Imagine standing on a pristine beach in the Maldives with your toes sinking into soft white sands and a gentle sea breeze caressing your skin. The turquoise waters stretch as far as the eye can see, inviting you to explore the mesmerising world beneath. This captures a major part of my island-hopping escapade in the paradise they call The Maldives.
While one island satisfies your cravings for azure waters, marine splendours, and tranquillity, island-hopping unveils the distinct facets of the archipelago. That was my aspiration during my second trip to the Maldives. I felt like a modern-day explorer, discovering three enchanting islands: Aluvifushi in the South Nilandhe Atoll, Maafushivaru in the South Ari Atoll, and Ukulhas in the Alif Alif Atoll. This voyage featured luxurious resorts that pamper you lavishly, serene islets where nature embraces you, and a local island that introduces you to the Dhivehi way of life.
Taking flight over paradise waters
My ticket to the first destination, Sun Siyam Iru Veli Resort in South Nilandhe Atoll, was a seaplane from Male's Noovilu Seaplane Terminal. The journey began with ripples on calm waters and a heart brimming with anticipation since it marked my first seaplane ride. The small aircraft's take-off showcased breathtaking views of scattered gem-like islands surrounded by countless shades of blue of the Indian Ocean. Each turn held exhilaration. However, despite the awe-inspiring vistas, the journey proved tiring, noisy, and uncomfortable. After two seaplane stops and a speedboat ride, I reached Sun Siyam Iru Veli just as the sun was about to set below the horizon.
Thrills and leisure at Sun Siyam Iru Veli Resort
The resort features 125 suites adorned with décor inspired by lush palm trees and white sand beaches. My stay in the beachfront villa offered a courtyard pool and direct access to the Indian Ocean. The array of amenities at Sun Siyam Iru Veli transformed my experience into pure enchantment. I watched the classic Bollywood comedy Andaz Apna Apna on a large projector screen by the seashore. Lounging on the beach, I enjoyed the film while the Maldivian sky's twinkling stars kept me company. On another evening, I relished a glass of bubbly and hors d'oeuvres on a cruise, just as the sun melted into the Indian Ocean.
The extraordinary meal settings at Sun Siyam Iru Veli were worth waking up for. One morning, I savoured a sumptuous breakfast on a private sandbank near the resort. On another, I indulged in delightful treats in the courtyard pool, against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean. For dinner, both evenings featured tables adorned with flickering candles and live music that set the mood perfectly. Ever experienced the aroma of grilled delicacies mingling with the salty ocean breeze? It sure whets your appetite.
I also learned the basics of snorkelling at the island resort's house reef. Each underwater moment was like stepping into an enormous aquarium. For a detailed account of this thrilling activity, you can read more here. Overall, the service at Sun Siyam Iru Veli was impeccable. The staff anticipated my every need and thoughtfully curated each segment of my stay for a seamless and truly luxurious escape.
Paradise perfected: Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort
Paradise reached perfection at Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort in the South Ari Atoll. This realm felt like a masterpiece, every direction I gazed in. This small island could be toured in minutes, with its main highlight being the luxurious over-the-ocean villas. At this luxurious island resort, my days were a whirlwind of snorkelling adventures. It felt like I was dancing around the vibrant marine life and corals underwater. My journey evolved from being an absolute non-swimmer to becoming a beginner-level snorkeler at this destination courtesy of the guest relations associate Nawaz (you can find more details here).
And the food! The resort's defining feature was its remarkable culinary journey that enchanted every facet of my stay. The food here is not merely for sustenance; it transforms into an art form and is a testament to the resort's dedication to luxury. The extensive array of dining options at Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort offers a gastronomic adventure – from Italian and Indian to Japanese, Thai, and Chinese cuisine. Their international-themed buffet at Cuisine Gallery, featuring live cooking stations and an irresistible dessert spread, is truly a must-try. Other restaurant options include Art-I-San, a premium restaurant atop the resort, as well as Moodhu Grill, Koto, and Edgewater. The variety was so abundant that even another week would not have sufficed to sample it all.
