native wildlife on Sir Bani yas island abu dhabi emirate

Escape to Sir Bani Yas Island – Abu Dhabi’s Wildlife Reserve

by Abu Dhabi Travel Planner Team

Situated in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi Emirate, approximately 250 kilometres southwest of the city of Abu Dhabi (by road), you will find Sir Bani Yas Island and the Arabian Wildlife Park.

The stunning wildlife park is a hidden gem that’s sure to surprise you. With over 17,000 free-roaming animals, the park, which covers more than half of Sir Bani Yas island, is an ideal natural retreat for families, couples, and solo travellers. It offers a unique experience combining rustic adventure with exclusive 5-star luxury.

cars on safari on sir bani yas island abu dhabi wildlife reserve

What Can You Experience on Sir Bani Yas Island?

Regarded as ‘where the desert meets the sea’, the Al Dhafra region is far less developed than many other coastal areas of the UAE. Along its hundreds of kilometres of coastline, you will find beautiful beaches and tranquil desert islands as well as the remarkable Sir Bani Yas Island.

On Sir Bani Yas, you will find three five-star luxury retreats (operated by Anantara) and a range of family-friendly activities (hiking, snorkelling, horse-riding), as well as the chance to explore the stunning nature reserve.

In order to visit the island and the Wildlife Park, you must book a trip to one of the resorts on the island or be part of an organised tour from Al Dhanna (the Danat Jebel Dhanna resort can arrange excursions) or a cruise ship.

wildlife drive arabian oryx at sunset on sir bani yas island

Established as a Royal Nature Reserve in 1971, the Arabian Wildlife Park is now home to 17,000 animals from 30 different species. This includes many animals that were close to extinction and vulnerable in the wild, including sand gazelles, blackbuck antelope, urial sheep, barbary sheep and the Arabian Oryx.

The park also contains five cheetahs, which are native to the Arabian peninsula but have been extinct in the wild since the 1960s. In addition to land mammals, visitors can see a variety of birds, including flamingos and peacocks.

The park has a keen focus on sustainability and has won many awards for its sustainable practices. While 4×4 tours are possible, these are designed to have minimal environmental impact. Most transport on the island is electric, and power and water usage have been optimised.

All of the viewing platforms around the site are built from recycled materials and offer a great view of the park and its inhabitants. Whether you choose to stay in one of the resorts on the island or on the adjacent coastline, tour options are available with experienced guides, well-versed in conservation and environmental management.

hookah cafe on the beach sir bani yas island
Shisha on the beach at Anantara Desert Islands Resort

Whilst the main draw to Sir Bani Yas is wildlife, the island is also home to the UAE’s only known Christian Monastery built around 600 AD. The site had lay forgotten for years until it was rediscovered in 1992 and is now considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the UAE.

How Do You Get to Sir Bani Yas Island

Travelling from downtown Abu Dhabi, the drive is approximately 250 kilometres (via the E11 in the direction of Tarif and Mirfa. After Al Ruwais, take exit E113) to the Sir Bani Yas Ferry station (also known as the Jebel Dhana Jetty). The journey from Abu Dhabi takes around 2.5 hours (4 hours from Dubai).

A complimentary ferry is available for Anantara guests. The crossing to the island takes 15 to 20 minutes. The service operates 8 times a day and must be booked 24 hours in advance. Currently, ferries operate every hour from 10.45 am until 17.45 pm.

Visitors may arrive by their own personal boat and dock at the Royal Bay Moorings. The island also has a small airport capable of receiving air taxis (these can be arranged from Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi). Seaplanes are also available from Dubai (contact seawings@anantara.info).

There are no complimentary private transfer services offered from Abu Dhabi, but public bus service X88 is available to Ruwais from Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station. Expect the journey to take substantially longer than in a private vehicle.

Note that you must have a hotel reservation either on Sir Bani Yas Island or organise a tour from the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort to travel to the island.

Where to Stay on Sir Bani Yas Island

With three Anantara retreats on the island, guests can indulge in luxurious five-star accommodation at Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, enjoy beach-front seclusion at Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort on the eastern shores, and breathtaking natural beauty at Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort.

Sir Bani yas island Desert resort hotel by Anantara
The desert resort on Sir Bani Yas Island is run by Anantara

Here is a breakdown of what you can expect at each of Anantara’s beautiful luxury retreats:

Anantara Desert Islands Resort

The largest of the three resorts, the Desert Islands Resort boasts 64 rooms, suits and pool villas and offers family-friendly adventures and water sports. Set in a verdant oasis of gardens, the resort is located on the north shore of the island between a lagoon and the open sea.

