The best of the “Best of the Maldives” posts are about discoveries that a rare, exciting and “wow”. And you don’t come any more so than the Ornate Eagle Ray we watched swimming in the water villa lagoon of OZEN Maadhoo. It was a fitting crescendo to a superb 2022 Tour. As Lori went out to the deck of our water villa she spotted this fellow cruising by. She grabbed her phone and followed him to the end of the jetty until she could get a good angle to shoot this footage. This was the first time we had ever seen this spectacularly mottled ray in over two decades of snorkeling, diving and jetty strolling in the Maldives. The Maadhoo Dive Manager Udo Goergen said in his many years there, he had only seen them a few times.
I’ve already elaborated on the benefits of a channel house reef with its flow from the open ocean to the inner atoll often providing a highway for big creatures. OBLU by Atmosphere (Helengeli) features TWO channel house reefs as its extended shapes extends from the atoll edge into the inside. It’s rare find due to plateaus taking reefs far from island and making them less accessible.
Baked Alaska is quite simply my favourite dessert. It sits in the pantheon of luxurious sweets. Despite its ice cream so suited for the hot climate and being one of the titans of luxurious sweets, I was surprised to not come across it in the Maldives before. And yet, the humble, value-priced Fihalhohi was the resort to feature it in my visits. I did do a bit of due diligence research and a Google search found a TripAdvisor review in 2017 reporting baked Alaska at Halaveli (it wasn’t there when we visited in 2013) as well as a picture of one at Outrigger Konotta in 2019.
One of the earliest and simplest joys of hot days in childhood is running through the lawn sprinkler. Youngs guests at Emerald can enjoy a watery frolic as extravagant as this prestige resort itself. Its not just the adults who get to savour their favourite activities in luxurious style.
“A Thousand Years of Receive Visitors – To Change and Be Changed: Maldivian history is defined by travel and transformation. The archipelago’s location has historically made it an easy discover for settlers from the subcontinent. Their arrival throughout the millennia alongside the bloom of trade across the Indian Ocean, resulted in interactions responsible for embedding the objects her in The Dutch Onion – and producing today’s diverse Maldivian communities.”
I already written the about museum on Maamagili, but the work continues under the new management of Cora Cora. The extensive collection of heritage is not just a showpiece assembling a few artifacts for the cultural curiosity of the guests, but instead an ongoing research, excavation, restoration project that continues to literally unearth treasures from the Maldives’ distant past.
The work is conducted at their Collection Centre where they continue to examine and catalogue pieces found on the island. During my visit, experts in ancient Chinese porcelain visiting to the resort with the primary objective of examining the trove of artifacts. The resort is still moving an ancient mosque uncovered during construction and is reconstructing it. In fact, a entirely new bathing tank found and excavated when the Cora Cora property was developed.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on some of the intriguing details of this archaeological work.
International Shark Day today. A time to celebrate those wonderful elasmobranchs. And but Amilla features a particularly distinctive one. It appears to be its own species with a variegated skin patter, but as marine biologists have clarified that it is just an individual with a genetic skin condition. A bit like shark vitiligo.
Here are a few of our observations of our favourite destination:
Rise of Families – I noted in 2020 how families seemed to be more and more prevalent. This trip confirmed it. In particular, the latest visitor stats which show the number of families visiting skyrocketing from 11% to 36% in one year! As a result, many properties that had “adult only” policies are dropping them or scaling them back as they just can’t afford to cut out this segment. You also see it in the room configurations. The vast majority of rooms are listed as 3 adult capacity (by the third adult they generally mean a child over 12 years old) with a convertible settee built into the room. Many others have a stock of portable beds to roll in and expand capacity to 3 adults and 1 child.
Growth of stony corals – In recent years, seeing any new growth on reefs was an anomaly, but now every reef we snorkeled had a significant amount of especially big block corals like Diploria, Porites, Alcyonidae, Pocilloporidae, and Acroporidae (which research is showing fare better than other corals in the warmer water). The coral gardens seemed more like a spring garden than a winter one…sparse, but promising.
$1000/nt luxury AI – Lots of very fine resorts are targeting the $1000/nt segment with a luxury (ie. dine-around, fine food, lots included such a two excursions and one spa treatment) AI offering (Cora Cora, Emerald, OBLU, OZEN, Amilla). Just right for the affluent market who are not billionaires.
