Traipsing through Sir Bani Yas Island, UAE

I wrote here on the real romance of the desert. The sand, the sun, the desolate nothingness around you. But what else is there beyond the desert? Is there more to do than sit around watching the swirl patterns as the wind passes by?

On a (typically) hot sunny day, I headed out to an island located about 250 km away from Abu Dhabi. A friend and I had rented a car and had gotten an amazing deal on the only hotel on the island. It was pretty much desert sand all the way until we reached a secluded little port jetty in the middle of nowhere. The private hotel manages the jetty as well and one quick jet boat trip and we were off to the island.


A minivan trip away we finally reached the hotel. And what a hotel! It was easily one of the best hotels I’ve been to. Like everything in the UAE, it was luxurious and rich and opulent. But the rooms were still cosy and personalized. Only 64 rooms in all and with a breathtaking view of the Arabian Gulf.

DSC_9789(Check out that view of the Arabian Gulf)

Given that the hotel is the only commercial hub on the entire island, they inadvertently have to prepare sufficient activities for their guests. So choose archery, or kayaking, or mountain biking. Choose the spa, or lazing by the pool or even go on one their diving excursions. Or choose what we did, and do a nature safari drive or a walk.

DSC_9775(The only real settlement on the island)

The nature safari drive was enjoyable. We rode close to the animals – mostly oryxs, deers and different kinds of wilderbeasts. We rode into a part of the island where all the giraffe’s were. Our guide informed us that the late ruler had really loved giraffe’s and decided to bring them onto the island.

DSC_9680(Peek-a-boo! How many giraffes do you see?)

We continued on foot later in the day. Our guide had asked if we had ever been to Africa to see the safaris there. I told him I had not, and he seemed pleased. “This won’t be very interesting to you if you had done an African safari before”. Luckily for him, I had a great time walking slowly through the land. Up close it was quite scary how large the animals actually were. Our guide pauses and puts his hand up to stop us. A herd of red deer were running. We held our ground and felt the earth shake beneath our feet.


The island reserve was first set up by the founder of the UAE. Previously kept private, it was opened up in 2007 after the nature reserve was finally established. At the time I was there they were still working to develop the island and were slowly bringing in animals as well. Back then my guide mentioned the plan was to develop seven desert safari’s on the island. They were in the process of introducing different species to the island including hyenas! They have even managed to bring back the Arabian Oryx , previously extinct in the wild.

IMG_7021(Watching a fight between two male sand gazelles)

Sir Bani Yas island combines the best of two worlds. It still carries along the romance of the desert with its vast land, soft wind, and starlit nights. It also has with it the best of what I imagine Africa to be – bringing in great large wild animals and watching them roam freely. And of course, the plush luxury and opulence of just staying in the hotel itself is great and perfect for honeymooners. So want something different to see when you’re in the UAE? Do check out Sir Bani Yas island