My stay at the Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort, within the over-the-ocean villa, was nothing short of a personal paradise above the Indian Ocean. Waking up to the soothing sounds of the waves was further enhanced by stepping onto the private terrace to witness the sunrise. An infinity pool, complete with a wooden ladder leading into the Indian Ocean, graced this accommodation. My experience at these island resorts felt like living in a surreal bubble of opulent luxury. Almost every desire was anticipated and fulfilled. What truly captivated me was the seamless fusion of nature and luxury, offering an escape from the ordinary into a dream-like sojourn.
Dhivehi way of life: Ukulhas
Our next stop was a vibrant local island named Ukulhas, where the heartbeat of Maldivian culture harmoniously coexists with international influences. This narrow island, spanning around a kilometre in length, is inhabited by locals while remaining open to tourism – the leading revenue source for the archipelago. One side of Ukulhas' shore caters to tourists, while the other is exclusively for locals. The village council extended a warm welcome to my fellow travellers and me, complete with floral garlands, fresh coconut water, words brimming with island pride, and an abundance of humility.
Transitioning from the opulent realm of the resorts to a stay on a local island was, to be honest, a bit of a shocker. After the spacious luxury villas that I had stayed in at the previous properties, the single room with an attached bathroom on the local island felt distinctly different. However, our purpose was to experience guesthouse tourism – a more humble and affordable stay that many may not be aware the Maldives offers.
This contrast served as a stark reminder of the disparity between the luxurious resort bubble and an authentic local encounter. Upon settling into my accommodation at the guesthouse in Ukulhas, I embarked on a journey to explore the bustling streets of this local island. The streets are adorned with charming shops offering souvenirs, supermarkets stocked with more international products than local ones, local cafes and restaurants serving simple yet delicious fare, and lively street art.
While alcohol is prohibited on the island, there is no shortage of refreshing beverages such as fresh juices, coffee, and ginger beer to enjoy. Exploring the island's administrative and religious structures, along with mingling with the good folks of the village council, were additional highlights of my experience. These interactions offered insights into their traditions, way of life, and exceptional warmth. This final leg of my Maldives trip bridged the gap between the Dhivehi way of life and me.
As the night progressed, I created another cherished memory. After dinner, my fellow travellers and I embarked on a late-night stroll under the starlit sky. Our objective was to witness the bioluminescent plankton, marine creatures that glow when they meet waves. It led us through a dark pathway lined by trees, toward one end of the island, eventually reaching the beach. The moon's shimmer illuminated the shore from above, while sparkling blue bioluminescence painted a mesmerising scene along the coastline. The thrill of traversing an unfamiliar path to discover an empty beach, the tranquillity it offered, the symphony of waves, the luminous shoreline creatures, and the camaraderie of like-minded individuals – this climax for my journey couldn't have been more perfect.
As I bid farewell to this tropical haven, I carried with me the joy of uncovering the Maldives, one island at a time, along with a promise to return. Until then, the magic of the Maldives remains etched in my heart. If you are planning to vacation in the Maldives, here's a list of top things to do when in the island nation.
Getting there and my itinerary
Arriving here is effortless; Indians require no prior visa. A three-hour flight from Mumbai to Malé, the Maldives' capital, followed by a short bus ride from Malé International Airport, brought me to the Malé Noovilu Seaplane Terminal. From there, I boarded a Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane bound for my initial destination, Sun Siyam Iru Veli (Aluvifushi in the South Nilandhe Atoll) – one of the Sun Siyam Group's five-star luxury resorts. After a two-night stay, the journey continued to the Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort (Maafushivaru in the South Ari Atoll) for another two nights. This voyage entailed a seaplane transfer from Aluvifushi to the Noovilu Seaplane Terminal, followed by another seaplane transfer to Maafushivaru. My final stop, Ukulhas, awaited via an exhilarating speed boat ride from Maafushivaru.