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Secret Island Destinations For When You’ve Done The Obvious

The UAE's most unmissable enclaves.
Brought to you by Visit Abu Dhabi
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The nature of the holidays a lot of us take has changed. Raised on travel diets of caravan trips to various parts of the UK and weeks in Spanish beach towns, if you’re a millennial, you’re likely more interested in fresh experiences and seeing something different than your parents, as recent research from analytics company Harris Insights and Analytics attests.

If you find yourself in the UAE, head out to the region’s islands - away from the bright lights and pace of the main cities - and you’ll find something truly novel. Right now, the area is home to over 200 islands, plus more upcoming man-made ones in the making.

Here’s a few we recommend you making a beeline for.

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Dalma Island

Originally referred to on ancient maps as ‘Pearl Island’, Dalma Island is home to actual buried treasure, as a historic centre for pearl trading and diving. Visit (via road, ferry or plane) for a real insight into UAE history and stroll around the tiny fishing communities and check out the Museum of Dalma, which hosts ancient artefacts from as far back as 5th millennium BC. Plus, rumour has it a ‘pearl pirate’ buried treasure there years ago. Always worth a hunt, right?

Bu Tinah

An oasis of relatively untouched blue waters and coral reefs and, naturally, incredible marine life. Part of the first and largest UNESCO-certified nature reserve Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, the island is known by many as a ‘turtle haven’, and was shortlisted as one of the world’s seven natural wonders of the world back in 2009. It’s home to two endangered turtle species: the green and hawksbill turtles. The nature reserve itself is closed to tourists, but you can take a boat trip around its waters to see the tiny island (which is only two square kilometres in size) for yourself.

Westend61 - Gerald Nowak via Getty Images

Sir Bani Yas

The island’s Arabian Wildlife Park is the largest artificial nature reserve in the region (it takes up more than half of the island), and has 10,000 free roaming animals from gazellas to hyenas and cheetahs. So, a safari around the island is a no brainer. And if animals aren’t really your thing, fear not. There’s also an array of other activities to keep you busy, including water sports, mountain biking and horse riding.

Fabian von Poser via Getty Images

Al Maya island

An absolute must-visit destination for partygoers, Al Maya is a ten minute boat ride from the city to a largely secret location – head there for an unforgettable night of debauchery on the beautiful white beaches. The Maya Fridays pool parties are legendary, with the swim-up bars serving up reams of food platters and bottles of champagne for all. Check out the city’s top DJs, and even enter yourself into a volleyball tournament. Saturdays are much more chill - head over for the day for a zen day on the beach or by the pool, or look into renting a private villa.

Al Samaliya island

Another opportunity to get back to nature, if you’re all done with the city sights. You can get to know all about the lives of the region’s exotic animals, as well as its flowers and plants. There’s also a chance to learn more about the area’s pearl diving industry, as many of experts and old timers live on the island and are happy to chat you through the basics. The island is privately owned by the Emirates Heritage Club, so we do advise that you check with them before heading out there, but it really is a truly picturesque tropical haven that has to be seen to be believed.

Dolphin Bay

Head out onto the waves for the day, in search for a firsthand look at our beautiful, elusive dolphin friends with a boat trip to Dolphin Bay. Regular stops for mid-ocean swims are a staple, as are the hours of beachside relaxation when you reach the remote island. Captain Tony’s boat tours come highly recommended, and leave from Yas Marina, which is located on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island. There’s even a marine biologist on board, Arabella Willing, who will gladly answer all your sea creature-related questions.