Travelling to the Maldives began as a Hail Mary.
Having planned the next vacation ahead, we were anticipating booking a quiet beach retreat in Antigua for a week-long getaway; a place with nothing but beach and time to write. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans. Just before we finalized the details, hurricane Irma and Jose hit the Caribbean. The island was spared major damage, but the resort was under reconstruction. So, we searched for a plan B. Looking over all our options, we seriously considered the Maldives as an alternative, but decided it was best to wait, to research and plan that vacation properly. A short six months later, we were there. It took approximately thirty hours, four flights and one small boat to arrive at Hurawalhi Maldives, but it was worth every second.
Knowing we would have to stopover, we chose Dubai as the mid-point and took full advantage, by staying a few nights on the way home. (That adventure is described on a separate blog, here). From Dubai, we hopped on Sri Lankan Air to Colombo. Before I continue, I must make note that to this day, Sri Lankan Air (Business Class) has been the most comfortable flight with hands down the best airplane food. It was on these flights that we were introduced to Jaf Ceylon tea and Sri Lankan Ceylon Arrack, two unique and delicious drinks we now seek out whenever possible. It was also at the Sri Lankan airport lounge that we experienced the most relaxing massage before hopping on the flight from Colombo to Male. From Male, we hesitantly boarded a terrifyingly small sea plane, where the pilots wore shorts and no shoes. The view, however, was magnificent. We landed near the sister resort, where our personal representative waited to escort us by speedboat to Hurawalhi.
After 10 short minutes, we were walking across the deck, awkwardly passing the musicians welcoming us to the island. It was lovely but being the only two visitors arriving (and disliking attention) we scurried passed them to sit on the couches and enjoy our welcome refreshments. Our lovely representative checked us in, escorted us via golf cart to our very own over-water villa; all the way at the very end. It could not have been more perfect. The villa was better than we had imagined, spacious, comfortable, luxurious; and we had a bottle of champagne and a bowl of fresh fruits waiting for us. The back deck housed a large infinity plunge pool and stairs that lead directly into the ocean. We took full advantage and snorkeled every day, floating over the reef, flirting near the edge of the drop off (what we called “the Deep Blue”). We even had a tiny sun fish that liked to hover near the railing to our staircase and nibble on the moss. I named him Herb.
Each morning, no matter what, we rose before the sun. We made coffee and set up a pre-breakfast on the deck table, made from the snacks left for us in the room, including whatever delectable sweets our room attendant left for us the night before during turn down service. Many hotels offer a turn down service and each is unique. You may find this service luxurious, or a bit creepy (we certainly did at first) but Hurawalhi’s service definitely comes out on top. In addition to dimming the lights, preparing the bed linens and setting water by the bedside, we were provided a special treat. These were not your typical out-of-the-box chocolate desserts, these were hand made delights from a top-notch pastry chef. Each night was something different, which we savoured each morning watching the sun rise over the water. Also, what quickly became a daily part of the ritual, most mornings, a pod of spinner dolphins swam back and forth directly in front of our villa.
We were assigned a personal hotel representative, Elena, when we arrived and had a room attendant who cared for our needs in the villa, but additionally we were assigned a personal server. He alone attended to us at every meal in the main restaurant, where we had all breakfasts and most lunches and dinners, and over the course of the week, we got to know each other well. It felt more like a friendship than service. He knew us by name, he knew our schedule and personally decorated our favourite table with colourful grains of rice, on the off chance that we would come to the restaurant for dinner on our anniversary. Speaking of the meals, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention how the Maldives (specifically Hurawalhi) has completely ruined us. Every single meal was amazing. So far, nothing else has compared to the level of quality and taste that we experienced.
For our anniversary lunch, we dined at the 5.8 Undersea Restaurant; a unique experience from beginning to end. The concierge greeted us with a welcome drink and entertained us with fun facts as we made our descent. If you’re sensitive to it, you can feel the pressure of being submerged underwater, but the room felt warm and open, surrounded by colourful reef and sea life. We had the opportunity to test a new menu, each course served in a creative underwater theme. Words cannot describe the quality of these dishes; they were simply delicious works of art. After an outstanding deconstructed mango cheesecake dessert, we were surprised with a special anniversary platter of macaroons, chocolates and crème brule. Stuffed to the brim, we devoured every last morsel, leaving nothing to waste. If you ever have the opportunity, we suggest lunch over dinner. The night time effect is beautiful, but you can miss out on so much swimming by.
In between meals, we filled the days with relaxation at the spa and excursions out on the open water. First, the spa: the space is spectacular, the Balinese women are sweet tempered with strong hands, the outdoor couples bubble bath was surreal. The overall experience (though fair warning, is not for the bashful) was one to remember. Before we arrived, we pre-booked a snorkeling excursion with the on-site Marine Biologist, with the hopes of finding manta rays. We did find them, (I saw them from the surface) but they are shy and we were unable to snorkel with them that day. We booked the same excursion again, hoping for better luck, but again, we did not get the chance. We happened to be there at the tail end of the Manta Ray season, so the chances were slim. We did, however, snorkel in some of the most beautiful reefs and have a family of dolphins swim by our boat. We also booked a private sunset excursion, where the lovely Appu took us out to watch dolphins play as the sun began to set. When it was almost dark, the three of us jumped into the ocean with nothing but flashlights for a night snorkel. It was terrifying but invigorating, (especially when the ten-foot reef shark came into sight, and then out of sight).
We snorkeled more on this trip than we have to date. So much so, that one of us came down with a "water in ear" issue and had to visit the on-site physician. For a nominal fee, we were able to visit with the doctor and be provided with an ample amount of medication. Seriously, everyone was nothing less than fantastic at Hurawalhi. One of the best snorkeling sites around Hurawalhi is off of Dream Island; a small plot of sand visible from the resort with nothing but a loosely shaded hut. We arranged to be “stranded” on Dream Island for two hours. A small speedboat dropped us off early morning with drinks, a box of treats and an emergency phone. We spent the majority of the time in the water around the island, peacefully snorkeling along the edge of the Deep Blue.
One afternoon, as the week-long trip approached the end, we walked along the shore exploring the island and stumbled across a few recently planted palm trees with plaques. We surmised from the names that these were couples who marked their wedding or anniversary dates, and immediately and idea came to me. My dad passed two years earlier and since then, I had planted trees for him in Costa Rica and in the Galapagos. I hadn’t planned it, but I wanted to do the same for him in the Maldives. All it took was a simple email to our hotel representative, the lovely Elena, and it was all arranged. The gardeners prepared a shady spot on the beach and let me plant and water the sapling. It added to the growing list of locations where we’ve now left something behind. It honours my dad, marks the trip and allows us to give something back to the environment.
I hope the tree is thriving. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Hurawalhi Maldives, don’t hesitate. While you’re there, please take a barefoot stroll down the beach, feeling the soft white sand between your toes, and check in on my tree.