Sir Bani Yas,
Located 105 miles/170 kilometres southwest of Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas is the largest natural island in the United Arab Emirates. Known not only for its spectacular beauty, conical mountains, gently sloping shores and crystal clear waters, Sir Ban Yas has gained international recognition in recent years for its spectacular nature reserve. Established in 1971 by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the reserve now covers 60% of the island — a vast 1,400 hectares — and is home to some 13,000 rare and indigenous animals (over 100 species), including gazelles, Barbary sheep, giraffes and the hawksbill turtle; rarities include the Indian blackbuck and Arabian oryx, one of the world’s most endangered species. The jewel in Sir Bani Yas’ crown, the wildlife park provides an authentic environment for the animals to roam freely and allows conservationists to study the fauna in a controlled eco-system. An introduction of natural predators (including northern cheetah, Golden jackal, caracal and the striped hyena) into the park has allowed for organic interaction between species as if in the wild. The birdlife has not been forgotten either, with species as diverse as the Blue-necked ostrich, the houbara bustard and even the humble emu living side by side with flamboyance of flamingos and duets of ospreys.
Unsurprisingly then, the island has earned a reputation of being a haven for luxury safari and adventure holidays. Varied outdoors activities such as mountain biking, land sailing, horse riding and off-roading can be enjoyed in the desert while aquatic pastimes include pearl diving, paddle boarding, kayaking through mangrove forests, deep sea fishing and of course snorkelling and scuba diving. Guided exploration of the game reserve can be arranged, allowing time for plenty of photo opportunities. If you prefer a different kind of adventure, the spectacular white sandy beaches provide a gentler form of entertainment.
The island is also home to some 36 significant archaeological sites including remnants of Late Stone Age and early Islamic structures. One site, a Nestorian Christian monastery dates back to 600 AD, and is thought to be the only pre-Islamic Christian site to be found in the U.A.E. The charming harbour of Sir Bani Yas is definitely worth a visit with local cafés serving traditional Arabian coffee, desserts and dates.