The startling natural beauty of the Maldives has inspired legions of photographers professional and amateur alike. A design choice of MaldivesComplete was to have the iconic imagery of the blues and whites filling the browser page as the background so that visitors would sort of feel immersed in this distinctive locale while you conducted your investigation.
If your holiday snaps don’t quite capture the breathtaking beauty you recall from your visit, then a whole range of online sites offer piles to choose from. In the public sites, like Flickr and Facebook, you can find some truly marvellous images. But if you want a sure fire collection of some of the most dazzling pictures ever captured, the top Maldives photo site has to be ‘Dreaming of Maldives’. Sakis, the photographer behind it, is offering a special deal of free 2010 calendar when you buy his photo book. I bought these recently and they are truly gorgeous (and the pictures in the calendar are different to those in the book).
(Vilamendhoo Reef photo by Atoll Photography)
I have written on the ‘best’ house reef and the ‘deepest drop off’ house reef’, but one of the most prominent questions about house reefs is which is the ‘closest’. Given the Maldives atoll topology, often the land bit of the island can be surrounded by a quite considerable about of lagoon, which is very shallow waters, before the island structure itself drops off more precipitously into the deeper surrounding ocean. It is this drop off which is most dramatic as lots of marine life cluster and settle on this vertical structure and the larger expanse of water makes room for bigger fish and bigger schools of fish.
The problem can be that when you have a far away house reef, one can spend a good 15 minutes of boring swimming/snorkelling over an expanse of white sand shallow lagoon before reaching the house reef main event. The real snorkelling luxury is the close by drop off. In forums and reviews, people often talk about ‘close house reef’. That refers to the fact that the ‘drop off’ hits pretty close to the beach.
I asked the experts, the Forum contributors to TripAdvisor’s Maldives Forum, which resort had the closest. It’s a bit tricky because the reef can be very close at some parts of the island and then very far away in others. I had enjoyed Filitheyo’s close house reef about 50 meters away, but Forum folks came back with 20m, 10m, 5m and ultimately 3m from the beach. In fact, several resorts were noted that came within ‘3 metres’ of shore…
I have chosen Vilamendhoo because based on looking at all the resorts, Vilamendhoo appears to have the longest stretch of shore where the drop off is that close.
One of our family’s favourite things to do at the Maldives is to eat on the beach. More and more, resorts are offering beach dining as a special event. I hanker for the good ole days of a simpler Maldives when you could simply ask the waiter to move your table from the beach-side restaurant onto the warm white sand with the water gently lapping inches away and a canopy of stars for your ceiling.
But if you want to wiggle more than just your toes in the sand, if you want to nestle your whole self onto the beach, then Landaa Giraavaru’s beach dinners at Blu Beach are made for you. No plastic beach chairs or even conventional wooden ones, but a couple of comfy cushions to help you get settled into a truly romantic meal.
Most resorts have a library somewhere with a collection of paperbacks for the beach and perhaps a few magazines and board games. Increasingly, resorts are adding Internet access around the resorts and in places like business centres and these libraries. Frankly, I’ve never been tempted to spend any time in these libraries because they were always unassuming rooms and unimpressive places. Sort of a tick in the box to provide that capability. But my recent trip to Kurumba that got hit with a bit of unlucky weather underscored how handy this resort resource can be at times. The newly revamped Kandooma resort has shunned the library as tucked away after thought making its library quite a stunning place that might even tempt me away from the beach even on sunny days.
I’m starting a new category of my ‘Best of’ posts to cover the vast, growing and consummately useful area of Online resources. So not specifically focused on each resort directly, but a great complementary way to find the perfect resort. As stated on the home page and in my very original post, I started the Maldives Complete site out of frustration with the incompleteness and emptiness of most sites on the web about the Maldives. That said, there are some real gems.
The first gem I have to feature is one which launched shortly after Maldives Complete – Seven Holidays. The man behind the site, Adrian Neville, is a legend in chronicling the Maldives resorts. His book, ‘Resorts of the Maldives’, was one of the first and most cherished guide books that I bought on the area. His SevenHolidays is essentially an interactive, digital version of that book. It is distinguished for truly insightful, articulate and professional travel reviews of the resorts. None of these simply effusive, contrived glow-fests one finds littering so many travel and resort sites.
Beyond the core of well written, insightful and balanced editorial, Neville has also invested in a very slick and functional site. In fact, I would say that SevenHolidays is the slickest and smartest looking of the Maldives resort web sites. But some clever functionality and a quite comprehensive set of information is what makes it so useful. The special utility functions include ‘Resort Top Sevens’ (a ‘best of’ selection for a range of criteria like ‘Beaches’, ‘Rooms’, ‘Romance’) and a basic filtering search called ‘Limit By’ which allows people to filter on the two criteria of ‘Price’ and ‘Room Density.’
