April is when the whale sharks pass through South Ari, and November is when the Maldives resorts pass through London, UK. The World Travel Market is my chance to wallow in a bit of Maldives vibe for a day. Well, at least posters and marketing paraphernalia. But most importantly fellow comrades in the Maldives appreciation.
I get a chance to catch up with long standing friends (like Scott Le Roi of Amilla Fushi below) as well as meet new faces on the Laccadive scene (like Alexa Ponichetti of Baglioni below). We catch up a bit on the latest developments and ideas, meet new members of their staff, etc. Most importantly for me, it is a chance to get some new acquaintances and material on upcoming openings. The pending arrivals I learned more about included Baglioni, Emerald, Aarah, Amaya, Carpe Diem, and Robinson Club Noonu. Not to mention some intriguing developments in existing properties (like Huvafenfushi’s complete refresh).
If you can only dive one dive. This is the question we often find ourselves asking during our tours as we will typically spend only one or two nights at a resort and so only have the opportunity for one dive. So when we are planning our dive, we will ask, “well, what’s the best dive around here?” Even for people with the luxury of an extended stay, this is a fairly typical question. When we were having longer stays with the family years ago, we would still ask this question. Many times, we loved the dive so much we just opted to keep repeating it through the week (we went to Manta Point during our Kurumba stay three times).
One common feature that I noticed about many of the selections is that they are situated in channels at the edge of the ocean where the open water merges with the protected inner atoll waters. Such dives will often have a degree of current to them which limits them to AOW divers, but it is the current which contributes to the marine life and activity there.
For the research, I relied on the input from a range of dive schools and dive masters I have met over the years as well as Sam Harwood’ and Rob Bryning’s superlative book “Dive the Maldives” with occasional reference to Tim Godfrey’s “Dive Maldives”.
The list below is admittedly extremely subjective, but the choices are as good a place to start as any. I welcome suggestions and alternative proposals in the Comments section.
Addu: Maa Kandu East (Mudakan) – 3 of the 7 top dive sites reviewed by Harwood here have the top 5-star rating, but Mudakan is the most accessible and the only one with also a 5-star snorkelling rating. “With magnificent table and brain corals, schools of fusilier, turtles, eagle rays, and sometimes manta make this beautiful dive an absolute joy.”
Baa: Hanifaru Bay – This Marine Protected Area has become so legendary that the government has actually put up restrictions on diving there. Still, divers can dive around the limits with the best chances to see its bountiful mantas and even the occasional whale shark.
Dhaalu: Fushi Faru – Recommended by St. Regis Vommuli dive centre Manish Mahadik saying, “An abundance of marine life including big schools of reef fish, colorful coral, lobsters, occasional Eagle Rays, Moray Eels and sharks…suited for all experience levels from beginner to advanced.”
Faafu: Jumping Jack – Recommended by Werner Lau as “This is one of our top dive sites [in the Maldives]. With milder currents, it offers less experienced divers a really truly pleasurable diving experience. Seven beautifully overgrown tilas on the outer reef edge connect the farus to the north and the south of the channel.”
Gaafu Dhaalu: Mafzoo Giri – One of two dive sites in the entire “Huvadhoo” (Gaafu Alifu and Gaafu Dhaalu together) atoll with 8 stars (out of possible 10 – 5 for Fish and 5 for Coral) by Alexander von Mende who wrote an entire guide book just on diving the atoll. And one of just 2 (with Kondey Kandu) with 5 stars for Fish. “Offers a lot for its size…hosts no less than six residing leaf fishes behind a dizzying wall of glass fish.”
Gaafu Alifu: Mas Thila – One of two 7 star sites (out of possible 10 in von Mende’s book) and described as “a real jewel…one of the best dive sites in Huvadhoo”.
Haa Alifu: Becky’s Caves – Recommended by a number of dive masters to us. The nearest, JA Manafaru’s Sun Diving School describes is as “At the depth of 20 meters, one huge recess of the reef shows on one side a wall completely covered of soft corals of different colors; from yellow, pink, white to orange, a real universe of colors! Bring with you your torch and your camera: one fantastic dive for everybody but one rare show to see!”
Haa Dhaalu: Heaven & Hell Thila– The choice of Miranda Pontiglione, Base Leader at the Barefoot diving center – “For sure this is one of the best diving spots in our area. All the thila is covered by big colourful soft corals. Along the thila wall there are many overhangs where you can find cleaning shrimps, lobster, groupers and moray eels. A couple of canyons located in the deepest part of the thila will make your dive unforgettable.”
