Review: Experience the sights and sounds of Africa in the UAE
Anantara Sir Bani Yas offers 87 square kilometres of pure adventure…
Have you ever wanted to wake up to an African dawn? Or dreamt of seeing gazelle nibble the grass metres in front of where you sit with your morning cuppa, or watching a giraffe lazily munching the top of a tree just a few metres away?
Well, you can do all that at a place that’s only a road trip away.
Many UAE residents are often surprised to learn that Abu Dhabi has a remote island housing 11,000 wild animals. Those who are in the know about Sir Bani Yas, however, will already appreciate the unique characteristics that make a 3.5-hour trip to the island feel more like a Kenyan escape than a staycation in the capital.
The island itself is bigger than Abu Dhabi city, coming in at 87 square kilometres – that’s equal to 378 Bluewaters Islands. The three available resorts are all operated by Anantara. There’s Desert Islands Resort, and two types of villas: Al Sahel Resort has lodges in the forest, while Al Yamm Resort has villas on the beach.
What’s On recently spent two nights at Al Yamm Resort (Dhs1,520 per night). The first thing to note is that the resorts are open to all guests, allowing you to explore each hotel, its pools, and restaurants as you please. However due to the size of the island, there are drivers to take you between each upon your request.
Everywhere you look there are various animals strolling, squawking or feeding on the grass. Arabian oryx are one of the main animals you’ll see around the resorts and – as long as you don’t get too close – they’ll peacefully graze right next to you. Peacocks are common too, and more than happy to show off their mesmerising iridescent trains.
Al Yamm Resort’s rooms look out onto the mangroves and have sun loungers as well as an outdoor deck to relax and take in the serene setting. The villa has plenty of space inside, with a passageway-style bathroom, leading to a separate shower guarded by swinging saloon doors.
Anantara Sir Bani Yas provides an extensive list of activities to keep you busy throughout your stay. A must-try is the safari tour, which lasts about 90 minutes, (Dhs320 per person) and your guide will show you the enormous range of wildlife roaming free on the island.
As with any safari, there’s a little luck involved but we manage to catch a glimpse of cheetahs and get up close and personal with a friendly giraffe from within our open-top Land Cruiser. Other pursuits archery, kayaking, horse riding.
The culturural and historical tour (Dhs295 per person), stops off at some of the archeological sites on the island, including a cemetry of the Bani Yas tribe, which lived on the island from 1800 to 1935.
Olio is Al Yamm’s signature restaurant – an endearing Italian spot directly next to the beach. Enjoying breakfast here while watching the waves crash into the shore has to be one of the best ways to start a day.
For African cuisine, Al Sahel has Savannah Grill & Lounge where on Thursdays, guests can enjoy a traditional braai, but other days are equally great for steak and barbecued seafood – just be sure to arrive hungry as Savannah serves up big portions. We also try the Arabic restaurant in Desert Islands Resort, which serves up mixed grills and hot mezze next to the hotel’s outdoor pool.
While this road trip might be one of the longest you’ll make while living in the UAE, we promise it’s worth it. Sharing a vast island with fascinating animals normally seen only in faraway lands, as well as the calm ambience around the resorts will have you returning to the city feeling reset and totally at peace.