In fact, a fan of both (thanks Francis) wrote me recently and suggested that if you combined Maldives Complete and Seven Holidays you would have the perfect Maldives site.
If Maaya Thila is the ‘White Tip Reef Shark Capital of the Maldives’, the Fish Head dive site is renowned as the ‘Grey Reef Shark Capital’. And if you want to check it out, the Chaaya Reef Elliadhoo resort is your closest dive centre. Tim Godfrey describes Fish Head in his book ‘Dive Maldives’…
“The presence of a large school of grey reef sharks, combined with the favourable underwater scenery and the wide variety of marine life, have given this reef the reputation as being among the ten best dive sites in the world.”
My first foray into travel writing was working in Togo, West Africa in the early eighties where I both did writing as well as PR advance work for visiting press trips. The big coup (maybe not a PC term in this case), was getting Travel & Leisure magazine to do a feature on Togo as they are one of the longstanding travel press authorities.
Their latest T+L Reader’s Poll featured one Maldives resort as one of the Top 50 Hotels in the World – Anantara Dhigu. With a score of ’92.14’ and coming in #37 worldwide, Anantara Dhigu is the 2010 ‘Reader’s Choice’.
The Maldives are not just the best place on earth for indolent repose. As this blog has highlighted many times, there are loads of productive and educational pursuits that one can get up to in this idyllic setting, eg. helping the environment, reefscaping, art. I know that our own children learned all sort of marine biology during our trips there in what was a dream classroom of an underwater showcase.
Now Diva resorts is initiating a programme to bring the educational side to a whole school in the UK in what has to be not just the best classroom experience in the Maldives, but probably the best school exchange in the world (‘Carlsberg doesn’t do school exchange trips, but if it did…’). While most British kids are poking around the pebbles in Cornwall this Easter break, Maldives Traveller reports on what the Brockhill School students will be doing…
“The kids, from Brock Hill School in Kent, arrive in the Maldives on April 14, marking the launch of a new school exchange programme with Dhigurah Island School in South Ari Atoll. The luxury resort, Diva Maldives, has generously agreed to sponsor the British children’s subsistence costs, by providing free transfers, food and accommodation.”
“The seven lucky GCSE Biology students, accompanied by two teachers, will get the chance to explore the beautiful South Ari Atoll area, as well as attend classes at the local school. They will help to survey the coral reefs, led by experts from the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP), and take part in shark monitoring projects. As well as this, there will be plenty of opportunities for barbeques on local beaches, fishing and visiting the Ari Atoll Cultural Centre. The centre features three different types of traditional Maldivian housing style, as well as cultural artefacts and exhibits from the Maldives’ rich history.”
If you fancy contributing more than an afternoon helping the Maldives through a activity like reefscaping, and more than a day doing something like Earth Hour, then the Six Senses resorts Soneva Fushi and Soneva Gili are offering a special ‘Voluntourism’ rate between 1st July and 12th October 2010.
“Soneva Fushi and Soneva Gili by Six Senses are offering the opportunity to give something back. For the next six months, guests are invited to stay at either resort for five nights, without charge and to spend five hours of each day working on local community projects, such as marine conservation, teaching children, planting trees and learning how to turn waste into wealth. This unique Eco Season voluntourism package includes 5 nights paid, 5 nights free in exchange for 5 hours per day of valuable and motivating work for the first 5 days of a luxurious 10 day stay.
“Guests can choose from the following areas of work:
- Marine Conservation
- Waste Management
- Carbon Mitigation
- Youth Education
- Boost Local Island Income”
Here are links to the documents with full offer details as well as the work breakdowns.
While Diva secured the ‘TripAdvisor’ Top Choice award for the most romantic, the resort coming out on top in the ‘Luxury’ for all the Maldives (and #2 for all of Asia) was Angsana Ihuru.
This TA review below from Suzanne Shepherdess is pretty representative of the gushing feedback the review seems to get regularly. Two of my friends went on their honeymoon there last year and they were euphoric about the place.
“This is our fifth visit to this resort and our seventh to the Maldives and this resort never disappoints. The rooms are on the small side but provide everything you need for a visit to the Maldives. They are not super luxurious but are very comfortable and perfectly formed. The reef is better than that many islands (we have visited 4 others) and the proximity of the reef to the island is a big plus – just a few metres from the shore. As you might expect, the spa is excellent too, under the management of the Banyan Tree. Food is good but not exceptional. The resort whilst luxurious does not provide many of the features that are now provided (at great expense) in the Maldives. From our viewpoint many of these features seem to add little to this type of holiday (eg espresso machines, flat screen TV and surround sound, plunge pools and swimming pools – why would you want these with the perfect ocean around the shores?……). For us, this is the best resort for all round ambience, value, location, reef, spa etc.”