A Maldives Break

A resort in Maldives

A resort in Maldives

A group of us, work colleagues, caught a Srilankan Airlines red-eye flight from Karachi to Colombo recently, on a 3 nights/4 days Retreat. After a 3 hour layover at the enlarged and improved Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo, we were off again for Male, the capital of Maldives. Considering that some 1.2 million tourists visit Maldives in a year (almost 3 times the population of Maldives itself), Male airport is somewhat disappointing. No aero-bridges from aircraft into the terminal building, not enough immigration counters, small luggage retrieval hall, no free wi-fi and so on. But there was a silver lining! Visa on arrival for all, including us, Pakistan passport-holders and immigration done inside 5 minutes! For the visa on arrival you must show a return air ticket and a confirmed hotel booking. But none of us was asked for either document and we just breezed through immigration.

The airport is on an island of its own, with the capital city of Male on another island just across and reached by ferry. I doubt if many tourists actually go to Male. Most just go on from the airport to one of the many islands on which they have made a booking at a hotel or resort. The journey is by seaplane to the islands furthest away, especially those in the southern atolls, while to others (mainly in the northern atolls) it is by speedboat, with travel time lasting from a few hours to under half an hour. Our booking was at the Paradise Island Resort, only 25 minutes away by speedboat, which was really convenient after the night flight.

The very first thing that totally takes your breath away on emerging out of the airport and walking across to the pier where all the speedboats stand ready, is the colour of the water. It is turquoise and it is aquamarine nearer to shore, and it is azure and cobalt blue further out, where the sea depth is more. You stand on the edge of the pier and the water is crystal clear, with the seabed, 10 feet or more below, lucidly visible.

Manta Ray, Maldives

Manta Ray, Maldives

Maldives is the world’s most popular destination for honeymooners. It is also highly popular with scuba diving and snorkeling aficionados, and beach lovers in general. At a distant third come families with young children, with a relaxed beachside family holiday in mind. Our group of work colleagues was not in any of these 3 categories! But having been there, done that, I can definitely recommend the Maldives as a break from daily stress city-life even for a group of close, like-minded friends. There is plenty to do and see. If Maldives is not really suitable for anyone, it is for the single traveler, or the backpacker, or the one who is not at all into the sea and beaches and the great outdoors.

Resorts in Maldives range from the ultra-luxurious, ultra-expensive, to mid-range, less fancy ones. I am told that some even less expensive options have recently become available, but to my knowledge there are really no low-budget places of any repute. So if you are on a tight budget, maybe you need to wait a while and save up before going to the Maldives!

Room with a view - from terrace of my water villa

Room with a view – from terrace of my water villa

Activities in the Maldives are fairly numerous – snorkeling, scuba diving, dolphin watching, submarine ride, deep-sea fishing, island hopping, parasailing, water-skiing, several other water sports, and still some more. All are expensive, with any of the named costing $ 100 or much more per person, for a single experience. So you really need to pick and choose unless the moolah is fairly unlimited.

Our chosen resort, the Paradise Island Resort & Spa was luxurious without being obscenely so, and priced higher than the average but not in the very highly-priced resorts range. Its single greatest asset is its staff. All of them – reception staff, guest relations officers, restaurants and bar staff, room service people, spa staff, support staff, all are highly courteous and friendly, always ready to help and always pleasant. And from half a dozen countries at least- Armenia, Egypt, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines, and Maldives itself.

Bat hanging upside down in a cheeko tree

Bat hanging upside down in a cheeko tree

It has a huge variety of offerings to keep one engaged – several water sports like jet skis, parasailing, catamaran, windsurfing, etc., several white sand beaches, variety of restaurants offering seafood and Italian, Japanese, Continental and Pan Asian cuisines, a serene spa with a variety of treatments and well-trained therapists, landscaped gardens to just wander around or cycle through, sports facilities like tennis, a basketball court, snooker and, table tennis, and a well equipped gym. There are no cars on the island. Only battery-powered golf carts.

Then you can take various tours like dolphin watching and submarine ride to a depth of about 100 feet (which we did), and island hopping and deep sea fishing which we did not do. Perhaps the only drawback of this Resort is that it does not have a house reef, so serious scuba divers and snorkelers may not get to see a full range of exotic undersea life that is available at Resorts that do have a house reef.

The rooms are quite comfortable, with a choice between beachside bungalows, other bungalows and over-water villas. Although I was a little surprised that the fairly expensive water villas did not have slippers and bathrobes, which are fairly standard nowadays even in 4 star hotels in the Asian region.

Depending on what all you want to do, you are best off doing thorough pre-trip research into all the various resorts which are falling within your budget, and then selecting one which seems the most ideal. The right selection is vitally important, because I would say that in 9 cases out of 10, a visitor to the Maldives stays put on one island / resort for the duration of the trip, especially if it a short one of between 2 and 4 or 5 nights. Unless something goes horribly wrong at your chosen resort, you are not likely to change it for another after a day or so. Although I did meet a young couple from India, perhaps on their honeymoon, who were in the Maldives for an extended period, and after a few days at Paradise Island, were moving to another resort just for a wider experience.

I must acknowledge here that our whole trip was excellently organized by Rakaposhi Tours in Karachi, through their partner tour company, NKAR Travels & Tours (Pvt) Ltd, based in Colombo. (www.nkartravelhouse.com). Do talk to them if you are planning a Maldives visit.

In summing up, I do recommend the Maldives for a serene, laid-back break, which at a bare minimum should be at least 3 nights and 4 days. We all really need such a break at some point, to refresh ourselves and put aside the vicissitudes of life, if only for a brief escapade into a world of overwhelming natural beauty and body, mind and soul rejuvenation.

One ironic and poignant insight that I got needs to be mentioned before I end. One day I got talking to a young Maldivian woman, early twenties at most, working for a local tour operator. I mentioned to her that how happy we were to be able to make it to Maldives and how everyone wants to come to Maldives. She looked at me in the eye and quietly said, ‘And I want to get out of Maldives.’

I realized that she was like youth in our own country in this respect. Thanks to the internet, the whole world has opened up to the youth, and she like many others, feels restricted by her present existence and just wants to get out and experience much more than what Maldives, beautiful as it is, can ever offer to her. I hope she does manage to travel the world, even live abroad for some time. But I also hope that if she does achieve this, she also remembers her roots always and comes back to her home country again one day.

Maldives sunset

Maldives sunset

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