Laamu: Fushi Kandu – Commended by Ocean Dimensions’ Petra Hellaman at Six Senses Laaumu who says it is especially great for seeing sharks. “The most spectacular dive is when divers cross the channel…Then, divers can swim inside the atoll to try to encounter dolphins” (Daily Dive).
Lhaviyani: Kuredu Caves – I was told about this site by a number of Maldives aficionados before I finally got there and having dived there it remains one of my top ten most memorable dives ever. The highlight is the turtles. Not just lots of them, but the biggest turtles you will ever see. Honorable mentions to the striking “Shipyard” double (!) wreck site with the distinctive vertical wreck (whose bow protrudes out of the water).
Meemu: Mantas and More – The consensus recommendation from both dive centres in the atoll. “Nearly untouched dive sites are easy to dive and feature a great diversity of corals and fishes. Several spectacular channels, e.g. Mantas & More, count amongst the top ten in the Maldives” -Werner Lau
Noonu: Dhiffushi Kandu – One of two sites called out by Harwood in Noonu “The highlight of this dive are the sightings of the large Green Turtles that inhabit the reef feeding off the sponges and corals. The reef has excellent fish and this is a great dive.”
North Ari: Miyaruga Thila – Tim Godfrey uses a 4-star rating system where only 4 dive sites out of the nearly 300 he reviewed in all the Maldives got the top mark – and 3 were in the North Ari Atoll. Of those, got the strongest coral rating. Godfrey describes Miyaruga, “The landscape is stunning and divers can easily circle the reef in one dive if the current permits…Much of the thila is undercut with caves and the surface is coated in soft coral and colourful sponges.”
North Male: Manta Point – Some of the most reliable mantas in the Maldives at a prominent and conveniently close feeding station. “An astonishing number of manta rays can be seen here with they come to be cleaned” – Harwood.
Raa: Labyrinth – The most frequently sites and raved about Raa site on the web and the Dive Point dive center describes it as, “Medium-sized Thila which has crumbled over the centuries and has thereby formed wonderful canyons and tunnels in the reef. The Thila distinguishes itself with its huge schools of fishes and coral growth (soft- and hard corals). A big number of bat fishes accompanies you on every dive on this reef.”
South Ari: Kudarah Thila – Both Godfrey and Harwood list 2 top rated dive sites in the South Ari, but Kudarah Thila is the only one they both rate tops. “One of the most exciting dives in the South Ari” says Godfrey. I omitted the any of the diving areas on the southern tip famous for whale sharks (also an MPA) because there is no single one that predominates, diving is restricted because of the whale sharks, and snorkelling is often a better way to find and see them.
South Male: Kandooma Thila (aka Ran Thila) – Pretty much uniformly recommended to us by dive centres as Cocoa, Olhuveli, and Rihiveli and the only 4 star dive site in South Male in Godfrey’s “Dive Maldives” (“one of the most exciting dive sites in South Male Atoll and boasts great scenery as well as prolific fish life”)
Thaa: Guraidhoo Corner – The only Thaa dive site noted by Harwood with a 4-star dive rating, “A large crevice in the drop-off with over hangs and caves and swimthoughs. Here as the current eddies, huge balls of snapper, rainbow runner, jack fish, tuna and shark are common.”
Vaavu: Fotteyo Kandu – One of Harwood’s rare 5-star sites, “This is a stunning, remote place and it is well worth diving here at least twice and at least 4 or 5 times to fully appreciate its beauty.”
The defining characteristic of the Maldives islands is the ocean’s edge. The islands float so close to sea level that they seem to be more part of the ocean than their own bodies of land. These plots of sand are no more than inches above the surface, and the shallow undersea lagoon floors themselves little more than inches below. And the edge of the two intermingled worlds is where so much magic happens. Whether it is the legendary bioluminescence, the iconic puppy-like reef sharks languidly patrolling, or the indolent mill pond calm caressing the toes of romantic couples strolling along. It is no wonder that so many fashionistas love to wallow here…
Julia Yoga (Russia) – One & Only Reethi Rah [ABOVE]
One of the more frequently asked questions on the Maldives TripAdvisor Forum is whether there is another other place on Earth similar to the Maldives. People bitten by the Laccadive bug which is known to inflict a lifelong addiction (case in point) seeking to get hooked up with a fix.
