Friends and family will look at your pictures and think you’ve flown to New Zealand or Norway overnight. But this gorgeous mountain retreat is right here in the UAE. You might have even passed it on your way to the Omani border for a visa run, but have you explored the beautiful town of Hatta? That’s exactly what I decided to do, over the UAE national day weekend. And what I discovered is too good not to share.
Hatta is a gorgeous mountain retreat; a small exclave, part of the Emirate of Dubai, about 105 km from Dubai (an hour and 30 minutes’ drive), perfect for a day trip or for a long weekend. It is surrounded by Oman on three sides and the Emirate of Sharjah on the fourth side. Its geography lends for spectacular vistas as it is framed by the beautiful Hajjar Mountains that stand tall and imposing and lend this place a similar other worldly feel that makes you feel like you’re standing in “Middle Earth”.
Here is what you need to know:
How to Get There:
There are two ways to get to Hatta; through Oman (which most expats use during a visa run), and through the UAE. Choose the second option and drive through the UAE to get to Hatta without the hassle of waiting in queues at border control and having to take your passport along.
The best route is actually not the E44 towards Hatta (which takes you through Oman), but instead taking the S116 towards Fujairah, also known as Maleha Road. Driving on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road towards Sharjah, it is the second exit, after the E44 exit towards Hatta. Once on the S116, follow the road well into the mountains until you reach a junction with clear sign posting towards Hatta. You can enjoy breath taking scenery of the Hatta desert as you drive along red sand dunes on each side. As you approach Hatta, the scenery changes as the Hajjar Mountain range starts and the desert gives way to spectacular craggy cliffs.
(Travel tip: although the topography of the region is mountainous you don’t necessarily need a 4×4 to get to Hatta. The road is very good and easily done in a Sedan as well.)
What Not to Miss:
- Hatta Fort Dam:
Head straight to the Hatta Fort Dam first, it is clearly signposted from the Hatta Center. There is plenty of parking, both at the foot of the incline and at the top, although it is easier to park below and then climb the stairs to get to the top, to enjoy the views.
Once at the top, pause to take in this absolutely incredible sight: standing on top of the dam, you will not simply see a water reservoir, but rather a pristine turquoise mountain lake, surrounded by the jutting, craggy peaks of the Hajjar Mountains .In fact, the view is the perfect backdrop to a picnic on one of the tables and chairs, coupled with umbrellas, that are lined up along the dam’s walkway.
- Hatta Fort Hotel:
When you are ready for lunch or an afternoon snack, it is time to explore the Hatta Fort Hotel. Located conveniently next to the town’s main roundabout, with a Hollywood-esque sign perched on top of the hill next to the entrance, the hotel grounds are spread over the beautiful and serene Hatta Fort Hill Park, with rolling meadows and shady palm groves sloping up towards the terrace-style cluster of hotel buildings.
Enjoy lunch at the café overlooking the pool, followed by a digestive stroll through the gardens, and ending with a hike up to the viewing spot on top of Hatta Fort Hill, offering sweeping views of the town on one side and the hotel and park on the other, with the ever-present Hajjar Mountains towering above.
- Hatta Heritage Village:
Finish your day with a journey back in time by paying a visit to the Heritage Village, also clearly signposted from the main roundabout. The cluster of traditional houses, fortress, watch towers and mosque gives a vivid impression of ancient rural mountain life in Arabia, and invite you to browse the handicraft shops, museum, and archaeological site. On Fridays, it is also the site of a fruit and handicraft market.
The village is an authentic recreation of old Hatta, using the same building techniques of old (such as mud and palm tree trunks), and it offers yet another picturesque setting in the foothills of the Hajjar Mountains. Admission is free of charge.
The desert is truly full of surprises. Hatta is a beautiful mountain retreat, not to be missed. A true paradise, right at our doorstep.
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About the Author: Mariam Ottimofiore is a Pakistani expat, who has spent the past 15 years living abroad in 7 countries and 3 continents. She is the founder and writer of the blog ‘And Then We Moved To’ where she writes about life on the expat trail, raising her multicultural/ multilingual kids and traveling all around the world. She is a regular blogger for Expat Connect and currently lives in Dubai with her family.