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The Emirate of Ajman - Pros and Cons


Page update - Sep 23, 2022

Ajman is the smallest emirate in the UAE with an area of only 100 square miles (259 square kilometers). For comparison, New York city is 3 times larger and London is 6 times larger than Ajman emirate.

However, the population of Ajman ranks 4th among the seven emirates of the UAE, ahead of Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, and Umm Al-Quwain. A total of 536,000 people live in the emireate (2021 data, estimated figure). Of these, only 42,186 (7.9% of the total) are Arabs themselves - citizens of the country. The rest of the residents are guest workers from Iran, Pakistan, India, and other countries.

The location and general information

The Emirate of Ajman consists of a central area on the Persian Gulf and two outlying areas (exclaves) Masfout and Manama. Almost all of the main area is occupied by the city of Al Ajman and the suburb of Al Hamidiyah, with warehouses, manufacturing facilities, and wasteland in the suburbs.

Al Ajman city itself is part of the Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman urban agglomeration. It is a large metropolis, where the borders of the emirates run inside the city limits. Ajman is bordered by Sharjah from all sides.

But thanks to its exclaves Masfout and Manama, Ajman officially shares a border with Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, and the State of Oman. These two remote areas are interesting in their own way, and they should be described in more details.

Manama and Masfout exclaves

Manama is a small town 37 miles (60 kilometers) directly and 43.5 miles (70 kilometers) on the highway east of the main territory of the Emirate of Ajman. The area of Manama does not exceed 3 square miles (10 square kilometers). However, the Ajman authorities have built an international airport there.

Recall that there is no airport in the main territory of Ajman, and it is impossible to build in this place as the air traffic over the Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman area is too dense. The emirate government has gracefully got out of the situation, they have built the airport in Manama within an hour by car from the city. However, most visitors to Ajman prefer to use Sharjah Airport (SHJ), which is located on the very border between the two emirates.

Manama and Masfout (pictured near, click on the photo to enlarge) are considered agricultural areas, but only by Arab standards. Europeans associate the word "agricultural" with cereal fields and fruit orchards, but there is nothing like that in either Manama or Masfout. Date palms grow there, and that's enough for the Arabs. Dates are the main fruit of their culture and national Emirati cuisine, read about it in our review "Dates in UAE".

The exclave of Masfout is larger than Manama, about 19.3 square miles (50 square kilometers). It is located 80 miles (130 kilometers) from the main area to the southeast. It has more greenery and claims more to be "agricultural" - palm trees are common there, but you will not see any blooming gardens either. Dates and some particularly heat-loving fruits are the main products supplied by the farmers of Masfout.

Now, many readers will ask, "Why do we talk about Manama and Masfout in such detail?"

The fact is that many travel agencies offer excursions to these exclaves. Think about it, is it worth spending time and money on the trip?



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Tourism in Ajman

The government of Ajman dreams of large flows of foreign tourists. In order to realize their dream, they constantly create programs to attract tourists, hoteliers and other representatives of the tourism business. No such program has yet caused a real boom, but Arab officials are not discouraged and do not stop. There are now only about 30 hotels, most of them on the coast.

Ajman's first attractive thing for tourists is its 10 miles (16 kilometers) of clean and beautiful beach with soft sand (pictured near, click on the photo to enlarge). But playing "with only one trump card" against Abu Dhabi with the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and Ferrari Park or against Dubai with the Burj Khalifa or Dubai Fountain is difficult. No wonder Ajman does not experience a large stream of tourists.

The authorities do not give up trying to attract tourists, and find very original (by Arab standards) tricks. For example, they used to sell alcohol to everyone without asking for a license. There is even a famous liquor store called "Hole In The Wall". At first it was next to the Kempinski Hotel, then it moved to the Beach Hotel.

On November 8, 2020, amendments to the laws went into effect that abolished the license system. Before, they sold alcohol to everyone, but illegally - they didn't ask for a license. Now they sell to everyone, but legally - no need to ask for a license anymore.

