Paradise, cyan blue seas, powdery white beaches, swimming in an aquarium, etc. were some of the words used by the reviewers on trip advisor to describe their experiences here.
Maldives being just about an hour of flying time from Trivandrum did seem like the best choice for a quick international getaway during an extended weekend. We left to visit Maldives on 1-Oct-2015 from Chennai. Air India has the best flights to Male the capital of Maldives. The flight begins from Chennai early morning at 6 AM and hops to Bangalore and Trivandrum before reaching Male. It stops for about 40 minutes in each destination. The total travel time to Male was around 4 hours from Chennai. The flight was convenient as it did not have long layovers and we did not have to get out of the flight till the final destination.
As we descended down the clouds towards the island where Male airport is located, we saw the sea so shimmering blue, that it appeared as if diamonds were strewn on clean blue blankets. The blue and white speed boats sailing over the sea looked like little men in uniform. It was indeed like landing into a paradise. We touched down at Ibrahim Nasir international airport in Male at 10.20 AM. The airport is pretty small and so we walked to the terminal after disembarking the flight. The airport was not crowded at the time we went and the queues were very short at the immigration. Visa was a breeze and absolutely no paperwork was required. The immigration officer smiled when I presented her with the arrival card. She asked if this was our first time here. I replied “yes and we are returning on October 4th”. The visa was stamped instantly and we were on our way to collect our baggage. For Indians the visa is given on arrival and we are granted 90 day “free” visa on entry.
On exiting the airport terminal, our resort representative was waiting for us with a placard so that we could identify him. He cordially greeted us and led us to the boat jetty area where we would be driven to the resort island by speed boat. The boat jetty is about 2 minutes stroll from the airport terminus. We had chosen Bandos island resort after pondering for a while over where to stay in Maldives. Maldives have lots of islands. There are few islands where the locals live like Male, Maafushi. But most of the islands are resort islands meaning 1 resort owns an island. The facilities on that island are managed by the resort that owns that island. The islands are usually so small that they can be covered completely by walk or bicycle in 10 to 30 minutes.
Bandos island resort is a 10 minute speedboat ride away from Male. We chose Bandos as it is quite close the Male and hence the best for our tour group aged 4 years to 80 years as there is not much travel time to reach the resort. Many other resorts are a sea plane ride away or more than an hour ride on speedboat and hence the travel would be more expensive and hectic for a short stay of 3 nights only. Bandos has a reputation for being the most kid friendly island as well.
As the boat pulled into the resort jetty area, a host of staff from the resort was waiting for us at the entrance. They helped us off the boat onto the deck with huge smiles that were so heartwarming to all of us. Especially the older adults in our group were majorly impressed. The kids were already very excited to see plenty of fishes swimming in the boat jetty area, a promise of the myriad of sea life that they would see over the next few days here.
The reception area in Bandos was plush with tasteful decor of orange and brown that opens on all sides into lush greenery. We were given iced lemon tea as welcome drink and warm face wipes. The check in process took about an hour which passed by very quickly as we were busy inspecting our surroundings. We were given a brief address about the facilities and the dos and dont’s mainly on handling the delicate coral life. We were then led to the buggy that would take us to our rooms. The luggage would be sent in a pickup truck.
As the buggy moved I couldn’t help admire all the green, white and blue around us. The lawns were well manicured and the grounds were clean. The driver pointed to the location of the facilities like the pool area, sports, kids club, spa, dive shop. The island has 4 restaurants. Galleria is the buffet restaurant where we would be having our breakfast and dinner. We were on half board package which means we could have the breakfast and dinner buffets at the Galleria. We did not choose full board or All-inclusive package as we did not want to get stuck to one restaurant that would make our dine-in experience monotonous.
The rooms were spacious and clean, but the best part was outside- Crystal clear blue shallow lagoon just a few feet away from our sea facing rooms. Once our luggage arrived we switched into our swimwear and rushed to the ocean. We were so excited on seeing so many colored fishes so close to the shore. I have never seen waters so clear and blue and the fish did not mind us ogling at them too. I guess they were so used to seeing humans. We swam in a few feet further where the coral growth begins. Many of the corals were destroyed by the tsunami El nino of 2004. But still there were decent enough corals worth exploring and the reef around Bandos is the best in Male atoll. I soon realized that without the mask, fins and lifejacket I would not be able to go over the corals without stepping on them or view them uninterrupted as I was gasping for air very frequently. I decided that I should get the snorkeling equipment on rent the next day.
