In 2014, more than 13 million tourists visited the Unites Arab Emirates. What attracted those holidaymakers? It could have been the sunshine, the world-class restaurants, the shopping, the luxury hotels, the architecture or the major sporting events or cultural attractions, such as Saadiyat Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, Dubai‘s arts district, Alserkal Avenue, or its heritage area, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. But it was probably the beaches.
The UAE offers approximately 1,000km of coastline, according to the Royal Geographical Society; some is natural, some the result of reclamation projects and man-made islands, such as Palm Jumeirah in Dubai.
Anybody can enjoy the public beaches – and very fine they are, too – but if you’re looking for a luxury beach experience, you will have to make a reservation at one of the United Arab Emirates hotels, often located on their own stretch of private sand. But it’s not enough simply to be located on a beach; the best beach hotels provide an escape; they offer something special.
Sir Bani Yas Island is a 20-minute boat ride from the jetty at Jebel Dhana on the west coast of Abu Dhabi. Established as a wildlife reserve in 1971 by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, half of the island is given over to the Arabian Wildlife Park, home to giraffe, cheetah, hyena, oryx and ostrich, amongst other species. Anantara’s Desert Islands Resort and Spa and Sir Bani Yas Island Al Yamm Villa Resort, located on Sir Bani Yas Island, are two of the most remarkable properties in the UAE, both as deserving of their luxury tags as any property in the Emirates. But it is their location that makes them truly exceptional. Visit and you can amuse yourself with kayaking, archery, pearl diving, nature walks and drives, horse riding, cultural tours, land sailing, snorkelling, watersports and, most importantly, white sand beaches. Jebel Dhana is a two and a half hour drive from the centre of Abu Dhabi, or you can travel directly to Sir Bani Yas by seaplane from Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
Zaya Nurai Island is an attractive 32-villa boutique beach resort located on a private island a 10-minute boat ride from Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. All of the resort’s villas have private pools and beachfront locations, and a range of watersports are available upon request.
On Saadiyat Island itself, The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas are both five-star hotels with striking natural beaches, where hawksbill turtles and bottlenose dolphins can be spotted. Park Hyatt even has a resident marine biologist, Arabella Willing, who is available to educate guests about the marine life and environment.
Head north up the coast, and you’ll find Dubai’s best beach hotels are also on an island: Palm Jumeirah. There are several fine properties on Palm Jumeirah, but two stand out. One & Only The Palm‘s position – it is the final hotel on the West Crescent of Palm Jumeirah – lends it a tranquillity lacking in many of its neighbours. While Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah has a lovely beach and a watersports centre offering snorkelling, paddle boarding, pedal boating, parasailing, water skiing and deep sea fishing.
Travel a little further north and you’ll reach Ajman, the smallest of the seven Emirates. Ajman attracts visitors looking for a sleepier holiday away from the glitzier attractions of the big cities. Fairmont Ajman, opened earlier this year, is the newest of several beach hotels in Ajman, and boasts a 200m beach.
In the northernmost emirate in the UAE, Ras Al Khaimah, Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach is a magnificent luxury hotel in the town of Al Jazira Al Hamra. Its beachfront villas all have private plunge pools and beach cabanas.
The beach hotels on the east coast, most of which are located in the UAE’s fifth largest emirate, Fujairah, are not as luxurious as the best of those on the west coast, but a weekend spent on Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort‘s 230m beach, enjoying views of the Indian Ocean and the Hajar Mountains, will provide pleasant respite from a busy week in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
Header Image: Desert Island Resort & Spa is one of two five-star Ananantara beach resorts located on Sir Bani Yas Island, nine kilometres off the coast of Abu Dhabi. © Desert Island Resort & Spa by Ananantara
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Dubai from London Heathrow, bringing these beach hotels in the UAE within easy reach.
Have you been to any of these United Arab Emirates hotels? Which is your favourite beach hotel in the area? Let us know in the comments section below.