Alright then - back to life and actually living it. We took the plunge and finally flew internationally in 2020. Was it nerve wrecking? Waiting for the PCR test results wasn't pleasant.. but I am glad to report back that the excitement and euphoria of waking up in a new country was the same. In fact I felt infinitely more grateful to be on holiday. I still stand by what I tell anyone who asks - traveling, for me, is a high like no other. Nothing compares to it.
This was our first full board island stay. It is also not our style to stay in a bubble when we travel... but these five eventful days were the most wonderful days we could have hoped for in 2020. An oasis that came at the right time to save us from falling into an abyss. Of course, given the current scenario, there are precautions and steps you need to take prior to flying out or in to any country.
Please note that this depends entirely on where you are flying from. I recommend doing your own research before booking flights. Account for additional costs for the tests at the resorts (could be from $100 -$200 per person); be sure to leave enough for testing and getting results.
Requirement summary for residents of Dubai with Emirates to the Maldives:
1. You need to do a test 72 hours prior to flying out of the country. We did ours 48 hours before (Dubai turns around the results in less than 24 hours)
2. You need to fill out a health declaration immigration form for the Maldivian government. This is prior to boarding from anywhere in the world. You will receive a QR code, which needs to be presented at immigration.
3. Masks are mandatory at airports, lounges and all common places in both countries.
We flew direct with Emirates. You will be asked to wear your mask throughout the trip - no exceptions. We also wore a face shield on the way up since the flight was full. You can trust Emirates to do a thorough job with sanitization - they also provide extra masks, hand sanitizer and wet napkins in a travel kit.
Most countries can get visa on arrival FREE OF CHARGE in Male. The airport is small and the immigration was a breeze - done in 15 minutes. No crowd, no fuss, no mess.
We landed at the Male airport and found everyone was wearing a mask. That definitely put us at ease. Though no place is entirely safe, Maldives or any island for that matter is probably where it is safest to fly to this year because you can stay within a bubble for few days. Again, this is not to say the worst can't or won't happen but prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
There are definitely pros and cons to visiting in every season.The islands are mostly warm year-round but the best time to visit is from November to April. We went in December, we had rain for a few hours on the day we landed (mostly due to the cyclone forming in the Indian Ocean earlier that week). Be prepared for mad humidity throughout the year!
Picking a resort at Maldives
This can take months of research, especially for an obsessive planner like me. There is a resort for every budget and every traveler. I found this to be the most challenging part of the trip.
So how did we land on Kanuhura? As non-alcohol drinkers, an all inclusive package was automatically ruled out. We are also not great swimmers, so having a phenomenal reef was also not a top priority. We were ideally looking for some place private and luxurious without being OTT and yes, great veggie food was a must. I did love that this resort had three islands instead of the usual two at most resorts - more places to explore.
The other options I was considering - Taj Exotica (but didn't want to go with Taj for this trip), Hideaway beach resort (apparently excellent) and Lily Beach (but all inclusive was the only option). Kanuhura is an award winning resort, managed by the Sun Resort group. They also only have 80 luxury villas and had just reopened on November 15 after closing in April due to the pandemic... we were positive about having a less crowded experience on our first trip to the country. The resort underwent a full renovation in 2016 (also winning the award of best renovation). Fresh orchids in every villa was an elegant touch.
They use playful colors like blue and sunny yellow. The chic furnishing felt posh without being overly pompous (our kinda place). I did appreciate the lack of boring beige. It maybe a luxury resort but there is not an ounce of stuffiness about this resort.
Maldives is an expensive place - as are most exotic isolated islands. The overall budget (note that this depends entirely on duration of stay, the class of resort you stay at and the package you opt for) could be around $5000 for two at a luxury resort for 4 nights/5 days. Highly recommend you book at least a full board package because every meal, with a tip, would cost around $80-90!
We were set up with a package by Curiocity Holidays. The room for 4 nights (2 nights in a beach villa and 2 nights in a water villa) was $3500 on a full board basis. The cost includes lounge access at the Male airport, sea plane transfer, three course meal per person every day (beverage including water is additional at lunch and dinner), use of their game rooms and bikes on the property, renting of snorkeling equipment and island hop with their boats. All motorized water sports, spa, sunset cruise and other charges are additional per person.
