If you’re looking for a unique escape that feels a world away but is still quintessentially U.A.E, look no further than Anantara’s five-star Sir Bani Yas Island resort and villas.
A salt dome island situated 8km off the Abu Dhabi coastline (but 250km from Abu Dhabi Airport), Sir Bani Yas was originally established in 1971 by the late ruler and founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, as a conservation reserve. Home to more than 13,000 animals, it’s the dedication to preserving and repopulating endangered species that truly makes this island magical. It’s a location with a rich history, with archaeological sites dating back to 600AD, including the remains of a Christian monastery.
Anantara Sir Bani Yas has three separate resorts on the island for you to choose from. The main desert island resort is a more traditional, multi-storey complex, Al Yamm’s villas are situated around the beach and mangroves, and the Al Sahel villas are set amongst the wildlife reserve. Our villa (number 60) was a one-bedroom villa in Al Sahel, and being at the end of the string of villas, affords a pretty decent level of privacy in which to enjoy your outdoor lounging areas and plunge pool. Whilst the website and booking sites don’t list the one-bedroom villa as having a pool, it in fact does – the next category up, the ‘pool villa’ is simply larger in size. The one-bedroom villa represents a serious bargain amongst similar wilderness resorts in this category, starting at AED 1455/night.
It has all the necessary creature comforts the luxury traveller desires, including a full-size stand-alone bath and outdoor shower for those warm summer months. Toiletries are Elemis, but I feel there are brands out there that would be a better fit for the style of the property – Hermes or Origins, perhaps. There’s even a soap menu, if aromatherapy is your jam. The lighting controls throughout the villa are very user-friendly, which is unusual these days (and dimmable), and the beds are truly top-notch. A thick down mattress topper provides a very cosy night’s sleep, the pillows are fabulous (plus there is a pillow menu should you want to try something other than those in the room) and the sheets are utterly amazing. They are some of the softest sheets I’ve seen in a resort – I would love to know how I can buy some for my own house, they are that good (update: I hear they’re from Thailand…)!
Pack an AUX cable and you’ll be able to play music using the speaker atop the desk – unless your devices still use the iPhone 4 connector. There’s also a large TV in front of the bed, and a Nespresso machine.
Sir Bani Yas is truly all about the animals, and Anantara has created the perfect luxury habitat from which to observe and explore the unique landscape. From the moment you begin the drive to Al Sahel, it’s impossible to miss the abundance of wildlife everywhere you look. The island has many sectioned off areas used to create ideal habitats for different species, which you can explore in-depth on a wildlife drive, but there are many animals that roam the grounds freely outside of these areas. So you won’t find a cheetah by your plunge pool (but I’m told you don’t need to worry, humans aren’t their cup of tea so to speak) but you will find many friendly peacocks and gazelles visiting you as you cool down in your plunge pool. That’s pretty special in my books – and in fact, our new peacock friend was so keen to enjoy our company again that he patiently (or perhaps it was impatiently) tapped on our door waiting for us to wake the next morning.
Should you wish to enjoy the Anantara’s plentiful high tea set in the beautiful gardens (or it can be served indoors if it’s too warm), you’ll also suddenly find you have many new avian friends, who aren’t too shy to help themselves to a friand or two. It’s all a delightful spectacle to watch, and I can say we didn’t mind sharing the bounty of baked goods with our feathered companions one bit – it’s all part of the fun.
I highly recommend booking a wildlife drive with Sir Bani Yas’ knowledgeable guides – at around two hours, it’s money well spent. A visit to Sir Bani Yas just wouldn’t be complete without it. The giraffes are the star of the show (of which there are 38), the cheetahs also a popular attraction (from memory there are four), as well as a huge variety of beautiful deer, oryx and gazelles. The conservation project undertaken on Sir Bani Yas is rather fascinating. The island contains predators to mimic the wild environment, and animals are trained to be accustomed to vehicles (which bring them food), but not humans – standing the animals in good stead for when they are rehomed into the wild, across the Middle East and Africa. In fact, the conservation project on the island has been so successful that it has brought the African Oryx back from ‘extinct’ status to ‘endangered’ – and many species back to ‘vulnerable’ status. You’ll absolutely love the experience – trust me! Just rug up warm – it’s freezing on the drive early in the morning.
There are five restaurants on the island, and we tried out Olio (at Al Yamm) and Savannah Grill (at Al Sahel). Given the 20 minute drive to the other side of the island for Olio, my advice would be stick close to home with Savannah Grill if you’re staying at Al Sahel. Cuisine isn’t yet the highlight of the resort (though, let’s be honest – it’s pretty hard to compete with those gorgeous animals) – it’s fairly standard resort fare, and hasn’t quite reached the five star level of the rest of the property. It looks like they are working on moving it in the right direction, however. My picks would be the beef and truffle pizza at Olio and the Nigerian snack platter at Savannah Grill – both excellent. Dessert lovers are a little limited on choices – it’s mainly imported ice cream and fruit when it comes to the sweeter side of the menu. Beverages, however, are standard Dubai prices, and pretty fair – I was impressed to see a beer from the mini bar cost 36dhs including taxes. Reasonable by U.A.E. standards. If you’re looking for a memorable meal, I’d recommend going for one of the ‘Dining by Design’ options and creating something truly memorable out amongst the beautiful wilderness setting – that’s what you’re here for, at the end of the day.
The most convenient method of transport to Sir Bani Yas is seaplane via Seawings, but it’s also reachable by car. Our journey from Dubai took around 3.5 hours each way, as the roads are still under construction and a bit chaotic. For more details on the location, click here for travel distances and ferry timetables (you’ll need to connect with a scheduled ferry once you arrive at the port to be taken to Sir Bani Yas Island). Don’t worry about being a little early, however, as there is a luxury lounge dockside in which to wait for your boat to paradise.
Anantara Sir Bani Yas is truly a must do whether you’re visiting the UAE or have lived here for many years. It’s impossible not to be blown away by the plethora of beautiful wild beasts and adorable animals. The luxurious Middle-East-meets-Africa aesthetic, perfectly sized plunge pool and super comfortable beds left me stress-free (and amazingly, back pain-free!) after my stay. Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island is a property I’d happily return to any day – maybe next time I’ll check out Al Sahel’s beach counterpart, Al Yamm. Don’t hesitate, just go!
Style: Secluded Savannah Chic
Would I return? Definitely – probably to try the beach side of the island. I’d point family and friends in the direction of the Anantara without hesitation.
Suitable for: Couples, families. It might feel a little isolated for the solo traveller.
Room Type Reviewed: Al Sahel One Bedroom Villa
Room Size: 65m2, One King Bed
Room Amenities: Plunge pool, outdoor (and indoor) shower, full size stand-alone bath, TV, WIFI, desk, speaker (bring your own AUX cable unless you still have an Apple product from the dinosaur days – it only fits the old connector), Elemis toiletries, Nespresso machine, minibar, robes, slippers, bottled water, air conditioning, fridge, safe.
On request services: Soap menu, pillow menu
Hotel Facilities: Spa, pool, fitness centre
Price Guide: from around AED 1400 ++ (10% and 7% tax)