Of course being drunk in a public place or publicly drinking alcohol in Ajman is not allowed. You can read the details in our reviews "Alcohol in the UAE" and "Laws in the UAE".

The second attractive feature that the Ajman authorities are trying to develop is shopping. The construction of shopping malls is in full swing. The largest mall in the emirate is Ajman City Centre, which is not as big as Dubai Mall, but is quite pleasant for visitors and often guarantees lower prices.

Other shopping malls in Ajman are Hamdan, China Mall, Grand Centrale, The Factory Mart, Safeer Ajman (pictured near, click on the photo to enlarge) and Ajman Industrial Area. Several other large malls are under construction. Another interesting place for tourists is the local fish market where you can see the variety of marine fauna of the Persian Gulf and try many interesting dishes in the local restaurants.

Ajman officials like to make another argument in favor of their emirate - the proximity to Sharjah and Dubai and their famous attractions. Frankly, this is highly questionable.

For example, on vacation in Ajman you wanted to visit an oceanarium. There is no oceanarium in the emirate and it is not expected. It is easier to ride to the Dubai Mall Oceanarium, and at the same time to see the store Candylicious. Excellent entertainment program!

The distance in this case is more than 25 miles (40 kilometers). The Dubai Metro does not apply to the Ajman area, you will have to take a cab. As a reminder, a cab in the UAE costs 5 UAE dirhams for boarding, 1.7 dirhams per kilometer and 20 dirhams for a trip to another emirate. Total: about 95 dirhams one way, that's about USD 25 at the September 2022 exchange rate. This proximity turns out to be not cheap.

Read our detailed review "How to get from Ajman to Dubai and back". Check the current exchange rates of dirham in our review "Money in the UAE".

Sightseeings and entertainment in Ajman are not too numerous and do not attract tourists much. All these factors lead to the low popularity of the emirate. However, if all you need is the sea and the sun, Ajman is a great choice.



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Climate and weather

The climate in Ajman does not differ from other emirates. Read our detailed review "Weather in the UAE".

Economy, Politics, Transport

The main economic and political feature of the Emirate of Ajman is that there is no oil there. Accordingly, no grand man-made wonders have been built there, and the authorities are trying to find alternative sources of income and economic development.

Previously, the only sources of income in the region were trade and pearls, which were obtained in the waters of the Persian Gulf. This was true not only in Ajman, but in all the emirates of the modern UAE. This fact is reflected in the famous composition "pearl divers" - an artificial waterfall in the Dubai Mall.

Life in the emirate was built around the coast and the boats of pearl divers and fishermen. These traditional boats are called dhows and are still used by local fishermen. They sell their catch at Ajman's famous fish market, as they used to. Pearls are still being obtained (on the photo near, click on the photo to enlarge), but pearls do not bring the United Arab Emirates any significant income.

In the old days of UAE history, the Emirate of Ajman was the local center of shipbuilding, and nothing has changed these days. 15% of the emirate's GDP comes from shipbuilding, 37% of the GDP comes from the manufacturing sector, most of which works for the shipbuilding industry.

In 1988, Ajman Free Zone was founded - a free trade zone. Thanks to this zone, hundreds of shipbuilding, transport and other companies are registered in Ajman. The headquarters and shipyards of Arab Heavy Industries, a very large shipbuilding corporation, are located there. Ajman is home to 20% of the UAE's heavy industry.

15% of all companies registered in the UAE (that's 1,500 companies) are located there, although Ajman occupies only 0.3% of the country. The Emirate's port serves more than 1,000 ships a year.

The second important source of income and growth of the emirate's economy is the building industry and real estate trade. In 2004, the Emirate authorities made a great decision, they allowed full ownership of real estate for foreign nationals, which was not allowed in other emirates at the time. Of course, not all land and real estate in Ajman can be bought by foreigners, the list of plots of land and properties is formed by a special agency ARERA (Ajman Real Estate Regulatory Agency).

