ALL THE BLUES
Much has been written about the exquisite natural beauty of the Maldives, all of it true and if I had to say one thing to you before you go it would be ‘prepare your eyes, for the unimaginable.’ Picture a radiant, translucent sea, glowing as if illuminated from beneath. It’s a surreal travel moment and the ocean is the hero.
CAN SOUTH AFRICANS GO?
Yes! As pandemic travel bans gradually lift across the world, many destinations are still requiring inbound visitors to quarantine. Not so the Maldives. Other than the requisite health declaration and proof of a negative PCR test, there is a zero-isolation policy – the path to paradise is open and your 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 that 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, 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, 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 last year.
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, a thrilling throwback to vintage era air travel.
MEERU ISLAND RESORT & SPA
Resort arrivals are treated as an occasion and the team greets guests with a 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 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 goes hand in hand with the heavenly 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 so asked a friend, 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.” 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.”
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 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.
EXPLORING FROM MEERU
Ten minutes across the channel from Meeru lies Diffushi. The minuscule island, home to a 1000 strong micro community, 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