Full disclosure: Even after an ancestral connection to Goa and having lived there for 4 years, I couldn’t develop a romantic relationship with either the beach or the clear waters. When people speak about their sandy toes and salty hair in an almost poetic way, I could only picture myself sweaty in humidity. As a non-swimmer, my idea of a perfect vacation never involved laying in a hammock on a tropical island or even guzzling down an Instagrammable breakfast in an infinity pool—I was convinced that I am one of those city snobs who liked unwinding in other cities with lots of cafes and museums amongst other man-made wonders.
This was until I visited the Maldives for the first time (insert every cliche, cheesy, corny love-at-first-sight trope). After what felt like an endless day beginning at 7: 00 AM—comprising a long immigration queue and a delayed flight, we finally landed at the Male airport by noon. A quick bus drive later, we were escorted to the private waiting lounge where we paused for our seaplane. Even though we were stacked in a small flying boat with little to no leg room, the smitten me was too distracted by the view 4,000 ft. below. The celestial to turquoise blue ombré transition in the Indian Ocean was quite the showoff on mother nature’s part, but it gripped me all through the 30-minute ride.
Located on the tropical island of Dhidhoofinolhu, the LUX* South Ari Atoll is one of the biggest island resorts in the Maldives, enveloped by 4 kilometres of pristine white sand beach. Welcomed with warm wet towels, a ginger-lemon concoction and a string of smiling faces—we checked into the luxury property right before sunset, talk about timing. Over the course of the next 3 days, my idea of what one does in the Maldives, accumulated via social media was forever changed. Yes, there’s more to do than just laze around the island and switch between dipping in the pool and the ocean. Breaking down the highlights of my visit, here’s a gist of everything that went behind converting an urban city stiff neck to an almost water baby.
1. Resting Beach Phase
Across the resort, 193 private villas are scattered around the beaches or constructed on stilts above the majestic blue lagoon. My choice of accommodation was the magnificent beach villa with dove white interiors—giving me direct access to the beach, which doubled up as the most picturesque view to wake up to. The outdoor shower and the egg-shell-shaded large bathtub that could fit a family of four were just an added bonus. Parked outside the villa was our sweet ride (bicycle) that became our mode of transport across the island—except when we were too full from the delectable meals and had to hop into the buggy that came to our rescue.
2. Of(fish)ially The Best Marine Life
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we started day 1 of adventure by climbing aboard a traditional wooden Dhoni to snorkel alongside the manta rays, turtles and wait for it—the majestic white whale shark. These gentle giants are the biggest tourist attraction in this marine protected area, with a chance of sighting throughout the year. Unfortunately (or fortunately) my first snorkel experience didn’t involve a tryst with an 18-meter-long fish, but I did encounter a number of underwater creatures in my hour-long, expert-supervised deep water exploration. It was exhilarating, to say the least, especially for someone who still gets into the pool with a bunch of floaties.
3. Coral Me Pretty
Our first agenda on Day 2 included an insightful session by their resident marine biologist on the harmful effects of coral bleaching and how it can be combated. Instead of just a theoretical session, we were invited to plant corals as a part of their effort to safeguard the biodiversity and resilience of coral reefs. Small pieces of corals were etched on a hexagon-shaped structure, which was later gently planted in the ocean and later moved to the coral garden.
4. There’s No Planet B
One can easily be fazed by the beauty of this island and forget that this paradise might not exist in the next 20 years, owing to the hard climatic conditions. It is important to highlight luxury resorts that are going above and beyond to minimize carbon dioxide emissions. LUX* South Ari Atoll has installed the world ́s largest solar system floating at sea—they were already using a rooftop system with solar panels, but by introducing this unique technology called SolarSea, it has managed to gather solar energy directly on the ocean to power the island in an eco-friendly fashion.
5. Cocktails & Coastal Cuisine In Maldives
Food was at the centre of our whole Maldivian experience (as it rightfully should be). Overlooking a beautiful view, Umami serves you an authentic Japanese experience if you’re in the mood for some sushis, sakes along with live teppanyaki shows. MIXE and East Market were our contrasting yet equally fulfilling breakfast options with a vast variety to choose from—dim sums and glass noodles for breakfast? Yes, please! Although the Italian food at Allegria comes a close second, nothing beats the authentic Maldivian cuisine we experienced in their herb garden. Between the garden of homegrown produce—a thatched-roof hut, curtained with a strategic waterfall to keep the place cool was our location for lunch. A live cooking station where the chef prepared our meal while educating us about the Maldivian culture became the high point of the day. From Garudhiya (Maldivian fish broth served with lime, onion and Maldivian chilli) and Fihunu Mas (Maldivian spiced coral fish wrapped in banana leaves) to Boshi Mashuni (banana flower and fresh coconut salad and Saagu Bondi Bai (saagu pudding infused with pandan leaves), these special Maldivian dishes left a lasting imprint. After all, how can you experience a new place without eating their food and learning about their heritage?
3 days is never enough to take in the unexplainable beauty of this place, but if you’re an enthusiastic traveller, make the most of what this island has to offer. Whether it’s enjoying their coconut-syrup-infused iced coffee from their in-house cafe right after a swim to downing a gelato at their cutesy little ice cream shop, there’s always something to do. From water sport enthusiasts to culture vultures, Maldives is more than what trending Instagram reels and Pinterest-ing posts can capture.
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