I kept on deferring, it was just too far away. Three and a half hours, with the kids in the car. Then a ferry. Just for a weekend? It took me five years to get over myself and do it. Now I just want to go again.

Photo story, review follows the images…

The landscape is generous. I’d expected the dunes of Dubai, or the mangroves of Abu Dhabi city. But here the land is crooked and convoluted, cruel and crusted in salt. And yet, someone had the foresight to develop it. Not with concrete and steel, but with ghaf trees and antelope.

The animals of Sir Bani Yas are free, their only boundary the water that surrounds the island. Herbivores are fed, but carnivores help themselves. You’ll find no cheetahs wheeling around in the passenger seats of land cruisers here – just a whole load of genuine wild animals.

Setting is clunky colonial, suiting the landscape and the lifestyle. I keep wanting Van Pelt from Jumanji to stride into the lobby with a smoking rifle over his shoulder and a tall gin and tonic in his hand. Beds are large, cushions deep, the lighting low and a tropical breeze whispers down every corridor.

Anantara Desert Islands (Sir Bani Yas)

  • Accommodation Style: Five-star Resort and Spa, Safari
  • Rooms: 64 rooms ranging from 52 sq meter Deluxe Room to 80 sq meter suites. One and two bedroom apartments also available
  • Price: From 900AED ($250US) for a deluxe room in low season. From 1500AED in peak.
  • Facilities: Pool, day spa, babysitting, kids club, connecting rooms, gym, library, several restaurants and bars, AC, Wifi, licenced, meeting and events capabilities, car transfers to Abu Dhabi, airstrip (Rotana Jet) and ferry transfers to Jebel Dhana Abu Dhabi.
  • Nature and activities: safari, diving (PADI), geology trail, tracking, horse-riding, archery, mountain biking, pearl diving, kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, cooking lessons, tennis
  • Languages: Minimum English and Arabic, but also often staff available who speak Russian, French, Spanish and Tagalog and Hindi
  • Perfect for: families with pre-teens, couples, nature enthusiasts
  • Also not bad for: older couples wanting to experience safari and the desert without working too hard for it, families with older children wanting some together time.
  • Pros: Peaceful, with plenty of options for privacy, an incredible level of activities (you could stay a week and not run out of things to do), gentle and helpful staff, good likelihood of seeing a range of animals, well-priced restaurants (considering you are captive on the resort), plush colonial decor, huge rooms, great breakfast, easier than one would expect to get to, easy all round really.
  • Cons: A long drive from Dubai, or even Abu Dhabi for that matter, and plane can end up taking just as long by the time you check in and roll out, weather is a little wilder than on the mainland, and prone to gusts that may stop flights and (less frequently) ferries, beach is eroded and stacked with ugly sandbags, restaurants not quite as gourmet as I had hoped (but still good value)
  • Location: Island off Jebel Dhana, Abu Dhabi (map)
  • Nearest Airport: Sir Bani Yas Landing strip (Flights from around 300AED from Al Maktoum Airport Dubai through Rotana Jet or private charter through Seawings for a lot more), Abu Dhabi International Airport (2.5hr drive), Dubai and Doha 3.5 hour drive
  • Bookings: Via websitePhone: +971 2 801 5400. Can often also be booked through booking.com at great discounts

Rating: 9/10*

Disclaimer – Anantara provided one room complimentary for our stay, but we still paid for the other. I will definitely return, next time for 4 days



*A guide to ratings: These take into account the price, quality, service and the facilities, and in effect are a value rating.

  • 0-2/10 = exceptionally overpriced. Avoid at all costs, even if it means travelling to stay elsewhere overnight.
  • 3-5/10 = overpriced in respect to quality. Don’t stay unless there are no other options.
  • 6-7/10 = reasonable value. Check other options in the area just in case, but not a bad choice over-all.
  • 8-9/10= worth seeking out. Great value in respect to the offer, one of if not the best option in the area.
  • 10/10= super place. Stop what you’re doing, book a plane ticket and go there now.

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