Atmosphere Group Investment – The Indian resort group Atmosphere is making a big play for the Maldives. They have half a dozen properties already with plans to open many more. Probably the most of a non-Maldivian hotel group (aside from Marriott group).
Accessibility Nod – Most of you have seen the brilliant initiative that Jason and Victoria have done at Amilla for inclusion and accessibility. But I was impressed at how many accessibility features I was seeing across the resorts (especially ramps). My wife and I both work with disabled individuals so we have a bit on accessibility sensitivity.
The Yanks Are Coming– The Indian Ocean on the other side of the world to North America so travel is exceptionally long. And flanked by the Caribbean on the east and the South Pacific on the west, the are plenty of tropical paradise options in the Americans’ backyard making them relatively rare in the Maldives. But the addition of more Marriott properties (eg. The Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, Sheraton, W Retreat, Meridian, Renaissance, Marriott) is luring lots of Americans who have Starwood points to burn and have been enchanted by the destination through social media exposure.
Russians are the new Chinese – A while back it seemed like the Maldives had been overrun by Chinese as they dominated the numbers. The Chinese are still a strong market, but they seem comparable in size to may other visitor geographies now. In fact, one of the gratifying changes in the Maldives we have observed over two decades is how it has morphed from a uniformly European sunshine bolt-hole into an internationally and ethnically eclectic mix. That said, the clearly dominant set of guests are the Russians. There were lots of them everywhere we went. I thought that maybe the economic situation in Russia would have reduced them, but actually the travel sanctions and Maldives being one of the few countries welcoming them has meant that they are all going there.
Digital Default – The default way of doing everything is digitally now. Download the resort app to check-in. Connect with the resort/butler via WhatsApp. Read the restaurant menus via QR codes on the table.
Windier and Windier – I’ve commented in the past how July has gone from “breezy” to “windy” and this July was even more so with some days near gale force. Frankly, the “maldives sinking” is a colourful, PR-grabbing red-herring (ocean levels are rising quite slowly and terraforming and other measures can mitigate effectively). The real issue is weather intensity and extremity. Climate change may make the Maldives inhospitable before it makes them submerged. For the tourisms industry, the winds disrupt snorkeling accessibility and visibility, feet-in-sand al fresco dining, transfer reliability and speed, etc.
Goodbye Tchotchke – The airport tchotski store in the departure lounge to have one last chance to grab cheap trinkets, a fixture throughout our two decades passing through there, has been replaced with a swish boutique.
To paraphrase Meghan Trainor, it’s all about the “blues” (no “trouble”). One aspect that makes the Maldives such a global bucket list destination is its unparalleled tapestry of aquatic azure hues. This famous blend of cerulean, cobalt and cyan is punctuated by a touches of tropical palm green and brilliant white sand tinged by highlights of golden sunshine. OZEN Maadhoo exemplifies the distinctive Maldives palette with an expansive variegated lapis lagoon, lush verdant vegetation, broad cotton white beaches and, of course, plenty of glowing sun. I’ve seen big lagoons before in the Maldives, and I have seen big beaches, but I don’t recall seeing such an extensive combo of both at one island.
The aesthetic theme is imbued in its elegant pool with its own pattern of blue tiles. And if you want you can even explore under the blues with visit to its underwater restaurant “Minus 6 Meters”
OZEN Maadhoo splashes the ultimate maritime expanse of colour.
Longing for the simple Maldives – no TV, no pool, no butlers. Fihalhohi took us back to a classic, original version of the Maldives.
Fihalhohi was the lowest priced resorts on our tour and has long been one of the more basic of resorts in the destination. I remember first researching it decades ago and it had a bare bones website with a few sketchy photos. So we weren’t expecting too much. Nonetheless, it supposedly had a lovely house reef and is one of the classic properties so we were keen to check it out.
We were so pleasantly surprised. The villas had had a refurb a few years back and so, while still simple, they were fresh and smart looking. The general common area infrastructure is still a bit dated and worn, but that gives it a bit of charm.
Satisfaction is all relative to expectations…and, I must say, Fihalhohi (or “Fiha” as it is colloquially referred to) considerably exceeded ours. We also made some nice friends (see below)