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Sir Bani Yas Island, the wildlife island

Updated on 03.06.2018

The Nature & Wildlife Drive safari is a must-see activity when you visit Bani Yas Island, in the western region of Abu Dhabi Emirate Al Gharbia.

Imagine an island in the Persian Gulf transformed into an African savannah, with in its heart an animal park with thousands of animals, and in lush vegetation, a luxury villa.

The first hotel on Sir Bani Yas Island, the Anantara Desert island Resort & Spa is equipped with all the facilities to relax as a couple or with the family, and is a first choice base for a safari trip to the wildlife park, or participate in the many activities on offer.

The island of Sir Bani Yas has been dedicated for nearly half a century to the conservation of endangered animal species - the former reserve of the emir of Abu Dhabi, the island is now endowed luxury hotels and is accessible to the public who marvel at the hundreds of thousands of trees planted in the desert, where thousands of animals roam freely.

Mammals on Sir Bani Yas Island, Al Gharbia Region, Abu Dhabi Emirate ©Odyfolio

History of an artificial island

In the 1970s, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed, wanted to protect the extinction of endangered animal species living in the Gulf region. On his private island of Bani Yas, he undertook to turn an arid land into a habitable area by man and mammals, planting millions of trees. In 1977, the reserve was officially created and hunting prohibited.

The island was formed 20 million years ago and its upper part is composed of salt. Fossils of animals (elephants in particular) dated from 6 to 8 million years ago discovered on the neighboring island of Dalma suggest that the island of Bani Yas was able to shelter such animals as well. The first traces of a human settlement in the region date back 200,000 years, but concrete evidence of a presence on the island dates back 5,000 years before our era. Pottery and tombs confirm occupation during the Bronze Age.

Between 600 years before our era and the year 300, we find in the region and on the neighboring island of Dalma the remains of an intense maritime activity in Mesopotamia extending to the Mediterranean. From a historical point of view, the island of Bani Yas is very important since it contains the ruins of a Christian monastery, unique in its kind in the East of the Arabian Peninsula, established between the sixth and the eighth century after Christ. This archaeological site that can be visited is important for the history of the region because it testifies to the presence of a monotheistic religion before the Islamic era.

During the following centuries, there is no frantic activity on Bani Yas Island, except that it is on a busy maritime route. It is assumed that the island was mainly inhabited by fishermen. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was a popular fishing spot for pearls, at least until the 1930s, when pearls of Japanese culture sealed the fate of traditional fishermen, and led to the decline of activity in the region. Also note the exploitation of salt mines.

Landscape on Bani Yas Island Island, Western Region of Abu Dhabi Emirate ©Odyfolio

An ecological model?

Since 1977, the success of conservation efforts for animal species has been irrevocable. For example, four oryx were initially introduced, and nearly half a century later their population is close to half a thousand.

The number of animal species is important. There are mainly antelopes, oryx, gazelles, deer, fallow deer and sheep. On the side of large carnivores (more difficult to observe), striped hyenas, cheetahs, jackals, caracals. Also a large variety of mammals, reptiles and birds. Not to mention, for the pleasure of the eyes, the giraffes.

In 1999 a maritime sanctuary was established, with an area of eight kilometers around the island where fishing is prohibited, to the delight of turtles, dugongs and dolphins.

If the impact of wildlife preservation is obvious, there is one area that may not satisfy some ecological ones. Indeed, the millions of trees planted on this arid island survive only through a gigantic irrigation system feeding each tree drip. As you walk on the island, you will see everywhere plastic pipes that protrude from the ground. Since there is no significant source of water on the island, the water used for irrigation comes from the sea, after desalinization. A gas plant on the mainland produces drinking water that is piped to the island. This operation requires a lot of energy, obtained through the combustion of fossil fuels. But fortunately the authorities are currently investing in wind turbines, in cooperation with the Masdar project in Abu Dhabi. This fact should not bother you to visit the island, because the project has a real ecological vision. This energy problem is about to be solved is simply the natural transition between environmental practices of the 20th century to those of the 21st century. Other initiatives such as the introduction of electric transport testify to the managers' ambitions to gradually bring the site to a perfect osmosis with the environment.

Mammals on Sir Bani Yas Island, Al Gharbia Region, Abu Dhabi Emirate ©Odyfolio

Tourism development

Until the 2000s, the island of Bani Yas offered little to the visitors. But in 2008 everything changed with the opening of a luxury hotel in the north of the island, managed by the prestigious chain Anantara (the same who manages the Qasr al Sarab in the Liwa desert). The five-star hotel Desert Islands Resort and Spa has 64 luxurious rooms and suites overlooking the shores of the Persian Gulf. The services are of good quality, with a very nice pool, gourmet restaurants and a spa. On the other hand, although it is by the sea, it does not have a real beach.

