“Welcome to the greatest paradise on earth,” said our smiling, friendly host as we stepped on to the white sandy beaches of our resort in the Maldives. A short stay in the gorgeous country was enough to prove him right.
Surrounded by emerald-blue waters and covered with lush, green vegetation, the country promises a glimpse of heaven to its visitors.
Divided into ‘atolls’ or island clusters, the country has around 1200 islands, out of which around 200 are currently inhabited – most of them by resort and hotel companies.
The country depends primarily on tourism for its sustenance, which explains why visas are free on arrival for tourists from every part of the world.
After arrival in capital Male, tourists are whisked away to their dreamy destinations either by speedboat or seaplane, depending on the island’s distance from the capital.
Our resort was 35 minutes away by seaplane, and after a bumpy, noisy start, we were mesmerised by the stunning aerial views of the country from the plane.
Several camera-clicks later, the seaplane landed on the water, and a five-minute speedboat ride took us to Anantara’s Kihavah Villas, a five-star deluxe property where we were greeted with refreshing, colourful drinks and plenty of smiles.
The resort has 78 villas – a mix of over-water and beach villas, and we were put up in one of the latter. Each villa boasts its own private pool, personal access to the beach, a mini-library, spacious outdoor bathing facilities and plush, natural furniture.
The overall ambience was luxurious, but homely. As our host explained, the average stay in the Maldives is between seven to 10 days, so for many guests, these villas become their second homes.
We were also assigned our own ‘villa host’, Risan, who during our entire stay, took care of all our requirements. A Maldivian, he was also extremely sociable, and happy to chat about his country, its chaotic politics and the exotic local history and culture.
The Anantara Kihavah resort is located on the Baa Atoll, declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2011 because of its rich biodiversity and unique underwater flora and fauna.
Protecting the environment is crucial to the Maldives, and most resorts employ numerous ways to preserve their unspoiled surroundings. The government has even imposed a rule stating that no building can be taller than the highest tree – ensuring that each resort maintains the look of an ethereal green haven, untouched by modern edifices.
The islands are also self-contained units – they generate their own electricity and have water desalination plants to provide clean water to the inhabitants.
Thanks to these sustainable efforts, Maldives offers a plethora of underwater activities for adventure seekers. You can go diving off the islands to admire the untouched coral reefs, go dolphin-watching or snorkel in the shallow waters to spot elusive turtles. You can also choose to go scuba diving, fishing or parasail over the shimmering blue Indian ocean.
We went snorkeling on a two-hour turtle quest, and luckily, caught a glimpse of two massive turtles gently flapping by in the ocean. The area also boasts some exquisite coral reefs with amazing colours, and seeing such natural wonders up-close is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
On the boat, headed back to the resort, we got twice-lucky when we chanced upon a family of frolicking dolphins, who were splashing in the waters and seemed to relish our attention.
Back on land, we discovered that we were spoilt for choice when it came to dining options. The resort has six restaurants and bars, including its exclusive ‘Sea Fire Salt Sky’ signature dining experience.
One of the meals we specially relished was at Salt, which – as its name suggests – specialises in the intricacies of the most basic ingredient of all cuisines, salt. After you place your order from the restaurant’s appetising Thai menu, a ‘salt guru’ comes to your table and recommends specific salts to suit your dishes.
Dining at Sea, the resort’s bespoke underwater restaurant, is also a surreal experience, where you watch corals and vibrant fishes on the glass walls around you as you savour your food. While the ambience is exquisite, the restaurant is also particularly appealing to oenophiles, since it brags an underwater wine cellar with 250 labels from 14 countries.
One of the other highlights of our trip was a visit to the Anantara Spa, which specialises in mental and physical relaxation and rejuvenation. The spa centre, located on an extension of the main island, offers Asian therapies and combines the local flavour through the use of coconut fruits.
Particularly delightful, during the massage, is the view of the ocean through a glass panel located under the spa treatment bed, although it’s not long that your eyes remain open to appreciate underwater wonders.
Cut-off from the rest of the world, our short stay in the resort island was refreshing and invigorating. It had the right mix of relaxation, luxury, adventure and fun, to create a perfect vacation.
Since the last seaplane from the island leaves late afternoon, we had a couple of hours to kill before our flight back to Dubai, and hence we decided to go wandering on the streets of Male, the capital city.
A flat, over-crowded island, Male brims with longhaired, hip young locals. With traditional cafes, one big park, old mosques, antique palaces, and an array of souvenir shops, the city presents an interesting insight into the life of the Maldivian people and the heritage of the country.
Walking around the island is easy and it’s just one dollar and eight minutes away from the airport by regular boat – so try and make time for a short visit to the city during your trip.