The first phase of the Maliha tourism project will see the opening of the Maliha Archaeological Centre, which is designed to allow visitors to gain a deeper insight about Maliha’s landmarks. Image Credit: Shurooq

Sharjah: A first-of-its-kind eco-tourism and archaeological attraction in the UAE, featuring tours of ancient sites and safari-type excursions, will open to visitors in Sharjah’s Maliha area on Thursday.

The Maliha tourism project will be officially inaugurated on Wednesday by His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah.

Ancient signs of civilisation, including findings that date back more than a million years, have been unearthed in Maliha, famous for its treasure trove of archaeological sites. Maliha is located 50km east of Sharjah city.

During Wednesday’s inauguration of the tourism project, an announcement will also be made about a new discovery that will radically change our understanding of the UAE’s and region’s ancient history.

Speaking at press conference on Sunday to reveal the project’s details, officials described Maliha’s significance as “due to its natural beauty, diversity of rare wildlife and its archaeological discoveries” has seen it nominated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Tour prices and costs of other leisure packages were not immediately available on Sunday but details will be made available soon.

The Maliha tourist destination, one of the most important archaeological sites in the UAE, has been created in the vicinity of various ruins and burial sites that date back to ancient times. Officials said great care has been taken to ensure the sites safety.

The first phase will see the opening of the Maliha Archaeological Centre, designed to allow visitors to gain a deeper insight about Maliha’s landmarks. The centre will have archaeological finds on display with historical facts about the region, a cafe and lounges. The centre will be a starting point for people visiting the Maliha project, which will offer guided tours of the Umm An Nar Tomb, the Valley of the Caves, Maliha Fort, a historic horse and camel graveyard, an ancient farmhouse with kitchen, and the pre-Islamic Maliha Palace.

There will also be offer various sporting activities with dune buggies, quad biking and paragliding in Maliha area. Visitors will also be taken on tours around the site, including the Fossil Rock and Camel Rock tour. Visitors will have the opportunity to camp out and undertake off-road activities in 4x4 cars.

Moreover, Maliha offers rare plant and wildlife, which visitors can expect to encounter on guided tours.

The Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) is developing the project in partnership with a number of Sharjah government agencies.

Speaking at Sunday’s press conference, Shurooq Chairperson Shaikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi said she was “particularly delighted because I know that this project will add value to Sharjah and the UAE generally. 20 years ago I wrote my theses in anthropology and archaeology. During that time Dr Sabah Jassim was supervising my thesis and he is among us today to present details of Maliha as the Director of the Sharjah Directorate of Antiquities.”

Shurooq CEO Marwan Al Sarkal added that the project’s phase two will involve the construction of Maliha National Desert Park over an area of 450 square kilometres. The park will serve as a wildlife reserve that will see the release of a range of animals such as the oryx, gazelles and the mountain deer, in collaboration with the Sharjah Environment and Protected Areas Authority.

Shurooq allocated three areas within the project to be designated for resorts and bed-and-breakfast style hotels.

Phase two will also see the establishment of an astronomy observatory in cooperation with the Sharjah Centre for Astronomy and Space Sciences.