The United Arab Emirates likely isn’t on a traveler’s shortlist of countries to escape to for a luminous seaside getaway, much less one brimming with culture and history. But then again, they may not have discovered Sir Bani Yas Island, the UAE’s slice of paradise, located just 100 miles off the coast of Abu Dhabi on one of the most riveting ports in the Arabian Gulf.
I had the opportunity to visit this largely undeveloped island on an excursion with Seabourn Cruises, arriving to onshore melodies and a glass of sangria delivered by white-gloved waiters. However, Sir Bani Yas Island goes beyond pampering guests with froufrou drinks. While merely enjoying a beach can have its appeal, the dynamic history, ecology and trendy accommodations are really what make Sir Bani Yas Island a necessary inclusion on any Arabian adventure.
A Nature Lover’s Paradise
Ecology enthusiasts may be impressed to learn that the sand they lounge on was formed about 600 million years ago, when salt deposits were gradually layered with sandstone and limestone. On a guided tour, visitors learn about the first president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and his infatuation with the island. In the early 1970s, he transformed the desolate area and its barren shoreline into a sanctuary for endangered animals from Arabia, Africa and beyond.
Since then, laws have been created that prohibit hunting wildlife. Today, this sanctuary is home to more than 10,000 animals, and guests can get up close and personal with Arabian Oryx, gazelle, and giraffes through an excursion on a four-wheel-drive Land Cruiser.
Intriguing Culture and History
Relaxing on a beach is one thing, but history buffs may conceive a whole new level of interest in the island after learning of its significance to the Middle East and the world. Archaeologists believe that human settlers arrived several thousand years ago through 42 archaeological sites discovered around the island, each providing insight into the area’s past.
This history is highly attainable for guests on a one-hour island tour, booked through a cruise or hotel, which includes visits to some of the island’s most poignant sites. For instance, a guided stop at the ruined Nestorian Christian monastery, which dates back to the 7th century AD, showcases how a community of about 30 monks lived, including an ancient dormitory where they likely cooked fish from the sea.
Luxurious and Diverse Stays
For such a remote island, Sir Bani Yas does not disappoint in its diversity of accommodation options, exhibited in the Anantara brand’s three properties. Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara was initially founded by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahya. In 2008, it was refurbished into a 64-room property and opened as the island’s first hotel, brimming with energy and life. Five years later, Anantara opened its second property, Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort, a haven where nature reigns; its 30 villas are sprinkled throughout rich grassland.
Anantara’s beachside Al Yamm Resort is also unique in that it transports guests to a tropical paradise that could easily be confused with the Seychelles. No day is without adventure here; sea-kayaking expeditions and shipwreck dives are just part of the daily activities offered to guests. Each of the properties provide insight into the authentic yet distinct facets of Sir Bani Yas Island.