We all dream of a tropical island holiday, in fact during these strange times we live in, it’s possible that many people dream of ANY holiday, no matter where the destination may be.
Covid 19 has taken its toll on many businesses throughout the World and probably none have been more affected than the travel and leisure industry. Due to travel restrictions to many parts of the country, indeed the World, those fortunate enough to have the means to afford luxuries such as travel, no matter how far and wide, have been forced to curtail their wanderlust for longer than many would have imagined.
They say travel broadens your horizons, so not being able to explore and take some well-deserved time off from the rat-race has left most of us feeling exhausted with no way to recharge our batteries. In the almost eighteen months that have passed since the start of the Covid lockdowns, very few countries have welcomed South African visitors, whether for business or leisure. Travel hasn’t been totally impossible, but the costs have increased exponentially thanks to a reduction in the number of airlines operating, as well as additional costs for Covid related tests and personal protective equipment that has become mandatory across the planet.
So when we started exploring our travel options earlier this year, the one destination that seemed to be doing a roaring trade was the island nation of the Maldives. Situated just north of the equator in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives archipelago lies close to the Indian sub-continent and consists of nearly 1,200 coral islands – less than 200 of these islands are habitable – that make up the 26 atolls in an area stretching 870km north to south and 130km east to west. The island nation is considered the lowest country in the world with ground levels no higher than 2.4m above sea level, and with rising tide levels, these are all slowly sinking, and will eventually disappear.
The Maldives has always been high on our list of places to visit (my better half was fortunate to have travelled there when the first of the resorts opened up almost thirty years ago), however in recent years it has become a very expensive destination, only accessible to the well-heeled. When Covid reared its ugly head, however, the Maldives authorities realized their main income source would rapidly dry up if they did not reassess their position and reduce prices drastically. And that’s exactly what has happened, the average price of packages at the multitude of resorts dotted around the island nation have been reduced by as much as 75% or more. So we decided that it was now or never, these deals won’t remain forever, nor will the actual islands, so we booked our trip and paid in full before the exchange rate, or other influences, thwarted our efforts to cross one of our most desired destinations off the ever-increasing “Bucket List”.
We settled upon a travel agent, received the necessary quotes, made the bookings, carried out the mandatory Covid testing prior to leaving, and after nearly two month’s wait, our day to travel finally arrived.
Flying to the Maldives during these times meant that the travel agent chartered an Air Seychelles flight, that, as fate would have it, necessitated a stop-over in the Seychelles, this meant that although we never left the aircraft, we could one day tell our Grandchildren that this tiny island nation had been added to our list of countries visited.
As the sun came up, our view of the first Maldives islands from 35,000 feet revealed the extent of the island’s vast network with some already sunken, some inhabited, and many not; the turquoise sea surrounding these atolls was warm and inviting.
No sooner had we arrived on the main island of Male, we were whisked off to our island paradise for the next week in a large speed boat which took us less than half an hour to traverse the bumpy sea to the island of Kanuhuraa where our resort was situated. A warm welcome, and a speedy check-in saw us in our water bungalow within the hour. Unpacking complete, we were soon off to dip our toes in the clear warm waters of our island getaway.
The resort consisted of not only the water bungalows we stayed in, but the more expensive and exclusive water villas, as well as beach bungalows and villas. Several restaurants dotted around the resort served infinite variations of food that would please most culinary palates, bars serving local as well as international drinks were well supported by the patrons and numerous sports activities were additionally catered for; swimming, tennis, badminton, scuba diving, snorkeling, jet ski’ing, surfing, paddle boarding, windsurfing were just some of the available activities, at a price in many cases. The resort also featured a Spa where we received possibly the best massage we have ever experienced…
The waters around the resort were relatively clear and always warm allowing snorkeling from virtually any point on the island’s white sandy beaches, however, due to global warming and devastation caused by a Tsunami in 2004 many of the coral reefs have been destroyed and may never recover. This did not stop us seeing various tropical fish in the lagoon off our main beach, we were even fortunate to see several Black Tip Reef Sharks, Sting Rays, Eels and Lion Fish swimming very close to the shore. On separate excursions to nearby reefs, we got to swim with turtles, Moray Eels as well as several dozen Sting Rays along with the usual multi-colored fishes. Swimming in the lagoon directly from our bungalow’s deck was also a novel experience but meant you either had to swim in very shallow water during low tide, or struggle against the current during high tide. But it was amazing to be able to slip into the water any time you felt like it.
The island we were on was also home to the Maldives’ finest surf spot, “Pasta Point”. Surfers come from all over the World to surf this left hand break with some of the most consistent 3 -4 m waves available anywhere in the World. One of the surfers we met shapes his own surfboards and has a successful business selling to famous surfing pro’s.
As the weather is mild most of the year, there doesn’t seem to be a bad time to visit the Maldives, we did experience several rain showers but these disappeared as quickly as they arrived and we weren’t out the sun for more than an hour at any time during the stay.
The water bungalows were a unique experience, going to sleep and waking to the sounds of water gently lapping around the underside of the bungalow was something every water lover can appreciate. The privacy afforded by these rooms due to their location away from the main activities of the island was a great benefit, however, the distance away from the main amenities was a slight inconvenience, you couldn’t simply grab a drink from the bar and sit on your deck watching the sun go down, forward planning was required. “Over Water” is an experience every traveler should try at least once in their lives, but a beach bungalow closer to the “happenings” may be better suited to many guests.
In no time at all our week in paradise had quickly come to an end, but it was a week that lived up to every expectation we had of the Maldives, and the paradise island life that we had aspired to for many months. The locals that ran the resort were top class, there was nothing they wouldn’t do to ensure our every need was fulfilled, it was clean and tidy at all times and if the budget allows, its a place we will certainly look to return to. Naturally we had to undergo yet another Covid test prior to our departure but this was a quick process and we received our results in a matter of hours.
Another bumpy speedboat ride took us back to the airport and in no time we were on our homeward bound flight, amazing memories and fantastic suntans to show for our week in paradise.
The Maldivians have certainly “moved with the times”, grabbing the opportunity to ensure that their livelihoods are not taken away from them and as a nation, have kept their own economic heads above water, even if the islands themselves may not remain that way forever.
(Footnote: Whist we have not mentioned the name of the travel agent or the specific resort we stayed at during our time in the Maldives, I would be happy to share this with anyone interested, please drop me an email at email@example.com)