The Maldives gained their independence in 1965, over 50 years ago, but the first resort only opened in 1972. Now, with over 100 to choose from, Rupert Parker picks his best four resorts in the Maldives .
I’d always imagined that the Maldives would be the perfect place for island hopping, drifting across the Indian Ocean into the perfect sunset. After all, there are around 1,200, some not much more than a palm tree stuck on a lump of coral, others home to luxury resorts, fitting the ultimate honeymoon dream. Unfortunately, the Maldives comprises 99% sea and just 1% of land so its 106 resorts are widely spread out. Distances are huge, and most of the time the transport connects through the airport so you always have to pass “Go”. It’s therefore important to choose your resort wisely.
The group nearest the airport are only a half hour speedboat ride away, so they’re easily accessible, particularly important after a long international flight. The downside is that they’re not as isolated as those further away so you may not get the tranquillity you desire. Going further afield means longer boat rides, domestic flights, or best of all, short seaplane hops. All offer sumptuous accommodation, either on land or above the water, and a variety of watersports including reef snorkelling and of course the obligatory spa treatment.
Four Seasons Kuda Huraa
Speedboats with free Wi-Fi will whisk you to Kuda Huraa in less than 30 minutes from the airport. This is a medium-sized resort with 96 bungalows, and there’s a choice between chalets on stilts over the water or those on land with beach access and private plunge pool. The spa occupies its own tiny island and a small boat will ferry you to your massage. There are four restaurants serving a range of cuisines that stretch from Indian to Italian, all featuring excellent seafood.
The benefit of a larger resort is that it can offer a wide range of activities including parasailing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, wakeskating, waterskiing and kneeboarding. They’ll even give you surf lessons, as there’s a reef nearby where they hold an annual competition. Every evening you can take a sunset cruise watching Spinner dolphins or fish for your dinner. They have a turtle conservancy here and you can go out with their resident marine biologist and swim with the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.
Of course, there’s snorkelling galore and you get your own personal mask and fins to explore the reefs around the island. For the more adventurous there’s an introduction to Scuba, supervised by an instructor who takes you out to dive to a depth of over 11 metres. It’s exhilarating and we did come into contact with a rather angry Moray Eel.
Velassaru is also only around 30 minutes from the airport and is slightly larger with 129 bungalows, again on both on water and land. Lush vegetation envelops the accommodation so it doesn’t feel too crowded. The water bungalow I stay in has a large outside deck with its own infinity plunge pool and the floor to ceiling windows mean you always have views of the blue Indian Ocean beneath.
There are five different restaurant experiences and executive chef Carlos Exprua is expanding the choice. He’s introduced a range of world tapas dishes in the outside Chill Bar, which you can snack on all day, and there’s the Japanese inspired Teppanyaki restaurant. A special treat is a private beach dining at sunset where they’ll cut a table for you out of the sand and serve you a private satay barbecue.
The Spa is also perched over the water, so you enjoy a range of treatments, listening to the gentle sound of the waves, and they also offer yoga sessions. As well as snorkelling and diving, there’s a whole range of watersports including my favourite, kayaking in transparent glass bottom kayaks.
Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
Getting here involves an hour’s domestic flight to Kooddoo Island, then a 30-minute speedboat transfer, but that’s the price you pay for seclusion. There are only 50 villas here, the park villas hidden by the jungle vegetation so you really do feel you’re in the wild. Even the water villas have been carefully built on the existing coral reef and it’s the only resort in the Maldives certified for both design and construction by environmental organisation EarthCheck.
The snorkelling on the house reef is particularly good as much of the coral is intact, and I bump into a one-metre reef tip shark breezing by. Amy Sing Wong, the resident marine biologist, gives me a primer on coral formation then takes me on a boat trip to the edge of the atoll, at 90m one of the deepest in the Maldives. The marine life is stunning and I clock eagle rays, turtles and a couple of sharks, as well as many large fish. There’s an opportunity to explore a couple of deserted coral islands and we even put into an inhabited island, stroll around the town and enjoy some fresh coconut water.
Of course, there’s a gloriously long infinity pool, if the sea or your own private plunge pool isn’t enough. I also enjoy an intense deep tissue massage in the Vidhun Spa, light and airy with high thatched ceilings. There are only two restaurants here, the Dining Room, by the pool and the more upscale Island Grill, with its open kitchen. Local fish is definitely on the menu and I particularly enjoy Maldivian fish soup and spiced fillets of reef fish.
For me, this is the ultimate. You take a small Twin Otter seaplane from the water by the airport and, after 20 minutes, touch down by a rudimentary raft, moored in the middle of the ocean. You step out and a speedboat suddenly appears over the horizon to whisk you away to this boutique retreat.
It only has 30 villas and, since it opened in Feb 2014, everything is almost brand new with the highest quality interiors – German furniture, Swiss bathroom fittings, even your own wine chiller. And if you’re on their Ultimate Inclusions package you get to sample as many of these wines as you like, as well as a range of spirits. It also has the highest ratio of restaurants to villas, with Japanese, international, meat and seafood grills and the Mediterranean waiting to tempt you.
There’s a family feel to the place as its run by a young couple, Marc and Laura, who make you feel very welcome. The house reef is spectacular and you even see baby sharks swimming in the shallows as you walk along the beach. You’ve a choice between a Jacuzzi villa, whose private pool opens directly onto the beach, or an ocean pool villa, suspended over the sea, connected to the land by its own private walkway. And don’t forget their Varu Spa which can compete with the best.
Choosing a resort is difficult and really depends on how and where you want to spend your holiday as well as how much you want to spend. The bigger ones offer a greater range of water sports, while the smaller offer more seclusion. All provide sunset cruises, snorkel excursions and fishing. Food is important, since there’s nowhere else to dine, so that may affect your decision but, ultimately, what makes the difference is the standard of service. I can say that in all four of these resorts, it was impossible to fault.
Tell me more about these best four resorts in the Maldives
Rates at Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa start from £596 per Beach Pavilion with pool per night based on two people sharing.
Rates for Velassaru Island resort start at £420 for a Deluxe Bungalow based on two people sharing. Inclusive of return boat transfer.
Rates for a Jacuzzi Beach Villa at Kandolhu Island resort start at £495 for double occupancy on Bed & Breakfast basis.
Emirates flies to Male via Dubai from six UK airports including London, Manchester and Glasgow. Return economy flights from London Gatwick Airport start from £769 per person.
Visit Maldives has more information on the country.