Out of Africa: Sir Bani Yas Island

There’s no doubting Sheikh Zayed was a pretty awesome guy. He’s considered the founding father of the United Arab Emirates and was a pretty liberal ruler, welcoming the existence of private media and freedom of religion. He was also big into philanthropic work, and owned a private island off the coast of Abu Dhabi, which he transformed into a dope conservation park/resort that you can now visit. And you should.

Sir Bani Yas Island, named for the Bedouin tribe of the area, is home to the Arabian Wildlife Park, with thousands of free-roaming animals including gazelle, Arabian oryx, giraffe and two cheetahs who are the animal emojis of ‘getting up on a Monday morning’.

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While the animals roam around enjoying the good life, humans can go mountain biking, diving, snorkelling, kayaking and land surfing. There are plenty of awesome sights to check out as well, including the ruins of a Christian monastery dating back to 600 AD. The sunset falcon show is a must, where you’ll see these awesome birds in action and learn that they are required by law to hold a passport when travelling – and only fly first or business class when doing so. For real.

There are three places to base yourself on the island and all operated by Anantara Hotels and Resorts. Not named favourites here, but staying at Al Sahel Villa Resort means you’ll be located bang in the middle of the wildlife park. Waking up to herds of gazelle hanging around your villa is unforgettable, as is having an awkward silent battle with the resident guinea fowl as you jostle for space in your private plunge pool. \_(“,)_/

So, to get there: drive 2.5 hours from Abu Dhabi to the dock where a boat will take you the rest of the way, or you make like a falcon and fly in style on a jet service from Abu Dhabi or Dubai airports. If you’re aerially inclined, just be aware that you’ll need to pack your passport and enough patience to handle the lines at Customs.

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