There are very few countries in the world that can claim to be truly unique, but the geography of the Maldives really is one of a kind. Even the word “atoll” – 26 of which make up the chain of islands that form the Maldives – comes from Dhivehi, the local language. It follows, then, that there should be experiences in the country’s luxurious resorts that simply can’t be found anywhere else. Take snorkeling in Hanifaru Bay. Located near the south-eastern edge of the atoll, it is part of the Unesco World Biosphere Reserve – and or good reason, since the 1.3km section of keyhole-shaped reef is home to schools of manta rays and whale sharks. Be it artful conservation or gazing at the stars, island style, here are the experiences that only a trip to the Maldives can provide.
Visit an underwater art gallery and plant your own coral
What: The Coralarium, an underwater art installation designed to become part of the reef, encouraging coral regeneration
Where: Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi
Sustainability should be at the top of the list for every environmentally conscious traveler these days. We may not all be able to reach Greta Thunberg levels of commitment, but every little bit helps. The Maldives, with its reefs particularly susceptible to the damaging effects of mass tourism, can pose an ethical conundrum when considering a visit. But more and more resorts are building environmentalism into their DNA, with Fairmont Sirru Fen Fushi taking a truly artful approach to reef preservation. The resort’s resident marine biologists act as guides and keepers of The Coralarium, a tidal gallery that’s semi-submerged in the largest developed coral lagoon in the Maldives. The Coralarium’s box-like structure, conceptualized by British environmentalist and eco-artist Jason deCaires Taylor, houses a rotating host of sculptures. New additions were unveiled in September last year, consisting of 10 abstract forms rising from beneath the deep, inspired by coral colonies.
“By repositioning the coral forms on plinths in a confined space, I wanted to draw visitors’ attention to the need for us to change how we prioritize the natural world,” says deCaires Taylor. “Coral reefs are a global indicator as to the health of the planet, and the Maldives are at the forefront of climate change, which directly affects shallow-water reefs. It was important that we reconceptualize our marine spaces, not as an endless resource, but as precious living ecosystems.”
Acting as an artificial reef, each sculpture is made up of more than 500 ceramic starfish designed to attract marine creatures. Over time the structures come to life, literally, and support the reef that surrounds them. With a sea-scaped coral pathway leading directly from Sirru Fen Fushi’s 200m infinity pool – the largest in the Maldives – deep into the lagoon where the Coralarium is set, snorkelers and divers get a fantastic view of the installation both above and below the waves. And if you want to leave your own little work of art, guests are encouraged to plant coral to help the regeneration of the reef. Come back years later to see how your own tiny piece of the Maldives is faring… And take another peek at this one-of-a-kind living gallery. Fairmont-maldives.com
What: Cinema Paradiso, an ocean-bound movie experience, and Eleos, the largest telescope in the Maldives
Where: Soneva Jani
Whether your interests lie in the ethereal or the earthly, Soneva Jani has the experience for you – with both options taking place over the gentle Maldivian swell. Settle back with popcorn in hand to watch some of Hollywood’s brightest stars at Cinema Paradiso, a spectacular open-air cinema with the screen set artfully in Soneva Jani’s clear ocean waters. The cinema shows a variety of classic and arthouse movies, while the seating is made up of net loungers suspended over the deep blue. With a backdrop so spectacular, it may be difficult to keep your eyes on the screen. Once the sun has set, head over to So Starstruck, the observatory dining deck, to witness Eleos rise up through the floor. Poised for some serious stargazing, allow the resident astronomer to take you on a guided tour of the heavens. Thanks to the sparse population and low-level light pollution in the Maldives, there are few more perfect places to get acquainted with the galaxy and beyond. Soneva.com
Island hop on a yacht all your own
What: A luxurious Maldives-based private yacht
Where: Azalea Cruise Yacht Charter
It’s the very pinnacle of luxury: a four-deck yacht complete with attentive crew, open-air hot tub, and private dining. But throw in local Maldivian knowledge and suddenly your cruise is taken to the next level. Where are the best spots for seeing whale sharks, finding an elusive sandbank, the most colorful snorkeling, or the ideal place to bag a whopping fish? Your crew knows it all and more. When you tire of life on the ocean wave, make a pit stop at a resort for the day, before taking off once again to rove the Maldives, between islands and atolls alike. Take it as easy as you like, or pump up the adrenaline with water sports, scuba or even your own on-board discotheque. You’re the boss and it’s your boat, your rules. Choose your itinerary and route before embarking, then relax and wait for your perfect vacation to fall into place around you. You might not make it to all 1,000 of the Maldivian islands, but on board Azalea you can certainly try. Or you could simply lounge on the stylish sun deck, cool off in the living quarters, gaze at the horizon from the master suite’s bathtub, or take in yet another breathtaking sunset. After all, when you call the shots, why hurry? Azaleacruise.com
5 things to pack for your trip
Originally published in the January 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia