Wildlife photography by Matthew Thomas.
If we told you there was a place a mere few hours drive from the hustle and bustle of Dubai where you could experience truly breathtaking scenery, watch wildlife exist in its natural habit, even stay without seeing a single person should you so wish, what would you say?
Well, Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara offers just that. it’s a truly unique vacation spot unlike anything else in the UAE, offering unrivalled privacy and luxury escapism.
It’s inaccessibility is almost what makes this resort so appealing, it’s a far cry from the claustrophobia that other large cities in the Emirates offer yet its a couple of hours drive from Abu Dhabi. Located on Sir Bani Yas Island, some half and hour ferry ride and 9km off the cost of Abu Dhabi, do not be mistaken for thinking Sir Bani Yas Island is a quaint speck of land for the sheer size of this Island is bigger than Abu Dhabi City itself, some 10.9 km from North to South.
Consisting of three separate hotels, this island occupied by the respected Anantara brand will be unlike anything you will have visited before. It is easily one of the most luxurious staycation destinations in the entire UAE, offering an unforgettable deset island escape fit for a royal. In fact, it often is.
Consisting of the Desert Islands Resort & Spa main hotel, Al Yamm private villas and Al Sahel villas, each part of the overall island is a good 15 minute drive from the other, such is the expanse of this natural island.
Looking for a weekend of privacy, of rest and relaxation we opted to stay at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Yamm Villa Resort. Famed for its natural, rugged beauty this spectacular intimate resort consists of just 30 private villas either beach or mangrove facing, both of which provide an equally beautiful setting. The villas provide an oasis of calm surrounded by thousands of free-roaming wildflife, it is not unusual to see a baby oryx sauntering past your private pool as it heads to the lagoon for a thirst-quenching dip.
Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort has been built with sustainable design features which perfectly compliment the island’s delicate ecosystem. Inspired by traditional Arabic fishing, pearl diving villages and their barasti lodging, these luxury villas are huge inside, some 76 sqm in fact, offering comfortable, effortless luxury in a private setting. The interior is designed with the surroundings in mind, a calming mix of neutrals and earthy textures, it’s a world away from the sometimes gaudy, gilt interior that UAE hotels have become best known for. A private terrace and temperature controlled plunge pool is a welcome respite from the heat and in cooler months you can relax al fresco in the privacy of your villa’s grounds around a burning fire pit as you bask in the wonder of remote privacy. The only sound you’ll hear are the birds singing or the smooth whirring of a golf buggy coming to collect you for dinner at the superb Olio restaurant, a tranquil Italian eatery boasting fantastic fare. The one bedroom pool villas framed by the Arabian landscape are perfect for couples ensuring maximum quality time, it’s easy to see why this resort is a favourite of the international jet set.
Once in the luxury of your villa it all seems worth the journey to get there. From driving in seemingly the midst of nowhere, somewhere nestled between Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to ensuring you make the ferry transfer from the jetty which comes every 2 hours and I warn you, if you miss it there is no other way to get to the resort. It all becomes so very worth it.
There are plenty of dining options. Of course, Olio as mentioned is a traditional Italian located at Al Yamm Villas where you can dine for breakfast, lunch and dinner on gastronomic delights such as Lobster tagliatelle and wood-fired pizzas. There is also two further restaurants located across other parts of the island resort, each serving fantastic cuisine that caters for most tastes.
The island is not just for enjoying some down time but is full of activities which makes it a perfect family staycation spot. From wildlife drives, kayaking, diving and private cookery lessons with ‘Spice Spoons’ part of Anantara’s ‘Dining by design’ concept to more relaxing pastimes such as visiting the on site gym or luxurious spa.
If we can give you one recommendation when staying at or visiting Sir Bani Yas Island it is to wake up before the sun rises and venture out into the natural terrain for a wildlife drive. Before the hotels were built, Sir Bani Yas Island was originally home to Arabia’s largest wildlife reserve. Spanning over 34 sq miles the reserve was established back in 1977 by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and thanks to decades of conservation work and ecological investment, it is now home to thousands of free-roaming animals and several million trees and plants.
Sunrise is the best time to do this and a great opportunity to catch the thousands of wildlife that this island plays home to, feeding and popping out for a morning stroll. Be sure to take your camera because over the course of 90 minutes you will come face to face with giraffes, oryx, gazelles and even the resident cheetahs if you’re lucky. Yes, we really did say cheetahs. Sir Bani Yas Island is home to 3 adult cheetahs, notoriously private, we were lucky enough to not only find them in their morning resting spot but also get within mere feet of one of the world’s most beautiful animals. Sir Bani Yas Island is a working and constantly developing wildlife sanctuary which prides itself on its conservation efforts. As you embark around the island and explore majestic mountainside created between five and ten million years ago with your guide you can watch elegant gazelles make their way through the savannah with their young or delight in the sight of the rare Arabian Oryx, one of the world’s most endangered Oryx species. Children and adults alike will marvel in this wonderful experience, discovering diverse wildlife that inhabit this unique offshore island retreat.
This resort and indeed this island, is such a stark contrast to the rest of the UAE that we are used to seeing dominating travel headlines the world over, that its unique beauty, natural landscape and dedication to preserving a safe, habitable and thriving environment for the wildlife that live there is testament to the core of this dynamic part of the world. A thoroughly enjoyable weekend escape and one that every UAE resident and visitor must experience.