Category Archives: Heritage

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.

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

Geology/natural history-related

  • Buhais Geology Park, closed Tuesday
  • Natural History Museum, Sharjah Desert Park, 5dhs for all museums/centres in park, under 12 free, closed Tuesday
  • Discover Mleiha – Children’s workshops on fossils, paleontology – book in advance

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 – 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)

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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

Dibba al Hisn

Dibba al Hisn is a small enclave of Sharjah nestled between Dibba Fujairah and Dibba Oman on the north eastern coast. It has a very small population and has two main roads, one of which you usually enter on. One side of the road consists solely of government buildings, in traditional Sharjah style of Arabic architecture. You might be surprised at how many there are for such a small place but Sharjah government has provided everything necessary for local inhabitants without having to make trips to other parts of the country. The other side has restaurants, shops and apartments with a small mall at the end.

The other main road is Corniche Street. The new canal runs the length of the road starting at the harbour and coming out into the sea before the Oman border. There are several shaded play areas for children on the opposite side, Hisn Island, with plenty benches for parents to sit. This area is called Palm Oasis and although it is currently sand and palms, grass will be added. On the road side, there is a jogging track from one end to the other and two outdoor gym areas, one at each end, seating along the canal and a cafe/restaurant at either end.

Beyond that is a beautiful beach with white sands, clear turquoise water, traditional swings and sheltered seating areas set in gardens and a view of the Hajar mountains on either side. From the breakwater, enjoy the view over to Musandam, Oman and look out for crabs scuttling around the rocks.

Next to the beach there is a bicycle/pedal car rental kiosk and a small paid play area for children.

At the end of the UAE stretch of road is the Heritage Village which is open at certain times of year for special events. The Oman border is directly after that. (There is another border post directly opposite the entrance to Dibba al Hisn.) Check current visa requirements beforehand if you plan to cross the border.

There is also a third main road which is the new corniche and goes in a circle around the new Hisn Island. There are benches along the corniche with great views and restaurants and other new developments are currently under construction.

Finally, Dibba al Hisn has a fort but this is currently under restoration. It can be seen from Corniche St. There are archeological sites dating back to the pre-Islamic period and the 15th century. The first is a large tomb which was discovered under a resident’s house and contained skeletons, pottery, ivory combs, etc. You can see some of the finds including Roman pottery and Greek drachmas in Hisn Museum, Khor Fakkan. According to the finds, it is believed that Dibba al Hisn was a port frequented by many ships in the first century AD on a route from Eastern Europe to India and that the remains of the port lie under the modern day Dibba.

It was also the site of great battles in the 7th and 9th centuries and there is a large cemetery nearby thought to be the final resting place of those who died in the first battle so it has quite a rich history.

Dibba al HIsn is often overlooked but should be added to your list of places to visit!

Khor Fakkan

Khor Fakkan has always been a favourite place for a nice little getaway but if you haven’t been for a while, you might be surprised at what’s new and also at parts you just never knew about.

It’s also no longer that long drive to Fujairah and up the coast. The new Khor Fakkan road cuts through the desert and the Hajar Mountains and takes not more than an hour from the junction on the E611.

The second half of the new road climbs winding roads through the mountains and five tunnels, the longest of which is 3km.

The road can also be accessed at other points along the way, the last being the Masafi-Fujairah road at Al Dafta. Khor Fakkan is also accessible from Fujairah and Dibba.

If you’ve been before, you’ll be familiar with the main beach, but it has recently undergone development and is now home to sports fields which can be hired, various play parks, a small skate park, food trucks, cafes, beach library, an inflatable water play area and lots of new seating areas.

At the southern end of the Corniche you can visit the archeological site of the Portuguese Fort which was built in 1635 and an adjacent village and farming area. Further down is the Hisn Fort Museum which relates the history of all parts of Sharjah Eastern Region. Behind the Museum is the restored old souq and Al Adwani Tower stands atop a hill at the end of the Corniche.

Up on the hill behind the museum and souq stands Al Rabi Tower which dates back to 1915. These towers and forts formed the defence network of Khor Fakkan. You can climb up to Al Adwani from the road but you need to drive up to Al Rabi Tower. Both offer great views over Khor Fakkan. From Al Rabi Tower, there is a hiking trail that takes you to the top of the next hill, the tallest in the town of Khor Fakkan. (Click here for more on Al Rabi Tower.)

Another place for a good view is Flag Square. You can drive up to the top. At the bottom of the road to Flag Square, there are beautiful fountains on four sides of the large roundabout. They are set in landscaped gardens and you can sit on a bench or on the grass and enjoy watching the mesmerising fountains with the mountains as the backdrop. You will also Resistance Monument on the other side, built recently under the orders of Sheikh Sultan to honour those who resisted against the Portuguese invasion in the 16th century.

As Khor Fakkan is part of the emirate of Sharjah, you will notice the Arabic architecture of all local government buildings. The University of Sharjah has a campus there but it is soon to become The University of Khor Fakkan. A new Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport is also under construction.

Khor Fakkan always participates in Sharjah’s many events such as Sharjah Light Festival. It also has its own Khor Fakkan Festival in March.

Outside of the main city, there are many other places to visit within the municipality of Khor Fakkan. To the north lie the beautiful and quiet Loulou’a and Zobara beaches. Don’t expect facilities here, expect a quieter beach. There are also archeological sites at Zobara.

To the west on the Khor Fakkan road, you can visit Al Rafisah, and Wadi Shis. Al Miqsar Village also lies to the east but at the moment can be accessed through Wadi Shie from inside Khor Fakkan or on foot from Al Rafisa. (Click links to see more.)

Finally, south west is the tiny exclave of Nahwa which lies within the Omani enclave of Madha. The entrance to Madha is in Fujairah just over the border after Khor Fakkan Expo and Sharjah University. If you have a 4WD, you can drive from Nahwa through to Shees. There is no border control here. You can also take another road that comes out at Dafta.

You can also visit Shark Island just off Khor Fakkan either just for a boat trip or for diving. (More info to be added soon.)

Links for our blog posts on places in and around Khor Fakkan – Al Rafisah Dam, Al Rabi Tower, Al Miqsar Village, Wadi Shees

Al Suwaidi Pearl Farm

Al Suwaidi Pearl Farm is the only one of its kind in the Middle East and was set up 15 years ago by Abdulla al Suwaidi, grandson of one of the last pearl divers, Mohammed bin Abdulla Al Suwaidi.

Archeological evidence of pearls being used in the area go as far back as 6000 BC. In fact, the oldest known pearl in the world was found on an island in Abu Dhabi and is around 8000 years old and is now on display in Le Louvre in the capital.

Pearls have not only been found near the coast. A pearl necklace estimated to be around 7000 years old was found in a Palaeolithic period grave at Al Buhais in Al Madam Desert. Pearls may have been traded for pottery at that time.

The Tour

The tour leaves from the harbour in a traditional boat and first takes you on a fascinating trip around the bay and then out to the mangroves. Along with the scenery of the rugged Hajar mountains and mangroves reflecting in the calm, clear water, you’ll also see herons, egrets, flamingos, cormorants and other birds, flying fish and, surprisingly, even camels.

Watch out for the flying fish!

Next stop is the pearl farm itself in the main bay of Rams. A very informative history of pearling is given by the knowledgeable guide followed by a detailed explanation and demonstration of the whole process of pearl farming. After this, an oyster will be selected to be opened and checked for pearls, both cultured and natural.