The Maldives is one place I have wanted to visit ever since I first saw pictures like the one above of some of the islands. There are literally hundreds of them in a series of Atoll formations in the clearest, bluest water you have ever seen in the Indian ocean. In the UK, it is pretty much viewed as a honeymoon destination, but I was lucky enough to travel there just over a year ago when my partner was rostered a flight there with work. As chance would have it, a girlfriend that I met online’s partner was the other First Officer on the flight. The boys were flying out from London and back into Manchester, but we would have to go for 7 days, so she and I booked a week round trip tickets and went a few days early and grabbed a few days on a little Island called Bandos.
We wanted somewhere close to the airport Island, so that we could be close for when the guys landed in from London. She worked for a corporate airline at the time, in the flight crewing department, and was able to secure us a booking at a crew discount rate… That said, a discount in the Maldives is still NOT cheap. I cannot remember what we paid, but it was not cheap! That said, it was a big first for me, I had never been on a girly holiday, and it was great fun to have the experience of going somewhere so completely amazing to do that for the first time. The only slight down side is that Bandos had a major mosquito problem. In our first night alone, I managed to get bitten 11 times! I can only imagine that it is the close proximity to Male, the capital Island, which is the rather less serene looking high-rise Island you see pictured to the left that caused this? I didn’t experience it at Kandooma which was significantly farther away.
Bandos had some amazing views, and the snorkelling off the jetty was great. I almost drowned of fright at one point when I realised I was in the middle of a school of sharks, until I gained my perspective and realised that they were much closer and smaller than I initially realised, and that they were actually only black tipped reef sharks, this is in fact the picture I took with a disposable underwater camera of one of the sharks.
Once I calmed down , it was absolutely lovely to swim around with my flippers on looking at the beautiful fishes and sharks swimming all around me. I could have stayed for hours and hours. The only slightly sad thing is that the coral all looks very washed out and colourless. When we went snorkelling in the Red Sea at Egypt, the coral was literally alive with colour. I was told various different reasons for this, one person attributed it to the Tsunami, others told me it was the El Niño phenomenon, and I have read that it can be due to changing temperatures of the sea and tourism. Whatever it is, it did leave me feeling sad that it had happened, and excited whenever I did manage to see a patch of coral that shimmered with a hint of colour or iridescence!
We had a lovely few days, although, you need to be careful when going to Bandos. The manager tried to charge us the full standard rate despite an email booking confirming a discount, and they also applied an ‘Island tax’ to the whole bill at the end which caught us off guard. It seems like a hidden tax, so it’s worth paying at the bar in cash for drinks as they could end up costing you even more than you realise if you pay by card at the end of your trip.
Finally, we boarded our speedboat back to the airport Island (which literally is just a runway and a small hotel (as you can see to the left). We watched the guys land the plane from the speed boat (I would share the picture, but it’s rubbish). Then waited.
My partner had to check in at the crew hotel before meeting me back at the speedboat reception. Annoyingly, we had missed the boat for Kandooma Island where we had booked to stay, because of all his faffing at the crew hotel, which meant another few hours of waiting for another one.
Never mind. It was worth the wait! We booked Kandooma through Touchdown Holidays, a travel agent for people who work in the travel industry. The benefit to booking with Touchdown is fabulous discounts. This was Kandooma’s first season since a new refurb, and it was AMAZING. It was rated 4*s but I would not be surprised if it get’s upgraded to 5 if it isn’t already! As soon as we arrived we were given a welcome drink, and then a personal tour of the facilities. We booked a delux beach villa, and the view was breath taking.
You could literally borrow a kayak and paddle between the neighbouring islands pictured right here. The rooms were amazing, with a lovely outside shower upstairs behind our bedroom. The hotel staff placed oranges next to a press in our room, and bottles of purified rain water by our bed each night. When we went out at sunset for our supper, the hotel staff would come in, turn down the bed, set mood lighting, light candles and scented oil burners and set the TV to the Kandooma radio’s chill out channel. They also folded any clothes that you may have left lying around, much to the amusement of my partner who found his underwear neatly folded on the trunk at the foot of the bed) so that you would return to find your room set to a romantic ambiance.
