The Maldives are as close to paradise on earth as it’s possible to find – and while every ‘dream holiday’ box is ticked, a trip may be more affordable than you think says SALLY EVANS…
Pure white sand, sparkling turquoise sea and lush vegetation – in the Maldives, it’s hard to get away from the ‘heaven on earth’ clichés. An unexplored secret for centuries, this scattering of over 1,000 islands in the Indian Ocean was thrust into the limelight in the 70s by divers looking for adventure.
From only two holiday resorts in 1972, there are now over 100, each on its own island. The main source of revenue for these glittering jewels is the 600,000 tourists who flock here every year. Holidaymakers arrive at Male, the capital of the Maldives, and are whisked to hotels by seaplane or speedboat.
With this in mind, getting the conservation balance right hasn’t been easy and governmental institutions and charities are constantly funding research to protect endangered marine life.
Take to the water
Famous for its thousands of coral reefs and countless species of under-sea life, the Maldives is a diver’s dream, with 40 per cent of visitors coming purely to dive. All resorts have dive centres with qualified instructors, but beginners will need a PADI license and can usually pay to complete the course or have a ‘refresher’. Supervised snorkelling is available at most resorts for free – with guides sure of the best spots to look in search of tropical fish and, if you’re lucky, a shoal of dolphins. Surfing is the fastest-growing water sport, and the best waves are found on the south-eastern corner of Male.
If that doesn’t float your boat, there’s catamaran sailing, parasailing, waterskiing, canoeing and windsurfing, with most resorts offering introductory courses for a fee. And if you want to take to the water without exerting yourself, go for a sunset cruise and watch the changing sky, as the glorious tropical sunset turns the aqua blues to scarlet and magenta as you sail across the glassy sea on a warm breeze.
TOP TIP: Take water shoes. The seabed and island shores are awash with tiny pieces of broken coral, which are painful underfoot!
A foodie’s paradise
There are five first-rate restaurants at Atmosphere Kanifushi. Just Veg is the only purely veggie restaurant in the Maldives and on its top ten list. Carnivores shouldn’t worry – the cuisine is a mixture of Mediterranean, Arabic and Indian. Try the delicious shashi vegetable biryani, or tofu curry laksa. The desserts are works of art and almost a sin to consume – almost. Fans of Japanese food will enjoy the teppanyaki grill where the chefs wow you with their knife skills. Guests are seated around a huge hotplate as they watch Chef Hermes working his magic with ingredients such as filet mignon, tiger shrimps and lobster. You can even book a sushi lesson and eat your wares for lunch. The Spice is the resort’s main buffet with live cookery stations and grill, The Sunset is a must-try Mediterranean and Asian fusion dining experience – tables face the ocean, and the piece de resistance is a magic show in the water. And if that’s not quite enough, bespoke private dining on the beach is also offered.
See the real Maldives
The Maldives spills over with tropical flowers, plants, herbs and trees. Wild hibiscus and bougainvillea wind along hedgerows, while coconut palms, banyan trees and the Indian almond loom above. Bananas, watermelon, papaya, mango, pineapple and limes, as well as the green chilli, onions and pumpkins are all domestically grown.
The seas hold innumerable species of marine life, 70 colourful coral reef species, whale sharks, butterfly fish, mating octopi, parrotfish and delicate anemones. Snorkelling in the Maldives is like being in a well-lit aquarium. It’s safe near the reefs and perfect for peering into a hidden world!
Also crucial to the eco- system of the Maldives are fruit bats that soar through trees. Bird lovers may spot the great blue heron resting on the shore, while parakeets and kestrels can be found on the central atoll of Kaafu.
A trip to Naifaru
To get a feel for Maldivian life it’s well worth taking a boat trip to the capital of the haviyani
Atoll, Naifaru. Many inhabitants work on the nearby island of Felivaru at the country’s only canning factory. Only pole and line methods are used to catch the tuna, to sustain an eco-friendly fishing industry – and just as well, as over 90,000 tonnes of tinned tuna is produced annually.
Locals are Muslim and don’t drink alcohol but it’s served readily in restaurants and resorts. Amble through winding streets of shops and cafes, watch the teenagers playing basketball together in the early evening – and don’t miss the marine and turtle conservation, where a team of volunteers are dedicated to the rehabilitation of green sea turtles and the endangered hawksbill turtles that may have been trapped in fishing nets, mistreated or injured. It’s fascinating and very gratifying to see the rescued turtles thriving before they’re released back into the conservation area of the sea.
It’s free to look around, but a donation is greatly appreciated (atollmarinecentre.com).
Where to stay
For a glimpse of heaven, head to Atmosphere Kanifushi, meaning Corner Island. This relatively new resort island is only 2km in length and 90 metres wide, with flourishing vegetation surrounded by a coral reef. Tucked into the northern corner of the Lhaviyani Atoll, getting there means an awe-inspiring half-hour flight by seaplane, courtesy of Trans Maldivian Airways. The aerial view reveals the stunning lagoons and coral islands, and the water’s changing shades of blue.
Atmosphere Kanifushi is the only Maldivian resort to offer a fully all-inclusive “Five-Star Platinum Plus” plan, which takes all-inclusive to a new level. This includes food, wine, premium spirits and cocktails, and a range of activities – you’ll only need to take a few US dollars for gifts. Guests are welcomed by the charming Hotel Manager, Antonio, and his team amid beating Bodu Beru drums, as they escort you across the jetty to the shore.
TOP TIP: You won’t need to pack lots of toiletries – bathrooms are stocked with everything from insect repellent to toothbrushes and replenished daily.
The entry-level Platinum Plus plan includes all food, drink, use of the leisure facilities and snorkelling excursions, making this five-star holiday more affordable. Treatments at the Akiri Spa and diving lessons are not part of the plan, although discounts are offered to guests.
Guests stay in private villas, available in three sizes. The Sunset Pool Villas are the pride of the resort, set at the tip of the island with a queen-size bed, day bed, a tablet with Wi-Fi, open-air bathroom, private pool and beach access. There are daily fruit baskets, wine, and buggy services to all facilities. The standard villa has everything but the pool. kanifushi.com.
Save over £900!
Destinology (0800 634 2866) destinology.co.uk, is offering a seven nights’ all-inclusive stay at Atmosphere Kanifushi from £2,759 per person based on two adults staying in a Sunset Beach Villa from 1 Jun-31 Aug 2015. Includes return flights to Male International Airport from London Heathrow and transfers for bookings made by 14 August.
TIME DIFFERENCE: GMT+5
CURRENCY: Local is Maldivian Rufiyaa but US dollars are accepted.
CLIMATE: The tropical climate sees only minor variations of temperature throughout the seasons. The average maximum is 31°C and the average minimum is 25.5°C. Humidity is around 80 per cent and it rains occasionally, which helps the vegetation. The sun is strong even behind clouds and sunscreen should be used at all times!
VISA: Not required