After days in the metropolises of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas is another destination for the day. Sir Bani... what? Many “crusaders” of modern times think that they have never heard of it before. That's what happened to the author of this travel report. Before we present the day's destination in the Arabian Gulf in words and pictures, a few facts:
Sir Bani Yas at a glance
Sir Bani Yas belongs to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. It is located in the Al Dhafra region, a few kilometers from the mainland. Sir Bani Yas is the only island off the Arabian Peninsula where cruise ships stop. Between Abu Dhabi City and the holiday destination in the west of the capital are 180 kilometers as the crow flies. At around 71 square kilometers, Sir Bani Yas is much smaller than the North Sea island of Sylt. During his lifetime, the founder of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, maintained a palace on the barren sand island. During his reign he was given many exotic animals as gifts. He made it a point to settle the animals, including llamas, giraffes and antelopes, within sight of his refuge on Sir Bani Yas. From humble beginnings, the largest nature reserve in the UAE, the Arabian Wildlife Park, developed within 50 years.
Irrigation systems, a seawater desalination plant and – as we hear – more than three million trees and bushes planted transformed the formerly barren sand island into a tree-lined landscape interspersed with vast green spaces. More than 30 animal species from different continents, including some that are threatened with extinction, live together there and find sufficient food.
Sir Bani Yas - destination of vacationers
After the sheikh's death in November 2004, his successor opened the island to visitors. Sir Bani Yas is not just a nature reserve. The island is both a holiday destination and a cruise ship destination. The Anantara hotel chain has three locations on the island with sophisticated and high-priced luxury residences (explore the hotels on booking.com . In addition, cruise ships regularly call at Sir Bani Yas during the season. In the past, the ships were docked and brought passengers ashore in tender boats.
Norwegian Dawn at Sir Bani Yas pier
Since the 2022 season, there has been a 25 million euro pier for cruise ships that can accommodate two ships 300 meters long or more at the same time. The island's capacity is designed for 5.000 passengers per day.
Sir Bani Yas - Offers for cruise ship guests
TUI Cruises presents Sir Bani Yas in 2021 as follows: “Sir Bani Yas – a destination like no other. Something completely different, something very special awaits you here: As soon as you leave the ship, you find yourself directly on the mile-long, private sandy beach. From morning to evening you can indulge in sweet idleness... But the hinterland also has a lot to offer: a nature reserve with around 10.000 animals... which you can only marvel at during excursions arranged by TUI Cruises." A follow-up visit two years later definitely leads to the realization that individual excursions cannot be undertaken unless you are staying in a hotel. The cruise companies secure their profits on Sir Bani Yas.
Visit to the Arabian Wildlife Park
The tours to the nature reserve are mostly carried out with open vehicles. The organized tours offer interested fellow travelers a guarantee of getting to know the island and its wildlife.
Sir Bani Yas - ready all-terrain vehicles
After leaving the cruise ship, the passengers walk across the seemingly endless pier to the “Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach”. Ship guests who have difficulty walking can hope to ride on one of the electrically powered golf carts that shuttle between the ship and the beach section.
The guests are distributed among the cars at the cruise beach.
Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach
The approximately 90-minute tour then begins. Sources speak of an area of around 40 square kilometers in which the individual animal species reside. The information is not reliable knowledge. There is also no reliable information on the number of animals. There is generally talk of 10.000 to 15.000 animals. The huge enclosures are separated by region. This prevents species from the Arabian Peninsula from crossing with those from North Africa or elsewhere.
If you're lucky, you'll see giraffes up close. On our tour over a greater distance we only saw the necks and heads. Giraffes are the only species that require feeding. Without feeding, the animals would otherwise eat the trees bare within a short period of time.
Tour participants will see impala and other antelope species, gazelles and flocks of turkeys and peacocks up close. A cheetah rests majestically behind a fence, presumably its hunting instinct has not yet awakened.
Hunting is generally prohibited on the island. However, the few cheetahs and hyenas have a license to hunt. The predators kill antelopes and gazelles, thereby regulating the population of these species. The surplus animals that do not fall victim to the cheetahs and hyenas are relocated to other regions of the emirate for population control purposes. The cheetahs stay in a secure enclosure during the day. We don't get to see the nocturnal hyenas.
The cheetahs are followed by gemsbok, hinds, goitered gazelles, axis deer, oryx and crowned cranes. As a side note, the sanctuary is said to have the world's largest herd of Arabian oryxes. Finally, there are the North African maned sheep and – not to forget – the emus.
To our regret, the ruins of an Assyrian Christian monastery are not visited. The ruins are one of the island's attractions. We also don't get to see the hotels or the airport landing strip. At least our car passes the former palace of Sheikh Zayed, located on a hill. It is astonishing that a chain of hills rises from a largely flat island of sand and stone.
Another thing worth mentioning is the lagoon's mangrove ecosystem. With a bit of luck, visitors will see flamingos in the lagoon. “Only” a heron shows itself to us. However, the “Cruise Beach” where the excursion with the safari bus ends is not hidden from us.
Stay on the kilometer-long sandy beach
TUI Cruises promises its guests “sweet idleness”. Many fellow travelers apparently follow the recommendation. The conditions for a carefree day on the beach are ideal. The weather is fine. To the left and right of the pier, guests have access to a total of two and a half kilometers of well-maintained beach. The sand is coarse and the beach slopes steeply. However, that doesn't stop the fun. After all, lifeguards watch over those who want to swim. In addition to many palm trees, rows of sunshades provide shade. Comfortable wooden loungers and the warm water of the Arabian Gulf invite you to relax. There are various water sports and wellness offers for active guests. If you like, book a diving trip. – German ships from AIDA and TUI provide their guests with an al fresco buffet. We missed a buffet on our follow-up visit with NCL. The food and drinks are taken at rustic tables under a huge sunshade.
Sir Bani Yas - Open air restaurant of the cruise ships
Play equipment is available for children. Sanitary rooms and showers are of course available. Most fellow travelers are likely to be in Abu Dhabi after days - see Abu Dhabi sights - and Dubai - see Dubai sights - enjoyed the day at the beach. And it's not just during the day that guests are offered something. During the AIDAcosma's overnight stay, guests experienced a late evening silent party with DJs and light effects.
Sir Bani Yas – an alternative cruise destination
The author of these lines admits that he is not a beach vacationer. Small and large cities, historic places and beautiful landscapes appeal to him more. However, an island like Sir Bani Yas with its animal reserve is a special experience. A safari park or a zoo cannot stand comparison. The author also admits that after the island tour he spent an hour on the beach in the afternoon. Sir Bani Yas on the route plan is far from a wasted day!