Sir Bani Yas Island
Sir Bani Yas Island bears the proud title of “ecological reserve” of the emirs of Abu Dhabi and all the Arab Emirates. It is a national park, once a desert island planted with trees, and now in a natural environment are bred wild animals.
Naturally, tourists are taken here, but a trip to Sir Bani Yas has a lot of nuances, which we will talk about in this article.
The modern name of the island comes from the name of the Arab tribe “Bani Yas”. It is the largest and most influential tribe in the UAE, the dynasties of Al Nahyan Emirs of Abu Dhabi and Al Maktoum Emirs of Dubai come from the Bani Yas tribe.
The island is located 9 kilometers off the coast of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, 260 kilometers west of the city of Abu Dhabi. On the mainland opposite is the settlement of Jabal Danna, from where boats go to the island.
Sir Bani Yas Island is small, with an area of 87 square kilometers, about 17 kilometers long and 9 kilometers wide. Despite its modest size, it is the largest island in all the Arab Emirates.
Since Sir Bani Yas is a national park, everything here is with the prefix “eco”. Electricity is generated by the region’s first wind farm with a capacity of 850 kilowatts. Individual villas and houses use their own solar panels. The company Masdar (headquartered in Abu Dhabi) has announced a plan to create wind farms here with a capacity of 30 megawatts.
How to get there
A visit to Sir Bani Yas Island is only possible by booking a hotel or villa. There are no organized group tours. To come on your own for one day is theoretically possible, but in practice, you can not see anything.
There are many ways to get here. The cheapest is the X87 bus, which goes from Abu-Dhabi Bus Station directly to the pier of Jabal Dunn. Travel time is 3.5 hours and the ticket price is 35 dirhams. For the current exchange rate, see our article “The Dirham of the Arab Emirates”.
Note! The fate of the X87 route now (January 2022) is still unclear. During the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, these buses were cancelled, but never reintroduced. Now the X87 route has disappeared from the official ITC lists. It is quite possible that the X87 has “sunk into oblivion”.
You can get there by car, follow the E11 from Abu Dhabi. After Ruwais take the highway towards Jebel Dhanna and you will arrive at the pier.
The price is AED 650.
Not every cab driver will agree to drive you to such a faraway place. And if he does you will have to pay extra and the fare will be even higher than the price of the transfer. You can read more in our review “Taxi Prices in the UAE”.
From the pier tourists are taken by boat to the island, then the car will take them to the hotel or villa. Car transportation around the island is provided by the hotel, and the price of the boat and car ride to the hotel is included in the price. The boat runs every two hours, about 20 minutes, then another 20 minutes by car from the pier to the hotel.
Sir Bani Yas Island has its own Sir Bani Yas Island Airport (code: XSB). It is small, with only one ramp length of 2,670 meters. It receives charters and flights from Abu Dhabi by Rotana Jet. As of this article’s update (January 2022), there are no flights to Sir Bani Yas.
If you can afford it, you can fly to Sir Bani Yas in a private seaplane, a service provided by Seawings LLC. The flight time is 1 hour and 10 minutes. The price is 11,500 dirhams (about 3,200 US dollars).
Hotels and resorts on the island
There is only one hotel here, it belongs to Anantara, called Desert Islands Resort & Spa 5* (on the photo next to it, click on the photo to enlarge). There are 64 rooms, including six VIP bungalows.
The hotel has three restaurants with excellent European and Arabian cuisine, spa center, kids club and conference room. The hotel is located on the north coast of the island.
Room rates at Desert Islands Resort & Spa: from $200 to $500 per night.
In addition to this hotel, there are two groups of villas – Anantara Al Sahel Villas and Anantara Al Yamm Villas. It is also possible to stay in these villas.
The price to rent villas: from $400 to $2,000 per night.
Perhaps more hotels will appear on Sir Bani Yas Island. In May 2014, TDIC (Tourism Development and Investment Company) announced that it was preparing such a project. But there has been no news about the project since that announcement.
See the form below for the current prices of hotels and villas.
As for excursions and entertainment on the island, their price – from 30 to 80 dollars. We will talk about that at the end of this article.
History of the island and the creation of the national park
Judging by the archaeological findings, people appeared on the island of Sir Bani Yas in the Neolithic era (late Stone Age), there are found polished stone tools.
The earliest find dates from 5 500 BC. e. This does not mean that people have not lived here before, just stone tools can not be dated by radiocarbon analysis.
Around 2000 BC there was already a civilization, archaeologists have found pottery and tombs from this period. Sir Bani Yas was probably used extensively by sailors of that time.
The real “golden age” the island experienced in the 1600’s and 1900’s, when there was a lot of pearls. Sir Bani Yas is mentioned by the Venetian goldsmith Gasparo Balbi in his book “Sirbeniast” as a place of great pearl mining.
The central part of the island, now called Wadi al-Mil, contains natural salt deposits that come right to the surface. This salt was the second source of the islanders’ wealth. The mines produced iron ore and lead sulfide, which was prized in Arab countries and used as eye cosmetics.
