Believe you could never afford the Maldives? Think again
If, like us, you thought the Maldives was the domain of the rich and famous, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. It’s increasingly possible to travel to this coveted collection of Indian Ocean islands within an affordable budget, so you can enjoy the legendary white sands, crystal waters and amazing snorkelling, just like those celebs you see posting all over social media.
Local island living
If you’re into seeing how the locals live and immersing yourself in the culture, then stay a few nights on local island Maafushi. It has a laid-back island vibe – in fact, you could almost be in the Caribbean with all the Jamaican colours and reggae music everywhere. There is a great mix of clothes and gift shops, food stalls and beachfront water sports activities.
We stayed at Liyela Retreat, a simple but immaculate guest house with a surprisingly swanky en-suite shower room. It’s home to the Oasis spa – try the Balinese massage, it’s blissful – and the Raja restaurant does the best breakfasts, from a traditional Maldivian spread with fresh tuna to a smoothie bowl with banana and pumpkin seeds. We loved the “coffee lift” – iced coffee with banana and coconut milk – and they also whizz up fresh juices.
The piece de résistance is the Moroccan-inspired roof terrace with its legendary sunset views you can enjoy while sipping on a chilled drink. On the subject of drinks, the island conforms to the Islam faith, so it is alcohol-free, plus beach wear is not allowed in the town or harbour. But committed boozers and sunbathers, never fear. You can take a speedboat out to a “floating bar” in the harbour and guzzle a few beers and cocktails. And there’s the “bikini beach”, where you can wear what you like.
Personally, we didn’t miss drinking, as we were too busy paddle boarding, jet skiing, exploring and fishing. We went sustainable line fishing one evening and caught red snapper, which we ate at a beach café later on with salad and fried rice.
We went snorkelling with Shadow Palm Tours (£20 per person), and swam with turtles and an array of multicoloured fish. We were thrilled to see a family of dolphins who showed off their jumping skills feet away from us, while we clapped and whistled (they like it, apparently).
Accommodation in an Ocean Deluxe Room with breakfast at Liyela Retreat costs from £97 per night at Liyelaretreat.com.
‘Welcome to paradise’
This is what the manager said to us as we arrived on the jetty of this tiny island resort – and he wasn’t wrong. The Vakarufalhi Maldives has a personal touch, with friendly, attentive staff and bespoke experiences, as well as top-quality food and accommodation.
The reef surrounding the island offers wonderful snorkelling opportunities. We saw a turtle, an eagle ray, baby sharks and needle fish just 20 metres from the beach – make sure you bring a waterproof camera or GoPro.
We stayed in spacious beach huts with their own little beach area and outside shower. The buffet food was fantastic with plenty of tuna and jack fish. There’s also a slant towards Mediterranean cuisine, due to Italian manager Luka. The homemade pasta with pesto – from basil grown on their veg patch – is unmissable. There’s also a “dining under the stars” night once a week, so you can enjoy a magical meal by the ocean. We didn’t even mind the sudden tropical downpour, especially as we ran inside for some great cocktails and entertainment at the bar. Have a workout in the gym, then relieve your aching muscles with a massage at the Duniye Spa, and watch the fish go by through windows on the floor.
The resort offers private dining in a little beach hut, a private cinema at the end of the jetty, and romantic baths – they will try to accommodate any special request. It’s undoubtedly the best four-star hotel in the region.
Overnight accommodation in a Beach Villa with breakfast at the Vakarufalhi Maldives costs from £197 per night at Vakarufalhi.com.
Huge villa with private infinity pool? Tick. Bathroom with stand-alone whirlpool bath, two showers and a swing? Tick. Own butler? Tick? You get the picture. The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi resort is pure luxury. It’s a five-star, 52-acre property with 15 restaurants and bars, and an incredible Thalgo spa with beautiful Asian-themed treatment rooms, where you can enjoy pampering, Pilates and yoga.
The breakfast buffet is the ultimate in quality, offering everything from French toast and omelettes to Champagne and fresh juices. Fluid restaurant is great for a casual bite – the fishing basket with calamari, fish and prawns hits the spot – and The Islander’s Grill overlooking the ocean is a gorgeous evening choice. Entertainment is fun and varied. Catch the traditional Maldivian dance and bodu beru show, but be warned, they’ll get you up there with them! There’s a shark feeding session every evening, and of course, there’s snorkelling. You can take a sunrise trip to see turtles, rays and “Nemo” fish (clown fish). As we left this wonderful island, the staff lined up to say goodbye, holding up a sign saying, “We will miss you.” We miss you too!
Accommodation in a Deluxe Beach Villa with breakfast at The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi costs from £333 per night for two adults. Visit Sunsiyam.com
Need to know
· All resorts are accessible by sea plane and/or boat from the capital city and airport Malé.
· For more information on the Maldives, visit Visitmaldives.com