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.
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.
Rock art of people, animals, symbols and inscriptions was also discovered in the area dating back to different periods.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 Ajman 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 not far from Kite Beach. Beach cafe at Kite Beach.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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. )
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.
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.
(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.
The emirate of Sharjah places a lot of importance on conservation and these are just two of its many protected areas. Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Centre is set within a large area of rocky plains and small mountains and the Bird of Prey Centre is just a short distance down the road.
The Conservation Centre is home to Arabian tahrs, leopards, caracals, wolves and rock hyrax. Inside the centre you can also see snakes, lizards, toads, foxes, scorpions, etc..
Once you have finished your tour of the centre, head out to the front to take a short buggy ride (or take a walk) along the observation points of the outside areas.
The Bird of Prey Centre of course has many birds of prey such as eagles, buzzards, harriers and owls. My personal favourite is the Griffin Vulture. Shows are on in the arena at certain timings. There is one on at 4pm every day and also at other times on busier days so it’s best to check beforehand.
(Photo credit for last three photos – Visit Sharjah)
Within the gardens there are not only palms and acacias, but mango, orange, almond and sidr trees. There are also a few other animals, mainly goats, camels and cows.
Within the Bird of Prey Centre is the 200 year old Al Ghail Fort which is worth a climb up to not only to see the fort itself but for the view over Kalba and the plains and mountains. The fort has been restored and houses a weapons room. On the tower, notice the footholds which would have been used to reach the high door rather than the ladder which now leads to it.
Both locations are very educational with lots of information all around both for adults and children and a number of interactive activities for children. Guides are on hand to give you a tour or answer your questions. You can also see the animals’ and birds food being prepared in the kitchens.
Opening times for both: Sun-Thurs 9am -6.30pm, Fri 2pm – 6:30pm, Sat 11am-6:30pm, Monday – closed
Entrance to Mountain Conservation Centre: Adults – 25dhs plus VAT, children under 12 free
Entrance to Bird of Prey Centre: Adults – 15dhs plus VAT(free return within one month), children under 12 free.