Come winter and camping is one of my favourite things to do in the UAE! Okay, to be honest, it's something we would do a lot more when younger, when most of my friends didn't have children and convenience wasn't everyone's top priority. Slowly, as they began to go the family way, we started to lose people who were happy to displace themselves from the comforts of their soft, cushioned mattresses and air conditioned homes to the adventures of sleeping on surfaces that aren't necessarily friendly to one's back or legs.
Soon, I was left with hardly any people who would be excited to wake up on a Friday (that's when our weekend here starts) and hit the road, drive to some remote, scenic locations, fire up a barbecue grill, open a bottle of wine, snuggle into a blanket and spend the night under the stars in a cozy tent. For almost 5 years, I did not go camping at all, even though I was itching to. Once the pandemic hit, and it became almost impossible to travel internationally, it once again became imperative to explore my home country, and find ways to stay motivated, challenged, excited and feed my adventure-hungry soul.
The best thing about the UAE is that it is one of the safest countries in the world so the idea of camping out in an isolated place in the depth of the Arabian desert or far away from the light pollution of the cities isn't a bad idea. The six months of winter, November to April, is also when the temperatures are moderate (it can get a little chilly in the night) so it's the best time for camping-enthusiasts to get active and explore. In October 2020, I bought myself a really cool tent-for-2, an inexpensive portable barbecue grill, convinced some still young (at heart) and adventurous friends to accompany me in exploring the best camping spots in the UAE.
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If you're a resident or a local here, you will not be surprised to see Jebel Jais at the top of my list of best camping spots in the UAE. There are, however, pros and cons to camping at the highest mountain peak in the country. Jebel Jais is a mountain of the Hajjar Range, which is shared between UAE (Ras Al Khaimah) and Oman, and is perhaps the coldest place in the country. Occasionally (3 times till date, to be precise), the mountain has seen some snow in the peak winters. So while the whole country is still reeling from a hot summer and the temperatures are beginning to drop a little but not enough, Jebel Jais, thanks to its elevation of 1,500 m above sea level, is lucky to have chilly evenings in the month of October. This is the most ideal time to camp here.
However, this is also the time when it is the most crowded, especially during weekends! Most residents, who have been shut indoors for the unbearable summer months, are finally out and about, and this is the coolest place to be! Luckily, the government has arranged for various parking/ camping spots so there is no dearth of options. But if you're looking to be 'isolated' and far away from the crowds, this is not your best option.
Here are some things you must keep in mind when camping at Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah:
- The mountain peak is a 2.5-hour drive from the city of Dubai and can be reached only by car (there is no public transport that comes here)
- The road up to the summit is winding, so be careful while driving. There are no street lights on the road once the ascent begins, so its best not to be driving here at night
- There are Porta Potti (portable toilets) installed in several places. However, do not expect a high level of cleanliness from these
- Some food trucks are available in the area which are open until late night. However, these only sell sandwiches, coffee and tea. For a proper meal, the highest restaurant in the UAE, 1484 by Puro, is an option but this closes at sunset so if you're camping overnight, make your own arrangements or be ready to survive on small bites
- There are a lot of cops in the area, who are there to ensure that you do not leave a mess behind. Make sure to clean up after yourself!
- The terrain is a little rocky so carry sleeping bags with you to keep the surface soft and comfortable while laying in a tent
- It is not uncommon for people to visit Jebel Jais late night/ early morning to watch the sunset. This means, the place can be pretty busy and noisy through the night with people arriving and leaving at the most unsocial hours
- The rules on carrying/ drinking alcohol in the UAE, in public spaces such as camping spots, is not very clear. You may carry your own and drink while you are there, but make sure not to create any problems or issues which could bring attention to you else the cops may reprimand you for it
- The temperatures can drop here considerably as compared to the city, make sure to carry warm clothes and blankets to sleep in
- Camping here is free
The rocky brown mountainous terrain of Jebel Jais might be an unusual sight for many people, but it is certainly a pleasant change from the busy cities and probably one of the few spots where nature lovers can get away from the hustle and bustle, to enjoy some fresh air, peace and (disputably) beautiful views. As a camping spot, there are facilities available and shops where you can buy charcoal, lighter fluid, etc in case you fall short. A perfect place for the amateurs who are new to camping, Jebel Jais also offers other activities such as hiking and adventure sports.
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Adventure Sports at Jebel Jais
Jebel Jais has recently become one of the most popular destinations for adventure enthusiasts due to the Jais Adventure Park that was opened in the last couple of years. It is home to the longest zipline in the world (certified by Guinness Book of World Records), claiming to reach speeds of up to 150 kmph (dependent on several factors of course, such as the wind speed, body weight, etc.). Ziplining enthusiasts can also experience the Jais Sky Tour, a series of 7 ziplines covering a total distance of 5km, providing a great birds' eye view of the mountains and the valley below.
A new activity recently introduced at Jais Adventure Park is the Jais Sky Maze, a challenging obstacle course 10meters above the ground that includes rope swings, wobbly bridges, swinging loops and more. Apart from this, Jebel Jais is also popular for hiking enthusiasts, with six unique marked trails at different levels of difficulty. It is also not uncommon to see cyclists scaling the mountains early in the morning. The adventure park is still quite new and is working on providing new experiences such as guided mountain climbing, ice skating rink etc.
Here's a list of things to experience at Jais Adventure Park:
- The longest zipline in the world, Jebel Jais Flight
- A series of 7 ziplines, Jais Sky Tour
- An obstabcle course, Jais Sky Maze
- Cycling (self-guided)
- Hiking (self-guided but with 6 marked trails)
- Mountain climbing by ViaFerrata (guided, coming soon)
- Ice skating
- Dining at one of the food trucks or the highest restaurant in the UAE, 1484 by Puro
- Camping, of course (with toilets & other facilities easily available)
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