A fortnight ago, I was busily packing my bags to make an escape to the tropics. Mr Man and I decided months ago that we were in dire need of a holiday, especially him as he’s been exhausted. I did a bit of window shopping, but it turns out that the Maldives, given what it offers, is actually reasonably good value for money.
And what does it offer? A slice of tropical castaway heaven, a week of stress-free barefoot existence where the only dress code is a swimsuit and a cover-up. Think incredible white sand, crystal blue water, and amazingly beautiful coral reefs where you can while your afternoons away snorkelling and exploring. After all, 95% of the Maldives is under water.
When you go to the Maldives as a tourist, what you basically do is pick a resort/island, because the vast majority of the time there is one resort per island. Once you get to your resort, you stay there for the duration of your visit. This might sound a bit odd, and to be honest I was intimidated by being stranded on a little island barely 500m long for a week, but after experiencing it, it is really nice and relaxing. In fact, this quiet island life is the reason we chose the Maldives to escape to in the first place.
The reason you are restricted to one island is because once you land at the international airport in Male (after a gruelling 11 hour flight from London), you get transferred to your island resort either by boat if it is close, or by seaplane if it is further afield. Our resort, Maafushivaru, is located in the South Ari Atoll which is about a 30 minute seaplane flight from Male. So you get your bags from the main flight, then check them again at the desk, then wait in air-conditioned lounge for boarding, and then usually within the hour you clamber aboard a tiny little plane that is floating in a sort of plane “harbour”. The propellers spin up and it glides out into a lagoon, and then skis across the surface of the water to take off. At landing, it literally lands in the middle of the ocean near your resort, glides up to a floating platform, and then you and your luggage get turfed out. A boat from the resort picks you and your stuff up and takes you to dry land, and that’s that: you’re stuck there. So island-hopping is non-trivial and usually out of the question.
So that is your first introduction to the life aquatic. Next, you are taken to your water villa, which is perched on stilts in the lagoon inside the fringing coral reefs of the island. The water of the lagoon is crystal clear blue and waist deep. For the next week, you’ll constantly gaze down into the water beneath your back deck and watch the fish coming and going. From our villa, we saw stingrays, pufferfish, lionfish, tuna, parrotfish, and even a juvenile reef shark. But even better, from the back deck there are steps leading down directly into the lagoon, so you can just pop your mask and fins on and go snorkelling around the reefs in the lagoon straight from your villa.
We went snorkelling every day, because it was just too easy and fascinating not to. The reefs in the lagoon were incredibly beautiful. It was like swimming through a giant tropical aquarium, right out your back door. The reefs at Maafushivaru are very healthy, and they have a marine biologist on staff to answer any questions and to help guide snorkel excursions both in the lagoon of the island and further afield on boat trips to see manta rays, whale sharks, and sea turtles. But just about anyone would be perfectly happy with just going for relaxed snorkels in the lagoon to see all the colourful fish there.
The island itself is basically a little sandbank with palm trees growing out of it. It is located in the middle of the coral reef that forms a ring around the island, kind of like a wall. Inside the reef is the blue lagoon, and outside the reef it drops away into deep water very quickly (pictured above). I have issues with swimming in water where I can’t see the bottom (despite being a surfer and a certified scuba diver), so it took me most of the week to be able to deal with going out the channels from the lagoon to the outside of the reef where the drop is, but I finally did it.
In fact, I got confident enough for us to go on a proper boat snorkelling trip to see the sea turtles which took place at a submerged reef not very far from the island. We saw one hawksbill turtle swimming, and one tucked away in some coral rocks sleeping, but mostly I spent my time larking about free-diving and taking lots of underwater photos that didn’t quite turn out.
Besides being in the water every day, we spent a lot of time lounging about on our back deck admiring the view and occasionally sunning ourselves. The weather was very hot and humid and being only 3 degrees north of the Equator the sun is very strong, so we didn’t actively try and get a tan because that is the path to sunburn and misery. Instead we wore SPF 50 and stayed in the shade where it was cooler anyway. And besides, the view was lovely from our shady deck.
We took one other boat trip, a sunset cruise, where we were treated to being able to see a pod of bottlenose dolphins feeding and playing around our boat. They came really close and gave us quite a good show! When snorkelling that same day outside the house reef, we heard them clicking away underwater, so they were hanging around for a while.
The sunset was also gorgeous most evenings, and we always made a point of sitting down and relaxing at 5.30pm to watch it. There was one day where it was stormy and rainy all day, but I quite enjoyed it as storms in the tropics move in fast, dump a lot of water, and then disappear just as quickly, so it was actually quite tranquil listening to the rain and watching the dramatic black clouds move in. Also, having a few clouds around is important to get those picturesque sunsets that the tropics are known for.
Our only complaint about this trip was that we wished we could have stayed for longer! We thought that a week on a tiny island would make us go crazy with boredom, but we were so very wrong about that. Next time we go (and I sincerely hope there is a next time), we’ll go for at least 10 days.