In a perfect world, animals are able to run free in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, mankind seems to have created the need for zoos. I don't like zoos. I never have & never will. I believe in natural parks to protect wild animals from poaching and to ensure their habitat. But I guess if a city insists on operating a zoo, then the animals should be given the best-possible life there is... albeit it's still captivity; but if the zoo is labelled for education & conservation purposes, it needs to uphold the highest standards.
The 400 hectare Al Ain Zoo & Aquarium was opened in 1969, has one of the largest animal collections comprising of both local and exotic animals & continues to run a breeding programme for various endangered species, constantly expanding their premises.
Even during our visit we saw that a large section was fenced-off, with temporary smaller cages housing various breeds of monkeys, whilst they (hopefully quickly) complete their larger enclosures.
You've probably heard me complain about the abysmal living conditions of the poor animals at Dubai Zoo, and I can honestly say that the inhabitants of Al Ain Zoo live in a much better world than their counterparts in the "big, rich city".
TIP: We arrived early & I highly recommend this, as the crowds start arriving at around 1pm.
Many of the enclosures are "cage free". Naturally, I thought that many of the enclosures could be a bit bigger, but at least the zoo seems to realize this and has kept the number of animals per enclosure quite low. All animals looked like they were in very good condition, and enclosures were impeccably clean & maintained. The nocturnal house has some beautiful regional species (including gorgeous desert cats)
There are also very large recreational areas with playgrounds and other activities for children.
I believe the Al Ain Zoo is doing the best it can and it's fantastic to see that they truly are striving to become a world-class zoo.
I'd definitely visit this zoo again!
--> UPDATE MAY 2008: Al Ain Zoo is being given a billion dollar facelift to be transformed into Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort, with the help of specialists from San Diego Zoo! Completion due 2013.
JEBEL is the Arabic word for "Mount".
"Jebel Hafeet" mountain proudly rises 1,240 metres (4,068 feet) above Al Ain, providing spectacular views across the UAE / Omani border. It is often incorrectly named as the UAE's highest mountain because it's so well-known, but this honour actually belongs to Jabal Yibir.
A modern 3-lane highway snakes up the mountain and has been dubbed as "one of the best driving roads in the world" stretching over 15 kilometres with 60 fantastic curves & twists. (if Jeremy Clarkson of BBC's Top Gear liked this road, it's gotta be good!) Many car manufacturers love testing their newest models here (Mercedes, Mini Cooper, etc.)
The road scales the mountain and ends at a parking lot with a viewing platform, a hotel and a ruling family's palace.
And when you're done with driving...
TIP 1) Al Ain is known as the Garden City of the UAE and has many public parks. Located at the foot of Jebel Hafeet, the Green Mubazzarah Garden provides recreational activities such as sand skiing, abseiling, rope climbing, camping and hiking on special trails. There are also bowling, snooker and billiard centres. Free sheds with benches & barbeque stands are provided.
2) Situated around a lake created by underground springs at the foot of Jebel Hafeet Mountain and surrounded by jagged cliffs, the Ain Al Faydah picnic resort offers everything from ten-pin bowling to swimming pools. Especially on the weekends (Fridays) you'll see local families enjoying this spot with their children.
Besides enjoying a boat ride on the lake, you can spread a blanket and sit in the beautifully manicured gardens or pitch a ball in the playground.
My fiance loves planes, so when I heard about the Al Ain Aerobatics show we decided to "make a day of it" and headed south to this green little emirate. After visiting the zoo in the morning (see my separate tip) we arrive at the Al Ain International airport and were really pleased with the friendly staff and good organisation & layout of the event.
The Air Show lasts for 4 days and is an annual event. More than 110 aircraft, including vintage and fighter jets and solo and team pilots participated from 40 different countries in the show that entertained more than 130,000 visitors in the oasis city.
The flying displays were well explained by a commentator on loud-speaker, and the acrobatic flying manoeuvres and judging is recognized as an international competitive event.
After the competition, the acrobats and daredevil wing-walkers took to the air.
Outside the display arena, numerous stands by the military, car racing clubs and also heritage organisations were very interested. John was thrilled to be able to hold a gorgeous Pakistani falcon at one of the heritage stands. (You can see more photos in my separate travelogue.)
There were also plenty of food & beverage facilities as well as large play areas for children.
If you're in the United Arab Emirates during the month of February and have an interest in aircrafts, I would definitely recommend visiting Al Ain. We really enjoyed our time here, and 40 Dirhams entrance fee (per adult) is truly a bargain for such a great day's activities!
The friend I was staying with had sent me to the zoo in a taxi to keep me occupied while she was out at work but arriving there and finding it closed with some other people (one of whom turned out to be a colleague of my friend, taking a day off!) stranded there, the taxi driver decided we should all go up Jebel Hafit in his taxi, informing us that it was the highest mountain in Abu Dhabi, rising to over 1200 m above sea level. I?ve since heard it?s the only one but can?t decide if that makes it less or more spectacular!
He stopped when we reached the foot of the mountain and pointed out what looked like a swimming pool, telling us we should go and dip our feet as the water is very good for your health. He also told me the water was very cold. The others weren?t keen but I thought I?d try it and stepped in, up to my knees at the edge. It was boiling hot! Well, certainly hot enough to make my legs immediately turn red anyway. I leapt out and the driver looked quite amused and said he?d confused the words hot and cold, as English was his second language. I?m not sure if I believed him though! He also mentioned that there was a separate screened off pool for ladies to bathe in unobserved.
