Explore Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi’s wildlife haven and come face-to-face with towering giraffe, rare oryx and elusive cheetah on this island paradise.
Founded by His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, this pristine conservation haven is a favourite with animal-lovers and family-friendly adventurers alike.
More than 17,000 animals roam free on Sir Bani Yas Island – thanks to extensive conservation work since the 1970s – so guests often travel for safari tours. Arabian oryx, Somalian ostrich, gazelle and deer roam the land, while sea turtles and dolphins swim in the glistening Arabian Gulf.
Adventure lovers can get from Abu Dhabi to Sir Bani Yas Island’s paradise shores in about three hours. On arrival, you’ll be rewarded with stunning spectacles of nature, picture-perfect beaches and a dash of culture and heritage too.
On Sir Bani Yas Island, it’s easy to make memories.
Magnificent wildlife experiences on 4x4 tours. Look out for Arabian mountain gazelles – the species that gives Abu Dhabi its ‘Land of Gazelles’ moniker.
Riding an Arabian horse across Sir Bani Yas Island’s desert dunes. First-timers can get started with a beginners’ course, while seasoned saddlers can join a bush trail ride.
Families looking for an action-packed adventure, couples and fans of the great outdoors will all love the nature and activities on offer here.
Sir Bani Yas Island’s archaeological sites, including a 1,400-year-old Christian monastery – the oldest one of its kind in the UAE.
Spot herds of rare oryx, groups of gazelles and stalking cheetah hiding among the dunes at the Arabian Wildlife Park. The island’s star attraction, this huge nature park is home to some of the rarest wildlife in the Arabian Gulf, as well as free-roaming creatures from elsewhere in the world, including giraffe and ostrich. Explore the park on horseback or mountain bike at your own pace or join an official game tour for a guided adventure in the park. Hop in a 4x4 at Desert Islands Resort and Spa by Anantara or take a three-hour tour from the mainland.
Pair the island’s inspiring natural landscapes with romantic relaxation at the Desert Islands Resort and Spa. It’s a great place to embark on many of the island’s most popular activities – such as horseback rides, archery and falconry visits – as well as for rest and respite. Book a couple’s retreat to benefit from treatments derived from the surrounding oasis, including a desert sand scrub. Try morning meditation or feel invigorated with a rejuvenating yoga session, then sail away on a family kayak trip through mangrove forests. This centre has private yacht access too.
Sir Bani Yas Island has been transformed into a lush wildlife preserve in recent decades by efforts such as widescale tree planting, so it’s hard to believe this was once an arid landscape. Though the island has since been handed over to nature, historically Sir Bani Yas Island has been relatively populated. You can discover ancient Arabia at several archaeological sites across the island, including a Bronze Age trading post. For a view into a more recent, but just as fascinating, heritage of Sir Bani Yas Island, visit the ruins of a church and monastery discovered in the 1990s. It’s believed to be the oldest Christian archaeological site in the UAE, serving as a testament to the region’s diversity. You can still see the outline of its walls and compartments.
Sir Bani Yas Island’s Al Mahara Diving Centre is a great place to experience the colourful, underwater world lying off the coasts of this magnificent island. Thanks to an eight-kilometre no-fish zone surrounding Sir Bani Yas Island’s shores, the waters here are teeming with marine life and vibrant coral reefs. There are classes for first-time divers, refresher courses and experiences to suit seasoned underwater explorers. You might glimpse barracuda, the local hamour fish or hawksbill turtles. The dugong is one of the more unusual species to live in this part of the Arabian Gulf – this slow-moving creature is a marine mammal that looks something like a sea cow.
Where to stay
Sir Bani Yas Island is a wonderful location for family getaways and romantic honeymooners alike. Whether you’re looking to stack your schedule with activities or keen to while away the day in a hotel spa, there are plenty of options across the island for all kinds of visitors.
There’s an airport on Sir Bani Yas Island, so if you’re planning to head to this wild paradise directly from your Etihad flight, it might be possible to find a connection with a private air taxi service.
If you book an airport transfer with Etihad, the journey to the ferry terminal will be around two hours and 20 minutes. There are also buses, which take about four hours from Abu Dhabi International Airport. From Sir Bani Yas Island Ferry Terminal, you’ll complete the journey by boat.
Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara offers complimentary water taxi rides to guests. These leave the mainland’s ferry terminal and head to Sir Bani Yas Island Ferry four times between noon and midnight.
