Sir Bani Yas Island is a nature-based destination alive with wildlife and adventure activities. Sir Bani Yas was originally home to Arabia’s largest wildlife reserve. Spanning over 87 km2(34 sq mi), the reserve was established in 1977 by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. In 1971 Sheikh Zayed became the first president of the United Arab Emirates and chose this island as a retreat. Sheikh Zayed passed a law prohibiting hunting on the island and started developing it as a wildlife preserve in his “Greening of the Desert” program. The “Greening of the Desert” was designed to help make the deserts more suitable for human settlement and provide a haven for many of Arabia’s endangered wildlife species. Once the reserve was established, Sheikh Zayed wanted to share the results with the world; hence, it was opened to weekend tourists. These tours soon became so popular that visits would often have to be booked over one year in advance.
Located 240km from Abu Dhabi City and just 8 kilometers off the Abu Dhabi Emirate’s Western coastline, the island beckons with a mystique that is worlds away from the hustle and bustle of modern urban life.
Sir Bani Yas showcases nature through activities such as adventure safaris, kayaking, mountain biking, archery, hiking, and snorkeling.
More than half the island is made up of the Arabian Wildlife Park. Framed by the Arabian Sea, an 8km radius around the island has been declared a no-fishing zone, providing sanctuary to the local marine life, too. It is now the region’s largest wildlife reserve. Thanks to decades of conservation work and ecological investment, Sir Bani Yas is home to thousands of large free-roaming animals, including the world’s largest herd of endangered antelope, the Arabian Oryx, northern cheetah, golden jackal, gazelles, giraffes, hyenas, cheetahs, deer and gazelles, mammals, mountain sheep, and 200+ bird and bat species, over 500 peacocks, and more.
The island is also home to UAE’s only Christian monastery. The monastery can be visited during a Desert Islands Resort & Spa Culture Tour. Believed to have been built around 600 AD, and abandoned in 750 AD, the monastery was initially discovered during excavations in 1992.
Are you interested yet in visiting Sir Bani Yas Island? Find out how to get there, what activities to do, which hotels to stay and where to dine out…
Getting to Sir Bani Yas Island
Sir Bani Yas Island is located 250 km southwest of Abu Dhabi and 370 km southwest of Dubai. The Island can be reached by car, and then a 25-minute boat ride. The ferry is free of charge courtesy of the Anantara Resort from the Jebel Dhanna on the mainland.
Driving directions: Follow the E11 highway directly from Abu Dhabi or Dubai in the direction of Tarif, Mirfa and Saudi Arabia. Continue on, passing Tarif, Mirfa, Baynoona and Al Ruwais. Take exit 113 marked Sir Bani Yas Island, and at the roundabout take the Sir Bani Yas Island exit. At the next roundabout, take the 2nd exit. Follow the road and at the roundabout, take the exit for Sir Bani Yas Island. At the jetty, park your car in a safe shaded area before boarding the water taxi for a 25-minute journey to Sir Bani Yas Island.
P.S. Abu Dhabi has a hot, arid climate and experiences two distinct seasons of summer and winter. From June through to September, temperatures average 35°C. During this period, you can expect intermittent sandstorms, which can drastically reduce visibility. The highest temperatures recorded during the year are around 46°C in the summer, falling to 20°C during the winter months.
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Sir Bani Yas Island Hotels
Sir Bani Yas Island houses 3 Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas:
We personally stayed at Desert Island’s Resort & Spa, because it was the cheapest option considering the fact that you could visit all the other resorts by riding a bike or taking the shuttle bus provided by the resort.
Hotel Class: 5
Hotel Style: Romantic, Great View
Number of Rooms: 64
With 64 luxuriously appointed rooms, suites, spacious one-bedroom villas and truly luxurious two-bedroom Royal Villas, Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara give you the feels to live out your own Arabian nights in a destination that is anything but ordinary.
Desert Islands Resort & Spa Room Feaures
- 29 Deluxe Sea View Rooms with a gaze of sandy beaches and the turquoise ocean from a private balcony.
- Deluxe Garden Room is a 52 square meters of contemporary Arabic style.
- Premier Sea View Room has views of the Arabian Gulf.