That day early evening we went for glass bottom boat ride with RIYA, who is one of the tour operators in the island. The boat is small and can hold up to 4 people. The front of the boat has a glass bottom through which one can view the fishes and corals. We were able to spot a lot of tropical fishes on the reef including a huge shoal of green parrot fishes. We also spotted a turtle for a few moments that quickly swam away and surfaced away from the boat. The house reef has 4 to 5 resident turtles and if one is lucky they will see themselves snorkeling with them even in the shallows.
Later in the night we went to Dive Bandos, the facility that provides PADI certification and SCUBA classes. I took a look at the snorkeling equipment, something which I am seeing in real for the first time in my life and got overwhelmed by just looking at them. Thankfully they do have snorkeling instructors and we booked a snorkeling class for the next day morning. That night 7 PM the resort had arranged for kids Zumba at the Sandbar. Sandbar is a pub cum restaurant where drinks are mixed and disco parties and karaoke are arranged after 9 PM for adults. The members from koko club coaxed the kids into joining them for the dance. We did Zumba for few of the songs and then the kids went off scampering around chasing the disco lights.
The buffet dinner spread was enormous. Most of the spread was continental as the guests were mostly Chinese and Russian. There was one local delicacy called Mashuni which is shredded fish and coconuts. I think it is made similar to Maasi which is a popular dish in Kerala and Tamilnadu, except that Maasi is made from dried fish and Mashuni is made from fresh fish. Many of the desserts were out of this world. I was ectastic that I could have unlimited serving of pannacotta, mousse, cheesecake, chocolate and what not. Gaining calories did not matter anymore. Reminding myself that swimming can burn plenty of calories :p I continued to indulge in the sweet goodness.
On the 2nd day after a sumptuous buffet breakfast, we headed over to Dive Bandos for our snorkeling instruction while the kids and the older adults in our group were happy to wallow in the shallows. The snorkeling instructor arranged us fins according to our shoe sizes and masks and we proceeded to the starting point of where we would begin our snorkeling. The starting point was in the lagoon on which the Huvan restaurant is built. This spot apparently has got the richest sea life amongst all the parts of the island. There were 2 instructors and us 3 learners. The instructor demonstrated how to wear and use the mask and fins. They also bought a ring just in case we are tired from the snorkeling we can cling on to it and they would pull us with the ring. I clumsily wore my flippers in the water. As I kept rolling over I am sure I must have cut a comical sight to the instructors and other swimmers in case they had spotted me. The mask was ok as I am used to breathing by mouth, this technique is learnt during the swimming lessons. But my brother had rented the snorkeling mask that helps to breathe through the nose. As we proceeded deeper into the water the coral life became richer. The corals and fishes were more colorful and myriad. After a few minutes I realized we had reached the drop off and my heart was racing, wondering if I should ask the instructor to stop and go back. The instructor turned to look at me and showed the OK sign meaning to ask if I am OK. I replied with the ok sign and we proceeded to the drop off. There was burst of cold water now and then which I learn later were under water currents. The currents bring up the water from under, hence the coldness, and this water has more nutrients for the corals and the fishes. The currents were easily maneuverable though. I saw plenty of snorkelers at the drop off without life jackets as they may be very strong swimmers. But for me, I decided that even with this snorkeling lesson I would never venture into the drop off without a guide. We saw plenty of tropical fishes like different species of tangs, butterfly fishes, angel fish, damsel, emperors, murray eel, star fish, clown fishes hiding in sea anemones, black tip and white tip reef sharks. After an hour of snorkeling we headed back to the starting point. This was one of the highlight of the trip – snorkeling on the drop off and getting to see myriad of marine life.
We had our lunch at Huvan restaurant. This restaurant mainly serves continental, but the unique aspect of this restaurant is that it is built on the lagoon and hence one can get to watch the baby sharks and rays cruising the lagoons while we wait for the food to be served.
After the lunch we went for the dolphin sunset cruise. We started at about 4.30 PM to the boat jetty. This cruise was organized by Ocean sports that are tour operators located on the island. Ocean sports arranges all adventure sports activities and are private operators which means that the cruises they offer will only have your group on the boat. You will not be mixed with other groups. If you have a group it works out bit cheaper and exclusive when using them. 30 minutes after riding on the speed boat, the boat driver said that we have reached the spots where we could see the dolphins. We looked around and within minutes we could see multiple pods of dolphins. In no time, they were zipping past all around our boat and occasionally jumping out of the water. These are spinner dolphins and are known for their spinning act in and out of water. As the day progressed into night they started getting more active. The dolphins spun more frequently in the air entertaining us with their out of water acts. This was such a feast to our eyes. After about 45 minutes of following the dolphins with our boat, the boat driver said that we have to head back and we proceeded back to our island. This was another highlight of our trip.
