Have you dreamt of escaping to a desert island? Imagine gently lapping waves lulling you to sleep, or watching gazelles frolic as you sip cocktails by the pool. You can do this off the coast of Abu Dhabi, on one of the 200 islands in the Arabian Gulf. Welcome to Sir Bani Yas Island.
The island is named for the Bani Yas tribe, the first inhabitants of Abu Dhabi. Evidence of habitation as far back as 600AD can be found in what’s left of a Nestorian Christian Monastery, one of 42 archaeological sites discovered on the island.
In 1971, the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, began his Greening of the Desert program with the purpose of protecting indigenous wildlife from extinction. 13,000 animals, with some introduced species, roam 4100 hectares of wildlife sanctuary freely.
You can explore the island in a variety of ways. Anantara Hotels Resorts and Spas offer guided 4-wheel-drive adventures to observe the wildlife. In the cooler months, spot giraffes on the eastern side of the island on a guided walk.
A self-guided 5km walk around the mangrove lagoon introduces you to a flamboyance of flamingoes, a wonderful sight. At Sir Bani Yas stables, gazelles and peacocks graze with the horses. On horseback tours, both terrain and horse are tailored to individual rider’s experience. From 4 legs to 2 wheels, mountain bike tours follow the same theory; experience levels determine the tour.
Learn of the last monks who abandoned the Christian monastery in 750AD, as a result of the spread of Islam. Island inhabitants utilised this prominent position on the trade route from Mesopotamia through the gulf to south-eastern Arabia for their lucrative pearling industry.
Out in the gulf, take a packed picnic for a full day of deep sea fishing or, at high tide, paddle a kayak on waterways through mangroves experiencing wildlife from the water.
There’s underwater wildlife too. Grab goggles and snorkel and explore the hidden reefs. If you’re not feeling energetic then let Anantara Spa‘s therapists pamper you with treatments inspired by local culture and desert traditions.
#Eat & Drink:
To satisfy hunger and thirst, The Palm provides a buffet and a-la-carte breakfast menu available from 7 am to 1 pm (yes, until 1 pm!) and transforms into a theme night dinner venue. Al Shams (meaning the sun) is pool bar by day and casual dining by night. Amwaj, in its seaside location, offers freshly caught local seafood and a beach bonfire in the cooler months. African delicacies are offered at Savannah Grill and Lounge and a South African Braai (BBQ) outdoors at Al Sahel Villas has a “boma” or fire pit for post-dining relaxation. Special occasions are customised by a private chef and butler at Dining by Design.
Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas have 3 properties on the island. Desert Islands Resort and Spa has most of the island’s amenities. Al Yamm Villa Resort boasts private villas right on the beach and Al Sahel Resort’s traditional thatched roofed villas will have you spotting wildlife from your front porch. Each accommodation offers something different but all maintain the high standard of Anantara Resorts.
Sir Bani Yas Island is a 3.5-hour drive from Dubai and 2.5 hours from Abu Dhabi. Your car can be left safely undercover at Anantara Jetty before taking the 25-minute boat ride to the island. Rotana Jet will fly you there in around 60 minutes from Dubai or Abu Dhabi and if you have your own vessel Royal Bay Jetty has 10 moorings available for boats up to 50m.
It’s unlikely you’ll need Gilligan, the Skipper or the Professor to get you off this island, but you may meet a movie star, a millionaire or Mary-Anne. Being marooned on Sir Bani Yas Island: it’s a thing we love….
Have you been to Sir Bani Yas Island? Or any of the 200 islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi? We’d love to find out more in the comments below.