We continued up a zig-zag road, we were told was built by the President (I imagine his contribution was financial rather than practical.) On the way, there were several spots for car parking and at the top a larger parking area, where several groups were having picnics. We stopped here and took pictures of the view but, as the day was quite breezy, there was too much sand blowing about for us to see all the way to the horizon.
I understand there are also circular graves dating from 3000 BC along the eastern slope of Jebel Hafit and a maze of caves known as Magharet Qasir Hafeet but I haven?t visited either of these.
Driving past the mountain at night, you can see the shape of the winding road, as its full length is lit by street lamps, which look like they are floating in the air!
This fort was built in 1889 by Sh. Zayad ben Khalifa. It is one of the bigger forts and it has some what a unique design.
One of its corners has a 4 towers encircling each other. on the other corner there is a smaller for within the fort. When I got to the fort there was not even a security guard and I had the place for my self. I don’t think there is an admission fee
Opening hours: Sun – Thurs : 9am – 7.30pm
Fri : 3pm – 7.30pm
Sat : Closed
The Sultan Fort is located next to the Al Ain National Museum (in fact within the same walled compound). There are some photos of old Abu Dhabi and Al Ain on display. The compound of the fort is probably pretty much the same as it had looked like in the past.
Smack in the middle of town is the huge expanse of green palm trees, which is the reason for Al Ain coming into being. The Al Ain oasis is a huge ‘park’ through which you can take a stroll or even drive through! It is amazing how in the middle of the desert, an oasis could spring up and bring so much life and hope to a place. If you take a closer look you would also find some water channels with cloth barricades. These are part of the ancient Falaj irrigation system which is still in use today. Apparently each date farm is watered for a fixed amount of time before its channel is dammed by sacking, stones or cloth and the water diverted to another part of the farm.
Jebel Hafeet is one the highest mountains in UAE, standing about 1340 meters high above sea level. Breathtaking view to the surrounding areas like deserts, wadis (dried river path), and Al Ain city when the day is clear (no dust/fog).
There's an excellent 13 km winding road to go to the top where there is very spacious area for car park and a restaurant/cafetaria. You can have picnic there as well if you will.
Note: commonly mistaken by people, Jebel Hafeet is not the highest peak in UAE, although it is the highest that reachable by car. The highest peak is Jabal Yibir at 1527 meters above sea level, located in Northern UAE near Oman border. (Thanks to JessH for correction)
Opening hours: Sun – Thurs : 9am – 7.30pm
Fri : 3pm – 7.30pm
Sat : Closed
The museum is divided into two main sections – ethnography and arcaheology. The ethnography section recreates the old traditional Bedouin lifestyle, depicting costumes, jewellery, household items, tools, weapons and traditional music. The archaeology section tells the story of ancient UAE with exhibits of pottery and other ancient artefacts. There is also a small section dedicated to the discovery of oil in this region as well as a gifts section which exhibits some of the gifts given to the Ruler of Abu Dhabi by foreign dignitaries.
Jabel Hafeet is an excellent place in Al Ain (150 Km from Abu Dhabi) to chill out and relax. There is a steeep 13 km drive up this mountain (jabel in arabic). On top there is a huge parking space where you can relax with cool breeze and enjoy UAE on one side and Oman on another side.
It is a park where families can spend some time. It also contains the remains of a a settelment dating back to 3000 BC. The remains include graves, Houses and a Falij.
The Falij is a water way that is dug underground wich channels water channeld to reach to farms. Parts of the Falij will be usually above the grounf. This is the oldest know falij in the world
Jebel Hafeet is the tallest peak in the UAE at 1340 metres. This rocky mountain overlooks the deserts around Al Ain. Nice place to spend time to marvel at the beauty of Arabia. There is also a cafeteria at the peak where you can grab a bite or a hot coffee when the weather becomes cold at night.
The only way to go up the peak is either by taxi or to drive up yourself. It is a 15-km journey on a winding road but it is well-worth the journey. Along the way there are also some parking areas where you can stop by and enjoy the scenic view.
This is the palace of the ruling Al-Nahyan family which is now open to the public. The compound is beautiful and you get to have a glimpse of royal family life before the discovery of oil. You’ll get to see the private residences, majlis room, coffee room and even the royal kitchen! A nice place to reminisce on the good old days with their simple lifestyle. Even if you are not interested in heritage, the compound is a nice place to take pictures in memory of Arabia.
Opening Hours: 9AM – 8PM (Daily)
This is the largest zoo in UAE. The landscape is desert-themed. Here you can get to see many rare Arabian animals like the oryx and gazelle as well as other species like lions, crocodiles, monkeys, giraffes etc. In fact the zoo has the largest collection of indigenous animals of the gulf such as as the gemsboks, Barbary sheep and even Nubian ibexes. It was surprisingly a very well-maintained zoo and is definitely worth the visit.
This is supposedly the site of the Hilli tombs – an archaeological discovery site. But overall, the sights are not very interesting (except maybe to hardcore archaeologist). It is more of a family playground – a place for you to bring your children in the evenings to enjoy the swings or seesaws. The amenities are quite rundown. And when I visited, summer has just ended so there were no beautiful flowers to cheer up the place. Not really worth the visit.