As we came back from the boat trip, the kokos kids club was conducting a crab race for the kids at 7 PM in the sand bar. Each of the participating kids was given a crab in a bottle. The kids then place the bottle upside down in an inner circle and the kokos club guide begin to count down. After the countdown, the kids then open the bottle and move out of the circle area. The first crab that crosses the outermost circle is the winner. The kid whose crab won gets to win a free trip for the dolphin cruise. Later that night we had the buffet dinner and crashed to bed. That night sandbar had arranged a movie night featuring guardians of the galaxy which we did not attend as we were way too tired from our activities.
On the 3rd day, part of our group had decided to go for turtle and sting ray snorkeling with ocean sports while the other half of the group decided to go to Male for a cultural city tour. I had chosen to go for the snorkeling. The instructor from Ocean sports had a hobby of clicking snaps with his GoPro which we found would be a good use for us ;). Within 15 minutes the instructor spotted a jelly fish in the water. He knew turtles wouldn’t be far now. Turtles eat jelly fish, so if jelly fish are around, it is usual to spot turtles as well. He jumped into the water beckoning us to jump. In the meanwhile the boat driver spotted some fins in the water and shouted sharks!. Now we chose to stay in the boat and not jump into the water :D. The instructor swam around the jelly fish for some time. Then he spotted a turtle. I scanned the horizon for any sharks and wore my fins and masks and gently let myself into the water. I did feel scary at first, peering into the ocean so deep. But all fear was forgotten once we found ourselves swimming with the turtle amongst several other colorful fishes. We swam with the turtle for half an hour and spotted 3 more in the vicinity. The turtle snorkeling was another highlight of our trip. Then we got back into the boat and headed to the locale of sting rays. In the boat, the instructor told us that the sharks in Maldives are usually black tip and white tip reef sharks and they are harmless. He has never heard of a negative incident in Maldives involving sharks. We reached the location where there would be swarms of sting rays and got into the water. The sting rays gather in an industrial island which exports fish. As we got into the water we spotted lots of large sting rays and they were feeding off the industrial waste from the island. We also spotted a leopard eel among other fishes. After about 20 minutes we headed back to the boat.
After the snorkeling we had our lunch at the Sea breeze this time. The food was better than Huvan but was still largely continental keeping in mind the food interests of majority of the guests there.
After lunch we headed to the swimming pool. The pool had a kids pool and an adults pool which was quite large. In the center of the pool there was a swim up bar which mixes both cocktail and mocktails. The bar stools were under water and bubbles were shooting up from under the pool. The place looked fab. The kids were happy going to and fro from the kids pool to the adults pool and we had Pina colada which is a mix of pineapple, coconut milk and cream. We had an absolutely wonderful time for couple of hours in the pool.
At night 7 PM we headed to night fishing trip with RIYA another tour operator in the island. The boat was big and we were to share the boat with a few of the resort guests. After around 20 minutes we reached the fishing spot and we were given a lesson on how to fish. Then each of us was given a line with bait. The bait is the flesh of a big fish put on to a hook at the end of our fishing line. As each of us impatiently waited on the line, a gentle tug on the line would lead us to pull up the line only to find the line empty and our bait gone with the fish. This would happen several times. It was fun hearing every one of us yell “I got fish” only to learn on pulling out, that the fish had disappeared with our bait as well. Finally our 80 year old grandmother got her first fish. It was a small grouper. One of the boat drivers caught a huge 2 feet grouper. Then as the sun went down, the fish activity became more rampant and each of us caught a fish. I was happy with a small red snapper and my 7 year old son caught 3 fishes to everyone’s amazement. We returned back to the resort all happy with our catches. We were told to come to sea breeze restaurant at 9 PM where the fish will be cooked for us.
That night at Galleria restaurant we found our dining table decorated with flowers which is their way of saying farewell to their guests on their final night. We were leaving the next day morning. We had our dinner and crashed to bed. The resort had arranged karaoke international after 9 PM for the adult guests to enjoy but we were too tired and crashed out.
The next day morning we checked out of the resort. As we boarded the flight and ascended back to the clouds we were leaving the paradise called Maldives behind but the experience and the memories stay rich in our minds. Undoubtedly the best holiday I have ever had so far in my life hence the most suitable topic to begin my blog with. Maldives is synonymous with relaxation and the natural beauty of the untouched oceans can instill in one, exhilarating happiness beyond explanation. This place is truly an island what dreams are made of.
Note- I specially need to mention Magic of Maldives, the travel agent (the inspiration behind the title of my post) who helped me to take a decision on my holiday like the most suitable place to stay and any other information on Maldives. Paula is lightening efficient that I used to think she may be walking around with the internet strapped to her hand. She responds to all queries almost immediately and she has an immense wealth of knowledge on Maldives. She can be reached at email@example.com.