Adrian Neville looks at where you can cut costs or bust the budget in the Maldives
The Maldives is cheap – if you live off rice and tuna curry, like the Maldivians, and forgo the overwater villa. But that’s not our dream holiday. For that we have to pay more than we do for most other destinations.
How about £11,101 a night for Velaa Private Island’s one-bedroom Romantic Pool Residence? Breakfast is included. Or Soneva Fushi Villa 11, at £29,705 a night? Although that has nine bedrooms, so you can at least share the cost.
Coming back down to earth, there are a good number of long established resorts that have remained reasonably priced. And after a decade or so during which the planning system favoured five-star properties, often irrespective of design and sustainability, the Maldives is now encouraging new resorts to target the eager middle segment again, particularly properties with a good all-inclusive offering.
For recommendations at the least expensive end, I would forfeit resorts that haven’t upgraded even if they have other benefits, like Biyadhoo’s great snorkelling house reef, or Ranveli’s long, wide, soft sand spit.
I would also pass up on resorts that have been upgraded but whose island has no natural beach and a shallow rocky lagoon: Chaaya Island Dhonveli (which should have stayed as a surfers’ resort) and Holiday Inn Kandooma (a middle-category family resort).
Embudu Village has modernised just enough to be comfortable but not require price hikes, and the boat transfer (30 minutes) plays a part in keeping the price low. What makes the resort a winner is its good beaches, mature palms, easygoing atmosphere, friendly staff and nearby reef, which offers very good snorkelling.
Angaga Island Resort & Spa is another good one in the laid-back, economy category. The built environment — from the reception and bar to the rooms — won’t win any design prizes but the beach is up there with the best in the country, the food is good and plentiful and the house reef snorkelling is very good.
Once a full-on dive island, it remains a popular resort for serious divers, with a dive centre that has deservedly won many awards and superb dive sites on South Ari Atoll.
Makunudu Island has undergone a long, genteel slide from top bracket to economy but has always kept up appearances, and is undergoing a soft refurbishment that will see public areas and deluxe bungalows refreshed by the end of October.
It is a place for the slightly older set looking for a calm holiday at a slower pace. It has the lovely atmosphere of early-days Maldives, with friendly yet expert service and just one bar, one restaurant and 38 rooms.
Snorkelling is very good, although there is significant erosion on one side where the island has moved over the years.
Filitheyo Island Resort is another that has slipped down in relative price and so offers very good value for money. The buildings are looking in need of a little love but its design and the island itself are winners.
Although not sold as a family resort, it is child-friendly because of the amount of shade from fabulous mature coconut palms. It is also a barefoot resort, with wood floors in the few places where it isn’t soft sand. Here too the reef snorkelling is good.
In the mid-range there should be no issues of maintenance or poor design and the service must be up to scratch.
Meeru Island Resort & Spa is host not only to the resort management and staff but also to the resort group’s management. And it shows – this resort is constantly improving.
The house reef is not accessible from the beach but guests overlook this to enjoy the swimming pools and sports facilities. Whether it’s the adult only section or the family area, there is a constant good buzz.
Its sister resort Vilamendhoo Island Resort & Spa is set up in exactly the same way and is a little more expensive, mainly because the transfer is by seaplane to Ari Atoll rather than boat to North Malé Atoll. Plus, here the house reef is just a few metres from the beach.
The house reef of Angsana Ihuru is renowned as one of the very best in the Maldives. And just the other side of the small lagoon is one of the great beaches in the country. It is too small to offer a variety of restaurants, bars or other leisure facilities and so sets itself as a romantic, spa destination with a perfect beach and reef.
For families in this midmarket range, recommend Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa. Its transformation from a basic German-centric dive island to an award-winning family all-inclusive has been impressive.
There are two kids’ clubs, both with dedicated staff and a varied programme including lots of water activities. With very good house reef snorkelling and an excellent all-inclusive package, the resort is also popular with couples and honeymooners.
The all-inclusive package is rare in including one of each of the standard excursions on offer, such as sunset fishing and a whale shark boat trip.
Keep your eye out for a new resort opening in October. Drift Thelu Veliga Retreat in South Ari Atoll promises to be a stylish throwback to the original Maldives feel, with thatched roofs, driftwood-style furnishing, sand on the floor, an open-sided restaurant and sunset bar.
The tiny island will have just 10 beach rooms and 20 overwater rooms, and reports suggest the beach and snorkelling are top class. It will be available exclusively through Angelfish Travel, which is starting to offer agents commission.
The Kent-based operator is also offering agents the chance to win a one-week holiday for two at Drift Thelu Veliga Retreat.
A hefty wallet is required to even think about splurging at the Maldives top end. While only tuna and ‘white fish’ (as Maldivians call everything that isn’t tuna) don’t need to be imported, low and middle ranking resorts can modify their costs by carefully gauging what their clients require.
However, clients at the top end demand everything that they can get at the Ritz. Having said that, the best luxury resorts are using what the Maldives itself can offer to deliver a more authentic holiday.
Soneva Fushi has been the standard bearer for a decade now. The rustic chic setting, the bicycle rides under a mature canopy to the fine beaches and house reef, the thorough environmental concern, the personal butler and the exquisite, fresh cuisine have been hard to match.
The property was the Maldives’ first to develop a kitchen garden and it’s wonderful. Those factors need to be balanced with the fact that very many new rooms and suites have been built in the last few years and prices have rocketed with the resort’s fame.
Anantara Kihavah Villas and Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru are the resorts that have been competing to topple Soneva Fushi from its perch. Both are more classically upmarket than Soneva Fushi, but they both have a light touch to their outlook and perfect service.
The public areas, the bars and restaurants are high-design, with views and the ocean very much in mind. Kihavah has good snorkelling where Landaa Giraavaru doesn’t, but Landaa has an excellent marine centre and easy access to the whale shark and manta ray locus Hanifaru Bay.
One&Only Reethi Rah sits in contrast to these more rustic-luxe islands – it’s urban chic rather than Maldivian, but is nonetheless just right for some clients.
The rooms are like mini-churches, with high vaulted ceilings; the fixtures and fittings are of the highest standard; and the restaurants, bars and lounges have great sight lines and are sumptuously designed.
There are three wonderful kids’ clubs for different age groups, each with its own building, setting, staff, activities and leisure facilities. The standard of service is at the very top end. It’s perfect for the jetset and for very rich families, especially those who like their kids to be amused and entertained by staff.
Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa is perhaps the most affordable of the splurge resorts. It was built as a design hotel by Alila, and not only looks beautiful but was also the first resort built from scratch to global green standards.
It is a perfectly round little island in the middle of Huvadhu atoll, where some islands are still involved in the local craft of weaving Thundu Kunaa mats. The beach all around is of the finest powder sand, and the house reef has possibly the best corals of any resort.
The fish life is oddly not fantastic, with many juveniles, but is still great for most snorkellers.
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