles, fish laid out to dry and the harbour.

Other places to visit nearby – Al Hayl Fort