If you love authentic places, Umm al Quwain may surprise you. This is one of the smallest emirates of the UAE, perhaps the least known, and those who visit it are struck by how completely different it is from the rest of the Emirates.
Its decadent atmosphere, the half-empty streets with the children playing between the battered houses and the appearance of a ruined city: Umm al Quwain is the place you don’t expect in the UAE.
Many people visit it just to get an idea of what the UAE could have been like before the discovery of oil, but in Umm al Quwain there are many other things to see, such as a beautiful Arab fort and natural oases where you can go kayaking among the mangroves and admire the wildlife. Umm al Quwain is a destination that adventurers will love!
Umm al Quwain: the place where you can see what the UAE was like before the oil boom
The emirate of Umm al Quwain is the poorest of the UAE. It is the only emirate that has no significant oil or gas fields on its territory, so its economy is based almost exclusively on the cultivation of dates and fishing.
In the 19th century, Umm al-Qaiwain harbor was a notorious pirate lair, with the arrival of the British the coastal peoples of the emirates favored the collection of pearls and the cultivation of dates. Umm al-Qaiwain is now home to shipyards and metallurgical industries and considerable efforts have been made in recent years to improve its development.
However, visiting it today you can have an idea of how the UAE were before the discovery of oil: a simple Arab country squeezed between the crystal clear waters of the Gulf and the imposing red dunes of the desert.
Things to see and do in Umm al Quwain
1. Umm al Quwain Fort and National Museum
Go to the old town of Umm al Quwain where you will easily find a beautiful Arab fort, which seems to have come out of the novel “Arabian Nights”.
Umm al Quwain Fort was built in 1786 to defend the town, and was the ruler’s residence until 1969.
Today the Umm al Quwain Fort houses the National Museum, where you can see a collection of artifacts, weapons and objects belonging to local popular culture. Furthermore there is an interesting wing dedicated to the jewels of the Umm al Quwain Royal Family and the largest collection of finds from the nearby archaeological sites of Tell Abraq and Al Dour, dating back to the Roman Empire.
2. Enjoy nature in the mangrove oases of Umm al Quwain
Umm al Quwain on one side has huge sand dunes reaching the city gates, on the other a vast lagoon inhabited by mangroves, cormorants, pink flamingos, turtles and hundreds of sea birds.
Bird watchers will love watching wildlife: the main nature reserves are Khor al Beidah and Sinniyah Island, the island that is located just opposite the old city and that you can see from the Corniche.
The oasis of Umm al Quwain is perfect for hiking and the best way to explore it to see aquatic animals and mangroves up close is by kayak or stand-up paddle. The guides provide equipment and lead you along the path, also suitable for beginners.
3. Dreamland Aqua Park
Dreamland Aqua Park was the first water park in the UAE, inaugurated in 1997 and is still one of the largest family water parks in the Middle East today.
It is located in an oasis surrounded by palm trees and offers several attractions designed for family fun, swimming pools, water slides, pools with waves and salt water.
It can be a good way to spend a relaxing day away from Dubai’s expensive and glossy parks, just like many locals do. The electronic ticket can be booked online and allows you to stay the whole day and enjoy all the attractions.
4. Umm Al Quwain Aeroclub
Umm Al Quwain does not have an airport. Although in the UAE there are airports and heliports everywhere, even on the smallest islet, Umm Al Quwain remains quite isolated.
But there is an old airfield that is still used today by lovers of extreme sports. It is located right next to Dreamland Aqua Park and the only reason to come here is to see two old abandoned planes of the Soviet era.
In the back of the hangars there is an old Antonow-2 Bi-Plane, while visible from the main road there is a huge Iljuschin-76. Its history remains a mystery but today it is one of the most famous spots in the world for abandonment enthusiasts.
5. Dhow Building Yard
The Dhow Building Yard in Umm al Quwain is one of the oldest shipyards where Dhows, traditional wooden boats are still built or repaired today.
Here hundreds of expert craftsmen every day do this ancient work which, with the advent of modernity, risks not being passed on to future generations and disappearing, replaced by modern materials.
Find the old port where the artisans build the Dhows as soon as they arrive in the old city, try to ask around, in general it is quite easy to go in and have a look.
6. Umm al Quwain Camel Racing
Yes, it may sound strange, but camel races are the national sport of the United Arab Emirates.
Not many kilometers from Umm al Quwain, along the road to the Falaj Al Mualla oasis, there is a Camel Race Track. The Camel Races are held in the early winter months on Thursday and Friday and spectators are welcome.
Near the Camel Race Track there is a track towards the desert along which you can see many camels.
If you decide to go and see a Camel Race ask the taxi driver to take you to Falaj Al Mualla too: this village is an oasis of Umm Al Quwain mainly dedicated to the cultivation of dates and here you can see a beautiful ancient Fort.
7. Other Places to Visit in Umm Al Quwain
We have just seen the best places to visit in Umm Al Quwain. Consider that this emirate is less accustomed to mass tourism than the others, so some things remain rather hidden.
One of them is the Marine Research Center, also known as Umm Al Quwain Aquarium. In reality, rather than an aquarium, it is a huge research laboratory for the protection and conservation of endangered fish species. You can visit it only by appointment, try to ask at Barracuda Beach Resort, sometimes they organize guided tours.
From Umm Al Quwain you can continue your tour to Oman or to the beautiful city of Ras al-Khaima.
How to get to Umm Al Quwain
Consider that the only way to get around Umm Al Quwain is by taxi, there are no public buses.
However taxis are cheap and it is quite easy to find one.
You can get to Umm Al Quwain by bus from Dubai or Sharjah. From Sharjah take bus 115 from Al Jubail Station (15 AED, hourly), from Dubai take bus E601 which leaves from Itihad Bus Station in Deira (10 AED, one every 45 minutes).
Umm Al Quwain doesn’t have a bus station, these buses drop you off at a roundabout on the E11 Highway where you will find taxis waiting for you. Be careful because these buses don’t stop on the way back.
There are no buses from Umm Al Quwain to Dubai or Sharjah, so the only way to get back is by taxi, which is quite expensive (it’s a long way).
Those who want to visit Umm Al Quwain from Dubai often come with a guided tour from Dubai (which includes transportation) taking the opportunity to enjoy a sunset experience among the mangroves in the coastal lagoon of Umm Al Quwain, trying the traditional Crab Hunting enjoying a hearty dinner based on the day’s catch before returning to Dubai. It is the most effective and cheapest way to enjoy a day trip to Umm Al Quwain.