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.

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.

Wadi Ghalila

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.

Can you spot the stone building on here?

The road to the dam has many tiny hamlets on either side of the road with both new villas and old houses and farm buildings. At the time of writing, the dam itself was dry and there is work ongoing at the site, but just past the bridge over the dam on the right, there is a stairway to a hike on the right. Although the first part has actual steps made by the locals, it soon turns into a path and both parts are scattered with loose rock, so care and decent footwear is advised. It leads to the Jebel Jais road and affords a view of several wadis from the top. More information here.

Further down the valley is the Stairway to Heaven, but you’ll have to walk from the road to the beginning of the hike. It is by no means an easy walk or climb and should only be attempted by experienced mountain climbers with appropriate gear and in a group. There have been multiple deaths, injuries and lucky escapes on the mountains, so don’t take this lightly. I’m guessing the helipad near the dam is partly for the mountain rescue helicopters. There are several trekking companies who guide people on this route.

Lastly, you can find quiet area to pitch a tent, either at the foot of the mountains or up the mountains themselves if you go on a hike.

Have fun but be sure to leave the valley in its original beautiful state and leave no trace of your visit behind!

Al Zorah, Ajman

Al Zorah is located on the coast on the old road to Umm al Quwain and Ras al Khaimah. The million square foot mangrove forest and nature reserve is home to many species of birds and temporary home to many more during the migratory season. If bird-watching is your thing, this is the place for you.

A 12km-long waterfront goes along one side of the mangrove forest whilst the sea lies on the other. The waterfront leads to Al Zorah Marina where you can dine, drink coffee, take a boat ride, enjoy water sports and your children can play in the play park, Funtastico.

On the opposite side of the road to Marina 1 is Quest for Adventure where you can take a kayak through the mangroves, go wake boarding, try your hand at stand up paddle boarding, get soaked on an inflatable ringo ride, pedal a pedalo, hire a bike, practise your archery skills or invite your friends for archery tag. (Photo credit: Quest for Adventure)

Zorah Beach is right at the end of the peninsula and looks out to a beautiful light blue sea in the daytime. Later it becomes darker as the sun gets lower before turning a lovely silvery blue as the sun starts to go down. It is a popular spot for caravans and for fishing in the daytime and campfires and barbecues in the evening.

There are also private areas further down the beach such as the new Bianky Beach Camp where you can stay overnight in their chalets, bungalows and tents or buy a day pass. They have a pool, bar, restaurant, sheltered seating areas along the beach, barbecue areas. More activities are planned soon.

Between Bianky Beach and the public beach is Caravana which rents out camper-vans each with a private beach! The caravans come in three different sizes and have a/c, TV, cooking facilities and shower. In the beach area they have garden seating, a swing, small volleyball net, small barbecue. You can also pitch tents on your beach and invite visitors over to your beach too. There is a small mini-mart but the marina is nearby if you want to eat or order out. Activities include horse riding and water sports.

For those who like more luxury, on the coastal side of the waterfront is the Oberoi Hotel. (Photo credit: Oberoi Hotels)

And on the other side is an 18-hole golf course. What a great place to play, along the mangroves spotting flamingos, herons, egrets and Arabian bee-eaters while you wait your turn.

Back on the main road, there are various dining options from Shakespeare’s and The Grove in the Zorah Pavilion to Spot food trucks and the relaxed Litchy Sushi Lounge with its palette seating and comfy cushions. All of these overlook the mangroves.

There are also two walks in Zorah. The first is a paved walkway and starts at the Marina, goes round by Quest for Adventure and alongside the mangroves towards the golf club and is several kilometres long going almost the full length from the marina to the roundabout on Ittihad road. The other is just under 5km, starts in Safiya Park car park and has a jogging track with paved sides for cycling. It takes a circular route with the lagoon on one side and the mangrove forest on the other. There is a shore along the lagoon where you can stop off for a rest and once you reach the thicker mangrove forest, look out for birds of prey circling around. (At the time of writing, solar lighting was being installed so it can be used at night too.) There are normally a lot of flamingos, cormorants, etc in this part of the lagoon. This winter there aren’t many flamingos and the cormorants have just moved further up the shore, but hopefully they will return once work has been completed on the path. There are still lots of herons, egrets, curlews and other birds around though.

If you choose to buy one of the new villas at Al Zorah, you could enjoy all of these things every day!

Ajman has recently been in several newspapers as a great new tourist destination and whether you’re flying in from overseas or planning a staycation, there’s certainly something for everyone at Al Zorah.

Jazeera al Hamra, the old (and allegedly haunted) village

Jazeera al Hamra, Red Island, might seem a misnomer as the land where the village lies is a few hundred feet from the coast but it was originally a tidal island and home to a pearling community. It is now an abandoned village and has been since 1968 although a few of the later houses on the periphery are still used as labour accommodation. The others are now just ruins of what were homes to families for several decades.

As you wander through the winding streets, you can start to imagine how people there used to live. The men coming back from their pearling missions exhausted to children running around and the womenfolk all working together to prepare meals, sew and embroider clothes, weave baskets and the like and chattering and singing. Some of the houses are small with families living in two rooms whilst others had bigger houses with an inner courtyard.

Although many of the house are just ruins, look carefully at the designs on the air vents, lattices on the roof, arched niches in the interior walls. Notice the sheer thickness of the walls, the large pieces of coral mixed with mud to build the walls, the roofs made out of different parts of the palm tree and mangroves. You will see different types of houses built at different times, from the 19th century, when it belonged to Sharjah, to the earlier half of the 20th century, and later additions such as telegraph/electricity poles and house numbers.

