You might say the only problem with the Republic of Maldives — that archipelagic nation of almost 1,200 islands, which dot the Indian Ocean across the Equator like fragments of shattered glass — is getting there, as there are no direct flights from the USA.
Then again, I can think of worse ways to spend 18 hours than flying to Malé, the Maldives’ pint-size “capital” in my own first-class suite on Emirates, with a two-hour layover in Dubai for a spot of duty-free airport shopping before the real vacation begins. Goodness knows, there’s nothing to buy in Maldives once you get there, except shells and snorkels and bathing suits, though believe me, you wouldn’t want it any other way.
First, some context. Along with their intense beauty and peerless marine life, it’s the sheer remoteness of the Maldives that makes the islands so alluring. Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka and the nearest city of any size, lies 500 miles to the northeast. To the west, there’s Nairobi, 2,500 miles away. And heading south there is absolutely nothing. Unless you count Antarctica.
A former British colony cast seemingly adrift in — to pinch poet Samuel Coleridge’s phrase — “a wide, wide (Arabian) sea,” the Maldives rely heavily on tourism to keep its fragile economy afloat. Over the last decade, the atolls have seen numbers of U.S. visitors slowly but steadily increasing, at a time when the American government is looking to establish an embassy there. With a population of barely half a million, however, roughly the same as Sacramento, California, spread out over around 200 islands, the Maldives is never going to feel crowded.
You step off the plane and blink at the blinding morning light. Americans do not require a visa for the Maldives and so you whisk through immigration and make your way to the jetty for your ongoing journey, by boat or perhaps by seaplane, to your resort.
It’s been five years since I was last in the Maldives and in that short time, and despite the past year lost to the pandemic, a number of luxury new resorts have opened. Of course, the effects of growing tourism on the ecosystem is another matter, although responsible government appears to be on top of it, protecting the marine life, promoting recycling and solar power and limiting destructive waste.
Launched four years ago, Hurawalhi Island is an adults-only resort on Lhaviyani atoll, a great diving center with more than 50 dive sites to explore one of the Indian Ocean’s richest reefs. Accommodations on Hurawalhi look superb, with overwater villas, villas with their own infinity pools and others with their own private beach — or both.
Along with its other three restaurants and two bars, the resort also boasts the world’s largest underwater all-glass restaurant, called 5.8, where you feast on smoked lobster with sea urchin mousse and pan-seared red mullet with Beluga coconut broth — though if tucking into fish and shellfish, as their cousins swim past your table seems a little indelicate, there are plenty of dairy, meat and vegetarian alternatives.
Indeed, the abundant reef that surrounds the resort hosts more than 2,000 species of fish and more than 200 species of coral, while the atoll is also home to the Maldives’ largest population of endangered green turtles, magnificent herbivorous creatures each weighing up to 350 pounds.
Over on Ithaafushi atoll, a 40 minute-glide from the airport in one of the resort’s private yachts, the brand-new Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi is the latest property in the Waldorf’s glamorous portfolio, adding luster to this revitalized luxury brand. Strung out over three private islands, the resort offers 122 villas, overwater, reef or right on the beach. The overwater villas are the largest, each with its own infinity pool, deck and outdoor gazebo. A little glitzier than some resorts, Waldorf Astoria is nevertheless going to have legions of fans, who are already sharing their enthusiasm on social media, and as for the 24-carat gold facial, offered in the resort’s 10 treatment villa spa, it is leaving guests glowing in all senses.
For an exquisite property with a French twist, consider Randheli, in the heart of the Noonu atoll. This is one from the small and extremely stylish Cheval Blanc hotel group, which is in turn a part of the LVMH luxury empire. Randheli is the sort of place favoured by people who know they have “arrived” without having to shout about it, where privacy and discretion are key and a rock-star, a Housewife of New Jersey or a quiet Parisian attorney will all be treated equally, with quiet courtesy. In short, no posturing — either by guests or staff. Randheli’s Guerlain spa is situated on an entire island of its own, and the food in this chic resort is some of the best in all the islands — no matter what or where you eat, be it dinner at Le 47 gourmet restaurant, a resort-prepared picnic for two on a sandbar or a meal while watching a movie in bed.
Back on Lhaviyani atoll is Hurawalhi’s sister resort of Kudadoo, the only fully solar-powered luxury resort in the Maldives. With 15 overwater residences sleeping up to 34 guests — each with its own butler, naturally — Kudadoo offers entire property buyouts with dining, access to an expansive wine cellar (including seven different Champagnes), all spa treatments and private water experiences fully included in the price per night. What’s more, guests arriving by private jet can land at the new, local North Malé atoll airport for the 45-minute journey to the resort on board Kudadoo’s private yacht, Bella.
It’s the only Maldivian island to offer this kind of fully-inclusive luxury, which is to say anything, anytime, anywhere. Nothing, it seems, exceeds like excess and yes, as they say in the classics: It will take an awful lot of this to kill you.
Under current requirements, a negative PCR test conducted no more than 96 hours prior to departure, as well as an online health declaration form submitted no more than 24 hours before departure, are both needed before traveling to the Maldives.
For more, visit hurawalhi.com, waldorfastoria.com, chevalblanc.com, kudadoo.com and visitmaldives.com.