“Waiter…the best seat in the house please with a view. Make that the best seat in the world.”
The Maldives has a lot of stunning beauty and the resorts there put a lot of thought into how to experience that beauty most completely. The heart of the beauty is the distinctive ocean waters dappled with a crowded palette of blue hues. The best resort restaurants get the guests as close to the waters edge as possible with waterside beach dining a crowd favourite. Others have pushed out even further onto the water (with the dramatic instance of Congrad Rangali pushing ‘into’ the water) with pavilions. I have visited the water pavilion restaurants at Kuramathi, Rangali and Reeth Beach, and they are quite prevalent across the Maldives.
Other resorts are now moving to ‘altitude’ to enhance the vista for its diners even higher. Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru’s Moroccan restaurant ‘Al Barakat’, Adaaran Vadoo’s main bar, Anantara Kihava’s upcoming Sky-Fire-Salt-Sea restaurant concept all elevate the dining to a second story for a broader perspective on the surrounding maritime spectacle. But Sakis makes a dazzling case (and photos as expected) for Baros’ Lighthouse restaurant calling out the distinguished architecture and menu in the increasingly competitive category of panoramic pavilions.
“Its singular architecture can not be forgotten. And if by chance, you have already spent your holidays in North Male Atoll, you might have seen it at the horizon, brightly shining under the Sun, reminding you a lighthouse in the far end… Signature, highlight and landmark of the Luxury Hotel Baros Maldives, the Lighthouse was built on the lagoon and stands as a culinary reference by proposing an elaborated, innovative and fine A La Carte dining menu. Flavours are mainly based on Mediterranean and Asiatic Food, turning into a surprisingly taste experience when it also comes to the Fusion of both of them.”
Is the Maldives the best snorkelling in the world?
The debate rages in the diver community about the best diving in the world. A number of clear criteria are considered…
- Clarity of water
- Quantity and diversity of fish (including ‘Big 5’ and ‘Little 5’)
- Quantity and diversity of coral
The top ten areas regularly includes the Maldives along with the likes of the Red Sea, the Great Barrier Reef, Cayman Islands, Indonesia.
But what would be the criteria for the best snorkelling and which areas would prevail?
First of all, the basic dive criteria would be a foundation and all would apply equally as well for snorkelling. But snorkelling requires more considerations…
- Shallowness, low current
- Easy access to shore (so you can just jump in…no boat trips needed)
- Warm water (so you can just go in your swimsuit…no wetsuits)
I am surprised how little the topic is discussed in online forums and magazine articles. When it has been reviewed, the treatments seem shallower than a coral cropping at low tide. For example, Costal Living did the piece ’10 top spots to snorkel’ but only covered North America in its selections. This Forbes piece ‘World’s Top Snorkeling Spots’ is one of the best lists I have seen, but there is little accompanying text and the entire Indian Ocean is conspicously absent. The Island magazine piece on ‘World 23 Best Islands for Snorkeling’ is the most comprehensive and includes the Maldives, but its singling out Veligandu would be hotly debated by many (my own research seems to point more to Kandoludhoo).
While Maldives is renowned for romance (top honeymoon spot) and diving, I think it really makes a strong case for being one of the top snorkelling destinations in the world. The atoll topography is just right for ideal snorkelling and ‘house reef’ conditions. Most ‘house reefs’ offer a stunning snorkel experience just meters from your beach villa (unlike the Great Barrier Reef which usually requires a boat ride). The waters are warm (unlike the Red Seas which requires a wet suit to be comfortable). I am more of a Maldives expert than a worldwide snorkelling expert, but most of the divers and divemasters that I meet in the Maldives who have themselves snorkelled around the world, tend to concur with my bold conjecture. Certainly, it warrants a place on anyone’s top 10.
One of the first questions a true Maldives aficionado asks of a resort is ‘How good is the House Reef?’
When I first heard the advice to seek out the best house reef, I didn’t even know what a house reef was. We arrived at Laguna Beach (the resort that preceded Velassaru) and spent our days snorkelling around the coral croppings in the sandy lagoon. Then on an excursion to Bolifushi (soon to be Jumeirah Vittaveli), we went ‘over the edge’ and our hearts nearly leapt out of our snorkels. It is a truly dramatic experience to go from a few feet of water to a vast open expanse with a wall peppered with colourful coral and schools of tropical fish.