In the 1930s and 40s, pearl mining declined and people left Sir Bani Yas Island, leaving the ruins of houses and one palm grove.
In 1971, Sheikh Zayed became the first president of the UAE (it was in his honor that the Sheikh Zayed Mosque was built), he left the island “in reserve”. In 1977, a decree banning hunting was issued, the “Greening the Desert” program was announced, and Sir Bani Yas was chosen as the “ecological reserve” for this program.
The “Greening the Desert” program was supposed to irrigate the desert areas of the UAE and then plant trees and shrubs on this land and release wild animals. It was supposed to breed plants and animals for this program on Sir Bani Yas Island.
To be honest, such a plan was too ambitious. It was impossible to win the Arabian Desert, even with Arab oil revenues. But at the time, it seemed possible to the Arabs.
Several million trees were planted on the island of Sir Bani Yas. Several animal species were released: gazelles, ostriches, giraffes, oryx, cheetahs, hyenas. The status of “ecological reserve” also implied a kind of “insurance” in case of extinction of these species in the natural environment.
Soon, the park was opened to tourists. At one time, tours to Sir Bani Yas were so much in demand that they booked them a year in advance.
In 1999, in an area of 8 kilometers from the coast of the island completely banned fishing, that is, the reserve has expanded into the sea. In 2007, the government of Abu Dhabi founded a zone of “desert islands”, which included Sir Bani Yas, the neighboring island of Dalma and 6 other neighboring small islands. These 6 islands are now closed to tourists, while Sir Bani Yas and Dalma are open.
In 2009, half of Sir Bani Yas island was converted into “Arabian Wildlife Park”.
In 2010, in December, the discovery of the remains of a 7th century Christian monastery was announced.
In 2014, a major event took place. Fourteen oryx from Sir Bani Yas were released into the desert near Liwa Oasis. That is to say, Sheikh Zayd’s plan did come to fruition, though on a much smaller scale than planned. We’ll see if the Arabs succeed in making the desert greener.
What do tourists see?
All tours and excursions tourists book at the hotel (or villas) from local guides. These include safaris and wildlife watching, excavation viewing, boating and mangrove viewing, and sporting activities.
Safari to wildlife.
Nothing out of the ordinary here. Tourists are put in jeeps and taken to see giraffes, oryx, and gazelles. The jeep moves strictly on designated tracks to minimize the impact on the environment.
The price of the tour is 60-90 USD. The duration is 1-1.5 hours.
The first thing to see on this tour is the Arabian Oryx (aka White Oryx), it is easily recognized by its white hair and long horns. See the photo on the right, click on the photo to enlarge). This species of antelope is officially considered extinct in the wild, now the White Oryx can be found only in zoos or here – on the island of Sir Bani Yas. There are already more than 400 of them.
There are approximately 13,000 animals of 30 different species on Cir Bani Yas.
Boat trip to the mangroves
Park officials plant one new mangrove tree per visitor. Naturally, the mangroves at Sir Bani Yas are only growing.
Tourists sail to the mangroves in single or double kayaks. Children under 13 can’t go alone, only in a two-seater kayak accompanied by an adult.
The price of the excursion is 40-50 USD. The duration is 45 minutes.
An important point. Instructors speak English only.
The Salt Dome
Millions of years ago, the collision of tectonic plates led to the emergence of rocks on the surface and the formation of the island of Sir Bani Yas. It formed a small hill 130 meters high, it is called the Karn-Bu-Naidar (or Salt Dome).
Tourists can go and see this natural wonder. At the same time take a tour around the hill.
The price is negotiable. Duration – about 2 hours.
Important note. All hiking trails on the island are away from the habitats of wild animals. The advantage of this fact is that it is safe to walk these routes. Minus – no wildlife “bonus” to see.
There are already 42 archaeological sites organized on the island of Sir Bani Yas. Most of them are not actively excavated, afraid of losing artifacts, waiting for the development of technology.
The most remarkable such site is the ruins of a Christian monastery. Supposedly, the monastery was founded around 600 AD.
To be honest, there is not much to see, only the foundations are left of the monastery (on the photo next to it, click on the photo to enlarge). You can see it either separately with a guide or during a “Mini tour of Sir Bani Yas” or “History and Culture” tour.
The price of the tour is 40-60 USD. The tour lasts for 2 hours.
Mountain biking, horseback riding, windsurfing on the sand, boat rides, archery, and snorkeling are available.
Good to know
– About the creator of the reserve – Sheikh Zayed read our interesting article “Sheikh Zayed – Father of the Nation”;
– Hotels and villas on the island have their own beaches. Given this fact, the prices for holidays here do not seem exorbitantly high. Holidaying in a hotel with its own beach in the UAE is expensive, in Abu Dhabi even more so. See the prices in our article “Hotels in the UAE with a private beach”.
Enjoy your vacation in Sir Bani Yas Island, and read our interesting articles about the UAE (links below).