A week in Paradise: How Maldives is reopening for tourists

Written By: Suchayan Mandal WION
New Delhi Published: Nov 24, 2020, 11.43 AM(IST)

Maldives Photograph:( WION )

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Maldives follows the unique concept of one island one resort, which really came handy during the pandemic. So, each island has only one resort without any other office buildings or markets.

As I lay on a hammock over the white sand that looked like icing sugar, the sommelier of Heritance Aarah Resort walked up to me and offered some of his famous signature cocktails that would go so sparklingly well with the pristine sunset view. In the mood for some kiwi and lime as base, I asked Steve to surprise me. A gentle ocean breeze lulled me to a sunset siesta as I heard the coconut leaves rustling and murmuring along with the light roaring of the waves. Before me, the peacock hues of the Indian ocean were slowly turning shades of pink, as if a painter had dipped his brush in the azure water. 

Travelers like me were itching for a beach vacation ever since the worldwide lockdown started in March due to the pandemic. So when the Maldives Tourism Board announced that tourists no longer need to go for a 14-day quarantine in the island country and can prefer to stay for a week and even hop resorts, I was game! 

One fine morning in October, I found myself on an Air India flight from Trivandrum to Male, the only flight that was operating from India then on a weekly frequency. 

Flying in the New Normal

While I have been taking domestic flights since September, I made my post-lockdown debut of flying international only in October.

One needs a mandatory Covid Negative (RT-PCR test) report done from an ICMR https://www.icmr.gov.in/ listed laboratories. To get a visa on arrival at Male Airport in Maldives, I made sure the sample was collected not before 96 hours from my first port of journey. The same process is required when you would need to enter India from an international destination. 

With the negative report in my hand, I had to web check in 24 hours before the flight and upload the test report on Maldives Government’s designated website detailing out my travel itinerary for smooth process of Visa on Arrival. 

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I boarded the flight to find myself on a window side on the left for better view of the ocean when landing. Forty minutes whisked away munching on the airline provided dry fruits and sipping on fruit juice, and the flight started descending. As I aerially surveyed the navy-blue sea turning turquoise, the flight landed at Velana International Airport in Male. The visa process was smooth with a smiling immigration officer wishing us a great vacation. 

Sunny Side of Life

After a scenic seaplane ride that flies only at 12000 feet above the sea-level thus giving a great glimpse of the ocean and islands, we found ourselves at Heritance Aarah Resort. The seaplane lands at a jetty right at the entrance of the resort and a buggy through a wooden bridge over the ocean takes you to the reception area. There is a Covid Assistance Desk at the jetty, where the incoming luggage from the plane got sanitized, thermal screening done, and hands sanitized. 

While the staffs are mandated to wear masks all the time, it’s up to the tourists as they all have tested negative in the last four days. We threw away our masks in the air like the graduates do with their caps. The sunny side of life is real with a true ‘mask free’ vacation.

This resort oozes luxury with a Maldivian traditional vigour. Ocean Villa, our home for the next four days was a traditional Maldivian thatched roof cottage over the shimmering lagoon, overlooking an infinite horizon. The resort architecture anyway offers social distancing with all facilities set apart. From the glass-bottomed bedrooms, we could spot tons of manta rays, baby sharks, clown fish and more. There was a staircase leading directly to the water, which one could enjoy privately. 

We booked ourselves on an all-inclusive package. This package includes an assigned butler, all meals including breakfast, alcohols in room, mini bar and access to all facilities except the water activities. The meal selection was crafted to give us the ultimate experience. 

We began our day with a breakfast at Ranlu. Keeping in mind the social distancing norms, all meals are to be ordered from ala carte. The lunch will be at the same restaurant and often we would cherish the sunset with a drink from Pool Bar with an infinity pool. The mixologist Steve Fernandes, a Sri Lankan descendent understood the art of mixology so well that we would wait for the evening for the magic to happen. For a traditional Maldivian meal, we also had a lavish meal at Ambula where the chefs conduct a workshop on Dhivehi cuisine, predominantly consisting of tuna fish and coconut. 

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Rediscovering Maldives

Maldives follows the unique concept of one island one resort, which really came handy during the pandemic. So, each island has only one resort without any other office buildings or markets. Basically, you get to enjoy the whole island on your own. 

After a luxurious stay at Heritance, our next destination was Kandima Maldives. While the earlier one was responsible luxury, Kandima on the other hand is more of a peppy cool hospitality on offer. A Manta Air seaplane flew us there. 

While the cottage here is Aqua Villa, meaning a modern concrete cottage with a jacuzzi overlooking the ocean. Having said that we would swim all day right under our cottage simply because the water level lower. 

It’s here, where we booked ourselves for an activity driven stay. Being one of the largest islands in Maldives, Kandima has a vast expanse to explore. The next morning, we headed on a boat for a snorkeling session. The boat takes you to the middle of the ocean where water depth is more than hundred feet. Armoured in life jackets, swimming fins and a snorkel, we dived in. The initial experience was scary with water pressure making me claustrophobic, but our instructor helped us overcome the fear. The thumb rule is never to imagine that the water level is too deep under you. For the next 60 minutes, we witnessed a parallel world underwater with turtles, sharks, and a thousand variety of fish swimming around you. And how could you miss the majestic coral reef gorgeously tinted in brown, green and red. We returned happy like a therapy session underwater. The evening was scheduled for a sunset cruise, where you ride a boat to catch the best view of the sea meeting the infinity of the sky. With snacks and drinks, we relished the sun going down turning the sky into a festival of Holi. 

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We had a slice of every activity the resort offered. Besides we also availed cycling, evening yoga and a spa session where you could hear the roar of the ocean while the expert masseuse wearing masks take you to a new dimension of comfort. It wasn’t just any stay.

The resort General Manager is an Indian born, Neeraj Seth, who took us to a secret patch on the ocean. It required us to walk in water, the level ranging from knee to chin. And we reached the sand patch, which popped out of water with waves breaking on it. 

On our last evening at the island, the resort had arranged for a Chinese dinner on the beach. The place was lit up with Chinese ball lights and the set up looked straight out of a fairytale. As we relished on seafood, we made a promise to return to the island nation again. While Maldives’ sand, sea and the sun make the place a heaven on earth, the warmth of the local people make the experience unforgettable. 

Hasta la Vista, Maldives!
 

Quick Tips:

Is it safe to travel to Maldives?

Absolutely yes. Because testing is mandatory before arrival. And you get to stay in a separated island far from locals. 

Is Maldives Visa on Arrival now?

Visa on Arrival for Indian passport holders. No fee is levied for the visa. However, now you need a Covid Negative test report as well.
 
Places to stay:

Kandima Maldives, Kudahuvadhoo  - Seaplane Transfer.

Anantara Dhigu, Dhigufinolhu – Yacht and Boat Transfer

Heritance Aarah, Raa Atoll – Seaplane Transfer

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer does not represent the views of the WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer)

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