Legend has it that the village is haunted but I was fortunate enough not to encounter any spirits on my visit. I wasn’t brave enough to visit at night though! However, the village has been used as a set for numerous films including Djinn and 6 Under.

If you first arrive at the fort, don’t be put off by the construction and closed signs. Just drive around the western side or the back and you’ll find the village. The fort and some of the houses are being restored. On the opposite side of the village, restoration work is also ongoing but you can still go into most parts and look around.

Once you’ve finished your tour of the village, you can head down to Hamra Beach. This is separated by a breakwater into two parts. The northern part is much wider than the part directly behind the village, with a stretch of grassy sand to cross before reaching the broad beach. When you get to the shore, it’s worth it though for the beautiful turquoise water and clear view out to sea.

There are also lots of pretty shells to be found.

Wadi Shees

Wadi Shees nestles between the Hajar Mountains and a drive down can lead you in different directions, but all to the Omani enclave of Madha.

The wadi is now much more accessible from the new Khor Fakkan road. Coming from the west, look out for the large sign at the side of the road marking the entrance to the Khor Fakkan area of Sharjah emirate (Welcome to Khor Fakkan – you can’t miss it.) Take the next exit to Shees and drive carefully as it has lots of steep slopes, bends, blind peaks and corners and it turns into one track. If you are coming from Khor Fakkan, the exit is straight after Al Ghezeer Tunnel.

On your left, you can stop at Shees pools. The first small pool is drinking water but further down there are pools where you can paddle or swim or even dive when the water is deep enough. You can go through the pool to the back where there is a narrow entrance to the next pools, but you cannot see them from the road. You can picnic at the same area although that spot gets busy at the weekend and on holidays.

Further down still is the old residential area of Shees, which is well worth a visit if you can manage the climb up a hundred or so steps. Walk through the village and notice the intricate underground falaj system for irrigating the farms and the mosque that was earlier the house where Sheikh Sultan used to stay when he visited. Continue through the farms, enjoy the view over the mountains, learn about farming and the biodiversity in the area from the information signs along the way and look out for trees with interesting shapes and wonderful roots growing down rock faces. The path will eventually take you back down to the road where you can walk back up to your car.

Further down the road, pass Shees Health Centre and Sharjah Co-op (preferably on the tourist bypass road) and then you can only be in awe at the deep wadi you’re driving through and the huge rocks jutting out that look like they might fall on you at any moment!

Look out for goats higher up climbing over precarious edges with the greatest of ease. Can you spot the baby goat in the photo below?

When you receive a text message from Ooredoo, you know you’ve crossed into Omani territory. When you reach the fork, you can turn left up the single track road up the hill or right through the farms. There’s also an option to go straight. All roads, especially straight, need a four wheel drive to go down and come out at the other end but you can go left or right a bit further without one. If you turn left, the road will take you to Al Nahwa, an exclave of Sharjah inside the Omani enclave. The road takes you through mountains, open plains and lush oases. Carrying on further still, you will come out in Mirbah, Fujairah, which is just south of Khor Fakkan.

You will lose signal as you get deeper whichever road you take so make sure you’re prepared for any emergencies and then sit back and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

(Note: Don’t confuse Wadi Shees with Wadi Shie which is further into Khor Fakkan. You will also see it written Chees on the Oman side. There is no border point as it is surrounded by the UAE. )

Al Rabi Tower, Khor Fakkan

Al Rabi Tower was an important part of the defence network in Khor Fakkan, located between Al Adwani Tower and the watchtower at Al Miqsar. The various lookout posts across the town would send warnings to each other by gunshot. It was first constructed by in 1915 during the reign of Sheikh Said bin Hamad Al Qassimi and has since been restored.

The view from the park where the tower stands stretches over the whole valley and out to sea.

For an even better view, take the hiking trail to the top of Khor Fakkan’s highest mountain, but be sure to be well-prepared before setting off. (See the photo with yellow arrows in the gallery showing starting and end points.)

Ajman Museum

Ajman Museum is often overlooked but it is well worth a visit. The fort which is home to the museum was built in the 18th century and was the sheikh’s residence for most of that time and for some time the police station before taking on its current role.

The fort was built in the traditional courtyard style and so most of the exhibits are in individual rooms with different themes such as traditional medicine, weapons, farming, Ajman Police, Ajman’s first radio station, traditional games, documents and manuscripts and even pottery and funerary jewellery found at the archeological site in Moweihat which dates back to 3000 BC (see also the cemetery at the fort entrance). At the back of the fort is the souq depicting traders and artisans at work.

Be sure to go into the barjeel, the windtower, and feel the effect of the natural conditioning. You can also take time to relax sitting in the courtyard imagining what took place there many years ago or sit in the gardens in front of the fort. Look out for the parrots around the fort too.

Opening times: Sat-Thurs 8am-8pm, Fri 2:30pm-8pm

Entrance fee: 5dhs

(At the time of writing, the front entrance was closed. Go round the back, the entrance is next to Shk Humaid Hall, there is no sign.)

Al Miqsar Village

The villages also has houses, stores, and a mosque all built of rock and clay. The rocks used were very large and some of the buildings, such as the mosque, are built into larger rocks. As the rocks used were from the mountain area itself, it’s hard to see the village from a distance and you can easily drive past it without noticing it other than the fort.

Al Miqsar Village was built around 300 years ago and is located atop a small mountain in Wadi Shie. The small fort at the top is known as Wadi Shie Castle and has high slits through which to aim a rifle and also to provide ventilation. It is also part of the defence network of Khor Fakkan City which includes Al Adwani Tower, Al Rabi Tower and al Hisn Fort in the city itself. The lookouts would warn each other by gunfire.