The clientelle was very mixed, there seemed to be a lot of Japanese, and the rest were a mix of Chinese, Russians, Brits, a few Canadians and some Australians. I quite liked this, since I think too many people from any one place can ruin the feel of a hotel. This was probably one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in, although the rooms have a much more modern look and feel to them than the traditional wooden Maldivian villas and water bungalows of other islands. It seemed to be catering to a crowd who like clean, contemporary, modern styled rooms.
The only downside I could really find with Kandooma, was the lack of a house reef. If you like snorkelling, there is really very little to see right near the island. That said, they do run a free boat excursion every afternoon out to a nearby reef. This was great, but the current was quite strong, and as such, it was not recommended for children or those who aren’t competent swimmers. I can swim several miles in a pool, but did have a few panic moments where I thought I was going to get carried away from the group.
If you are a thrill seeker, you may find that this is not really the ideal destination for you, but to be honest, even people who like active holidays could find things to try or see if they are keen enough. There were PADI Dive schools at both Islands I visited, and you could borrow sailing boats, kayaks etc from most hotels too.
Here are some of my holiday snaps:
Emma’s Travel Rating – 10/10 – If you are looking for total R&R and dont mind blowing a serious wedge of cash, then the Maldives is a picture postcard of exotic beauty. The clear azure and topaz waters are almost surreal. I had to keep reminding myself that I was really there. I think a week is enough for the Maldives, and even if I were on honeymoon there, I think I might get bored after that, especially because everyone there is on honeymoon! We were asked more times than I can remember if we were a honeymooning couple! I would say that if you are going to do the Maldives, get away from the locality of the airport island. The islands further away seem less commercial, and if I went again. I would aim to stay in an island further south so that we could take a seaplane as that is another one of my bucket list items!
Of the two island I visited, I would highly recommend Kandooma… The hotel staff were extremely keen to please, and couldn’t do enough for us. In our room, we had fluffy white towels, Giant beach bags and lovely free flip flops (which was a really nice touch). Bandos on the other hand seemed to be presented as more of a budget island, yet at check out, the prices suddenly got hiked up. It was pretty, and there were a lot more little Islets to look at, which looked great in the pictures. It was a much bigger island, with a more commercial feel, but overall felt somehow soulless compared to Kandooma. I think with hindsight, if it’s a once in a life time opportunity (which for most, it is) then you may as well splash out and treat yourself.
Useful Tips for Travelling to the Maldives:
- Although the Maldives are a ‘barefoot and bikini’ destination, you need to bear in mind that Male, the Capital Island is a muslim Island, and you will be expected to dress respectfully when going to the airport or Male. That means no low cut tops and no short skirts for women, also ideally something that covers the shoulders… One of the female cabin crew from my partner’s airline was spat at for dressing inappropriately on Male.
- With the above in mind, please note that the airport Island and Male are ‘dry islands’. That means that you will not be able to consume alcohol or import it.. The slightly ironic thing is that you can buy it at the airport, but only airside. They scan your luggage and will confiscate anything that looks to be alcoholic from your luggage.
- That said, the tourist islands are not dry, and you will be able to buy and consume alcohol. This comes at a price however… I seem to remember that a small bottle of beer cost somewhere in the region of $7 and a cocktail was about $20.
- Take everything you need with you in your suitcase. The Island shops will sell things like suncream but only at exorbitant prices.
- Take a good book, unless you are island hopping, there is not a lot to do on the islands… They are aimed at couples on honeymoon. It is a very romantic place, but if you are very active you may need to choose your island carefully-most islands are big enough for just one hotel with lots of little beach villas or water bungalows. Entertainment revolves around sailing, snorkelling, diving, water sports or lounging by the pool/on the beach.
- Take an under water camera. I took a disposable camera which was a total mistake. It ended up leaking and the picture quality was rubbish. I have since bought a Lumix TS2 / FT2 which is awesome, and takes fab pictures under water.
- If you are staying in Bandos, or anywhere close to the Capital Island, please note that you will need to take plenty of mosquito repellant.
- Also, note that you can ask the hotel staff to spray your room at dusk/night to kill of any of the little nasties that do get into your room-there’s nothing worse than trying to get to sleep when you know you have one of the little critters buzzing around waiting to sink it’s little beak into you!
- If you are keen on the idea of snorkelling, check whether the hotel you are looking at has a house reef and read reviews on Trip Advisor from other people who have visited the hotel recently, as people do tend to give a no holds barred account of the good, the bad and the ugly on there