The Maldives - are they really paradise?
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
The Maldives – dream destination for so many with pictures of small islands with tropical vegetation and white sands, popped into crystal clear water, surrounded by stunning coral reefs and an impressive underwater-world. Well, I have to admit that this kind of Robinson Crusoe life deluxe was not really in my Top 10 holiday list. The idea to be stucked on a tiny island for several days without sightseeing, people and culture to explore was never very appealing for me. But due to some personal reason to spend Christmas far away from home I suddenly ended up on a plane to Mahe.
I have already to admit here that I had to change my opinion about this destination after my trip. But let´s see in details.....first some pictures to get you in the island mood.
Facts & Figures
The Republic of Maldives consists of 26 atolls with a total of 1196 islands. Around 220 are inhabited and on 110 out of them tourist resorts have been built up. Usually it is one resort per island or 2-3 properties on bigger ones, but often these then belong to the same owner company. The north to south expansion of the Republic is around 900 km – which is actually much bigger than I thought. One third of the whole population of the Maldives lives on the Mahe island.
The Maldives count to one of the poorest economically developed countries in the world, as natural resources are very restricted. Only a bit of farming can be done as well as fishing, which is the most important income of the islands after tourism. Basically all food items and other products have to be imported. Therefore the luxury tourist resorts are standing in a sharp contrast to the poor local islands. To avoid social unrest tourists should basically stay on their hotel islands. This is the common dilemma that a lot of tourist destinations are facing – on one side tourism is cutting down on the already short national resources, but on the other hand draws in a lot of money and provides job opportunities for the locals.
Although the majority of tourism on the islands is targeting the high-end market, you can nowadays find more affordable small hotels and even Bed & Breakfast places on some of the local islands.
One fact that many visitors are also not aware of is that the majority of the population are Muslims. You won´t notice this much inside your golden tourist cage island – but in case you are visiting a local island or the capital you should wear longer cloth to respect the local customs.
How to reach
Although the capital of the Republic of Maldives called Mahe (which is also the main island), isn´t very big, the airport is very frequented and well connected with many international airlines. From Europe and Asia for example you will find some good connections with Emirates (www.emirates.com) via Dubai or Qatar Airlines (www.qatarairways.com) via Doha.
Your onward journey after touching down in Mahe depends on the location of your holiday island. If it is a close by island your onward transfer will be most probably by boat. For longer distances by waterplane. The boat as well as the waterplane terminal are beside the International Airport. For very far away islands there are domestic connections with Maldivian Airline as well.
So let me put a note on the waterplane. This was actually my biggest fear on this vacation – as I really hate small planes and my fear shouldn’t get disappointed. On the inbound island flight with Maldivian (www.maldivian.aero) all started good. The flying box seemed to be in an OK condition and the two young Australian pilots seemed to know what they are doing. Aerial views of Mahe were nice and the first sighting of the picturesque atoll islands exciting.
So far so good until shortly before the landing. Through the open door of the cockpit I could see a pitch dark wall of clouds in front of us and before I thought for sure they will fly around that, we were already directly in the middle of it.
After some crazy shakes, lighting just beside us and heavy rains we landed at the platform of our island.
The rain vanished as quickly as it came and after a short boat transfer we could set our feet on the island. My only thought was Oh my God I have to do that trip again after one week!!!!
The outbound flight to mention already was in perfect weather, however with a super relaxed pilot in flip-flops and afterwards even barefoot in the cockpit…..uhaaaa, but after one week in paradise I was so relaxed that even this couldn´t make me nervous anymore.
Note – if you arrive late in Mahe it might be that your onward journey can be only done on the following day as the waterplanes only fly during daylight (boat transfers depend on the hotel). So you might be forced to take an overnight in a city hotel in Mahe. Mahe has not much to see, so you usually don`t need to calculate much time for it. But if you are already there and have some time left, you can do a half-day city tour.