After this decision, the real estate prices went up sharply and the Ajman construction boom began. Investment in the construction sector now exceeds 20 billion US dollars, and the budget of the Emirate of Ajman is about 5 billion. ARERA is simply "flooded" with applications for permits to build new real estate.

Despite the development of construction and shipbuilding, the economy of the emirate is not strong enough to build any man-made important attractions, there are only two historical attractions, and there are several natural ones. Let's talk about them in detail.



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Attractions of Ajman

Ajman Fort and Museum

The fort (pictured right, click on the photo to enlarge) was built in the 18th century and was the residence of the Emir. In 1820, the British almost completely destroyed it by bombardment from ships, but soon the fort was rebuilt. In 1967, the Emir moved to a new residence and the fort became home to Ajman's main police station. In 1981, the police moved out and a museum was established in the fort.

The fort itself does not make any grand impression, but it is interesting to see. The museum has a collection of archaeological finds, weapons and documents. The most interesting thing inside is a composition of wax figures, showing the traditional life of the Arabs.

Opening hours: from 8 am to 8 pm (8-00 to 20-00), Friday from 2-30 pm to 8 pm (14-30 to 20-00). Museum tickets cost 5 UAE dirhams. Tour time - no more than one hour. The best way to get to the museum is by cab.

Read our detailed review "Ajman museum and fort".

Shopping Malls

There are three large shopping malls in Ajman. The first one is called Safeer Mall and it is the most mysterious one. The company Safeer Group, the owner of this mall, doesn't even have the website for the mall.

The second - China Mall, as its name suggests, belongs to the Chinese, or rather the Chinese diaspora in the UAE. The interior resembles not a classic shopping mall, but an indoor market with hundreds of small stores and eateries. It looks quite civilized.

And the third one is called City Center (on the photo on the left, click on the photo to enlarge) - it is the biggest classic mall in Ajman with big stores, food courts and restaurants. There are KFC and McDonalds, H&M and Ecco stores, and a Carrefour hypermarket.

Of these, we recommend City Center to tourists because it has a good website where you can see a list of stores and a map of the building and plan your trip.

Read our detailed review "City Centre Ajman".

Camel Race Track

The main camel race track in Ajman is located near Sharjah Airport. It is called Al Tallah Camel Racecourse. These races are not official events and there is no schedule. So it is a matter of luck to see the camel races. The racing season runs from October to March, during which time the races are held on Fridays or Sundays. Any tourist can come to the track for free and watch the races, if they are held at that time.

In the winter, there is a big camel festival in Ajman. The date changes every year, but it is usually held in February. The festival lasts for three days and is attended by dignitaries from the UAE government.

Arab culture is inextricably linked with camels and it is not without reason that camel milk is considered one of the most colourful and interesting gifts from the UAE. For prices and other details read our reviews "Camel milk in the UAE" and "Gifts from the UAE". Camels are loved, and even the riders on their backs have been replaced by remote control dummies, so you will not see people on the backs of "ships of the desert" during the races.

Other attractions in Ajman

Tourists may also be interested in the fish market, where you can see all the variety and splendor of marine fauna of the Persian Gulf. Read our detailed review "Ajman Fish Market".

Another interesting place is the current residence of the Emir, which you can't get inside, but you can see the beautiful lighting in the evening. Now the Emirate of Ajman is ruled by Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi. Read about him in our review "Sheikhs of the Arab Emirates".

The exclave of Masfout has mineral springs, and the exclave of Manama has its own museum. If you're going to the exclaves on a tour, it's a nice addition. If you're not going to the exclaves, don't worry - you won't lose much.

The Square Tower and the Red Fort are structures of the early 20th century. They are interesting in their own way, but we think it is a waste of time to go there especially. It is easier to see them during the sightseeing tour of Ajman.

Good to know

- Ajman has very low prices for vacation in hotels with their own beach. There are 6 such hotels. Read more in our review "Hotels in the UAE with private beach";

- There are no sharks detected near Ajman's beaches. However, there have been shark attacks in other emirates, as we have mentioned in our review "Shark attacks in the UAE".

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