Abu Dhabi's first eco retreat has opened next to Jubail Mangrove Park and is now accepting reservations for people looking to spend a night immersed in nature.
Located on Jubail Island, adults-only hideaway Pura Eco Retreat offers a laid-back escape where the focus of each stay is its nature-filled surrounds.
The retreat takes its name from the popular Costa Rican phrase "Pura Vida" – which translates from Spanish to "pure life". The eco-focused hideaway also follows the Costa Rican lifestyle, which is all about slowing down and enjoying life's little pleasures. It’s exactly this essence that Emirati owner Ibrahim Al Mannaee is trying to capture at Pura.
Reachable via a sandy, single-track road that winds for about three kilometres through Jubail Island's mangroves, Pura Eco Retreat is housed in a gleaming white villa with a bright turquoise roof. As you are shuttled along the road towards the retreat, it's impossible not to notice the distinct change in the air. Gone is the thundering roar of traffic from the Sheikh Khalifa highway, replaced quite perfectly by the endless lapping of water and the occasional bird shrill.
Each of the exterior walls of Pura's main building has a huge purple wildlife mural, painted by artist Fatima Al Hammadi. Inside the glass entranceway is a sleek minimalist lobby where guests check-in. There's a recreation room in one wing of the house, which is due to open soon and will offer visitors a space to play games, read books and unwind, while the other side of the house has a small retail shop that's ideal for picking up any forgotten essentials.
For Al Mannaee, the retreat is a place to highlight Abu Dhabi’s natural archipelago landscape. “Abu Dhabi is made up of over 200 islands, but how many of us have actually experienced those private islands,” he says.
Private butlers and island-living
And while island-living is very much the highlight here, guests at Pura are not expected to fend for themselves in a nature-filled wilderness. Instead, butlers are on hand to show people to their rooms. Golf-buggies transport visitors to their dome-shaped suites where a well-stocked welcome pack awaits. A king-sized bed offers scenic views of the surrounding mangroves and all rooms come with coffee-making facilities, speakers and an en suite bathroom with linens and bespoke toiletries.
Each dome also has its own fire pit that staff can light on a nightly basis – the welcome pack contains chestnuts, ideal for toasting on this open flame. Outside, a colourful cabana offers a private spot for relaxing al fresco, accompanied by endless mangrove views.
Al Mannaee is hopeful that this close connection with nature, coupled with the home comforts that travellers want during a staycation, will entice people to visit.In keeping with the Pura Vida lifestyle, guests are encouraged to digitally detox, which is why there's no Wi-Fi in the domes. Instead, there are lots of complimentary activities to keep guests entertained. These include fat biking, kayaking, yoga, stargazing, birdwatching and more. Further along the shoreline, there’s a private beach and access to the water – exclusively for those staying overnight.
"Pura is for those who aren’t into venturing into full camping mode, giving up day-to-day comfort and luxuries.
"My best friend was one of the reasons I decided to open Pura. I looked at him, he is someone that I do everything with, but whenever I speak about camping, he doesn’t want to go all the way out into the desert,” explains the Emirati owner.
“I thought that if he could stay somewhere that offers a connection with nature, but with facilities like a comfortable bed, shower and meals, then maybe he – and others – would enjoy it.”
“We would like people to experience a different side to Abu Dhabi, Pura offers the chance to experience a rustic camping style experience, but in full comfort and close to the city."
In keeping with that ethos, the resort offers on-demand room service and a private al fresco dining set up outside each dome.
Bookings are open for dinner by the mangroves
Breakfast is taken on the terrace behind the main villa. A private oval-shaped pool backed by the mangroves sits beside a terrace where food is served under billowy white shades. On the platform behind this spot, beanbags and easy chairs have been set up to encourage people to sit, pause and drink in the view. This is also where yoga classes take place, giving guests the chance to practice their asana right on the edge of the mangroves.
Beyond this terrace is the main dining area. Dinner bookings are also available for the general public, but reservations are essential. The seating areas and tables have been crafted from wooden pallets with brightly coloured, locally made table runners and cushions covers. Overhead, lampshades created out of fishing baskets reminiscent of those used by local fishermen swing in the breeze and there are a few open tepee-style tables set out on the sand.
It's the perfect sundowner location. Later, as darkness falls, the place comes alive with cauldron-style firepits, solar lighting and a starlit sky. High tea and dinner are served daily with dishes blending local ingredients and meticulous cooking techniques – or "food for the soul" as Al Mannaee likes to say.
Calling itself an eco-retreat means that Pura takes steps to reduce its carbon footprint and give back to the local community. Located in a protected area, Pura has been created with as little environmental footprint as possible.
The team plans to collaborate closely with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi to ensure activities fit with the natural environment. They have also been involved in planting more mangrove trees in the surrounding waters.
Upcycled materials have been used where possible and there are no motorised activities allowed on the water. The entire place is also a car-free zone, with guests parking instead at the nearby Jubail Mangrove Park, from where they are collected in golf carts.
A haven for birds, fish, crabs and gazelle
Within touching distance of Jubail Island's mangrove forests, Pura gives visitors a front-row seat to nature's beauty. Staff can provide binoculars for wildlife spotting, and there's certainly no shortage of opportunities. Having evolved to survive in the salty waters of the Arabian Gulf, the canopy is made up of grey mangrove trees where several species of birds nest, roost and feed. More than 90 different types of birds frequent the forest including flamingo, herons, dunlin and whimbrel. The threatened greater spotted eagle is also a regular visitor to the shoreline. And the birds are not the only creatures that call this place home.
Inside the mangrove canopy are frogs, seagrass, spiders and countless species of fish. Visitors with a keen-eye can spot mangrove snappers, silver mullets and milkfish as well as several types of crab, including ghost crabs and blue swimmer crabs. Some of these creatures are only found in mangrove forests, making the area truly unique. There are also free-roaming gazelle across Jubail Island, and staff at Pura have set up two feeding stations for the animals so chances of seeing one during a stay are high.
More accommodation coming in 2021
Much like the ever-changing mangroves and tides surrounding it, Pura is a place that's still developing. There are plans to add another five domes next year, and the spa will open in 2021. The owners are also researching the feasibility of constructing an on-site water plant that would allow the retreat to become more self-sufficient. For guests who want a rawer experience, three tents have been set up beside the mangrove forest that will soon be open for overnight reservations, likely to be joined by a few more next year.
With all this change, one constant remains the same at this secret enclave – an endless connection with nature.
"It's an escape. An escape from daily life, from noise, a chance to relax," says Al Mannaee. "The perfect itinerary for travellers would be to spend a few days in Abu Dhabi seeing some of the amazing places like The Louvre, Yas Island, Al Maryah Island, and then spend a final night on Jubail Island. Staying at Pura Eco Retreat is the ideal opportunity to visit Jubail Mangrove Park and the Seed, and the perfect way to wind down before your trip ends."
Overnight rates start from Dh1,800 on weekdays. Dinner reservations require a minimum spend of Dh225 (weekdays) and Dh265 (weekends). Booking is essential and can be made on staypura.com