Which island to choose
As mentioned before there are around 110 hotel islands with new ones in the pipeline. So you really have a great choice and the final selection depends only on your personal preferences. If you are mainly interested in diving for example some atolls will be better than the others. People with mainly a sun bathing focus will have other choices as families or active people who are looking for more sport opportunities. So the Maldives have it all from pure diving resorts, luxury dream properties, active All-Inclusive hotels, family resorts and small tranquil adults-only islands to find your inner zen. Means you have to do your personal research on the web or visit your local travel agent for some personal advice.
In our case as it was a last-minute decision and in the peak holiday season, our choices were very limited and we just went with a package from the travel agency.
While choosing your holiday island also be aware that if you are on an island very close to Mahe, you have an advantage in the transfer time, however Mahe is also the location of the national waste incineration plant, so depending on the direction of the wind odor nuisance can happen.
Further some of the Maldivian islands are fighting with land erosion and unfortunately not look like real paradise islands anymore. Also the coral bleach is an increasing problem for many atolls.
Our hotel – the Safari Island Resort (www.safariisland.com.mv)
This smaller hotel island is located in the North Ari Atoll, 60 km away from Mahe. Transfers are done by seaplane with a 25-minute flight. It is surrounded by an interesting house reef, perfect for snorkelling (however also here corals are out of colours) and offers a crystal clear lagoon with white sands. You can wander through a small tropical garden on the island. And for all divers a professional dive centre is on spot offering various trips to excellent dive spots around.
Once you put your first step on the island you are already soaked into the relaxed, tropical atmosphere. Our check-in was done quickly in the lofty reception lobby. I already have to mention here that all the hotel staff is super friendly and very welcoming.
One common note for Safari Island applying to all other hotel islands: you can either pay by credit card or cash with USD and EUR. So no need to change money to the local currency at the airport (only if you are in a local B&B place you might need local cash).
Our heavenly place to stay
The Safari Island Resort offers different types of rooms for its guests. Usually when booked through a travel agent your package will be on All-Inclusive, which covers here breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
All bungalows are typical Maldivians thatched houses.
“Cheapest” (cheap is relative here 😊) room category are the garden/beach bungalows tugged away in the lush tropical garden. Disregarding the price difference – the garden bungalows are indeed the category which I would recommend the least as in my point of view some of the bungalows are quite dark as they are surrounded by trees that are taking away the light. Also in some cases the beach stretch in front of them is very eroded or basically not there anymore.
Highest category are the Water Bungalows – yes, these are the shiny, glamorous pictures that you can see in most advertising material of the Maldives. Built on stilts, raising above the lagoon with direct access into the turquoise waters.
Middle category are the Semi-Water Bungalows, where we stayed and which are actually my preferred ones. We were even offered an up-grade into a Water Bungalow at our second day of stay, but opted to remain in ours, because I really liked the combination to have on one side the beach plus tropical vegetation and on the other side also same like in the Water Bungalows direct access into the sea over your private terrace.
Interior of the rooms is the same throughout all categories in a lofty island style. More rustic than fancy – but gives you the real holiday island feel.
My special tip for you – if you are booked into a Semi-Water Bungalow my choice would be Bungalow Nr. 145 – which is actually the last one in the row of Semi-Water Bungalows so farthest away from the restaurant and reception (but hey, we are talking about a tiny island so distances are small anyway) – however in a spectacular location and best to enjoy sunsets.
In the public areas of the hotel you have free WIFI – usually also within your room. However ours wasn’t working during our whole stay. They always promised us to fix it, which never happened – but somehow we also didn’t insist anymore as some social media detox was just right in such a beautiful place.
For the Foodies
To say it in advance – I am sure you will leave this island with some extra kilos around your waist, as food is excellent – both in quality and quantity. For all meals you will have a wide selection of international and local dishes freshly made from the excellent kitchen team.
All meals are served in the white tented open-air restaurant, built above the sea.