Disclaimer: note that this deal we were offered with Kanuhura was active when we traveled. If you decide to do a trip with Curiocity, this offer may or may not still be available.
I cannot stress this enough about Kanuhura - the food and the service was made our trip go from wow to mind blowing. In all honesty, I can make do as long as I have a really good cuppa joe every morning.. but this aspect of a trip is the most important for A. From Indian to Italian to salads to burgers.. we had everything during our trip. The menu was extensive (despite the covid situation). The head chef/restaurant manager at the resort Mr. Shakti, happened to be a tamilian like us.. he took care of us like we were a member of his family. He was courteous and just the sweetest, most humble person.
The resort has four functioning restaurants at the moment - Amano, the Veli, Botega and the Cowry Bar. Every meal was a treat. The staff went above and beyond to accommodate our vegetarian needs. The taste and flavor was outstanding every single time. We cannot pick a favorite. My top recommendations - the Maldivian Pumpkin curry at Veli, the homemade raspberry + coconut sorbet at Amano, the gnocchi at Botega and the grilled mango with dark chocolate ice cream at Veli as well.
Rooms - beach villa and water villa
Let's start with the basics. Kanuhura, set on a long fish-shaped island, is a member of the leading hotels of the world @leadinghotelsoftheworld. The gypset vibes of the property felt wild and were completely in sync with the pristine blue waters everywhere on the island. With just 80 villas, the resort held up it's charm by being luxurious, exclusive and premium. We started off at the beach villa - an elegant, hugely spacious villa with a view like no other. We could walk to the beach in a second and wake up at an ungodly hour every morning to catch the sunrise. Oh and a special mention of the bathrooms here - I mean, look at this. GOALS. We felt completely immersed in nature and our troubles melted away in no time.
Tip: while the water villa experience is one that should not be missed, you might have seen a lot of villas with plunge pools, we did not upgrade to one because honestly we are really not water people.. after 4 days of snorkeling, we had had enough. So choose wisely!
If you have researched Maldives, you already know there are two options to get to the islands from Male airport - sea plane or speedboat. Having never been to an island (who knows when I will go to another one), I was determined to have this experience. The sea plane is a quicker way to get your resort.. you can enjoy unreal aerial views of the atolls. Speedboats take much longer but they could work out cheaper. Keep in mind though, the farther the resort, the more expensive the sea plane ride gets!
Our meet and greet with Kanuhura was flawless. The representative from the resort was already there, waiting to take us to our lounge at the sea plane airport (yes, Kanuhura has it's own lounge for you to freshen up). Luckily for us, our sea plane was ready for us to board in half hour, so we skipped the lounge visit. Hopped on the sea plane and 45 blissful moments later, we were at paradise.. welcomed by the most amazing people. Allow some time for the new formalities like temperature checks, filling out health checks and signatures. The reception area was one of the breeziest areas on the property, so definitely spend some time lounging around in these swings!
The weather was starting to act up when we went to lunch but by the time we were done it cleared up and we could explore the areas around our villa. As you can see, I was not minding this hula girl moana style life.
We had a very light evening (exhausted from traveling and not getting much sleep).. but we did bike our way to our first sunset.. look at that view.. BLISS. That is a wrap of day one.. buffet dinner at Amano and off to bed.
It was drizzling in the morning before the sunrise but we still headed out to sleep on the beach chair listening to the drizzle. The feeling is hard to put into words. The sunrise happens at around 7 ish.. and what a view it was. The beach villas face the sun, so the views were way better here than at the water villa. Mornings are also the best time to go out snorkeling.. it is when the marine life come out to eat and be merry. After a good few hours snorkeling, we worked up an appetite. The rest of the morning was spent biking around the lush green tropical property. Lush green island postcards on every corner!
Post lunch, we finally explored one of the neighboring island of the resort. As I mentioned, Kanuhura is one of the larger islands in Maldives with three islands. Just a few minutes away by speedboat lie two other uninhabited incredible islands. Deserted, pure and touched. Jehnuhura is the perfect place to enjoy a light picnic or a dip in the ocean. This is true solitude. This is life. We even found a sandback.
