Discovering the Emirates: Things to do in Umm Al-Quwain
Look out of the car window as you exit Sheikh Zayed Road (E11) and drive down King Faisal Road towards Umm Al-Quwain’s Old Town, and you will be confronted with something very different to the high-rise buildings, plush hotels and shopping centres of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) most developed towns, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.
You will see a smattering of roadside cafeterias, ramshackle shops overflowing with tacky clothing and budget electronics, the odd tailor’s shop and a wooden sign in the shape of a tree adorned with pictures of the local ruling elite. But you will also notice a Carrefour Market, a KFC, a branch of high street fashion retailer Splash and a McDonald’s – just a few of the early signs that this sleepy emirate might at least have an eye on development. Take a look at our guide to the best things to do in Umm Al-Quwain, before the mega malls move in.
North of Dubai and nestled on the coast just below Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al-Quwain, which is ruled by Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mu’allah, is not the smallest of the UAE’s seven emirates – that distinction belongs to its neighbour, Ajman – but it is the least populated, and currently lacks the amenities to attract more people. But things are changing – a 1.2km walkway on the emirate’s Corniche was completed in January 2014, and an outdoor gym is due to be added this month.
When it comes to tourism, whereas even tiny Ajman has four five-star resorts, Umm Al-Quwain has only selection of budget resorts: Flamingo Beach Resort by Bin Majid Hotels & Resorts, Umm Al-Quwain Beach Hotel, Palma Beach Resort & Spa, Hotel Royal Residence, Pearl Hotel and Barracuda Beach Resort.
The emirate is yet to realise its potential to encourage greater numbers of visitors. But there is an upside to this sluggish growth: life in Umm Al-Quwain is unhurried, and the natural beauty of its white sand beaches, mangroves and surrounding islands – Al Sinniyah, with its large colony of Socotra cormorants, is a big draw for bird watchers – has not been tarnished. If you’re visiting the UAE and you want to spend time in an area relatively untouched by the progress of the last 30 years or so, Umm Al-Quwain is the antidote to the sometimes overwhelming luxury of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Continue your journey along King Faisal Road into the Old Town, past the half a dozen small fishing boats resting in the Old Harbour, the piles of wire crab cages and the group of locals in their gleaming white kandoras huddled beneath the corrugated iron roof of their makeshift Majilis, and you will come to the Flamingo Beach Resort by Bin Majid Hotels & Resorts. Offering 52 basic rooms and suites, the property is dated and kitsch, but it has its own private beach and is well-known by residents of the UAE for the water based activities it offers, in particular crab hunting in the warm, shallow waters around the nearby mangroves.
Moments from the Flamingo Beach Resort is Umm Al-Quwain Museum, a restored 18th century fort where you will find a collection of historical artefacts including jewellery, weapons and finds from local archaeological site Ed-Dur.
Not far from the museum there is a quiet strip of beach, where a single shisha café sits overlooking the waters of the Arabian Gulf. Enjoy a drink on the outdoor terrace, or a picnic beneath the palms. Close by is a restored section of a historic wall, which is worth a look.
If you really want to enjoy the beach, book a room at the 66-room Umm Al-Quwain Beach Hotel and spend your time on the beautiful stretch of white sand along the new Corniche, where even at the weekend you will find only a smattering of local families sitting on blankets on the sand, flying kites or paddling in the ocean, and perhaps a couple of joggers on the recently laid brick pathway. There are a few villas, but most of the land around the Corniche is vacant – for now. The area is ideal for hotel development, so don’t expect it to remain quiet for long.
If you’re looking for some active things to do in Umm Al-Quwain, the UAQ Marine Club offers a range of choices, including a high rope course and climbing wall, fishing and Scuba diving. Or you could head north out of town along the E11 towards Ras Al Khaimah, where you’ll encounter Dreamland Aqua Park, a popular waterpark also offering camping facilities, and Barracuda Beach Resort, which most UAE residents are familiar with thanks to its large bottle shop and Finer Things, a delicatessen stocked with fine cheeses. If you’re visiting Barracuda Beach Resort, make sure you take a look at the mysterious Soviet era cargo plane sitting in the disused airfield next door. If the government’s recent efforts to improve the emirate’s appeal are ramped up, soon the advertisement for Palma Beach Resort & Spa on the side of the Iyushin IL 76 will not be the only thing attracting visitors to Umm Al-Quwain.
Written by Gareth Rees