Time on Delma

Fresh (or maybe slightly smelly?) from two days offroading and camping in the Western Desert of the UAE, I headed north from Ghayathi towards the port of Jebel Dhanna and onwards to Delma Island.  I had first heard about Delma, one of the “Desert Islands” of Al Gharabia (Western Region), Abu Dhabi, a few years back when I read a weekend feature in one of the local newspapers.  It featured an archaeologist who had lived on the island for many years and was passionate about the nature and history the island has to offer – despite the lack of desert on the tiny island it still sounded like my kind of place!


There are a couple of ways to reach the island – you can fly Rotana Jet from Abu Dhabi twice daily.  I took the second option of the Department of Transport ferry, which makes the 1.5 hour crossing three times daily Saturday-Thursday and twice on a Friday.  Introduced in 2010, two modern vessels ply the route and if you want to travel this way just turn up at the ticket office one hour before your sailing to buy your ticket, which at the time of writing costs 100aed each way for a car and 20aed per driver/passenger.

You have to reverse onto the ferry – but the well trained staff will have you parked up in no time! Inside there is a small cafe, seating areas including a separate area for ladies and outside there is a gallery/smoking area where you can snap some fine photos from!

People are very friendly here – I met a lovely lady on the ferry called Jill, a teacher from Manchester whose job meant she spent 2-3 nights on Dalma each week.  She gave me some background to the island, how quiet it was but how warm and welcome people – if you ever see them – are, how safe it is to be there.

Delma is a small community, estimated population for the island varies between 3,000 and 10,000 residents, depending on which website you read.  I don’t doubt that 10,000 people would consider it home – but having visited I reckon most of them live elsewhere and maintain a family house there.  There are very few people going about on the island, I fuelled up at the lovely new ADNOC because I felt sorry for the petrol pump attendants standing around bored and thought I would give them something to do!

The ferry is actually a catamaran which glided effortlessly over a calm sea as we headed north west, passing Sir Baniyas Island  on the way.  It left on time at 6pm and with the sun low in the sky the captain had to use car window shades so he could see his instruments – I don’t suppose there is much of a market for ferry-window-sized ones in the UAE!

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We encountered a couple of dolphins on the way as well as the chance to snap a magnificent sunset

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After disembarking on Dalma, I took the ring road round the island and recce’d a good spot, then settled down for the night.  Did I mention I was camping on my own?  I felt perfectly safe – to gain access to the island by ferry or plane you have to show your Emirates ID card, details of which are recorded, so it’s unlikely there would be any crime on the island.  There are many suitable beach sites to camp on, but these are better discovered in daylight!  Next morning I had a quick drive around to help me plan my day, and a drive round the island took less than 30 minutes.

Some sights to see

Fishermen searching for fish – look at the colour of the water!  And it was a lovely temperature for swimming too (end April)

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Seabirds searching for fish – Delma Island is great for birdwatchers!

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Mangroves – bound to be some fish and other interesting creatures here

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Mosques – there are dozens on the island and some are of really unusual design

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Dhows at the harbour – there’s a boatyard nearby too

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So beautiful at sunset

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My visit to the island wasn’t all “plain sailing” though!  Most people would collect shells from the beach as a souvenir of Delma however I received something rather different – an Al Gharabia Hospitals toiletries set!

There’s no pharmacy on Delma so when I went to the hospital in the hope of buying some immodium to settle a bad tummy upset they ended up admitting me.  I had an amoeba infection and three days worth of IV rehydration/anti-biotics/anti-viral infusions later I was discharged, in time to catch the late morning ferry back to the mainland.

My visit to Delma Island was to research my book but I hadn’t planned on reviewing the hospital – which has recently had been refurbished and is as beautiful, as comfortable and as clean as you could wish a hospital to be.  In addition it is staffed by lovely nurses and good doctors and all in all is a good place to be ill!  I did feel a bit alone at times and I was grateful for the phonecalls and messages my friends were sending me, as well as a visit from Jill, the lady I met on the ferry.

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I had a spare hour after emerging from the hospital so I made a very quick visit to the Delma Museum – and who should I encounter there but Mr Fathy Mohammed Abdullah, the gentleman who featured in the newspaper article which whetted my interest in the island!  It’s a small museum but packed with interesting artefacts, though sadly most of the information boards are in arabic only – however Mr Fathy is a fluent english speaker and will translate for you – I will definitely be back with more than an hour to spend there!

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And so it was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland, after a bitter-sweet trip to a very special place.  As a Scot I can liken it to a weekend away on the Isle of Skye or another West Coast Island; a ferry ride, fresh sea air, beautiful nature, fascinating history and a slower pace of life.  Delma Island now occupies a special place in my heart – I’ll be back!

*the name of the blog comes from a BBC Scotland (?) Documentary, Time on Barra which is a remote island in the Outer Hebrides and not dissimilar to Delma.

Further reading

Official Island Website

Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeology Survey

The National 

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