It’s also possible to travel by personal boat and dock at Royal Bay Moorings.
Travelling from Sir Bani Yas Island to the heart of Abu Dhabi takes about three hours. Once you reach the mainland, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive via the E11 and E20 highways. You can also take a bus via Tarif – this takes roughly four hours and 45 minutes.
Once your adventures on Sir Bani Yas Island are complete, you may wish to explore another of Abu Dhabi’s beautiful isles. The journey from Sir Bani Yas Island to Saadiyat Island should take about three-and-a-half hours, including 20 minutes on water and three hours by car. The fastest route is via the E12.
Swap Sir Bani Yas Island’s natural landscapes for the thrills of Yas Island, Abu Dhabi’s playground isle. By boat and car, it takes about three hours to make the journey – you’ll leave Sir Bani Yas Island Ferry terminal and head left on E11 past Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Book a kayak at Anantara Desert Islands Resort to glide above the sparkling shallows. Elsewhere in Abu Dhabi, you can kayak through mangroves and around museums.
Take a dune ride out into the Sir Bani Yas Island sands on a sturdy steed. The island has more than 30 horses for riding opportunities and you can visit other stables in Abu Dhabi too.
There are beaches all around this quiet isle, but the eastern Sir Bani Yas Cruise Ship Beach is one of the best. For something different, head to Corniche Beach for a day in downtown Abu Dhabi.
The boat journey from the UAE mainland to Sir Bani Yas Island takes approximately 20 minutes. Check local times before booking.
You’ll find some of the best sunset views from the island’s mountainous centre. Western vantage points and beaches showcase spectacular sunsets too.
Reserve bikes and other adventure equipment ahead of time. You should also purchase safari tour tickets at least a few days in advance.
The island’s centre where terrain is more rugged and you’re further from the roads is the best spot for animal sightings. Sunrise and sunset are the best times.
To visit the famed Arabian Wildlife Park, you’ll need at least three hours. If you’re visiting for a single day and wish to take on another activity, such as paddle boarding, kayaking or horse riding, then it’s wise to allow at least five hours between your arrival and departure time.
Many guests opt to stay in the tranquil wilds overnight, however – if you love nature and outdoor activities, then two or three nights on Sir Bani Yas Island could be ideal.
Sir Bani Yas Island is famous for its ecological advancements and wildlife preservation achievements – more than three million trees, many hand-planted, have made the island a perfect habitat. Thousands of animals roam free here and species reintroduction efforts continue, such as recent projects with the Arabian tahr.
These conservation efforts were initially led by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who in 1977 passed laws banning hunting as part of a ‘Greening the Desert’ programme.
Sir Bani Yas Island and nearby Dalma Island are the only private Desert Islands where public visits are permitted.
The Church & Monastery of Sir Bani Yas is located in the south-western portion of the island, just inside the main road that circumnavigates the land. It’s flanked by protected wetland on one side and the Arabian Wildlife Park on the other. The closest major resort is Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Yamm Villa Resort.
If you don’t plan to join a heritage tour, pick up a map from the island’s visitor centre to make navigation simpler.
Early morning is one of the best times to visit the Arabian Wildlife Park, but even if you’re riding in on the noon water taxi, you’ll want to experience its unforgettable sights first. Hop in a 4x4 and tour the island’s inner terrain, where herds of gazelle decorate the horizon and you can even see giraffes up close.
This is the UAE’s largest nature reserve, so you can easily spend several hours on the mountains and plains. Patience often reaps rewards – if you want to see a rare cheetah, prepare to keep your eyes peeled. The island is home to just a handful of these lightning-fast creatures.
On your way out of the park, stop by at the Church & Monastery of Sir Bani Yas to reflect on the island’s long, rich and diverse history.
Swap land for sea at one of the island’s resorts – Desert Islands Resort & Spa has a wide range of activities on offer. You can hire a kayak to try your luck at glimpsing osprey beside the ocean, fix your snorkel ready to see Sir Bani Yas Island in a new light – or try stand-up paddle boarding.
There are also three temperature-controlled pools across the island. You can enquire about bookings even if you don’t plan to stay at the island’s resorts.
The island’s swimming pools make the perfect places to enjoy the island’s tranquil side – and the UAE sunshine – before heading back to the mainland and bustling Abu Dhabi.
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All imagery provided by © Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi