What to do in Abu Dhabi
What to do in Dubai
What to do in Sharjah
What to do in Ajman
What to do in Umm al Qaiwain
What to do in Ra's al-Khaimah
What to do in Fujairah and on the East Coast
Fujairah and on the East Coast
The UAE’s breath-taking east coast, backed by the towering barren slopes of the Hajar Mountains, borders the Gulf of Oman and the open waters of the Indian Ocean. Most of the coastline (over 90 kilometres) is in the Emirate of Fujairah, but Sharjah also has enclaves here and so has Oman. There are some stunning beaches and good diving locations along the coast, whilst the hinterland features many cultural and historic sites with plenty of opportunity for adventure. Agriculture and fishing still feature prominently, although tourism, oil-bunkering and container shipping are now the mainstays of the economy.
The east coast can be accessed from a number of directions: one of the most direct routes is along the relatively new Dubai-Fujairah Sheikh Khalifa Highway, which cuts through the Hajar Mountains, starting at a junction on the Sharjah-Kalba Road just east of Mleiha and ending in the Al Hayl area, outside Fujairah City.
Approaching from the south and west, the E88 from Sharjah through Al Dhaid, a uniquely green agricultural district about 60 kilometres from Sharjah City, is also a popular route.
1. Along the road to Fujairah, on the Dubai side of Masafi, visit the Friday market (rugs of dubious origin, fruit and vegetables, some produced locally, plants, pottery and the inevitable cheap Chinese goods). Despite its name, the market seems to be in operation everyday.
2. At Masafi venture north towards Dibba, a sleepy traditional port shared between Sharjah, Fujairah and Oman. This was a very important market town in ancient times and the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the early days of Islam. Boat trips to Oman’s remote Musandam peninsula are run from here. Dibba can also be accessed directly from Ra’s al-Khaimah.
3. Or travel south passing the magnificent restored fort at Bithnah, one of the many forts and watchtowers that once protected these routes through the mountains, to the mainly low-lying Fujairah City. Take time to explore Al Hayl Palace, which was once the summer residence of the ruling family of Fujairah.
4. Fujairah Fort, reputedly 360 years old, stands on a slight incline at the edge of date gardens in Fujairah City. These forts are often identified as Portuguese but many were older in construction and refashioned after the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. In any event, the subsequent battles for supremacy in area had bloody consequences for the inhabitants of the east coast. Fujairah Fort was also severely damaged in the early twentieth century by a British bombardment, but has been recently restored to its former glory – it looks wonderful lit up at night.
5. Nearby Fujairah Heritage Village has a good selection of traditional houses (‘arish) and fishing boats (shashah) made from palm fronds, providing an interesting backdrop to its living reconstruction of traditional life in the mountains and on the shores of the east coast, a lifestyle that was quite different to the semi-nomadic existence of the desert-dwellers to the west and south-east.
6. Just south of the fort and opposite the Ruler’s Palace, Fujairah Museum is a small modern building where many of the artefacts found in archaeological digs at Qidfa, Bithnah and other places are on display.
7. On weekends in winter, watch out for the famous Fujairah bullfights – a bloodless sport in which massive Brahmin bulls test their strength against one another.
8. Go south to Sharjah’s enclave of Kalba, which was a important settlement as far back as 4,500 years ago. The fort in Kalba, now in ruins, was mentioned by the Venetian traveler Gasparo Balbi in an account of his travels in the region in 1580.
9. Further south, the spectacular Khor Kalba Nature Reserve, close to the border with Oman, is fringed by one of the most extensive mangrove stands in the region and is home to the extremely rare white-collared kingfisher, amongst other indigenous wildlife.
10. North of Fujairah City the coast road runs through Sharjah’s Khor Fakkan, a major container port and site of one of the fiercest naval battles in the war with the Portuguese in 1554. There is a good view of the low-lying town and the Gulf of Oman from the ruins of Khor Fakkan fort, once a stronghold of the Qawasim tribe that was such a thorn in the sides of the European powers that sought to dominate the area.
11. Wadi Wurrayah, a 31,000 acre nature reserve, lies between Khor Fakkan and Bidiyah. Designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and the site of the UAE's only waterfall, this is a very special place. At present, it is temporarily closed to the public so that a management plan can be put in place to protect its delicate ecosystem.
Exploring wadis (dry watercourses) in this area is a great way to enjoy the spectacular scenery and discover plant and animal life. However, extreme care is required as wadis can be subject to flash floods in rainfall, especially when the rains fall high in the mountains.
12. Continuing north towards Dibba, the tiny restored Bidiyah Mosque is on the left. This is the oldest mosque in the UAE that is still in use. The long-tomb on the hillside behind the mosque dates from the Bronze Age and was one of the first of its kind ever excavated in the UAE.
14. Snorkelling and diving are favourite pastimes on the east coast since the much deeper Gulf of Oman supports a greater diversity of marine life than the shallow Arabian Gulf. Off the coast of Khor Fakkan there are more than ten dive sites within just a few minutes boat ride from the shore. Typically some of the best sites are submerged rocks that have been colonised by soft corals. Fish are plentiful and turtles are commonly sighted. During winter months grey reef sharks are often seen. The diving gets steadily more demanding and more varied as the coast runs northwards. From Dibba it is possible to reach a wealth of deeper dive sites within half an hour’s boat ride. Mountains that plunge directly into the ocean are covered in soft corals to depths of 40 metres and a cave system offers exciting diving for experienced and suitably qualified divers. For more information or check out UAE Underwater Explorer.