UAE road trips – Part 1 – Fujairah and Jebel Hafeet

Near to Al Hayl Castle, UAE

Living in Dubai was different than everything I’ve experienced before.

Being from Canada, I need a regular dose of nature otherwise I go crazy. I also need a regular fix of exploring and seeing something new. If I would have been born in the great exploration days, I would have definitely been on one of the many European boats exploring the world. I would most likely have either died on board or not been allowed because of my gender, but that’s beside the point!

Exploration and curiosity to see how things work in other countries are rooted deep in my genes.

When I started working in Dubai I rarely had two days off in a row. I was also torn between going skydiving or exploring on my days off. It’s actually a decision that I still struggle with all the time.

View from Jebel Hafeet, UAE

Once you have a working visa in the UAE, you need to switch your driver’s license to a local one. I was very lucky to be able to simply switch my license without having to take expensive driving courses like most nationalities have to do. The process was very quick and simple. All I needed was my license (and a certified letter from the embassy since it’s a French license), eye test, copies of my IDs and money. I went to the licensing office, gave all my paperwork, paid and was quickly handed my new license. It was actually still warm from the press when the guy handed it back to me.

As soon as I had switched my driver’s license to the UAE one, I knew a road trip was needed!

I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Canada where it’s always cheaper to drive than fly anywhere (I drove across the country multiple times, about 5000km one way) but I love to spend time on the road. I find it relaxing. It finally calms my overactive mind. I put my favourite music on, the scenery goes by and so do my thoughts. I simply love it.

Soon after leaving Dubai, heading East

At that point, I was housesitting for a friend. I had met her in Hamburg, Germany and had looked after her adorable dog. She was now also living in Dubai and needed someone to look after Tilda. She gave me access to her car so I could go to work and jump in the Desert Campus. This was the perfect opportunity for my first road trip.

I couldn’t go away for very long since I needed to come back to look after the dog, so I picked a location not too far. I had heard about Fujairah from friends and when I saw there was also a mountain called Jebel Hafeet that one could drive all the way up, my decision was easily made!

Heading East to Fujairah

As soon as I left Dubai towards Fujairah, the Emirate located on the East coast, the scenery changed to a desert and then to mountains. Seeing nature and mountains made me actually tear up. It felt so good to be outside of the city and see something else than super clean and superficial Dubai. The windy road up and down the mountain pass was exactly what I needed.

Curious cuties foraging through garbage in Al Hayl

There was barely anyone on the road and I really enjoyed my experience. After about one hour and a half, I turned at the beginning of Fujairah city towards Al Hayl and its castle. The village felt much more authentic and Middle-Eastern and it reminded me of my experience in Jordan.

Wadi Al Hail Dam, Fujairah

I drove next to Al Hail dam. Being the daughter of someone who used to work on maintaining dams for Hydro Quebec (the hydroelectricity company in the Province of Quebec) I’ve learned a fair amount about dams and always have to make a point of taking a photo of dams whenever I see them. This one seemed really small, dry and empty. Nothing to do with the Manic-5 dam near Baie-Comeau!

Al Hayl Castle

I kept driving toward Al Hayl Castle. There was no other tourist there when I arrived. I had read that the guardian of the castle was giving tours and he indeed took me to all the buildings, explaining their use in a rather broken English (explained by the fact that he was actually from Bengladesh).

Improvised photoshoot during my castle visit

During my short visit of Al Hayl Castle, the guide kept wanting to take photos of me with my phone, so it felt like a little photoshoot. Something I’m not a big fan of, but for once I have plenty of photos of myself that are not selfies!

My Canadian roots are not too far sometimes

After my visit to the castle, I returned towards Al Hayl village, but stopped in the Wadi to sit in the shade of a tree and take in the beautiful scenery. I ended up making a tiny Inukshuk. The silence felt very weird and unsettling which made me decide to rent a car and go explore other Emirates for my next days off.

Listening to the odd sound from a garbage lid moving into the wind, or an animal expressing itself in the distance, it made me realize how silence is rare nowadays. We rarely sit and listen to nothing. There’s usually traffic, horns, people, music, police or firefighter sirens, or in Dubai tourists showing off in their rental Ferrari and Maserati.

Road to Al Hayl, good thing I wasn’t driving a Maserati!

Being in a quiet and peaceful environment also means you can no longer escape your thoughts and feelings, and that can be really scary sometimes. Eventually, I had enough, I needed to move again, so I got back in the car and drove through the city of Fujairah. It was actually more in the industrial area towards Kalba, because I wanted to have a quick look at the coast of the Gulf of Oman. I took the mountain road between Kalba and Sharjah and the 102, going in a tunnel before exiting on the other side of the mountains. I went through Wadi Helo (I loved the name so I had to go have a look), and a few villages that obviously do not get to see that many tourists driving around much, or they simply like to stare a lot.

Beautiful road to Al Ain

It was nice to see the ”normal” Emirati life. There was a lot of massive villas and little shopping centres everywhere but also smaller houses. It had a much more genuine feel than anything I had experienced so far.

I went through Al Madam (that name made me laugh) to Al Jimi and crossed Al Ain entirely to reach Jebel Hafeet. Al Ain is a very pretty city with flowers and trees everywhere. It actually looked like a good place to live a quiet life. But I didn’t want to visit yet another city I wanted expansive mountain views.

Driving up Jebel Hafeet

The drive up Jebel Hafeet was so much fun. It’s a mountain road with sharp turns and places to stop everywhere along the way to enjoy the views. The top is rather underwhelming but it was worth the drive. When you reach the top parking, there’s a café, cars and people and it’s fenced everywhere. Not quite what I was expecting. The parking spots just before the top were actually a lot more enjoyable for me, being alone to enjoy the view and the sunset. No kids running around or people being super loud.

Jebel Hafeet café and massive parking lot

After the sunset, I came straight back to Dubai. Tired but happy. And I couldn’t wait to rent a car and go on other road trips. Being out of Dubai, exploring, not waiting on anybody else, doing exactly what I wanted and stopping where I wanted, felt so good. It would have been really nice to have someone to share that with of course, but I made the most of it and enjoyed myself. I was quite proud I went on my own for over 550 kms through unknown territories and cities. I trusted myself (and my GPS) and was pretty confident that worst comes to worst I could always turn around and come back.

Jebel Hafeet

After this road trip, I made it my priority to go out and explore more. It all started with that one little day trip, and next thing I knew I was hooked again!

Keep an eye out for the following posts if you want to see more of my road trips in the United Arab Emirates!

Part 2: Ras Al Khaimah, hiking in Leopard Canyon and my all-time favourite Jebel Jais

Part 3: Liwa: the biggest sand dunes of the UAE, and getting my rental car stuck in the sand.

Part 4: Hatta and ziplining from Jebel Jais

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