Travelling to the Maldives began as a Hail Mary.
Having planned ahead, we were anticipating booking a quiet beach retreat in Antigua for a week-long getaway; a place with nothing but beach and time to write. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans and just before we finalized details, hurricanes hit the Caribbean. Thankfully the island was spared major damage, but the resort required reconstruction. So, we searched for a plan B. Considering all our options, we flirted with the idea of travelling to the Maldives, but decided it was best to wait and plan that trip properly. A short six months later, we were there.
The Republic of Maldives consists of a chain of over 1200 small coral islands, grouped together into clusters (or atolls). It took approximately thirty hours, four flights and one speedboat to arrive in the Lhaviyani Atoll and onto the private island where Hurawalhi Maldives is located, and it was worth every second. There being no direct flight from Toronto, we chose Dubai as the mid-point stop over (and took full advantage by staying a few nights on the way home).
From Dubai, we hopped on Sri Lankan Air to Male (the capital city of the Republic of Maldives), stopping in Colombo (the largest city of Sri Lanka) along the way. From Male, we hesitantly boarded a small sea plane, where the pilots wore shorts and no shoes. The forty-five minute flight was hot and cramped, but the view was magnificent. Small powdery white islands dotted the deep blue Indian ocean. We landed near Hurawalhi’s sister resort, where our personal concierge waited to escort us by speedboat to the island.
Arrival in the Maldives
After ten short minutes, we were walking off the boat, across the deck and awkwardly passed the musicians welcoming us to the island. It was a lovely welcome, but being the only two visitors arriving at that time (and disliking attention) we scurried passed as quickly as possible, sat on couches outside the open-air front desk and enjoyed our welcome refreshments. Our concierge checked us in, then escorted us via golf cart through the lush island, direct to our very own over-water villa located at the very end of the pier. It could not have been more perfect.
The villa was more than we had imagined; spacious, comfortable, luxurious; and we had a bottle of champagne and a bowl of fresh fruits waiting for us. The back deck housed a large infinity plunge pool and stairs that lead directly into the ocean. We took full advantage and snorkeled every day, floating over the colourful house reef, flirting near the edge of the drop off (what we nicknamed “the deep blue”). We even had a tiny sun fish that liked to hover near the railing to our staircase and nibble on the moss. I named him Herb.
Relax on the beach
Relaxed in a wonderful environment
Each morning, we rose before the sun, made coffee and relaxed on the back deck. While we waited for the sun to rise in spectacular colour, we nibbled on the snacks left for us in the room, including the delectable sweets left for us by the nightly turn down service. Many accommodations offer turn down service and each is unique. At Hurawalhi, in addition to dimming the lights, preparing the bed linens and setting water by the bedside, we were given a sweet treat.
These were not your typical out-of-the-box chocolate desserts, these were hand-made heavenly morsels from the on-site pastry chef. Most mornings, in the quiet of the sunrise, a family of spinner dolphins made an appearance, swimming back and forth directly in front of our villa. This is what dreams are made of. It is no wonder so many choose The Maldives as their honeymoon destination. Hurawalhi consists of 90 villas scattered across the water and island, but somehow we always felt secluded and blissfully alone.
In addition to our personal concierge, we had a single room attendant who cared for our needs in the villa, and a personal server to attended to us at every meal in the main restaurant, where we had all breakfasts and most lunches and dinners. We got to know each other well and it became more like friendship than service. He knew us by name, he knew our schedule and personally decorated our favourite table with colourful grains of rice, on the chance that we would come to the restaurant for dinner on our anniversary. (Which we did). With the entourage of top chefs, it is no surprise that every single meal was memorable. Thus far, nothing else has compared to the level of quality and flavour that we experienced.
For our anniversary lunch, we dined at the 5.8 Undersea Restaurant, the worlds largest underwater restaurant, sitting 5.8 meters below. The concierge greeted us with a welcome cocktail and entertained us with fun facts as we made our descent. Those sensitive to pressure changes, like us, would feel the shift as you round the circular staircase and are submerged. The main room was bright, warm and open. The curved glass ceiling and walls evoked a fishbowl likeness, surrounded by colourful reef and sea life. Each course of the menu was served in a creative underwater theme. Words cannot describe the quality of these dishes; they were quite simply delicious works of art. After an outstanding deconstructed mango cheesecake dessert, we were surprised with a special anniversary platter of macaroons, chocolates and Crème Brule. Stuffed to the brim, we devoured every last morsel, leaving nothing to waste.
In between meals, we filled our days with relaxation at the spa and excursions out onto the open water. The spa space is spectacular. The Balinese women are sweet tempered with strong hands and the outdoor couples bubble bath was surreal (though fair warning, is not for the bashful). We booked a snorkelling excursion with the on-site Marine Biologist, in the hopes of snorkelling with manta rays. Though we did find them and were visible from the surface, they were shy and we were unable to snorkel with them that day. We did, however, snorkel in some of the most beautiful reefs, filled with fish, reef sharks, sting rays and turtles.
We also booked a private sunset excursion, where we watched dolphins play as the sun began to set. At dusk, we jumped into the ocean with nothing but flashlights for a night snorkel. It offered an invigorating view of nighttime activity underwater, including a visit from a ten-foot nurse shark.
One of the best snorkeling sites around Hurawalhi is off of Dream Island; a small plot of white sand visible from our villa, with nothing on it but a loosely shaded hut. The shape of the island changes with the water levels and tides throughout the year. We arranged to be “stranded” on Dream Island for two hours. A speedboat dropped us off in the early morning with a box of treats and an emergency phone. We spent the majority of the time in the water, peacefully snorkeling along the edge of the “deep blue” and trying desperately not to be pulled in.
One afternoon while exploring the island, we walked along the beach and stumbled across a few recently planted palm trees with plaques. We surmised from the names that these were couples who marked their wedding or anniversary dates, and immediately and idea came to me. My dad passed two years earlier and since then, we had planted trees for him in Costa Rica and in the Galapagos. I hadn’t planned it, but now wanted to do the same for him in the Maldives. All it took was a simple email to our concierge and it was all arranged. The gardeners prepared a shady spot on the beach and let me plant and water the sapling. It added to the growing list of locations where we’ve now left something behind. It honours my dad, marks the trip and allows us to give something back to the environment.
Looking at fish
I hope the tree is thriving. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Maldives (and specifically Hurawalhi), don’t hesitate, you won’t regret it. While you’re there, please take a barefoot stroll down the beach, feeling the soft white sand between your toes, and check in on my tree.