Adventures in the UAE’s Garden City – Al Ain
Al Ain, popularly known as the Garden City in the UAE, is famous amongst residents, citizens, and tourists closely acquainted with the region, mainly due to its greenery and the city’s oases, lush fields, and cultural importance, in terms of heritage and history. The region has been occupied by various settlements since recorded history, with archaeological digs showing evidence of human settlements as early as 3,000 BC, and the many museums scattered around Al Ain provide guests with the perfect opportunity to learn about this city’s rich history. The greenery, too, makes Al Ain worth the visit, including the fact that it is the only site in the country to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city also provides a new perspective into the country’s local culture, from the traditional camel market to regular camel racing events.
The Al Ain Oasis alone is worth the visit, having been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The oasis contains over 1,200 hectares of lush greenery, with over 140,000 date palm trees that produces over a hundred varieties of the popular fruit. The oasis is also popular for its traditional irrigation system, known as ‘falaj’, which has been used by Emiratis for over 3,000 years. The oasis also houses a small museum that explains the importance and cultural significance of date palms to the region, and provides some background information to the oasis itself. Guests who are looking for an extensive visit of the oasis can sign up for horse rides and buggy rides around the oasis, available at the main entrance.
The Al Ain National Museum, too, is worth the visit as it neatly packages the country’s rich heritage, culture, and history while making it interactive and attention-worthy. The museum is housed in the Sultan Bin Zayed Fort, and contains many sections dedicated to ethnography and archaeological discoveries unearthed in the region. The ethnographic section showcases the daily life of the people in the region, complete with traditional garments, jewellery, and a reconstructed majlis. The museum’s biggest attraction, however, are the archaeological exhibits unearthed that date back to the Bronze and Iron ages, including jewellery and pendants, along with a restored tomb (the Grand Hili tomb) that was unearthed at the Hill Archaeological Park.
Another must-visit on any itinerary is Al Ain’s camel market, a fascinating chance for travellers to experience local culture, without any of the dressing for tourists. This camel market is one of the last remaining ones in the UAE, and people across the region come here to trade camels. Guests can simply walk around and watch people bartering over camels, and take part in an age-old Middle Eastern tradition. The camel market is free to enter, and having a guide is not necessary – most visitors choose to explore the market on their own, and discover this particular hidden gem at their own pace.
There are a multitude of forts scattered across Al Ain as well, from earlier eras in history, providing unique examples of Emirati fortification architecture. Two forts worth visiting are Al Jahili Fort and Qasr al Muwaiji. Al Jahili Fort is a restored fortress surrounded by calm,shady gardens in the centre of the city, and was first built in 1891. The fort served as a place of defense for the city, and now serves as a museum for Al Ain’s history. Inside the fort lies an exhibit dedicated to the work of the British adventurer, Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who explored the Empty Quarter Desert in the 1940s. Qasr Al Mawaiji, too, is fort that has been restored to its former glory. Having been built in the early 20th century, the fort was home to Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan and his family between 1946 and 1966. The fort also contains a small museum dedicated to its architecture and to the people who lived there.
Al Ain is also the perfect place for adventurers and thrill-seekers who are looking for an adrenaline-filled weekend getaway. Wadi Adventure Park contains the world’s largest artificial surfing wave, three levels of white-water rafting rapids, and a long kayaking channel. This park is the perfect place for guests to enjoy a cool day on the water for white-water rafting, kayaking, or surfing, the park is also filled with ziplines, beams, swings, and a climbing wall, along with a family pool for guests looking to take a leisurely swim.
Al Ain is also home to Jebel Hafeet, and standing at 1,240 metres, is the UAE’s second highest peak. The mountain is approximately 56 kilometres from the main city, and is definitely worth the visit for the stunning landscape shots of the city. The mountain is also known for its archaeological finds, and guests are surprised to learn that there are over 500 tombs in the foothills, that can be traced to the beginning of the Bronze Age in the region. The mountain is also famous for its hikes and treks up to the peak, and the climb is scattered with viewing points and rest-stops up to the top. For those who are unable to hike for that long, there is a road up to the peak as well, making the drive easier and more scenic. At the foot of the mountain lies Mubazzarah Park, a lush park amidst the rocky landscape. This natural oasis is a relaxing place to visit after a long day hiking up the mountain, and is especially beautiful during the sunsets. The main attraction is the mineral hot springs, which run through the park in a series of pools, making them fun places to soak in during the cool desert evenings.
Guests who are looking to spend the night amidst nature in Al Ain can even book a spot to camp in, at the base of Jebel Hafeet. The camping spot stretches over nine kilometres, and guests who are spending the night can enjoy the view of the mountain, the surrounding historical and archaeological remains, and relax under a clear, starry night sky. From bare grounds for guests to set up their own campsites to established campsite spaces with luxurious, traditional interiors, camping in Al Ain is worth the overnight stay in the city.
Visitors and residents who are looking for a relaxing weekend getaway, lush nature, or even to learn more about the UAE will truly enjoy a visit to Al Ain, one of the best oases in the country. Al Ain is also home to a number of luxurious hotels, both within the city and up in Jebel Hafeet, providing guests with a number of opportunities to kick back and relax. The hot springs that run through Mubazzarah Park are an ideal stress-buster, and the mountain itself is home to a number of fun activities and scenic points to appreciate the landscape of the city, while the city’s many museums offer numerous opportunities for education and entertainment alike. Although the UAE is smaller than other countries, the nation is packed with interesting spots to visit and learn about Middle Eastern culture and heritage, while taking part in more natural adventures and activities.
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