The resort has a large infinity pool with a pool bar, tennis courts and access to the beach. The Palm restaurant offers a buffet breakfast and themed dinner buffets. Alternatively, the Al Shams restaurant and Bar serve up a tempting a la carte menu for lunch and dinner daily.

See current prices for Anantara Desert Islands Resort here

Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort

Offering 30 safari-style villas in a wild savannah setting, the Al Sahel Resort transports you to the plains of Africa. One-bedroom villas with terraces and one and two-bedroom villas with gardens and private pools are available.

inside an al sahel villa on sir bani yas island abu dhabi

Here, you can lose yourself in nature, relax by the waterhole-inspired pool, or indulge in a variety of treatments at the highly regarded spa.

Everything at Al Sahel has an African twist, including the food. Guests may choose to dine in the Savannah Grill and Lounge, which serves up a range of tempting game-style dishes. Alternatively, Olio Restaurant and Lounge offers carefully curated Mediterranean-style dishes in a relaxed setting.

See current prices for Al Sahel Villas here

Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort

Set in a pristine beachfront location, the rustic 30 barasti-style villas have views of the mangroves and the dazzling Arabian Gulf. Reminiscent of an Emirati fishing village, the Al Yamm Villa Resort resort offers the chance to explore Emirati heritage as well as offering a tranquil retreat.

Each villa offers a high standard of accommodation with all mod-cons. Villas with plunge pools and larger pools are also available. Olio restaurant has a communal pool flanked by sunbeds and umbrellas.

aeril view of al yamm resort villas on sir bani yas island abu dhabi uae

There is an emphasis on wellness at the Al Yamm Villa Resort and the option to have massages and other treatments in beach cabanas. Alternatively, the Oasis Spa at the Desert Islands resort is only 15 minutes away and available for Al Yamm guests.

Check current prices for Al Yamm Villa Resort here

Other information about the resorts on Sir Bani Yas Island

  • All Anantara guests are permitted to use facilities at the other Anantara resorts on the island. All excursions, tours and experiences are available to all Anantara guests. Note that water sports activities are not available during the summer months.
  • Dining by Design, a private dinner in a secluded spot, is available at all three resorts and provides the opportunity for a really special celebration, such as a birthday, anniversary or engagement.
  • A Kids Club is available for children aged 4-12 years old.

Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort

An alternative to staying on the island is staying at the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort on the adjacent coastline. It isn’t quite the unique getaway that staying on the island offers, but the resort does offer a high standard of accommodation on a pretty stretch of beach, from where you can access day-tripping to the island.

pool at Danat Jebel Dhanna resort in the Abu dhabi western region

Best Time of Year to Visit Sir Bani Yas Island

The best time to visit Sir Bani Yas is during the cooler months. From September to April you can make the most of the island’s facilities and stand more of a chance of seeing wildlife during the day time. Most animals take shelter when it’s hot, so visiting during high summer is not really recommended if you’re interested in getting up close with the wildlife.

The optimum time to visit is November to February, when the air is cooler and pleasant enough to walk and kayak, but still warm enough to swim in the sea.

rustic beach chairs on sir bani yas island desert resort
The perfect desert island retreat on Sir Bani Yas Island

More Interesting Heritage and Nature Sites in Abu Dhabi

Once you’re down exploring Sir Bani Yas Island, some more interesting places to explore in Abu Dhabi Emirate and the Western Region include:

Madinat Zayed – Home to the Al Dhafra festival and its famous camel beauty pageant – Well worth visiting when the festival is in full swing. You can find out more and check the dates here.

Dalma Island – Close to Sir Bani Yas, this island was once famous for pearl fishing. It offers some great beach camping spots, and also has a small museum and some notable archaeological sites. Check out the ferry schedule to Dalma Island here.

Qasr Al Sarab – if you only have the time and budget for one desert experience in the UAE, make it Qasr al Sarab. Oozing in luxurious Arabian touches and nestled in the deepest red dunes of the desert. This is an unmissable option for experiencing the desert, but it is pricey!

The Stunning Qasr Al Sarab

Al Wathba Nature Reserve – Only open during the cooler months, this beautiful nature reserve with its salt lake is the perfect place to see flamingoes as well as a whole host of native flora and fauna.

Al Wathba Fossil Dunes – Discover majestically contorted columns of desert sand at this location just outside of the city of Abu Dhabi. It’s an easy trip by car and is best done at dawn or dusk.

Al Wathba Fossil Dunes


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