Much has been written about the exquisite natural beauty of the Maldives – all of it true. Prepare your eyes for the unimaginable – picture a radiant, translucent sea, glowing as if illuminated from beneath. Allison Foat explores the Maldives archipelago – where the ocean is the hero.
Can we travel there?
As pandemic travel bans gradually lift across the world, many destinations are still requiring inbound visitors to quarantine. Not so the Maldives. Besides the requisite health declaration and a negative PCR test, the island nation has a zero-isolation policy for all, bar those coming in from the UK. It’s temporarily bleak for the Brits, but for the rest of us the path to paradise is open.
Meerufenfushi Island, North Malé atoll
The Maldives archipelagic cluster lies south-west of Sri Lanka. Twenty-six atolls make up more than a thousand tiny coral islands, 200 of which are inhabited. As you fly in, the views are everything. One islet after the other is ringed by an incandescent halo of emerald seas and milky white beaches. One of these gems, Meerufenfushi, is found on the easternmost tip of the principle North Malé Atoll. It’s a slip of land just over a kilometre long and 350 metres wide, cloistered by an aquamarine lagoon. As with all resort islands in the archipelago, Meeru is the only hotel, a property managed under the Crown and Champa brand, which celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2020.
Getting there from Velana International airport in the capital Malé is a brisk one-hour jaunt by speedboat, which is the preferred mode of inter-island transport. Unless the travel distance warrants a seaplane flight, which is a thrilling throwback to vintage-era air travel. Resort arrivals are treated as a real occasion and the Meeru team greets guests with a genuine warmth and Maldivian hospitality. There’s music and cocktails in coconut shells and in just one sip your long-haul weariness disappears. And faster than you can say ‘piña colada’, you’re in holiday mode.
The perfect Maldives holiday
Meeru Island Resort & Spa on Meerufenfushi is the perfect entrée to a Maldives summer vacation. It’s clever design conjures up a sense of space and privacy. It’s a place where you never feel hemmed in, even when the resort is at capacity. This is partly due to exclusive-use areas created solely for families or adults. This is a good option for those who are craving the tranquillity that goes hand in hand with this heavenly location. Accommodation options vary according to budget although everything on offer has a fabulous attribute, from the standard beachfront bungalow with a private jacuzzi, to the covetable over-water villas. Your every need is met. And it really does feel like you’re on a self- sustaining oceanic village in the middle of nowhere.
An ocean paradise
As land-based fun goes, Meeru has you covered, from the mini-museum for history 101, to cycling, golf, tennis, football, badminton, Pétanque and poolside movies. Aside from surface water sports like kayaking and windsurfing, the resort prides itself on an impressive directory of around fifty, prime dive sites that showcases the biodiversity of the area. There are dazzling species, some of which are rarely seen anywhere else in the world. I’m a tad deep-sea phobic so I asked pro-diver Tharien Pieterse about her atoll dive and she was exuberant. “The Maldives is so abundant! I remember drifting under schools of giant manta rays, past sea turtles and hammerheads that were just hanging out. I’d need ten pages just to detail the exceptional reef life”, she said. Travel writer, Justin Fox who was with me on this trip was as effusive about his snorkelling experience describing the rich coral gardens as “incredible.”
Not just for water babies
The Maldives is a magnet for diving and the water-sport set, and it’s also a soulful stay for mindful travellers. Days spent reading and aqua-gazing from the comfort of a hammock is literally nirvana. An early morning stroll offers you a pastel sunrise and encounters with scuttling crabs and stately grey Herons, the lethargic waders of the glassy shallows. These, and more, come and go throughout the day, unperturbed by the humans in their space. The ongoing presence of land and marine wildlife is testament to Meeru’s commitment to the protection of its fragile surroundings, and the pursuit of sustainable tourism practices and as low a carbon footprint as possible.
Exploring from Meeru: Diffushi and the sandbanks
Ten minutes across the channel from Meeru lies Diffushi. This minuscule island is home to a 1000 strong, micro- community. It is famed for its guesthouse hospitality, and as the first island in the Maldives to work the more informal accommodation sector. Managed by locals, the B&B’s are a way to introduce strangers to aspects of authentic Diffushian culture. Getting around is on foot or by scooter and a guided walkabout (not all parts are open to tourists) leads you down narrow lanes lined with modest homes. You’ll see sandy piazzas with unsophisticated cafés, children playing soccer, shell traders, and men socialising around board games. The official religion in the Maldives is Sunni Islam, which comes with certain restrictions. There are three specific ‘bikini’ beaches for tourists to enjoy, plus a host of other activities like kite surfing and snorkelling with wild turtles.
Sandbank excursions are big in the Maldives and for good reason. No visit to the Maldives is complete without spending a few hours of secluded bliss on a slither of powdery-white sand, completely surrounded by that vivid ocean. The hotel will tailor-make your experience with a picnic and snorkelling gear.
The Maldives is a super-abundant destination where the natural world is the star. Add it to your wish list!
Getting there: Emirates
Seaplane: Trans Maldivian
General travel info: Maldives Tourism
Covid info: Covid info
Allison Foat is a travel writer and blogger.
@allisonfoat / www.capetowndiva.com