You don’t have to venture far to satisfy your wanderlust. This desert island experience on your doorstep is the perfect staycation for nature fans and adventure seekers alike
From seeing giraffes roam free across the Arabian Wildlife Park to taking a dip in your private plunge pool as gazelles skip past, and feasting on delicious barbecue food by the light of the fire – a trip to Sir Bani Yas Island is on the wish list for many of us in the region.
A jewel of the Arabian Gulf and the living legacy of the late Sheikh Zayed, Sir Bani Yas Island draws adventure seekers from around the globe to experience its unique blend of desert and nature. Just a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi, or a three-hour drive from Dubai, this stunning island provides a coveted chance to discover the diverse flora and fauna of the UAE, thanks to a variety of conservation projects inspired by the rich cultural history that its founder held close to his heart. Guests can choose from three luxurious resorts: the family-oriented Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, the tranquil beach getaway that is Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort, and the Arabian adventure inspired Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort. Stays have been designed with local sensibilities in mind, with private planes available for charter, ladies-only beaches and tailored activities upon request. Plus, there are experienced guides on hand to steer visitors of all ages on a journey into nature – and therein lies the island’s biggest charm.
Set within an unspoiled reserve amid the glistening Arabian Gulf, Sir Bani Yas Island was established in 1971 and has a rich cultural history that dates to the Bronze Age (4000 BCE). Today, it is a haven for over 16,000 animals, with numerous animal protection programmes in place to care for endangered species, such as the Arabian oryx and Arabian tahr – something that’s best discovered while on a nature and wildlife drive. One of the most popular ways to discover the island, let your guide take you for a spin in a four-wheel drive for an up close view of free-roaming wildlife including giraffe.
There are about three million trees native to the island, including ghaf (the national tree of the UAE), palm trees, mangroves, miswak and cedar. Plus, there are special areas for vegetation including date palm trees, tamarind and olive trees, all of which hold a special place in Arab culture as a principle food source for the Bani Yas tribe.
Activities abound, with kayaking through the mangroves, snorkelling and paddleboarding, as well as challenging mountain bike routes through the ever-changing landscape. It’s a far cry from the usual beach, pool, spa combo, although that’s all there to enjoy as well, albeit with a wild twist.
Dining also comes to the fore, with everything from the traditional African Boma experience under the stars at Al Sahel Villa Resort (it’s reminiscent of the traditional circular enclosures set up by African tribes as meeting places for tribal elders) to Mediterranean fare teamed with panoramic sea views at Olio at Al Yamm Villa Resort among the top choices to tempt you for a memorable meal.