RAK to the future: a huge glow-up is underway in Ras Al Khaimah

RAK RAK city…

Ras Al Khaimah has always been known as the more ‘outdoorsy one’ of the seven emirates. A proud ambassador for the ‘North Face jacket and carabiner clip’ crowd. Its flavour – ‘hydration salts and… the taste of adventure’. And it’s a reputation justly earned, RAK is of course home to the country’s highest peak – Jebel Jais, its chief UAE USPs include such pioneer pursuits as record-breaking zip-lines, wadi hikes, a via ferrata, mountainside toboggan ride, survivalist camp, rockface abseiling and rugged off-roading routes.

But it is also an emirate that’s trekking through the foothills of some monumental change. The pulsing neon of Vegas is on the way, in the form of the Nevada-imported Wynn Hotel and Casino currently under construction on Al Marjan Island. Alongside that, the territory’s leisure portfolio is being given a dramatic boost with the addition of such similarly twinkling luxury icons as Nikki Beach (which actually has two projects in the works, a Beach Resort and Spa, as well as amenity-rich series of Residences), Le Meridien Marjan Island Resort & Spa, the UAE’s second Earth Shore hotel and a Nobu Hotel.

All of which means that Ras Al Khaimah will soon be better conceptualised as having somewhat of a dual identity, a home to both alfresco thrills and pampering chills. But you don’t have to wait until some undefined point in the future to enjoy this split personality, the revolution has already begun. These are some of our favourite places where you can enjoy the best of both worlds in RAK, right now.

Chill: Anantara Mina Al Arab Ras Al Khaimah Resort

The waterfront leisure development, Mina Al Arab represents an exciting epicentre of this RAK glow-up, and beyond the sparkling new marina, you’ll find the just-opened and unervingly handsome, Anantara Mina Al Arab. It’s almost impossible to refrain from, at least internally, remarking on the Maldivian-ness of its aesthetics. It’s deliberate of course. The dense thatch work on the top of its buildings, the peninsula boardwalk out to a string of over-water villas, the focus on minimum-impact hospitality, the pristine cabana-strewn beach, and the island chakras of its exotic spa and conservation centre all feel organically plucked from an Indian Ocean atoll. But look a little deeper, and the local is just as authentically preserved.

Those spacious over-water villas (featuring a swoon deck and plunge pool), for instance, sit atop a verdant patchwork of mangroves, placing you right in the centre of the indigenous wilderness. We love the F&B options here too, Mekong’s Asian menu is a treasure chest of chiming aromatics; the easy charms of the Beach House’s shoreline vistas are couched as a counterbalance to its heavyweight signature grills and cocktails; and Jalabar’s clever infinity pool disappearing trick, is worthy of a wet and splashy round of applause. There are kids’ and teen clubs, and the gym has what is arguably one of the best fitness centre views in the whole emirate.

Overwater villa room rates from Dhs7,000. anantara.com

Thrill: Adrenaline on the mountainside

Amongst the stone spires of Jebel Jais, you’ll find a congregation of adventure attractions that are just the ticket for fidgety, gravity-phobes. You can take a flight on the world’s longest zipline (from Dhs550), Jais Flight; hop aboard the Jais Sledder – an on-rails sled ride down the mountain (from Dhs50); try knot to get scared as you take on the elevate Ropes Course (from Dhs50); or for something so palm-sweatily vertiginous that it’s even outside the comfort zone of mountain goats,  there’s the Jais Via Ferrata (from Dhs130). It offers three routes, the longest of which is the ominously titled Julphar Scare, a 300-metre traverse and ascent across open rock face, with only steel cables and ladder rungs between you and the yawning abyss below.


Chill: Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khimah

This luxury-class, family-friendly hotel has recently undergone its own extensive, future-proofing renovations. The new and improved resort comes with the sort of brand standard design splendour you’d expect from a Waldorf; is pinched in between the sea and Al Hamra Golf Course; and is armed to the terrace with targeted boredom-busting facilities.

Rooms from around Dhs1,000. hilton.com

Thrill: Bear Grylls Explorers Camp

Arch explorer Bear Grylls became the youngest Briton to ever conquer Everest just months after suffering injuries, that he was told, meant he’d never walk again. But he’s probably best known for his series of TV shows where he (occasionally accompanied by A-List celebrities and US Presidents) takes on perilous encounters in extreme environments. And in Ras Al Khaimah, you can make like Bear at his Explorer’s Camp – where a team of trained experts are on hand to teach you key survival skills, put you through some exhilarating challenges, and share a few items from the Bear Grylls ‘close your eyes and pretend it’s an oyster’ cookbook. Pick from individual activities, or drink the yellow Kool-Aid and go full immersion with one of the 24-hour courses.

Jebel Jais, Survival courses from Dhs450. beargryllscamp.ae

Images: Provided