Page update - Oct 12, 2022
Sir Bani Yas Island boasts the status of the "ecological reserve" of the Emir of Abu Dhabi and all the United Arab Emirates. It is a national park, once a desert island planted with trees. Now wild animals are bred there in their natural environment.
Naturally, tourists are taken there, but the trip to Sir Bani Yas has a lot of nuances, which we will talk about on this page. The prices and other information on this page were updated in October 2022.
The island takes its modern name from the Arab tribe of the Bani Yas. It is the largest and most influential tribe in the UAE. The Al Nahyan Dynasty of the Emirs of Abu Dhabi and the Al Maktoum Dynasty of the Emirs of Dubai are descended from the Bani Yas tribe.
The island is located 5.5 miles (9 kilometers) off the coast of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and 160 miles (260 kilometers) west of the city of Abu Dhabi. There is the settlement of Jabal Danna opposite on the mainland, from where boats sail to the island.
Sir Bani Yas Island is small, with an area of 33 square miles (87 square kilometers), about 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) long and 5.5 miles (9 kilometers) wide. Despite its modest size, it is the largest island in all of the United Arab Emirates.
Since Sir Bani Yas is a national park, and everything there 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. Masdar (headquartered in Abu Dhabi) has announced a plan to create wind farms with a capacity of 30 megawatts.
A visit to Sir Bani Yas Island is only possible by booking a hotel or villa. Organized group excursions are not available. 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 there. 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 (AED). For the current exchange rates, see our page "The Dirham of the Arab Emirates".
Note! The fate of the X87 route now (October 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, take the E11 from Abu Dhabi. After Ruwais take the highway towards Jebel Dhanna and you will arrive at the pier.
Transfer service is available for 650 dirhams (AED).
Find your flight
We do not recommend using a cab as not every cab driver will agree to go so far away. And if he/she agrees, he/she will require additional payment, and the cost of the trip will be even higher than the price of the transfer. You can read more in our review "Taxi prices in the UAE".
Tourists are taken by boat from the pier to the island. After, a car takes 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 room 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 line with a length of 8,760 feet (2,670 meters). It receives charters and flights from Abu Dhabi by Rotana Jet. As of this page's update (October 2022), there are no flights to Sir Bani Yas.
If funds allow, you can fly to Sir Bani Yas by private seaplane, a service provided by Seawings LLC. The flight time is 1 hour 10 minutes. The price is 11,500 dirhams (about 3,200 US dollars).
There is only one hotel, owned by Anantara, called Desert Islands Resort & Spa 5* (pictured near, 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.
The room rates at Desert Islands Resort & Spa are from USD 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 USD 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.
The current prices for accommodation in hotels and villas are published above.
The prices for excursions on the island are from USD 30 to 80. We will talk about that in detail at the end of this page.
Find your hotel
Judging by the archaeological finds, people appeared on the island of Sir Bani Yas in the Neolithic (late Stone Age). Polished stone tools are found there by archeologists.
The earliest find dates from 5,500 BC. This does not mean that people have not lived there before. Unfortunately, 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 by sailors of that time.
The real "golden age" of the island lasted from the 1600's to 1900's when there were a lot of pearls. Sir Bani Yas is mentioned by the Venetian jeweler Gasparo Balbi in his book "Sirbeniast" as a place of great pearl catching.
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 1940s, pearl diving 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 hunting banning decree 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 is impossible to win the Arabian Desert even with Arab oil revenues. But at the time, the Arabs seemed it was possible.
Several million trees were planted on the island of Sir Bani Yas. Several species of animals 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 were booked a year in advance.
In 1999, in an area of 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the coast of the island completely banned fishing, that is, the reserve was 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. The 6 islands are now closed to tourists and Sir Bani Yas and Dalma are open.
In 2009, half of Sir Bani Yas Island was converted into an "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 Zayed's plan did come to fruition, though on a much smaller scale than planned. Let's wait and see, maybe the Arabs will succeed in making the desert greener.
Tourists book all excursions and trips at the hotel (or in villas) from local guides. These are safaris and watching for wild animals, inspection of excavations, boating and visiting mangroves, sports activities.
Find your transfer
There is nothing unusual. Tourists sit in off-road vehicles and take to see giraffes, oryxes, and gazelles. The car moves strictly on designated tracks to minimize the impact on the environment.
The price of the tour is USD 60-90. The duration is 1-1.5 hours.
The first thing to see on this tour is the Arabian Oryx (aka White Oryx) easily recognized by its white hair and long horns. See the photo near, click on the photo to enlarge. This species of antelope is officially considered extinct in the wild, and now the White Oryx can be found only in zoos or on the island of Sir Bani Yas. There are already more than 400 of them.
There are about 13,000 mammals of 30 species totally on Sir Bani Yas.
Park officials plant one new mangrove tree per visitor. Naturally, the mangroves at Sir Bani Yas are only growing.
Tourists boat 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 USD 40-50. The duration is 45 minutes.
Millions of years ago, the collision of tectonic plates brought rocks to the surface and formed Sir Bani Yas Island. A small hill 425 feet (130 meters) tall was formed, it is called 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. The minus is no wild animals to see as a bonus.
There are already 42 archaeological sites organized on Sir Bani Yas. Most of them are not actively excavated as archeologists are afraid of losing artifacts, waiting for the technology development.
The most notable such site is the ruins of a Christian monastery. It is assumed that the monastery was founded around 600 AD.
To be honest, there is nothing much to see, only the foundation of the monastery is left (see photo near, 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 USD 40-60. Duration - 2 hours.
Mountain biking, horseback riding, windsurfing on the sand, boating, archery, snorkeling are available.
Prices are negotiable.
- About the creator of the reserve - Sheikh Zayed, read our interesting page "Sheikh Zayed - father of the nation";
- Hotels and villas on the island have their own beaches. Given this fact, the prices for holidays there 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 review "Hotels in the UAE with a private beach".
Enjoy your vacation in Sir Bani Yas Island, and read our interesting pages about the UAE (see the link list below).
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