- Anantara Suite offers spacious suites with cool marble floors and hardwood furnishings. Sink beneath the bubbles in your terrazzo tub. Relax in your separate living area, bathed in natural sunlight.
- One Bedroom Anantara Pool Villa is a 120 square meters room that lets you have privacy with spectacular sea views, and a personal plunge pool.
- Two-Bedroom Anantara Pool Villa offers the ultimate in comfort and space, these villas are designed with families in mind. Enjoy direct access to the beach. Relax by your private pool in your tropical garden.
Hotel Class: 5
Hotel Style: Romantic, Great View
Number of Rooms: 30
Observe elegant gazelles and Arabian Oryx as they make their way through the lush savannah. Located on the remote island of Sir Bani Yas, Anantara Al Sahel Villas is an intimate cluster of 30 luxurious villas, inviting you to embark on an authentic wildlife experience.
Al Sahel Villa Resort Room Features
- One-Bedroom Villa lets you admire the wonders of savannah life from the comfort of a private sanctuary.
- One Bedroom Pool Villa lets you retreat to a stylish sanctuary decorated with earth tones and elegant modern amenities and a private outdoor pool.
- Two-Bedroom Anantara Pool Villa offers 150 square meters of indoor space designed to complement the surroundings of the island and lets you observe the indigenous wildlife that roams free around the island.
- One-Bedroom Villa features an outdoor private terrace with a plunge pool and stunning surroundings of the island.
Hotel Class: 5
Hotel Style: Great View, Charming
Number of Rooms: 30
Be charmed by elegantly wading flamingos as they make their way along the shimmering shoreline. Soak up magnificent views across crystal clear waters and fall under the spell of the Middle East’s legendary mystique.
Al Yamm Villa Resort Room Features
- One-Bedroom Villa is 68 square meters of living space and a private villa.
- One Bedroom Pool Villa features a selection of creature comforts for the perfect holiday, the villas offer extra living space with a dining area and a panoramic view over the mangrove lagoon. Refresh with a dip in your own plunge pool and spacious terrace.
- One Bedroom Beach Villa is 68 square meters of space overlooking the beach.
- One Bedroom Beach Pool Villa offers a gaze over the enchanting beach landscape and an outdoor shower on a private terrace. After a day of exploring the island, take a refreshing rain shower and relax on your terrace.
- Two-Bedroom Pool Villa offers delightful views across the Arabian Gulf or mangrove lagoon.
- One-Bedroom Villas features an outdoor terrace with a sun-lounger facing the mangroves
Activites on Sir Bani Yas Island
You can never get bored on Sir Bani Yas Island, as the resorts offer many activities. These activities include
- Nature & Wildlife Drive or Walk
- Culture & History Tour
- Horseback Riding
- Mountain Biking
- Land Sailing
We took the Nature & Safari trip on an open Landcruiser 4×4 at sunset – it was a 1.5 ride that let us see the wildlife that lives on the island. Nature & Safari trip costs 350aed/person ($95USD) The hotel operates the tour 4-5 times a day. I would suggest going at sunset as the animals roam around out from the shade, as the temperature drops.
Dining at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island
Amwaj (Seafood) $$ is located at the Desert Islands Resort & Spa offers a lavish seafood menu showcasing fresh local fish.
The Palm (Everyday Dining) $$ is located at the Desert Islands Resort & Spa offers everyday International & Middle Eastern cuisine continental breakfast and dinner.
Al-Shams (Middle Eastern) $$ is located at the Desert Islands Resort & Spa by the poolside and offers everyday snacks from pizza to hamburgers and by night offers Arabic and international dishes with a romantic ambiance of “Arabian Nights.”
Olio (Italian, Mediterranean) $$ is located at the Al Yamm Villa Resort and offers Italian-inspired cuisine with Mediterranean flavors.
Savannah Grill (African, Grill) $$$$ is located at the Al Sahel Villa Resort and offers African cuisine featuring steaks and western favorites dishes. The restaurant is set in a rustic setting surrounded by the grasslands of the island’s reserve.
Dining by Design offers a private dining experience set on the island’s beach overlooking the Arabian Gulf. You can customize a special menu and share a dining experience with a romantic setting with your loved ones.
The Beach at Sir Bani Yas Island
Make sure to check out the beach on the island. Take a walk along the stunning Arabian Gulf that surrounds the island.