Get close to nature with a visit to the popular UAE resort
Time Out Dubai staff
A weekend retreat in one of the country’s largest wildlife parks is the perfect way to get close to nature.
Set on the remote and beautiful haven of Sir Bani Yas Island, one of the largest natural islands in the emirate of AbuDhabi, Al Sahel Villa Resort offers guests a tropical retreat in the heart of the Arabian Wildlife Park. Absolutely brimming with wildlife, sand gazelle and mountain gazelle roam freely though the resort and you’ll no doubt come across clusters of them as you have your morning coffee or enjoy a sundowner on your deck.
When it comes to nature, the first thing you’ll notice is the greenery. With no natural water on the island, it’s remarkable that the park is so full of vegetation, and this is thanks to the conservation and irrigation carried out daily by the team at Bani Yas. For nature lovers, there are various types of tree in the park, each of which was specifically requested by the late His Highness Sheikh Zayed, who was extremely forward thinking in his design for such a conservation area. As well as the Omani frankincense tree, there are plenty of arak and African trees that really do give you the sense that you’re somewhere in the wild.
There are over 10,000 animals in the park including gazelle, Arabian oryx, blackbucks, giraffe, emu, cheetahs and hyenas. More than 350 kilometres of original fencing has been torn down to create an ‘open range’ safari feel and the indigenous animals, such as the athletic sand gazelles, roam wild – hence the 50km/h speed limit on the single lane, paved road – while others, such as the cheetahs, are contained in sprawling, expansive pens.
Visitors have a host of nature-based activities to choose from, the most exciting of which is the morning game drive. Piling into an open air jeep, the tour explores the island’s game parks, where you can spot hundreds of gazelles and the UAE’s largest herd of endangered Arabian Oryx. We saw a couple of inquisitive female ostrich and got up close to the majestic giraffes as they tucked into their breakfast. Unfortunately, the cheetahs were playing shy on our visit, but we certainly didn’t return disappointed.
After the safari, your brush with nature isn’t over. Opt to go horse riding or kayaking through the mangroves, where you can spot even more wildlife including sea turtles and, if you’re very lucky, dugongs. There’s also a nature walk where you can trek up the dried wadis accompanied by an experienced guide who’ll point out different types of rocks and land formations as well as identifying any animal bones you come across. For a final dose of adventure, there’s plenty of watersports on offer including scuba-diving, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding and snorkelling.
How to get there
By car: The resort is located 8km off the Abu Dhabi western coastline and 250km from Abu Dhabi International Airport. Should you wish to drive, follow the E11 highway directly from Abu Dhabi or Dubai in the direction of Tarif and Mirfa. Continue straight until you pass Tarif, Mirfa and Baynoona. Take the exit marked Al Ruwais (Exit 142) and continue until you pass Al Ruwais, after which follow signs to the right for Jebel Dhana and then for Sir Bani Yas Island. Take the second U-turn from Jebel Dhana road and take the first right turn. At the end of the road there will be a roundabout. Follow the Sir Bani Yas/Desert Islands sign that will lead you to Jebel Dhana jetty. Guests can park their car in a safe, covered area before boarding the water taxi for a 20 minute journey to Sir Bani Yas Island.
By plane: Travel to Sir Bani Yas Island is swift and seamless thanks to a choice of flight services from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Choose from the luxury of a regional jet service from Al Bateen Executive Airport (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the spectacle of landing on the water with seaplane flights from Dubai (email@example.com). www.al-sahel.anantara.com (02 801 4300).