While the island resorts of the Maldives look broadly similar – incredible marine life, turquoise waters, stilted overwater villas and nodding palms trees – they’re surprisingly different if you dig a little deeper. You’ll find great food and wonderful staff throughout, but the subtle differences can – and should – influence where you choose.
There are around 180 resorts in this island nation, with another 30 scheduled to open over the next couple of years, so the choice is a little bewildering. Do you want an overwater or beach villa, is a house reef a must, are you travelling with children, is it a honeymoon or a multi-generational holiday?
The far-flung resorts are accessed via seaplane or domestic scheduled flight, while those closer to the international airport are reached by speedboat. Hopping off your international flight onto a waiting speed boat has something of a James Bond feel to it and it’s certainly a more exciting way than leaving London Heathrow by car or train! If you’re transferring onto a seaplane your holiday begins at the brand-new seaplane terminal where many resorts have private lounges. It’s quite sight, with an endless stream of float planes arriving or setting off down the water runway.
We couldn’t possibly review the whole gamut of options, but I’ve just returned from a second visit to the Maldives and can add a few more to our portfolio.
JA Manafaru is a delightful spot in the far north. It’s an easy short walk from the international to domestic terminal and a 50-minute onward flight to Hoarafushi Airport. From here it’s a quick ride in a golf buggy to the waiting speed boat and 10 minutes to the resort. It sounds like a lot of travel but it’s not onerous at all and the advantage is that you’re far from any other resorts so get a lovely feeling of remoteness. The whole place carries an elegantly understated atmosphere and is immediately welcoming. Stand outs are the fabulous food, the mature vegetation and how the resort fits so seamlessly within it. It’s fun, relaxing, there’s plenty to do, the accommodation – both overwater and beachfront – is gorgeous. Definitely one to consider as a really excellent all-rounder.
COMO Maalifushi is at the opposite end of the country in the Thaa Atoll to the far south. Access is via a 60-minute seaplane flight which is a delight in itself – speeding over other resorts until they gradually peter out leaving a bird’s eye view of gorgeous, deserted atolls. This is an absolute classic Maldives resort and the epitome of barefoot luxury. It’s a stunning island with great beaches, glorious accommodation, and masses to do. It’s fabulous for families and teens, and great for honeymooners too. No stress, no pretentions – just easy charm in an exquisite setting.
Makanudu is a 50-minute speedboat ride from the airport and one of the smaller Maldives offerings with just 37 beachfront villas. This is rustic chic and very different to the glitzy glamour of most other resorts. It’s a no shoes, no news sort of place and somewhere you can completely switch off. While you won’t find swimming pools and overwater villas you will find warm hospitality in a pristine Robinson Crusoe-like setting. It’s tiny, you can walk around the entire island in about 15 minutes, and snorkel its colourful reef in around 45. More African beach lodge in feel to most here, it enjoys a remote spot on the North Malé Atoll, undisturbed by light pollution or other resorts nearby. The number of repeat visitors speaks volumes for this little gem.
LUX* South Ari Atoll sits in the South Ari Atoll, a short 30-minute sea plane ride from Malé. One of the larger resorts with just over 190 villas and suites, this has a wonderfully upbeat atmosphere. With ten room types, eight restaurants and five bars to choose from, there really is something for everyone. Two miles from tip to toe, the island’s lushly vegetated middle gives way to the most perfect white sand beach – you’ll find quiet spots to curl up with a book, beaches with DJs playing, a fabulous ice-cream parlour, al-fresco film nights at Cinema Paradiso and a delightful spa. Food here is fab and breakfast is to die for!
Conrad Rangali, close to the southern tip of South Ari Atoll is a supremely luxurious, sophisticated resort comprising two islands connected by a 500m footbridge. One of the longest running properties in the Maldives, it holds many firsts over its 30-year history including The Muraka, a quite extraordinary underwater villa. One island is adult only, the other family friendly and both offer exquisite accommodation together with a plethora of activities and dining options. Even in Maldives’ terms it enjoys a truly beautiful setting with excellent snorkelling straight from the beach.
COMO Cocoa Island, also on South Ari Atoll but close enough to Malé to be an easy speed boat ride from the international airport, is unique for its all overwater accommodation. With just 33 bright and airy suites inspired by local Dhoni boats it pervades a wonderful sense of calm. Romantics will love it for dinners under the stars by the pool and scuba enthusiasts for the easy access to myriad dive sites. Snorkelling straight from the villas is superb and the spa is one of the loveliest in the entire archipelago. As a place to relax and de-stress this is up there with the very best.
Maldives and fly fishing
I’ve been accompanied on both my visits to the Maldives by my fly fishing fanatic husband. He starts to twitch as soon as we get near the sea, itching to see if there’s an opportunity to flick a fly into the water. Many Maldives resorts offer deep sea fishing and although most of the watersports guides are passionate fishermen, they know nothing about fly fishing. (The exception is Como Maalifushi where fly fishing with a dedicated saltwater fishing guide is possible between December and April). They were, however, intrigued by the idea and only too happy to take us to beautiful flats and sandbanks where we could see what was what. If you are happy to pack a rod and some saltwater flies, then it’s perfectly possible to spend a morning or two exploring. We saw GTs (known locally as jacks), snappers, triggers, bluefin trevally and various parrot fish. If you don’t mind self-guiding, you can have plenty of fun fly fishing here. More information in our recent blog.
For further information on holidays in Maldives please contact Charlotte Opperman or call us on +44 1980 847389.