Usually when one thinks of the Middle East they’ll think of war, terror, oil, and maybe more mobs. What some may not be as aware of is that there is much more culture, history and warmth there than you may expect. If you’ve never been to the United Arab Emirates before the amount of things to do can be daunting, so here’s a list of six places that you really shouldn’t miss.
Mt. Jebel Hafeet
One of the first things you’ll notice, unless you’re visiting from Iowa, is that the Emirates is really flat. From Dubai to Al Ain you’ll be lucky to find more than one hill, let alone mountains, other than the sand dunes that are more often than not fenced off. Then on road e22 to Al Ain you’ll see something in the distance. Is that a mirage? No, what you’re seeing is the 1,240 m high Mt. Jebel Hafeet, also spelled Jabal, Jabel and Jebal. Not only will this mammoth rising in the middle of the desert give you an amazing view of the surrounding Emirates, there is a great opportunity for the history buffs out there. The founding Sheikh of the UAE – Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – would cross this mountain several times a year while working on the establishing of the Emirates on foot. Speaking of on foot, you can climb the mountain if you already have a grasp of desert climbing and hiking. If you’re more of a fan of air conditioned cars, the mountain road is more of a race track for this that like sharp curves and wicked views.
Fort Al Jahili
While there are some 50 forts to see in the area of Al Ain, Al Jahili is arguably one of the more picturesque. The original portion of the fort with some renovation stands within the enlarged part of the fort. On one side of the fort there is a permanent exhibition featuring the art of Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who the locals endearingly call Mubarak Bin London which translates to the Blessed one from London. He spent years wandering around the Emirates of old as well as a few years in the Empty Quarter, which he didn’t actually have permission to be in. He would often say that those times in the Empty Quarter were his favorite from his travels. On the other side of the fort there is an area with exhibitions change from time to time as well as a sitting room where you will be served dates (the fruit) and a cup of Arabian coffee.
Wait, seriously? A cafeteria? Yup. There are now over 100 KFCs in the Emirates, and a bunch of the other usual suspects, but if you want some good local eats you’ll have to go semi off the beaten path. Cafeterias are all over the place, and even though the food isn’t usually labeled you wont find much that doesn’t taste great. Be adventurous and ask for the house soup if you really want to give your taste buds a challenge.
Where can you find the tallest building in the world, a four story shopping mall with an aquarium inside and a beach side not far from the main city? No other place than the explosion of art, architecture and business – Dubai. If you love heights then consider taking a ride to the top of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world at almost 830 meters. After, wander over to the Dubai Mall. With hundreds of shops, places to eat, and a mini souq this place is always bustling with energy and opportunities for those who have the Dirhams.
See it. Honestly, what more is there to say?
Al Ain Zoo
Or any of the safaris around the Emirates. The mission of this zoo is “to become pioneers in harmonious living with wildlife and nature.” They do this by researching how to better preserve the wild desert that they still have. If you’re not as interested in the environmental work that they are doing, you’ll still enjoy seeing the 184 species of animals that they have housed in the zoo right now.