Thanks to the heat, we were pretty exhausted by the time sunset rolled around but no trip to Maldives is complete without gushing over breathtaking sunsets. We waited for the evenings impatiently.. still counting our stars for great weather. One day the clouds would be reflecting on the ocean, on another day the sky would be fiery pink that will set your soul on fire. Today we stayed close to the main reception area.. I don't think I need to say anything more!
Dinner was at the Veli restaurant - asian fusion. That is a wrap of day two.
Rise and shine.. our last morning in the beach villa.. up for the sunrise again. Lot more snorkeling and a delicious breakfast. We took every opportunity we got to explore this resort. So many fun and free activities you can do apart from snorkeling.. like a visit to the divine smelling orchid garden and a chef's garden. By noon our water villa was ready to be moved into. We were so excited to move in, we skipped our plan to explore the other island. We rode our way to the stunning bungalows we had been staring at for the last two days...
Like I said, these villas are a must-do if you visit Maldives. We could not get enough of these views or this villa. Water villas are basically villas built over the ocean and reefs supported by stilts. A little peek down from the villa gives you magical views of an unbelievable life underwater you cannot fathom - most villas have stairs that lead you to the bottom of the reef. You can spend your days snorkeling, sun bathing or just lounging on the beach chairs.
Sleep to the calming sound of waves. Count the fish. Watch the stars. After this year, not a minute can be taken for granted. Make every second count. I was too comfortable in the hammock to leave but if you thought I was just going to stop with one evening of sunset spam, you underestimate how many pictures I take on a trip!!
Maldivian sunsets are an event on its own. This evening was one of my absolute favorites from the trip. This place takes the prize for the best sunset we have ever seen during all our travels. The sky was on fire, the ocean was warm and this moment was so magical I shed a few happy tears. That is a wrap of day three.
Imagine waking up to this every day. To top it off, this was also the BEST morning we had had for snorkeling - we saw a turtle right below our water villa and dove right in to swim along side it. It was such an unbelievable experience for us.. wish we had a go-pro to capture the moment.. we got real lucky, that is all that matters. Later we also saw couple stingray and hundreds of fish!
More chill time after breakfast.. because who can have enough of these island views? The last sunset wasn't as dramatic as the other ones but still a memorable last evening.
Our last morning was spent taking in every single scenery. I was sure to spent some time at the award-winning Kokaa spa. The masseuse was a superstar.. highly recommend you give the spa a try. As you can probably tell, I didn't want to leave the resort.. it was the most amazing five days we could have imagined in this situation.
Takeaway for travel during the pandemic:
The most frequently asked question on my IG page about this trip - is it safe to travel for leisure? In all honesty, is a decision only you can make for yourself. Consider where you are traveling from, where you are traveling to, the rules there and what you intend to do once you are there. Weigh the pros and cons. Yes, there is a risk - I will not deny that. PREPARE. RESEARCH. STICK TO THE RULES. Don't worry about whether others are wearing a mask or washing their hands or socially distancing. You should do it anyway. Reduce your own risk and be smart. Don't get carried away just because you are on vacation. The pandemic is no hoax but life has to go on, albeit in a new way that is starting to feel normal.
If you intend to travel to the Maldives, I would suggest spending no more than 4-5 days. Even on such a short trip, we were occasionally bored during the lazy afternoons. Since we are restless souls it comes with the territory of being on an island.
Another question I was asked often is about switching resorts. Don't underestimate the cost of shifting on an island. Unless you have genuine reason to switch, try to avoid the added risk of doing so during the pandemic. I also don't think your experience at a new resort will be any different - unless you feel the diving scene is better some place else. To keep things interesting, I would recommend switching between the beach and water villas.
Maldives is legit special.. worth all the hype and then some. Unfettered paradise with white sand, blue skies and clear oceans. We did not expect to fall in love with it they way we did. The sweetest staff shouted greetings to us as we biked around or zipped past on golf buggies.. add that to a refreshing spa and brilliant restaurants - you've got a winning combination!
We will travel back in a heartbeat to lie under the palm trees, count the million stars above us and swim with the insanely beautiful marine life below..
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