Have you ever imagined a place so beautiful that your emotions cannot comprise it? For me, that is the coralline islands of Maldives. One week in this blissful paradise is guaranteed to rejuvenate your body and soul and it may even make you rethink your day job...island life, anyone?
We arrived at Male international airport after a direct overnight flight from London where we faced a rather fierce customs queue by pure fault of our own. Tip number one - make sure you bring your own pen so you can fill in the landing card, otherwise, you will need to wait for a long time to get one and extend your waiting time by about 10-15 minutes. Not the worst thing in the world, but when you’re tired and jet-lagged, every minute counts.
From Male, depending on where you stay, you will either need a boat or seaplane transfer. We had the latter and boy was it fun! Transmaldivian Air is the local company that operates these planes and the aerodrome (which looks more like a beach bar) is located about 15 min away by bus transfer from the main airport. The relaxation begins as soon as you set foot in the beach bar (sorry, seaplane terminal) where your purchase options include fresh coconuts amongst other local delicacies.
Our seaplane transfer took about 50 minutes and the views were simply amazing. Turquoise lagoons scattered across the ocean with the occasional resort reflecting glowingly into the water. At this point, no matter how tired you are, you know you’re onto something good...
And then you get there, in my case to the beautiful Cocoon Maldives on Lhaviyani Atoll, and beautiful here really doesn’t do it justice. The Maldives follow one island, one resort concept and Cocoon Maldives is the first design-led resort in the region, operated by an experienced Italian family.
We were welcomed with aromatic towels and big smiles and instantly taken care of. The efficiency and professionalism in this resort embodies what hospitality is all about and having worked in the industry, I can only commend the team for their dedication. We were transferred on a golf buggy and shown around the island, to finally end up at the end of a pier and enter the villa we were going to call home for the next week - complete awe!
Over the course of a week, you can basically do as much or as little as you want. With daily snorkelling trips to the nearby reef, water sports galore, an all-day open bar and different types of entertainment throughout the resort, you are guaranteed not to get bored.
We decided to go snorkelling every day and saw an incredible range of marine life from a very playful manta ray which kept following me like a dolphin, to black and white stingrays, eagle rays, baby sharks, pufferfish, turtles and lots of different tropical fish (including Dory from Finding Nemo). The sealife is simply incredible and even snorkelling off our wooden balcony saw us make many fishy friends 😊. My tip would be to make sure you bring some sort of underwater camera as I didn’t and am now regretting not being able to record the amazing manta. I would also say to make sure you bring your own snorkelling masks as even though the resort provides you with everything you need, having the more professional, full-face ones (like these ones) is absolutely worth the extra weight in your luggage.
To finish off on water-related activities, on one of the days we chose to go on an island hopping tour that started us off by sailing beyond the atoll and into the ocean to play with dolphins, followed by the most memorable lunch I will have ever had...lunch on a sandbar in the middle of the ocean. I still cannot grasp how beautiful it was to be getting there on a speed boat and wondering from a distance how on Earth were a few fully clothed people standing on water - turns out there is a 3-meter wide strip of sand that was big enough to allow the diligent chefs from Cocoon to cook us a delicious reef tuna grill, prawn salad and other delicacies.
From the sandbar, we went to a local island to see how Maldivian people live and our friendly guide Nattu took us to his home, showed us around and shared stories about customs, traditions and daily livelihood of his tiny and amazing nation. I think the thing to mention is that in all my travels, I have never met people as genuine, kind and warm as Maldivians (perhaps only in Malaysia!). With only about 400,000 of them out of which c.150,000 live in Male, the capital, they are true ambassadors for their tropical, sun-kissed home. Everyone we met from setting foot in Male to the hotel and the local island has been super friendly, curious, kind and charming. It really has been a privilege to experience their culture for a few days and I would only like to inspire you too to want to see it.
And then there’s the food...at the resort, as you would expect, there is everything you can imagine ready to cater for the most demanding of palates. Every evening is themed differently, with lots of fresh fish and grilled meats, as well as sumptuous vegetable-based delights suitable for vegans and vegetarians alike and a gluten-intolerance corner too.
The chefs and waiters were incredibly friendly and were talking to us about where they were from and the foods they were cooking. But the highlight of it all was the Maldivian night where we got to try local goodies including tuna and coconut salad, mas Roshi (a mix of tuna, coconut, lime and onion that is grilled into a flat pancake), gulha (tuna balls) and the mouthwatering ghee rice, dhals and other curries. Needless to say, I have photographed some of the recipes and will be attempting them very soon☺️
With regards to entertainment, the evenings were all diverse ranging from an Ibiza-themed White Party on the beach to a traditional Maldivian night. There’s open-air cinema, karaoke night and all these can be enjoyed after a glass of champagne and canapés at the sunset bar.
I honestly cannot commend this place enough -it really was an amazing holiday that will stay with me for a very long time. The sights, the smells, the tastes, the sounds, the massages, but mostly the people... above all the people. If you are as lucky as me to get the chance to visit this incredible place, my thoughts are with you already and I am sure you will have an amazing time.