After having lived in Dubai for most of 2011 and traveling through Dubai almost monthly while I working in Yemen, I decided it was finally time to see what the other Emirates had to offer.
I have spent lots of time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi over the years, but had only briefly visited Sharjah and had not seen the other Emirates at all. I had always thought I’d rent a car in Dubai and drive around the UAE, but as I researched car rentals I became very confused as to how insurance works, whether I needed an International Driving Permit or not, and what would happen in the event I had an accident while driving on UAE roads. Rules, regulations, and laws in the UAE are often unclear or conflicting and car rentals seem no different. Fortunately, I found a tour online called the “6 Emirates in a Day Tour” which would fit my needs without the additional risk associated with hiring a car and trying to find my way around the UAE on my own.
I found numerous websites selling the 6 Emirates in a Day Tour and finally booked with ForeverTourism.com for 350 dhs. I had also seen a tour offered by Rayna Tours for 300 Dhs, but as the Forever Tourism tour advertised their tour as being 12 hours and Rayna Tours only 10, I thought it was worth the extra 50 dhs to ensure I had an in-depth experience and didn’t rush my way around the UAE. This was a mistake on my part as Forever Tourism just acts as an agent for Rayna and I ended up on the Rayna tour as advertised by Rayna. Not only that, but when I received my invoice it was for US$ 100 which works out to 367 dhs rather than the 350 dhs they had advertised. In the end, I would have saved 67 dhs by booking directly with Rayna Tours and would have had the same experience. I was unable to find any information online about Forever Tourism before booking, so hopefully people will come across this post and learn from my mistake!
The tour was very well organized from the beginning and I received a call from our driver and guide, Hafiz Ali, confirming that he’d pick me up at my hotel around 9:15am. Sure enough, at 9:18 he was pulling into the hotel and I joined the rest of the group: a Filipino couple, a girl from Vietnam, and a Brazilian guy who was on his way home after 6 weeks in India and Nepal. Ali, our guide, was full of energy and immediately I knew it was going to be a good day. Ali’s family was originally from Pakistan but he was born and raised in the UAE so he spoke Arabic, knew lots about the culture and growth of the country, and had an energy and enthusiasm that really helped me get the most out of the tour.
Our journey started in Sharjah, where we viewed the Sharjah Corniche that hosts many of the government’s buildings and many beautiful yachts, as well as Qanab al Qasba, the fish market, and Sharjah’s Central Souk. The Central Souk dates back to 1979 and hosts a beautiful exterior décor that features a mix of Iranian and Arabic decorations. The souk is filled with gold and diamond stores, carpet shops, and other typical Middle Eastern souk goods like perfumes, cheap electronics, and textiles. I didn’t realized it until Ali pointed it out, but the Sharjah Central Souk is on the 5 dirham note, which makes me even more happy to have seen it. After wandering the souks for 15 minutes, we went to the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, which, despite the posted hours indicating it was open, was closed for maintenance. Ali quickly made the unforeseen museum closure up to us by taking us to his favourite place for traditional Karak tea, a delicious blend of black tea, milk, sugar and cardamom.
The tea offered us the boost we needed for the drive through Ajman and Umm al Quwain, which are among the less wealthy of the Emirates. Ali mentioned that Umm al Quwain in particular received support from Sheikh Khalifa of Abu Dhabi as they have few resources and, from what we saw, it certainly appeared to be more rural and less developed than its neighbour Emirates. Umm al Quwain, or UAQ for short, is also the least populated of the Emirates.
When we entered Ras Al Khaimah (also known as RAK) and Fujairah, the landscape changed noticeably. Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, and Umm al Quwain are predominantly beach and desert, whereas RAK and Fujairah are full of beautiful rocky mountains. This leads to industrial opportunities for both Emirates and their economies are anchored with mining, stone crushing, as well as ceramic and cement factories. Both Fujairah and RAK also have free trade zones, which I am sure both Emirates hope will one day be as successful as Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port.
We drove to a beautiful viewpoint in RAK where we were able to pull off the road and view the mountains. I loved the jagged and rugged shape of the mountains, and would love to go camping in them one day as I imagine the sunset and stars would be spectacular. After taking in the scenery, we headed to the Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort in Fujairah, a nice beach resort which appeared to be very popular amongst Russians. Despite the poor weather, there were many bronzed Russian beauties out on the beach and I was more than happy to make it our lunch stop. As an added bonus, Fujairah allows for the sale of alcohol (likely why it’s popular with the Russians!) and I was able to enjoy an ice cold pint with my lunch.
After lunch we continued on to the Al Badiyah mosque, a beautiful old mosque believed to have been built in 1446 AD, making it the oldest known mosque in the UAE. We were allowed to take off our shoes and enter the mosque and the Imam even offered to take a photograph with us inside, which was surprising given I am not Muslim. I tried to use a little bit of my Yemeni Arabic while visiting that area and it seemed to gain me a little extra hospitality from the Imam and a friendly man running a nearby souvenir shop. In typical Middle Eastern hospitality, the shop-keep offered me a cup of tea and a very comfortable chair to sit in while we enjoyed a friendly chat about the Middle East and politics of the region. Before we could solve all of the regions issues, I was called back to our van for the onward drive to Khorfkhan beach and Fujairah fort.
Interestingly, I was told that Khorfkhan beach provides some of the deepest waters in the UAE and therefore it is where all of the oil from Abu Dhabi is piped for loading on to tankers. Far on the horizon I could see one tanker which was likely loading, and as we drove towards the Fujairah fort I could see millions of barrels of storage capacity and Ali told us it was planned for this storage to be expanded even more in the near future.
As we continued through Fujairah we arrived at the Fujairah Fort, which apparently was only recently opened to the public. It was a little spooky wandering around the empty fort, and I was startled more than once by the pigeons that are making the various rooms and towers their homes. The Fujairah fort is one of the oldest forts in the UAE and was built in 1670. After the fort we drove to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which is under construction in Fujairah. The mosque greatly reminded me of Istanbul’s blue mosque given its many round domes and pointed minarets. Although it appears the construction has greatly slowed, I expect it will be a very grand and beautiful mosque once it is complete, though I doubt tourists will be allowed inside.
At this point in the tour, the sun was beginning to set and it was time to head back to Dubai. Once again, the topography outside our van windows changed and the sharp rugged mountains slowly morphed into beautiful red sand dunes. I know many local residents take their 4x4s out for high octane desert fun and we saw a few ATVs loaded on to trailers and trucks on the nearby highway. It was now dusk and time to battle the infamous Dubai traffic to get back to our hotels.
All-in-all, the 6 Emirates in a Day tour was wonderful. Ali was a fantastic guide and I would consider the tour well worth its 299 dirham price tag (or even the 367 dirhams I unfortunately paid). The mountains of Fujairah are especially striking and I would love to return there again in the future, either for more time on the beach or to hike and camp in the beautiful rugged mountains. One thing for certain is that neither Dubai nor Abu Dhabi are representative of the UAE, and each Emirate truly has its own landscape and character and are worth at least a quick visit. Many thanks to my wonderful guide Hafiz Ali and Rayna Tours for making my 6 Emirates in a Day experience so enjoyable.