Usually the query is inspired by a stretched budget and the enquirer is seeking a generic, store-brand knock-off of the Maldives to satisfy their craving (in the Maldives Forum Search put in “like the Maldives” – here’s the longest thread). Thailand, Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, BVI, Turks & Caicos, Australia are frequently proposed, but a little research shows that nearly all resorts there are all on quite big islands and relatively close together. Aside from the basic similarities of sun and sand, not nearly the “plot of sand in the middle of the ocean” experience of the Maldives. World-travelling friends who introduced us to the Maldives have sent us postcards saying “[Tropical Island X] is wonderful…but it isn’t the Maldives.”. We ourselves have joined this island hunt with our trip to Indonesia which was superb…but it wasn’t the Maldives.
Over recent months I have been digging a bit deeper to come up with the closest facsimiles for those who need an alternative dose whether it be for a change of destination, somewhere less far to travel (the Maldives is quite an expedition for those on the other side of the world in the Americas), or even to save a bit of money. Despite the lattermost inspiration, nearly all the resorts I uncovered came in at just under $500 for entry level BB per person which is not too far off typical Maldives prices for nice 4+ star or a modest 5 star property. The closer the alternative destination property was to Maldives characteristics, the close the racks rate were to those in the Maldives.
There are obviously thousands of tropical island resorts in the world. For my most prominent filters, I excluded the following deal-breakers which keep a property from really having the Maldives vibe:
Big Islands – Must be small enough to walk around in the time it takes to drink a bottle of beer and no elevation.
Mediterranean – Weather and sea life too limited.
Private Islands – Financially inaccessible (for most) properties that rent for tens of thousands for the whole place such as Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the Caribbean, David Copperfield’s Musha Cay in the Bahamas, or Noa Noa in the Philippines.
Local Islands – The islands have to be dedicated resort islands (ie. no local residents), but can have multiple properties like Malaysia’s Mabul Island (and how the old Kuramathi, Maldives set up used to be).
Remote Undeveloped Islands – Great bolt holes for liveaboards and cruise vessels, but that is an entirely different proposition to a resort and not everybody’s cuppa tea.
Middle of the Ocean – Must be surrounded by 90% water with limited proximity, development, or high elevation islands on the horizon to preserve that “middle of the ocean” feel. This was the hardest aspect to adhere to and I bent consideration with a few selections below (eg. Akaiami Paradise Lodge, Le Taha’a Island, and Song Saa)
The top destinations with the most qualifying (and nearly qualifying) candidates are the following:
Belize – Seems the closest as an overall destination – lots of islands, many small, coral and diving. I’ve included in a couple in the catalogue below, but I came across a good deal of others in my research. Also, seems to be considerably lower cost (though also lower standard) than many Maldives properties.
Malaysia – Also, a good number of properties I came across and included a couple below.
French Polynesia – Known most widely for the biggest island Tahiti, but it does have quite an array of smaller gems (again, a couple examples included in the list below).
Below is a list of the most prominent examples of Maldives mould alternatives. This piece will be a living post so if and as people recommend or I otherwise discover other resorts that meet the criteria, I will add them to the post and map.
Price indicated are approximate rates per person bed and breakfast based on queries to the resort website.
Mabul, Borneo, Malaysia ($426pp)
Lankayan Island, Borneo, Malaysia ($183)
Coco Plum Island Resort, Belize ($456pp)
Royal Palm Island, Belize ($120pp)
Anantara Medjumbe Island, Mozambique ($390pp)
Denis Island, Seychelles ($600pp) – thanks Moira
Akaiami Paradise Lodge Aitutaki, Cook Islands, New Zealand ($480pp)
Song Saa, Cambodia ($484pp)
Lady Elliott Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia ($145pp)
Le Taha’a Island Resort, Tahiti ($517pp)
Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort and Spa, Tahiti ($190pp)
Look For Circles Day today. Not too difficult in the Maldives which essentially is entirely comprised up of hundreds of of white trimmed green dots speckling the ocean. Even in its vibrant aquatic world, circles abound from massive platters of Table Coral to gently gliding Turtles. But Summer Island’s lagoon might be about the best place to celebrate today with their innovative reef generation project:
“Diverland Maldives will deploy a CORAL POP, planted with 3-4 pieces of living coral fragments on the Summer Island’s house reef. These broken pieces of coral have been collected around reefs in the North Male Atoll. With the CORAL POPS we are building protection for aquatic life and protecting Summer Island’s beaches against erosion.”