When I visited Vadoo, I got into a discussion with Assistant GM Alex Kovacs about great house reefs. Alex was proudly and valiantly making the case that Vadoo’s was one of if not ‘the’ best house reef in the Maldives’. My wife and I had to have a go with that kind of endorsement and can attest that it is a thoroughly fine experience. I would call it a first class house reef, but I balked at his claim that it was ‘the best’. I’ve covered ‘house reefs’ before including ‘Best House Reef’ (based on TA research), ‘Best House Reef Drop-Off’, and ‘Closest House Reef’.
He then challenged me, what makes a ‘great house reef’? I had some immediate responses, but it subsequently made me reflect on what it the characteristics really were. I came up with the following proposed list of criteria…
- Drop-off (minimum 20 metre drop off)
- Access (maximum 30 metres from shore to drop off)
- Quantity and diversity of fish (especially ‘Little Five’)
- Quantity and diversity of coral
- Low current (typically on the ‘inner atoll’ side of the island)
- Warm water (this is a given in the Maldives and many tropical destinations, but not a guarantee at other snorkel spots around the world)
When our family went on safari in Kruger National Park, the various resorts used to brag about how rich their park was by referencing the ‘Big Five’…
- Water Buffalo
The ‘Big 5’ represented the ‘main events’ on safari. Yes, the colourful birds, curious critters, adorable primates were all wonderful to behold, but these Big 5 had a certain cachet and thrill. It became a bit of a signature to a great safari to see all five.
That Big 5 tradition made me think that ‘snorkelling’ ought to have its own ‘Big 5’. Most snorkelling excursions are dubbed ‘Snorkel Safaris’ anyway. After a decade of snorkelling, there certainly are certain creatures that spark a real enthusiasm. An acid test of distinction is whether you shout out to perfect strangers swimming near by, ‘hey, check this out!’
But actually, on reflection, they break into two groups – treats and rarities. The ‘treats’ are the ones that you would pretty much hope or even expect to see at least one of on any good snorkel…but are still a special treat. The ‘rarities’ are the ones that one hardly ever sees snorkelling, but can especially if one seeks them out.
First the basic ‘treats’ that I would dub the ‘Little 5’. Most of these are fairly common in good snorkelling sites. For one reason or another they always bring a little smile and the dive camera comes out…
- Lion Fish
And the more exciting rarities which are the true ‘Big 5’ and the encounters that you will talk about in the bar would include…
- Scorpion Fish
- Whale Shark
This list is a distinctly Indian Ocean / Maldives list. In the same way that the ‘Big 5’ was distinctly ‘African’. Tigers, orangatangs, and sloths would certainly figure into any one’s top aspirations in Asia jungles. Similarly, the dugongs of Australia, water snakes of Indonesia and seashores of Europe and America make for special occasions in those locales.
One of the common questions on the Maldives Trip Advisor Forum is where to stay for a quick Male stop-over. If you are going for the sheer mathematics of convenience, then the closest hotel/resort to the Male airport is Hulhule. The picture above shows the hotel snapped from the water taxi ranks in front of the airport. I strolled the few hundred yards of waterside in a few minutes to check it out during one of my many transits out of Male during my recent tour.
Some people dismiss Hulhule as a weaker offering relative to the dedicated resorts sprinkled across the atolls. But compared to ‘airport hotels’ around the world, Hulhule re-defines the genre. Instead of being tucked into some industrial park, the hotel is surrounded by water. Instead of being an empty guest warehouse, it actually has invested in extensive entertainment facilities including basketball, archery, pitch-and-putt golf, one of the largest and best equipped fitness centres I have seen and a fine pool.
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When I came upon the Haveeru Online piece on ‘Gonuts’ (“International doughnuts cafe chain opens in Maldives”) I nearly fainted with anticipation. Okay, it wasn’t Krispy Kreme. But doughnuts and the Maldives. It’s like ambrosia and paradise mixed into one indolent concoction. So on my recent trip, I had to make a special detour to check out Gonuts. Despite my discerning palette for all things doughy and fried, I was beside myself when I got to experience them.
First, they were good. I had the ‘Chocolate Profiterole’. It appeared to be made fresh as I waited. The filling was particularly ‘creamy’ as opposed to the more gelatinous custard of conventional donuts.
Second, they were appropriately exotic. Flavours offer took the doughnut repertoire to whole new dimensions. ‘Spicy Tuna’ and ‘Sambalicious’ (with chilli pepper) were too adventurous for me even.
