Ras Al Khaimah is on a mission to become the adventure tourism hub of the Middle East and in December 2017 I put the UAE’s northernmost emirate to the test – hiking, riding and climbing among its cliffs and dunes.
“Ras Al Khaimah is raw,” shouted my mountain bike guide, Hazem, next day as our 2.4in-wide tyres bounded over knobbly sandstones the size of rugby balls. Our “course” was Wadi Shawka – a dried riverbed that is increasingly popular with the UAE’s outdoorsy, mostly expat, community. “Eight years ago there were just a couple of hundred mountain bikers here,” Hazem said, as I closely followed his tracks through the chalky dust. “Now there are more than 2,000 regular riders and tourists are coming here from all over the world.”
Carved out by the hooves of goats and camels, the 10-mile trail was rough and unforgiving and my slender saddle resembled the medieval torture device the “Spanish donkey” rather than something you might actually want to sit on. Despite the pain, the setting was impressive, with narrow limestone channels just big enough for a mountain bike to weave through at pace. On a good day it’s possible to reach Wadi Shawka from Dubai International Airport in just 40 minutes, and some of Hazem’s guests simply escape the terminal for a two-hour burst of exercise before jumping back on a connecting flight.
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February 9, 2018