Visiting Sir Bani Yas Island, the United Arab Emirates desert island wildlife preserve, blends what should be experiences from far flung parts of the planet into one place. Visitors can take a wildlife safari through a manmade savannah where giraffes graze among Arabian oryx at daybreak. Enjoy some kayaking and snorkeling in crystal clear waters among dolphins and sea turtles in the afternoon. Then finish the day by mountain biking through a moonscape of salt domes to a mangrove forest in the evening without ever being too far from three distinctly themed luxury resorts.
Named for the tribe of the same name Sir Bani Yas is one of eight islands which collectively make up the UAE desert islands, the Bani Yas tribe occupied the barren island which has no natural source of freshwater or indigenous vegetation nor animal life for an estimated 7,000 years before finally abandoning it more than a century ago for the mainland.
The tribe imported everything they needed to live on the island except for salt – which they had in abundance – and used to barter for all else they needed. The Bani Yas left their history behind in 36 archeological sites scattered over the island included early Islamic structures as well as the remnants of a 600 year old Nestorian church.
It was in 1971 that the UAE’s first President Sheik Zayed made the island his personal retreat. By 1977 an official program of greening the island was begun first by developing a 73 square kilometer irrigation system and then planting fields of grasses and millions of trees.
A mangrove forest was established along the east coast of the island which continues to grow as thousands of trees are added every year. The goal was to create the first Arabian wildlife preserve by introducing animals from Africa and around the Middle East. Today the island is home to the world’s largest herd of arabian oryx which shares the man made savana with gazelle, oryx, llama, rehea, and giraffes as well as scavenging striped Hyena and predatory sudanese cheetahs.
Sixteen thousand animals were introduced to the island in order to fulfill President Zayed’s vision that a country isn’t measured by its size, but instead by its heritage and culture. Mammals aren’t the only animals that can be seen in the preserve which is visited by hundreds of species of birds over the course of a year. One of which makes a spectacle of itself, the island draws flocks of flamingos to its shoreline and salty lakes where they strut as they feed flaunting their bright pink plumage.
It’s possible to visit the island as a day trip from either Dubai or Abu Dhabi but the long travel time would limit taking advantage of the islands’ diversity and as there are three unique luxury resorts, all part the Anantara Group, a stay becomes integral to the overall experience.
“Our family-friendly Desert Islands Resort & Spa was styled with Arabian touches and antiquities to echo the UAE’s culture and history. Al Yamm Villa Resort is located on the Eastern beach of the island, the lay out is reminiscent of an ancient pearl fishing village while Al Sahel Villa Resort is nestled within the Arabian Wildlife Park, so was designed with an African lodge-like ambience,” says As Ms. Corryanne Draper from Anantara.
It may be difficult to choose which accommodation is the best fit; luckily it’s not necessary as all three can work in conjunction. A holiday that rotates resorts can be made to stay, dine, and take part in each location’s specific activities. The Desert Islands Resort & Spa is surrounded by endless rolling sand dunes and sits at the edge of the Persian Gulf’s turquoise waters.The resort offers a choice of 64 rooms, suites and palatial villas just steps from the infinity pool.
In the interior of the island it’s possible to watch the free roaming wildlife across the lush savannah from a personal, temperature controlled plunge pool sunken into the wooden veranda at one of Al Sahel Resort’s 30 villas. Peacocks strut and gazelles graze throughout the resort that adheres to the exotic atmosphere of African grasslands while providing simple luxury from the well appointed living room and four poster bed with mosquito netting to the hand hammered copper, double tub in the bathroom.
For a more intimate, secluded stay Al Yamm has 30 villas that offer either beachfront or mangrove lagoon views. Like heritage dwellings of old from the outside the villas are furnished to make their guests feel pampered as they take in the wading flamingos along the tide line or look out at the mangrove forest which is forever growing as a mangrove is added to mark every visitor to the island.
Guests staying at any of the three resorts can take part in wildlife adventures on the island. Ananatara has created morning and evening drives and hikes to bring guests up close and intimate with the flora and fauna of the island. Mountain biking, land sailing, kayaking trips are all available for the enthusiastic, while strolls along the beach and long afternoons in any of the resorts pools are available at all times.
As guests of Ananatara can choose from the three resorts so can they choose from five different eateries which like the resorts offer distinct and unique experiences influenced by the island. Italian, Middle Eastern and North African cuisine is on offer as well as a dedicated seafood grill. Visitors have highlighted dishes from each including Peri Peri chicken from the Savannah Grill, fresh gorgonzola and pear ravioli from Olio and the fresh seafood mixed grill.
“Ananatara has been graced with the opportunity to be part of the great Sheik Zayed’s vision of Arabia’s first and still only wildlife preserve. Our goal to bring luxury accommodation, gourmet cuisine and tailored adventures to this unique destination in the world has been a great challenge, and from what our guests say about us a great success,” Draper says.