Glimpses of the UAE

Come on in and discover the emirates beyond Dubai and Abu Dhabi, revisit those old favourites, discover some of the UAE’s hidden gems, learn the history or find a new activity to try with great views. Check the menu to look for something specific or scroll down for ideas.

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Madha

Madha is an Omani enclave completely surrounded by the UAE, and so also has no border control either way. It can be easily accessed either via Wadi Shees or from Mirbeh, Fujairah.

As soon as you enter from the Mirbeh side, you can feel you are in Oman. Goats wander the streets, Omani architectural designs can be seen in the mosques and government buildings and the houses all have traditional elements in their design too.

If you come from Mirbeh, pass through the main town and head into the hills through narrow winding streets. Further up, you can take different roads to Sahna Dam and beyond or pass through Nahwa, which is an exclave of Sharjah within the enclave. You can see more on Nahwa here. There are also several parks and picnic areas dotted around in the Omani part, such as Sadah picnic area. Whether there is water at the dams depends on whether there has been rain.

Just after the town of Madha, on the right, is the farming area. Although, you can’t go in the farms themselves, it’s lovely just to walk through them and enjoy the lushness of the area. I f you come across irrigation pools, stop and look out for wildlife. Apart from the tiny fish, there are all sorts of dragonflies around of different colours. Look out for frogs too near the water and beautiful butterflies and birds in the greenery.

The centrepiece though has to be the old Banyan trees.

On the Nahwa route, you pass through a lush green oasis before coming out into a wadi and later a valley. If you follow the sign that says UAE-Oman border, there is a new road which takes you through the valley and stops abruptly, but it takes you to a lovely spot for camping and picnics. There are also several parks and picnic areas dotted around in the Omani part as well as a few farming areas.

Before the end of this main road, there is a left turn that takes you down to a junction where you can turn left to another smaller valley or right through the farms and up to Shees.

At the juction, turn left to Shees or you can take a walk through the rocky path on your right. Going up the steep hill takes you back to Nahwa. You can also access Wadi Shees this way via Nahwa but it’s best to have a 4WD/AWD for this. Here are a couple of photos on the road. One part , near Shees, is quite steep going up and down.

To do this in reverse, take the Khor Fakkan Rd and the turn off to Wadi Shees. In the winter, the road is closed off if the area near Shees Park gets too busy. See more on Wadi Shees here.

As it is Omani territory, the signal will switch to the Omani telecom network but you can turn on roaming if necessary. Otherwise, check your route before you go, or just see where the road takes you. You’ll eventually come back out as long as you don’t go off the main roads.

(I haven’t finished exploring Madha yet so I hope to come back with some more to add later.)

Hiking

There are many areas to hike from well-laid out and marked trails to very difficult unmarked ones. Popular ones with families are Shawka, Fossil Rock, al Rabi, Seven Summits, Abadila, Tayyibah, Tawyeen and Jebel Jais. You can find information on all these trails and more on Wikiloc.

Please do your research before going and ensure all safety precautions are adhered to as there are rescues from mountains nearly every weekend of inexperienced and/or ill-prepared hikers. There are many groups that offer organised hikes with experienced guides.

Wadi Abadila, Fujairah

Jebel Jais Upper Segment

Seven Summits, Fujairah

Al Rabi, Khor Fakkan

Tawyeen, Fujairah (upper part)

Ain al Sheria (beginning of trail), Fujairah

Jebel Jais

Jebel Jais is not only the tallest mountain in the UAE, but home to the longest zipline in the world, Sky Flight, along with the Sky Tour and Sky Maze. It is also a popular hiking spot with trails of varying difficulty as well a popular camping and picnic spot.

On the way up, there are a few rest areas for camping or having a picnic. Most don’t have seating so you need to have your own or a mat if you plan on stopping there. Some have toilets and there are a couple of food trucks along the way.

Not far from the top, there is a viewing deck with a play area on one side and cafe trucks with seating on the other. There’s a small entrance fee of 5 dhs. Children under 5 go free. It is here that the upper trails start, with the simplest being easy-moderate. The same trail continues on to a higher peak. The view is well worth the effort.