The project evoked the expansive “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” installation at the Tower of London. And at $5 a piece for guests to plant their own Coral Pops, Summer Island has set a new bar for affordable Reefscaping.
One of the most popular outfits yesterday, especially for the very little ones, was a clown costume. Now the British seem to think that all Halloween costumes need to be scary, but in American tradition (the culture which turned the holiday into a blockbuster event), really any sort of fancy dress is appropriate. Mind you, some people consider clowns to be pretty scary. Not the clown fish in the Maldives waters. In fact, they dress themselves up all year round in anemone attire in their symbiotic defence mechanism.
These anemone occupants may also appear to be masquerading as a famous Disney character as well, but regular readers of Maldives Complete will spot the differences.
Of all the seascape photoshoots, this underwater duo is probably the most popular. Both the host background and the sequestered Nemo cousins radiate with vibrant colour. Here is a collection of some of the back I have come across. An amphitheatre of Amphiprion fishionistas…
When we moved to the UK in the early nineties, the British didn’t really celebrate Halloween. It’s since become a more popular holiday, but nothing on par with the USA where it is the second biggest celebration after Christmas. It’s sort of the dream kids holiday – they get to dress up and get free candy. Not wanting to deprive our own little ones of this annual ritual, we hosted our own quite spooktacular Halloween fun all through their childhood and became quite expert in these lavish affairs.
Many resorts will have a few decorations out today and a few sweeties on hand for the young’uns, but Hideaway Beach is the first resort I found that has assembled a comprehensive set of Halloween festivities with all the de rigeur traditions…
Creepy Mask Making
A Spooky Movie
Scary & Spooky Face Paint
Trick or Treat Activities
Fashion Show Costume Contest
Appropriately, Hideaway Beach is where we first (and only time) spotted a Ghost Pipe Fish (see photo below). Which make me think that if I could get to the Maldives for Halloween, I would go dresses as a Batfish (Batfish crazy!).
The younger set might not be ready for a shaving, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be pampered with a bit of beauty therapy. Finolhu’s “Lush” salon features a pint-sized, fully equipped beauty parlour for budding fashionistas.
Holidays are when you often take a break from the hassle of personal grooming. Sometime you even go the whole time neglecting it returning with the ‘holiday beard’. But if you are in the need of a bit of holiday man-scaping, then One & Only Reethi Rah’s “Barber and Blade” spa provides a classic grooming and shaving studio with treatments as soothing as the Maldives ocean breezes…
“Appointments take place within the private rooms dedicated to gentlemen’s grooming equipped with sleek leather barber chairs, specially designed for One&Only Reethi Rah by Anderson/Miller Ltd. The studio allows guests to feel comfortable and relaxed whilst a dedicated team of grooming experts are on hand to provide a bespoke grooming routine – ensuring that all gentlemen look and feel their best. Barber and Blade exclusively offers Gentlemen’s Tonic products…The treatment menu features basic shaves to beard designs, colouring services and four signature grooming experiences, including the 70-minute Ultimate One&Only Wet Shave.”
The barber shave is a bit of a dying art in with the advent of advanced razors, but they remain one of the few decadent “beauty” treatments men get to enjoy. No matter how many blades you have on your Mach X razor, you will never get as close as a trained professional who is not having to negotiate through a mirror. Furthermore, one of the keys to a close and comfortable shave is the preparation – steaming towel and creamy balm to soften the skin and whiskers. Something few men shaving take enough time to do. And having the hot towel on your face in a chair is as relaxing as it is soothing.
I treated all my groomsmen to a classic shave on my wedding day and we had as much fun (and looked as almost as smart) as the bridesmaids who enjoyed the beauty parlor. And on our recent trip sailing in the Greek isles, we came upon an old school barber offering shaves and it was one of the decadent high points of the holiday sitting in the chair being pampered while listening to the sounds of the bustling port town outside.
Hug a Sheep Day today! Aka “I love ewe” day for all ovinophiles If you hadn’t herd, Finolhu has adopted the fluffy cloven-hoofed ruminants as their resort mascot in a nod to their location in the eponymous Baa Atoll (or should be say “Baaaaaa Atoll”). Various woolly figures are found all over the island (see photos). So maybe skip the lamb curry today out of respect.