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.
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 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.
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)
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.
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 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.
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 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.)
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 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.
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.
The final part of the farm tour is the explanation of how pearls are classed according to lustre, size, shape, etc with a chance to see all the pearls and tools up close.
The priceless prayer beads above are one of only three sets which take several years to complete. The other two were gifted to Sheikh Khalifa and Sultan Qaboos.
Products are also on show if anyone would like to buy anything. (Also available in their store in Dubai.)
Before leaving the farm on the boat back to the harbour, each guest receives a gift. I won’t spoil the surprise!
This is absolutely a tour I recommend! Advance booking is required. Tours are 300 dhs upwards for adults, 200 up for children. Visit Al Suwaidi Pearl Farm for more information.
The picturesque valley of Wadi Ghalila lies not far from the Oman border and is surrounded by the beautiful rock formations of that area, in particular the beautiful striped mountains with layers of varying colours and shades. Some almost look like paintings rather than a natural work of art. Look out for other formations too.
In the last three photos above, notice the different rock formation in the first two and the huge boulders that have fallen down in the last photo.
Following the recent rain, you can find beautiful fields of purple flowers to walk through or sit and picnic in. Within these fields you’ll also find remnants of old buildings constructed out of rocks fallen (or possibly also brought down) from the mountains. Look out for butterflies.
As you drive around the valley, you’ll come across many old buildings, most of which would have been stores for grain, etc and some animal enclosures. There is the odd house around too. Look carefully on the mountainsides for farms and houses. These are only accessible by climbing, but, of course, are all private property.