It was the most perfect sunset that I had ever seen. The sun was a fiery combination of yellow and tangerine as it sank low into the horizon and literally melted into hues of orange ocher. The clouds parted to showcase this splendor and encased the setting sun amid them, as if showing off the magnificence of the moment.
It was an enchanting play of tinges over the water, to the gentle lapping of the waves. The merest of breezes was caressing my skin and the sand felt comfortably warm as I sat nestled on the shore. It was a balmy November evening and I was sitting at the fringes of the Indian Ocean, at a tiny Isle in the Indian Ocean called Olhuveli; a part of the south Male Atoll in Maldives.
Those who have visited Maldives would know that the beauty of this nation is indescribable. Made up of 26 ring shaped atolls that ensconce more than a 1000 coral islands; this nation is one of the jewels of the Indian Ocean.
This paradise on earth is a must visit if you love expansive white beaches strewn with a multitude of shells and clear aquamarine waters lapping at your feet as you wade though the shallow depths. If you love scuba diving & snorkeling & embody a love for all things marine whether it be watching them frolic in the sea or eating them off of the buffet table; then a Maldivian sojourn is a must!
However, there are a few things that you must keep in mind while planning a trip to Maldives.
- Choosing the right resort – This is the most important thing to do. If you do not have the time to plan the trip yourself then you may rely on any travel agent but it is a good idea to self-plan this trip as you can avail of fabulous discounts if you communicate directly with the resort office. The preliminary research can be done on the travel sites like makemytrip, Expedia, Yatra etc and you can make a shortlist of the properties that interest you.
However, whichever resort you do choose, make sure to check and see that it be located on a coral reef or at least near a coral reef. This will ensure that you actually get to see a multitude of marine/deep marine sea life if you snorkel, scuba, take a boat ride or even if you enjoy the sea view from the balcony of your room. The waters around Maldives are abundant with the most fascinating variety of sting rays, manta rays, sea turtles, reef sharks, puffer fish, surgeon fish (remember the Disney film -finding dory?) etc to name a few. Some properties also offer deep sea mini submarine cruises so check the offers of the resorts before you actually book.
We stayed at Olhuveli beach and spa resort which is build atop a coral reef. The resort stretches on an isle which has shallow waters and sand banks surrounding it but the jetty is built right atop the coral reef with a viewing deck spanning the far end, looking over to the deep sea. At night, under massive lit floodlights, you can sit on the deck and watch the marine life literally come to life. It is the most fascinating experience to sit on the deck watching manta rays feed and execute their breathtaking dances while the waters of the ocean lap just a mere feet from the deck.
- Flights & transportation – Most of the airlines fly to Male in Maldives or to Gan Islands and flights to and fro are cheap. If you buy tickets in advance then the air fare to Maldives should cost you anywhere between ₹ 18,000/- to ₹ 25,000/- per person. Go air has also announced direct flights to Male from cities like Mumbai and Bangalore. If your flights lands at Male` then depending on the Island resort that you may have chosen, you shall be transported there via speed boat or sea plane. The speed boat transfer works out to be far cheaper than the sea plane but the rates shall be built into the package that the resort offers, including the nominal green tax that is imposed on tourists by the Govt of Maldives.
The jetty is practically adjacent to the airport so transfer to the mode of transport does not take much time unless the resort is awaiting more guests who may be availing of the same transfer facility. Most of the resorts are within an hour’s ride away.
- Accommodation – Most resorts offer a variety of villas and rooms. If you have the budget and have planned a six day trip then you must experience 3 things – a sunrise villa, a sunset villa and a water villa. The sunrises and sunsets in Maldives are exceptionally beautiful and are vastly different in the colors that paint the horizon in. While the sunrises are more a mellow yellow (coincidentally also a cocktail that they serve in Olhuveli), the sunsets are spectacular and a more vibrant orange. Hence, you can choose to spend 2 days at the sunrise villa, 2 days at the sunset villa and the remainder at the water villa.
The water villas are spacious huts that are constructed over sandbanks in the ocean. They are connected to the main isle by a wooden deck. Depending on your budget, you could opt for a water villa with or without a Jacuzzi but they are a must do. During high tide there is about a feet or two of water that laps gently at the stilts on which the villas are erected and you can see a variety of marine life (sting rays, reef sharks, needle fish, puffer fish etc) lazily swim by. The villas have individual staircases that descend into the water so you can literally enjoy a swim with the sharks (if you are the adventurous sort).
During low tide the water recedes to reveal the sand bank and hundreds of crabs break out of their sand caves to forage for food. These tiny crustaceans pattering about are a sight to behold! All villas come well stocked with a mini bar so for the partakers it is a treat to sip on chilled wine while enjoying the setting sun play its magic on the water.
- Resort Packages – Resorts in Maldives offer a variety of packages and suit most pockets. At Olhuveli kids less than 15 years of age can stay and eat for free and only a nominal green tax is charged per child. So, practically speaking a family with 2 young kids would only have to pay green tax at the resort for the kids. The resort also offers a kids activity center and a wide variety of water sports.
Snorkeling gear can be signed out from the dive center and can be kept with you for the duration of the stay. Since the reef at Olhuveli is teeming with sea life so this is a must if you enjoy being in the water. Depending on the package that you opt for, you also get limited time spa sessions; water sports sessions and credit at any of the restaurants/bars on the island. The island also offers a sunset dolphin sighting cruise, a snorkeling cruise or an island cruise. Scuba lessons can also be taken for a fee.
Most resorts offer a stay and food package, as does Olhuveli. You can opt for an all inclusive package with or without alcohol. If you do opt for one with alcohol then the same is served from 10 am in the morning till 12 am at night and can be enjoyed at any of the bars that dot the island. In the all inclusive package, all meals are free from breakfast, lunch to evening tea with snacks and dinner. The main restaurant on the Island offers a scrumptious buffet at each meal and you can literally gorge on the choicest of delicacies. Some tour operators or travel agents also offer packages which offer just breakfast and dinner. They work out to be cheaper, if you are willing to pay for the remaining meal. However as Maldives is essentially a place to just kick back, forget the world and relax so it is recommended to opt for an all inclusive package with or without alcohol.
Most resorts have a few in house restaurants and bars and a curio shop or two but be sure to note that once you reach a resort, then you are pretty much cut off from the mainland. So, think wisely before you opt for a meal plan in your package.
- Things to carry – Male` is about a ½ hour behind IST but be sure to check the local time that the island follows, as it could differ from ½ hour to 1 hour. US dollar is the locally accepted currency but you do not need to carry much as the entire trip is paid for in advance. It’s a better idea to carry credit cards and just about a few hundred dollars for off-hand expenses (if any).
Be sure to carry loads and loads of sun screen as the sun in Maldives can be pretty brutal and can burn you literally to a crisp cinder. Along with sun screen, it is also recommended to carry calamine or any other such soothing lotion. Carry hats and caps and sunglasses as the direct glare from the sun is enough to give anyone a migraine. The weather in Maldives can turn pretty fast. So, from intense sunlight you could be in the mid of a storm in a matter of hours. Most resorts provide umbrellas but just to be on the safe side, be sure to carry one. Needless to say, swimsuits are a must if you plan to do any water activities and it is advisable to carry two sets per person. Clothing should be light and comfortable as the weather in Maldives is quite balmy.
P.S – all images are from personal collection