Best of the Maldives: Inflatables – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru water sports inflatables

Pulling an inner tube behind a speed boat. Pretty basic fun and the staple of our annual coastal visits to my wife’s family’s home in Wilmington, North Carolina. Kind of lazy, easy, laugh-out-loud water fun.

Then they put handles on the inner tubes…made them a bit bigger…added a few other tweaks. Now the inflatable innovation is rampant. Just walk by a Redix and you can witness the colourful variety of water fun you can now have in the wake of a motor boat.

But I have never seen so many varieties of inflatable contraptions as the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru water centre stocks. The manager Hussain Zahid (pictured above) showed me no less than 18 different varieties. Gyro (it spins around). Granstand (you stand up) and something called ‘Ray Boat’ that I have never seen in all my years of water adventure. All shapes, size and colours for all sorts of rides.

Best of the Maldives: Golf Range – Meeru

Meeru Golf Driving Range

The number one reason people don’t go to the Maldives…the perception that there is nothing to do. And within that the myth, the number one ‘thing to do’ that is a ‘show stopper’ for many couples…no golf.

Well, you might not find a Jack Nicholas designed 36-hole links in the country, but if it is a deal breaker then there are some fine possibilities.  I’ve already highlighted Kuredu’s 6-hole ‘Executive’ course.  But for those who want a bit more whack in their holiday week, then Meeru offers a driving range. 100 balls for $10 and that includes complementary use of clubs.  The resort also has a spiffy 9-hole chip-and-putt course to boot.  Fore!

Meeru Golf Driving Range 2

Best of Maldives Online – Italian: Mondo Maldives

MondoMaldives

 

Maldives Complete, Seven Holidays and Mondo Maldive. That’s the Maldive aficionado’s list of top online websites about resorts. That’s what the fans say and that’s where I would point people to.

Maldives Complete’s mission was always about being comprehensive. Having all the desired info and pictures (and not a lot of redundant and extraneous bits like pictures of fish and sunsets) has been Maldive Complete’s mission from the outset. The only other website that has a similar degree of completeness if Mondo Maldives. Mondo features 108 resorts (compared to Maldives Complete’s 122 though we include a number of resorts that are offline and being built).

Now Mondo Maldives have taken that thoroughness to the print world. From my very first trip, the definitive book on Maldives resorts was always Adrian Neville’s ‘Resorts of the Maldives’. The book had the largest array of resorts as well as a balanced and candid narrative. On my most recent trip, I spied ‘Mondo Maldives’ – the book in the airport gift shop. Knowing the quality website, I took a look and was super impressed. The book was a true encyclopaedia of information on the resorts (it is advertised on their home page, but it doesn’t appear in their shop when you click on it).

Mondo’s is based in Italy and the whole site is available in Italian with the core parts being available in an English version as well. Unfortunately, its rich ‘Forum’ on its site is all Italian.

Best of the Maldives: Storytelling – Naladhu

Naladhu Storytelling

 

 

One of my friends at Microsoft (and former teammate), Steve Clayton, has the jobs title of ‘Story Teller’. He has made a career out of telling stories for richly illustrating the intricate tapestry of Microsoft technology. The Naladhu resort brings stories to its own guest offering a storytelling evening. Not just reading Dr. Suess, but executed with so much style and panache I suspect the adults would want to go along as well (I know that I would). They host it in a coconut grove (I love it when the resorts do more activities out in the natural surroundings) and they explore the folklore of Maldives. The trips to local village islands are always popular excursions and I know that many visitors are keen to seek out a bit ‘culture’ on their trip. If so, Naladhu offers a colourful portrayal…

“Did you know that the Maldives has an oral literary tradition that extends back almost 1,000 years? A rich history of sailors, pirates, seafaring princes, sultans and British colonial governors? A language unlike any on Earth? A must on the itinerary of any guest to Naladhu is a storytelling evening in our island’s coconut grove with Ahmed Didi, the Island Chief. A native to our very island for – well, longer than anyone really knows! – Ahmed is a lively character with a richly detailed memory filled with island tales from his own lifetime and generations beyond. He shares his love of this island nation and its rich folkloric tradition in casual (yet dramatic!) stories. Naladhu is proud preserve Maldivian culture and share it with our guests during this unique evening back in time.”

Best of the Maldives: Lounger – Reethi Rah

Reethi Rah LiLo 2

There’s pool seating and then there’s POOL seating!

I’ve already done a post on the stunning Pool Seating of the Traders Hotel (nee Holiday Inn Male). On my recent tour, I noted how the resorts we really upping their game in this regard. King-sized luxury mattresses under four-posted canopies. But the Atoll Paradise website caught my eye with what is most certainly the most perfect ‘POOL’ seating. The pictures say it all. Hat tip to TripAdvisor destination expert ICN05 for identifying the sub-aquatic lounger as Reethi Rah’s.

Best of the Maldives: Panoramic Dining – Baros

Baros Lighthouse

 

“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.”

 

Baros Lighthouse 2

Best Snorkelling in the World

Snorkelling Four Seasons

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.

Great House Reefs

Maldives House Reefs

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
  • Length
  • 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)

Snorkel Safari ‘Big 5’

Whale Shark snorkeling

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’

  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Rhino
  • Leopard
  • 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…

  • Shark
  • Turtle
  • Ray
  • Moray
  • 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…

  • Octopus
  • Scorpion Fish
  • Dolphin
  • Manta
  • 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.

Best of the Maldives: Closest to Airport – Hulhule

Hulhule near airport

 

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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