INTO THE BLUE
Much has been written about the exquisite natural beauty of the Maldives, all of it true. If I had to say one thing to you before you go it would be to ‘prepare your eyes for the unimaginable.’ As you dream about it, picture a glowing, translucent sea, illuminated from beneath.
Welcome to the Maldives where the ocean is the hero.
CAN SOUTH AFRICANS GO?
Yes, from June 2021. While rules around pandemic travel seems to shift constantly, the Maldivian authorities announced new measures in May 2021, looking specifically at those arriving in the Maldives from an African region that has seen an escalation of the South African variant. Other than the requisite health declaration and proof of a negative PCR test, there has been a zero-isolation policy in the Maldives but it’s advised to keep an eye on the Covid-19 updates ahead of your trip. And good news just in from Air Seychelles is that the airline is resuming services to Joburg this winter (from June 2021) with an additional flight from OR Tambo to Maldives.
Essentially, the path to paradise is now open and a safe sojourn awaits in the Shangri-La of the Indian Ocean.
MEERUFENFUSHI ISLAND, NORTH MALÉ ATOLL
The Maldives archipelagic cluster lies south-west of Sri Lanka, twenty-six atolls (clusters of islands surrounded by a ring of coral) that make up more than a thousand tiny coral islands, 200 of which are inhabited. As you fly in on your seaplane, the views are everything, one islet after the other, 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 North Malé Atoll, 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 singular hotel, a property managed under the Crown and Champa brand that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020.
Getting there from Velana International Airport in the capital Malé is a brisk one-hour jaunt by speedboat, the preferred mode of inter-island transport. Unless the travel distance warrants a seaplane flight which is a fabulous throwback to the era of vintage air travel.
MEERU ISLAND RESORT & SPA
I visited three islands on this trip, all great for a family holiday – Adaaran Club Rannalhi in the South Malé Atoll and Adaraan Meehhupparu in the Raa Atoll and Meerufenfushi or Meeru for short, in the North Malé atoll.
Resort arrivals are treated as an occasion and guests are greeted with genuine warmth and a solid dose of Maldivian hospitality. There’s music and cocktails, and in one sip your long-haul weariness disappears and faster than you can say piña colada and you’re in holiday mode.
Meeru Island Resort & Spa on Meerufenfushi is the perfect entrée to a Maldives vacay. Cleverly designed to conjure 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 areas created solely for the use of families or adults sans minors. A good option for those who are craving the tranquillity that is synonymous with the location. Accommodation varies 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 that flank the timber catwalks above the lucent sea. Every need is met while you’re there and it really does feel like you’re on a self- sustaining oceanic village in the middle of nowhere.
As land-based fun goes, Meeru has you covered, from the mini museum for a history 101, to cycling, golf, tennis, football, badminton, Pétanque and poolside movies. There are choices aplenty but, in the Maldives, aquaculture is the lure.
DIVING & SNORKELLING
Aside from surface water sports like kayaking and windsurfing, the resort prides itself on an impressive directory of around fifty prime dive sites that showcase the biodiverse submarine universe and a dazzling pageant of species, some that are rarely seen anywhere else in the world. I’m a tad deep-sea phobic but fellow travel writer Justin Fox who was with me on this trip, said his snorkelling experience in the rich coral gardens was the best he’d experienced.
PERFECTION FOR MINDFUL TRAVELLERS TOO
While the Maldives is obviously a magnet for scuba and snorkelling safaris and the water sport set, it also racks up as a soulish stay for mindful travellers.
THE SLOW LIFE
Days spent reading and aqua gazing from the comfort of a hammock is literally nirvana. An early morning stroll nets you a pastel sunrise and encounters with scuttling crabs and wading herons. 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.
EXPLORING FROM MEERU
Ten minutes across the channel from Meeru lies Diffushi. The minuscule island, home to a fishing community of around 1000, is famed for its guesthouse hospitality, being 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, and into sandy piazzas with refreshingly unsophisticated cafés, children playing soccer, shell traders, and men socialising around board games.
The official religion in the Maldives is Sunni Islam with no other faith is permitted and this comes with certain restrictions. There are three ‘bikini’ beaches for tourists to enjoy, and a host of other activities like kite surfing and swimming with wild turtles.
Sandbank excursions are big in the Maldives and for good reason. It doesn’t sound like much of an outing but do one and you’ll be thanking me later. 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 and deposit you there with a picnic and snorkelling gear, and collect you afterwards.
The Maldives is a superabundant destination, starring the natural world. Everyone needs to lay eyes on it, at least once. Add it to your wish list. @allisonfoat
This post was originally written for Sail + Leisure online mag*
Getting there: Emirates https://www.emirates.com/za/english/destinations/flights-from-johannesburg-to-maldives.aspx
General travel info: https://visitmaldives.com/en/maldives/travel-information
Covid info: https://visitmaldives.com/en/covid19-updates
- Check the weather – you’re in monsoon territory so be sure you know what to expect. Rainy season is May-Oct but even then there is plenty of sun 🌞
- Getting there: 9 hour flight with Air Seychelles from OR Tambo. Flights open again next month from 11 June. The alternative is a 16 hour flight via Doha.
- At the moment there is no quarantine for those going to any island where more than 60% of the population have been vaccinated. From July it is believed that Covid tourism in the Maldives will be up and running; according to the tourism website there is a plan afoot to enable tourists to get a vaccine on arrival but that is not 100% confirmed as yet. It can all be a little confusing so it’s best to keep an eye on the tourism website for precise info – the link is further up on my blog.
- Maldives is a 100% Muslim country so leave all religious texts at home and don’t try to bring in alcohol or tobacco products from Duty Free in transit. If you’re planning a walkabout in Malé you would need to dress modestly too; be respectful of the local customs. Unlikely to encounter infringements at the resorts though but be aware of high holidays like Ramadan when certain shops might be closed on the island.