Meals are all buffet style inclusive of some on-the-spot show cooking performed from the personable Chef´s, who are always open for a chat with you. Also the waiter team is trying their best to comfort you – our super friendly waiter Ali looked after us so nicely throughout our stay.
(Buffet slide show)
The real attraction of this restaurant is the marine life beneath, especially at night time sharks and stingrays are floating under you – so you are lucky if you get a table on the outside ring (table number for your whole stay will be assigned to you at your first restaurant visit). We actually were the lucky ones and I was so impressed every night that I have ended up with countless fish pictures in all variations.
As mentioned food is excellent and restaurant is nice, but if you stay longer just one restaurant option might get a bit boring. For me it would be nice if one additional restaurant would be available, maybe a theme A-La-Carte Restaurant or similar.
We visited during Christmas holidays – so for Christmas Eve as well as New Years Eve they put up an impressive Gala Dinner with more delicious food and appealing decorations.
For New Year they arranged a DJ in the bar plus a small program. As fireworks are not allowed on the islands they lit up a nice fire frame in the sea at midnight. Very laid back and relaxed start into the New Year with a glass of bubbly and our feet in the sand.
So we got the foodies covered – now to the liquid pleasures, which are basically served on three spots on the island. Either at the pool bar, the main general bar – which is also located on stilts above the sea, basically a smaller version of the restaurant tent.
And my favourite Sunset Bar, where we saw some real spectacular sunsets.
In general mixed drinks are of low standard - I would say typical All-Inclusive level. But what I found even more disapppointing for a tropical island as such, was that they didn´t offer any fresh coconut water - not even with an extra charge.
Flora & Fauna
As mentioned before you can find a nice tropical garden in the heart of the island. At one of the two ponds you can spot some blooming water lilies plus island birds.
There are not much other animals on the island – so you don´t need to be afraid of snakes or big spiders. What you can find in the palm trees however are some fruit bats having a nap.
There are some few further islanders crawling around.
Nice is also the bird aviary behind the reception building. Here you can see a lot of colourful birds nesting within the aviary, but also free to go inside and out of the cage as they wish.
Talking about birds – I made some special friends among them. One funny couple came to visit our terrace demanding some food with all force. After our first feeding session with them they returned daily and if they couldn´t find us on the terrace they knocked at the glass window until we came out 😊
Within the hotel garden you can also find the small swimming pool, which is actually not much frequented – same as actually the beach. But I think in this Resort everybody opts to stay at their bungalows with just the sea in front of them or are anyway whole day under water on their dives. Sometimes it really felt we were all alone on the island.
So as just mentioned most of the time you will find yourself alone on most of the beach stretches (and we stayed during the peak season, so I assume that´s the case for all other month as well). Sand is soft, white and very clean – the lagoon perfect for a swim. They do not have much sunbeds around and unfortunately no umbrellas.
(Beach compilation slide show)
One thing that I have to mention here as well and what was very unpleasant were the sand flies. During our first days we didn´t notice them, but then after some days we got a lot of very itchy spots on our bodies, which we found strange as we never saw any mosquitos. After a while we figured out that these were really disturbing sand flies almost invisible. Surprisingly as we observed the status of the other guests, some were covered with bites like us and others had none. So maybe not everybody is a popular host for them – hopefully you count among these, as the bites are really itchy and even after our return home we still had some on us for a while.
The Safari Island Hotel is fully surrounded by a reef. So if you are staying in a Semi-Water or Water Bungalow you can just hop from your terrace directly into the house reef. Snorkelling equipment can be rented free of charge from the reception, however it was not a very good one so I would recommend to bring along your own stuff or get it over the Diving Centre, where it is charged but in better condition.
The Reef is impressive, although the corals have no colours anymore. But you still have all the different types and shapes. And then of course the fish life itself – a complete different world down there – especially on the edge of the coral cliff. On each snorkelling trip I saw so many fish in all colours and forms – big, small, fat, thin ….you name it, I saw it. Plus often reef sharks and sting rays.