Building on its success, the chain opened two other establishments in the early 10s: Anantara Yas Island al Yamm Villa Resort, with its luxurious villas with private pools and direct access to sandy beach. And the Sir Bani Yas Island Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort, which offers luxury homes in the middle of the park, African savannah way. The hotel chain also runs a pier that can accommodate yachts up to 50 feet.

But what will accelerate tourism on the island is the creation of a center dedicated to the reception of cruise ships that will pour out their stream of holidaymakers for a day, just like what is done in the Caribbean (Island Stop Over). The Abu Dhabi Port Company (ADPC), responsible for the development of cruise tourism in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, is currently approaching major cruise companies.

Terrace of a villa in the Al Sahel hotel, in the heart of the Sir Bani Yas Island Wildlife Park, Abu Dhabi emirate. ©Odyfolio

Activities on Sir Bani Yas Island

The activities on Sir Bani Yas Island are very framed and organized by the Anantara hotel chain, or by some affiliated providers. Prices start at 175AED per person, but closer to 290AED on average. For more information contact directly the hotel: activitiesdirs@anantara.com

The most popular activity is the car safari (Nature and Wildlife Drive), which allows you to travel a large part of the island in two hours and observe many animals. It is an essential excursion, and we advise you to do it early in the morning or at sunset. It is also possible to do the same activity on foot with a guide, and be closer to the animals (provide good shoes for walking).

A giraffe with a peacock on the island of Bani Yas, United Arab Emirates ©Odyfolio

Other very sporting activities are offered: horse riding, kayaking, mountain biking, archery, snorkelling (sea snorkeling), big game fishing, and even diving in search of pearls.

From a cultural point of view, the ruins of the Christian monastery can be visited. Although historically very important, the site is visually limited. If you wish to go there, it is better to ask the hotel, when planning the activities, to include it in an excursion passing nearby.

Hotels and villas in Sir Bani Yas Island

The three hotels are managed by the prestigious chain Anantara. Opened in 2008, The Anantara Desert Island Hotel is the largest and most affordable. It has five-star facilities and a beautiful and large pool.

Al Sahel villas is a small luxury hotel with only 30 villas in the middle of the animal park. Al Yamm villas has the same level of services, but it is located outside the animal park on a beach.

Go to Bani Yas Island

First of all you have to know that it is not possible to visit the island without having a hotel reservation (or be included in an organized tour in some cases).

The road is the most common solution. From Abu Dhabi International Airport to the pier in Ruwais, there are 264 kilometers, which you will travel in 2.5 hours. As mentioned in other articles related to the Al Gharbia region, the E11 road to Qatar is very monotonous. The road as been recently enlarged and outside the fez remaining work areas, the road is good. From Dubai airport, count an hour more. The pier is signposted but better to follow his route on a map to not be wrong. The pier is managed by the Anantara chain, which controls the access of visitors to the island from the pier, and takes care of the luggage that you will find in your room upon arrival. A valet service can take care of your vehicle, which will be parked in the shade on a secure parking. Upon request, the hotel can take care of your transfer from anywhere in the United Arab Emirates (from 700AED one way f for a luxury vehicle from Abu Dhabi, 1100AED from Dubai).

The boat makes 8 rotations a day or about a rotation every two hours except at night, every day of the week. Plan to arrive at least thirty minutes before departure. The cost of transfers is included in the price of the hotel room. On arrival, a bus will take you to your hotel.

The other way to reach Sir Bani Yas Island is through the air. A few years ago it was not very convenient, with an airplane departing from Al Bateen airport in the center of Abu Dhabi and not directly connecting the island. But today there is a connection provided by Rotana Jet connecting Abu Dhabi Airport (Terminal 2) to the airfield located on the island. Currently there would be two rotations per week, but better to check directly with Rotana Jet because the link is not mature and the flight program can be brought to change. Economy class fares start at 280AED one way.

By air also, for the most fortunate there is the solution to privatize a Seaplane Seaplane. Count 11000AED for up to 9 people. The journey then takes 55 minutes from Abu Dhabi, and 1h10 from Dubai. At this price, the boarding point is at your convenience in the United Arab Emirates or Oman. In Abu Dhabi, pickup is usually on Yas Island (marina of the Viceroy Hotel) or at the Emirates Palace.

Unloading luggage from the ferry connecting Bani Yas Island to the mainland ©Odyfolio

Location and maps

Location of Sir Bani Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates ©OpenStreetMap contributors

Map of Sir Bani Yas Island in United Arab Emirates ©OpenStreetMap contributors