Cut off from the mainland of the Arabian peninsula by coastal erosion for the past few thousand years, Sir Bani Yas is a true desert island. Surrounded by the sparkling clear blue water of the Arabian Gulf where dolphins frolic and turtles still breed on the beaches fringed with mangrove, this 87 square kilometres of surprisingly fertile desert is now a haven both for wildlife and luxury seeking vacationers alike. Taking its name from the Bani Yas tribe of Arabs who have inhabited these parts for hundreds of years, it had a private life as the retreat of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding president of the United Arab Emirates, until his death in 2004.
The much revered Sheikh Zayed was a lover of wildlife and immediately after the founding of The UAE in 1971 he created here a wildlife reserve to preserve the endangered species of the Arabian peninsula. Gifts of diverse species from visiting foreign heads of state followed and so the island now plays host to a curious mix of animal and birdlife. A safari tour here is likely to be rewarded with a glimpse of cheetahs sleeping off last night’s kill in the shade of the Ghaf tree, an encounter with a curious giraffe, spotted deer from India (the favourite meal of the cheetahs) and of course one of the largest herds of Arabian oryx in the world. The mountain gazelle get everywhere, including on the beach and by the pool and the air is constantly filled with the cooing of collared doves. In fact, the variety of birdlife is extraordinary and one of the biggest surprises.
Getting To Sir Bani Yas Desert Island in Abu Dhabi: After a journey of less than three hours by car from Abu Dhabi city to the private jetty at Jebel Dhana, a complimentary boat ride affords superb views of the island which is full of surprises including the remains of one of the oldest Christian monasteries outside Europe as well as the foundations of one of the oldest Mosques. It is also a site of great significance in Arab history. There is a Majlis on the central mountain in which some of the most crucial meetings were held, between Arab heads of state which hammered out the UAE constitution.
All of this exceptional beauty can now be enjoyed alongside all the luxuries provided by the Anantara Desert islands Resort and Spa. There are three parts to the resort. The most conventional hotel accommodation is adjacent to the spa and a small convention centre on one side of the island, with the more exclusive Al Yamm and Al Suhel villa resorts on opposite sides at a discreet distance. Al Yamm has just 30 luxury beachside villas. The villas are designed to blend into their surroundings and are very Arabian in style but supply everything you would expect from a 5 star resort. We’ll be publishing a full review of Al Yamm shortly.
There is so much to do on Sir Bani Yas including snorkelling, paddle boarding, kayaking in the mangrove, a safari through the extraordinary wildlife reserve and of course a wonderful spa. Add in a great range of dining options and you have the perfect vacation hideaway.
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