To Americans, the Maldives – a beautiful chain of islands in the Indian Ocean – are elusive. Far-flung and mysterious, the islands are a 30-hour journey from Houston, literally on the other side of the world. That kind of commitment gives one pause – how great can it be to warrant that kind of trek?
I got to answer that question in January, when I took the grueling two-legs, a-massive-layover, and-a-speedboat journey to my first private island of my trip. Almost all the Maldivian islands are private and contain only one resort, which is the closest most of us will ever come to living like Richard Branson.
At my first island, I got to experience what I’ve seen in all the photos – the over-the-water bungalows. My bungalow sat out at the farthest end, and each night during high tide, the waves splashed up against the stilts, creating a soundtrack that sometimes lulled me to sleep, sometimes woke me up. But I didn’t care either way because I was surrounded by so much beauty, it took my breath away.
Brilliant light blue water spreading out from white, white sand. Villas nestled in palm jungles. Herons standing on stilt-like legs and playing – I’m not making this up – with shallow-swimming black tip sharks. One morning, I rose early for yoga and got the most exquisite view of God’s handiwork in a sunrise I won’t soon forget. After that, I woke up early every day, sat with my coffee in hand, and took it all in with a sigh.
At my resort, Coco Bodu Hithi, my bungalow came with a butler (words I never thought I’d hear myself say). Gowtham was every vacationer’s dream. He anticipated every need – seeing me in heels walking to dinner, he arranged to have a golf cart brought around. He showed up everywhere – on the beach, as I was finishing snorkeling, he insisted on carrying my flippers back to my bungalow. He was thoughtful, attentive, kind, and sweet, and my mantra throughout the week was, “Everyone deserves a Gowtham.”
Service in the Maldives is excellent, across the board. I’ve been to some high-end resorts in the Caribbean and around the world, and nothing has compared to this level of attention. The best part is that none of it is snooty. It seems 100 percent sincere, like the staff truly cares about your experience and just wants to make it as wonderful as possible. Service charges are built into your stay, so tips are not expected and certainly never mentioned. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be in that environment without constant pressure to grease palms.
I took a seaplane to my second resort, and that was an experience all its own. Looking down at the rings of atolls that have formed all over this area of the Indian Ocean, the variations in sea color, and the coral reefs below, was an experience I can only describe as surreal. Seaplanes are the main mode of transport among the islands, so if you visit, you are likely to end up on one, and it really is a treat.
My second island resort, Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, was quite different from my first. Both exotic and primitive, this resort stayed true to Maldivian culture, feeling less like a resort and more like Gilligan’s Island. That’s not to say it wasn’t lovely – in fact, I felt more comfortable in those surroundings than I had in the last. The smaller island, the thatched roof villas, the total lack of golf carts or any vehicles at all made this feel like a true island getaway.
Each morning, my husband and I walked around the island, and when I say walked around, I mean literally around the entire island. We snorkeled and explored, but mostly we relaxed. The most magical moment of all took place one night under the stars. We stood on the beach gazing up at a sky filled with more stars than we had ever seen in our lives. We were mesmerized. Then we looked down at the water lapping at our feet. Then we gasped. Each wave carried in glowing stars of its own, phytoplankton that it deposited in the sand, leaving a beach filled with twinkling lights. I had never seen anything like it before. From that night on, we stepped outside just before collapsing into bed. We took in the stars – in the sky and on the beach – and we thanked God for the beautiful Maldives.
So is it worth the trek? Absolutely. Take it off your bucket list and move it to your To Do list. You won’t regret it.