Dive Center and other sports
In the professional dive centre you can book yourself into various snorkelling and diving trips to the neighbouring atolls and underwater hotspots. Or if this mysterious world is new to you, you can participate in a PADI diving course.
Further you have a fully equipped water-sport centre on the island with all kind of motorized and non-motorized water sport activities. Also a tennis court is available plus table tennis and dart facilities. There is also a small gym room.
One for the ladies – the Spa
Of course also lads can join here – but to be honest Spa´s are made for the girls 😊 The Thai inspired Spa on Safari Island follows the same open island style as the rest of the hotel. So while lying down on your massage bed you can feel the sea breeze and observe the ocean. The Spa menu is offering various kind of massages and body treatments. Of course you can also come for your mani and pedi. Our detox treatment was so heavenly and our skin felt so silky afterwards that we came twice here during our stay.
Well, as I said the Maldives are basically a place to relax and to go on a dive rather than on a big sightseeing trip. However the Safari Island Hotel offers one real nice activity for its guests – a boat trip in one of their traditional wooden Dhoni boats. Best is that this boat trip is already included in your hotel package price – so for a stay from 7 nights onwards you are entitled to one free full-day excursion and for a stay of 14 nights and more you have the choice of two free full-day tours or one free overnight tour – which is very nice as the boats have a fully equipped sleeping room, bath room and kitchen. AND all tours also the day-tours are private – no sharing with other guests, means you have the real luxury feeling of your own boat.
The sail started after breakfast and after the crew has introduced the boat facilities to us, they offered us various options where we can go to.
On our sail out we got some nice views of our hotel island from the waterside and afterwards had time to relax on the sun deck until we reached our first stop – the MANTA POINT. This stop was an amazing experience for me as I never saw these fantastic creatures from close – especially as I am a non-diver. So the crew rushed me to put my snorkel equipment on – and well, was a bit of a challenge to jump from the deck into the deep blue water, which had a lot of waves on that day. Also the current was very strong, so it meant a hard leg work-out for me. On our first stop we were not so lucky as the Mantas only came for a short time, but on the second one a very playful Manta stayed with us and I could see it from very close, when he was floating around or under us. AMAZING! Unfortunately I didn’t have an underwater camera so I owe you these unique pictures.
After our swim with the Mantas we continued our sail and a group of dolphins came along.
Next was a stop at a local island – nothing to see here, but we wanted to get the feel of a local island. Was a bit disappointing as our skipper only rushed us through few streets and into a small souvenir shop. Of course we bought something as otherwise we would have felt guilty – but somehow we also couldn’t get rid of the feeling that tourists are not very welcomed here. The few people along the way were not hostile to us, but on the opposite also not friendly or interested. As I said before in Maldives tourists and locals stay somehow apart – which is a sad feeling for my culturally interested tourism soul.
It was time for lunch then which was freshly prepared in the boat kitchen for us and more than enough for the two of us.
Unfortunately we couldn’t eat much as the boat was already on its way to our next stop and the sea became very rough – so not so gentle for our stomachs.
Next and last stop was at a very beautiful atoll with a lively marine life that we explored while snorkelling. Highlight here was the spotting of some huge sea turtles. However I felt sorry for them as a big group of other snorkellers showed up, surrounding the poor things for the best picture, which caused panic among the turtles. People, why some of you can´t observe our beautiful nature just as a spectator from far and not always in the urge of the best and closest picture!
In the late afternoon we reached back to our paradise island.
What else to do…..
Other than the Dhoni cruise you have a few other excursions on offer like for example a sunset cruise, swimming/snorkelling trip to a nearby atoll or fishing. There is also a regular shuttle boat to some local islands around.
Further you can make an appointment with the resident photographer to take some real nice memory shots around the island – not only recommended for honeymooners.
So that was our trip around Safari Island and my first trip to the Maldives – and for sure not the last. I have to revise my opinion from the Intro and have to admit that Robinson Crusoe holidays deluxe are not that bad for some time in such a beautiful place😊!
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