Further up still is another area with more food trucks and rest places. One of the trucks sells delicious legemat, Emirati fried doughballs drizzled in date syrup.

If you want to do any of the activities at the Toroverde aerial adventure park, you need to book in advance and show your booking to be allowed to pass to the top. The same applies for the restaurant 1484 by Puro.

The Flight is a single zipline over 3 kms long. You ‘fly’ in a horizontal position at over 120kph. The Sky Tour is a series of 7 ziplines over 5 kms. This is done ‘sitting’ in a harness and reaches up to speeds of around 60kph. It also includes a walk over a bridge with stunning views. Lastly the Sky Maze is an adventure playground for adult and youngsters alike. You can find out more and book on their website.

You don’t need to go to the top for something to do. There are several lower hiking trails as well as adventure companies based near the foot of the mountain such as Challenging Adventure, Adventurati and Bear Grylls. And then there’s the Via Ferrata too. If you want to hike to the peak of Jebel Jais, you can do that from Wadi Ghalila further north, but it is a difficult hike and should only be undertaken by experienced hikers and/or with a guide.

You pass through Wadi Shaha and Wadi Beeh first and pass a dam with a lake and some old ruins on the way The road up to the top is long and winding, but it is wide and well-paved. Just make sure you remember to fill up your tank before turning off the highway, then sit back and enjoy the view.

House of Wisdom, Sharjah

I paid what I’m sure will be many visits to this wonderful place. You can’t yet borrow, but there are many comfortable places to sit and read. Take your pick – a desk, a comfy chair with complete privacy overlooking the Scroll Monument, an armchair, a niche in the wall, a mini bed in a cubby in the wall (sorry, guys, this last one is only for ladies and children), all have individual lighting and USB ports. You could also sit in the indoor or outdoor gardens. There are meeting rooms available to rent and what a lovely setting for that. There is also both a restaurant and a cafe to sit and read or meet up with fellow students or just for a lunch date. You can find both Arabic and English books and I found several related to my study so it’s worth looking if you’re a student. I can see I’m going to be a regular here.

(The Scroll Monument marks Sharjah being the World Book Capital 2019.)

Falaj al Mualla Fort

Falaj Al Mualla is a quiet oasis town in the Umm Al Quwain desert. The fort is nearly 200 years old and overlooks the sand dunes where more watchtowers stand higher up and offering a clear view for imminent attacks.

The fort itself has the traditional courtyard style with the centre now having a nice green lawn and it’s a lovely place just to sit and enjoy the surroundings and the tranquility.

It now houses a museum with sections depicting Emirati heritage and also an archeological room with exhibits dating back to the first century AD to 6000 BC.

Opening times: Saturday – Thursday 8am-2pm, 5pm – 8pm, Friday 5pm – 8pm

Entrance fee: 5 dhs (it’s always nice to give the caretaker a little extra though)

Be sure to find the other towers around Falaj al Mualla.

Tayyibah Heritage Museum

Tayyibbah Heritage Museum has to have one of the best locations of museums here, set at the edge of a village in the Hajar mountains overlooking farms and itself in lush green grounds. Walking through the grounds, up and down winding paths, passing traditional houses and climbing narrow steps, you may feel like you’re not in the UAE at all.

Amongst the artefacts, you can find traditional items from Bedu and mountain lifestyles like water carriers, shields and weapons along with later additions such as old TVs and gramophones. There are even rocks with petroglyphs.

What’s even better is that you can stay there! The ‘resort’ area has two bedrooms, kitchen, pool and a majlis (seating area) with a stunning view of the mountains with the greenery in the foreground. I could quite easily just sit there gazing over the mountains all day long.

Other accommodation just down the road is Al Qalaa Lodge. Click here to see more.

Combine your trip to the museum with a walk on the nearby gentle hiking trail (around an hour) or a visit further down the road to the fort and Governor’s Palace in Masafi. It’s also a good stop off point on the scenic route to/from Dibba.

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?