Finally, the dining area was a masterstroke. One of my pet peeves with resorts is when they pave over too many dining areas and don’t have enough ‘toes in the white sand’ places to eat. And yet, here in the heart of downtown Male, Gonuts’ own dining area was laid out with white sand for people to enjoy their delicacy in a delightful cafe setting.
So why do I credit the Holiday Inn Male with this ‘Best of Maldives’ distinction? Well, Gonuts has a take-away service! Which means that guest at the Holiday Inn (a few blocks down the road) can ring up for a few concoctions to enjoy with their mocktail by the roof side pool.
Everyone talks about the Maldive seascape, but despite lacking in size, the Maldive landscapes are often just as striking in their colour and beauty. Most resorts work hard to bring out the very best with primping and fussing over bougainvillea, hibiscus, and oleander lining the pathways and accents around the island. But the winner of the blue ribbon for gardening has to go to Adaaran Vadoo.
Vadoo’s garden is one of the first things to hit you on arrival. Leaving the jetty, you emerge through a gate into a manicured horticultural masterpiece like stepping into some sequestered Eden. Passing through reception to the rest of the island brings you to an even more expansive park with flowers, topiary, paths, little sitting areas, ‘turtle sanctuary’, etc. Not only are the gardens exquisite, but they are also the dominant feature of the island itself. Being one of the smallest islands in the Maldives line-up, there is no room for even any villas (so they have 100% water villas). What little space exists is devoted more to blooms and blossoms than any other island.
A rich tropical forest tapestry blankets Adaaran Hudhuranfushi with a colourful and quirky canopy. The sand paths have a grander arboreal arch to them than most islands.
And the diversity is stunning. There are several giant Banyans around the resort. Our favourite was the ‘Kasakue’ or ‘Screw Pine’ (see picture above). We see these all over the Maldives with their bizarre root systems reaching down into the sand giving rise to their nickname – ‘Walking Trees’. Being one of our favourite tree, we keep an eye out to them and some of the best examples we saw at Hudhuranfushi.
Another place where they had great selection was their resort garden (one of the biggest in the Maldives) where they features unusual specimens like the ‘Num Num’ tree which produces a fruit at the base of its trunk used for traditional cooking (see picture at bottom). A very appropriate name for a delicacy producing tree I’d say. Hudhuranfushi also has it’s own Banana Grove that features 7 different varieties of bananas.
My wife’s favourite was the abundant ‘Temple Trees’ that bloom all year round with white and yellow flowers (see picture directly below). They are called ‘Temple Trees’ because worshippers would pick the flowers and take them to temples as a part of Buddhist tradition in the region.
I’m not going out on a limb to say if you appreciate the bio-diversity of a thriving tropical forest, then Hudhuranfushi is a treeat for you (I am not ashamed of these puns).
You just never know what you are going to stumble upon in the Maldives. The stereotype is that there is nothing to do there but lie in the sun and swim in the sea. But every time I visit there I’m always taken aback by some undiscovered curiosity. Most of the time the resorts themselves don’t even realise the unique assets they possess. Probably the most ‘surprising’ of my recent tour was the outdoor theatre at Adaaran Club Rannalhi. Our tour was finished and we were wrapping up when we rounded the corner and lo and behold we came upon an outdoor amphitheatre. Definitely up there with a glowing hatch and a polar bear for things you would not expect to see on a tiny deserted island…it was definitely ‘Lost’ moment.
In this case, the ‘Others’ are an Italian tour operater called Azemar who book many ‘club’ style holiday packages to ‘Club’ Rannalhi. In inimitable Italian style, the tour operators stage all sorts of spectacles from drama to singing to presentations. The stage is sheltered (probably more against the sun than rain), has lighting, screens and a range of theatrical and AV support.
I wrote about the innovative work Sheraton Full Moon was doing in the corporate space, but if you wanted to bring a really large crowd down and have a facility for big group presentations, Club Rannalhi could actually fit the bill. I think that the idyllic beauty of the Maldives might even make a Powerpoint deck palatable.
48 resorts have tennis, 11 have squash courts, and 7 have badminton courts (according to my research). But only Reethi Beach has 2 tennis courts, and 2 squash courts and 2 badminton courts. And they are all in pristine condition. The latter two are situated in their large indoor sports complex in the centre of the island. The tennis courts are all weather surface with flood lighting. Also, the extensive indoor space becomes a hedge against any unlucky bouts of weather or just a break from an overdose of sunshine.