It was a grueling 30-hour trek from Houston to Malé, Maldives, but I was determined to make it to the other side of the world. “Nope!” is what most of my friends said when I told them about my coach seats on Turkish Airlines, a 13-hour flight to Istanbul, an 8-hour layover, and another 10 hours to Malé.
It’s true that getting to the Maldives is not for the faint of heart. But the first time you look into the water and see spotted rays and blacktip sharks, or hear the waves lapping at the base of your over-the-water villa, or gently run a finger over the parakeet that has just landed on your shoulder, you’ll forget all about what it took to get there.
So if you can get to the Caribbean in a few hours, that’s great! If you love the beautiful beaches of Florida, wonderful! But if you’re seeking that destination that makes you ooh and aah, the Maldives is it, and I’m here to tell you why.
The Service Will Make You Feel Like a Million Bucks
Arrive at Malé Velana International Airport, easily locate your resort’s welcome deck, and from that moment on, you’re done carrying luggage. Within minutes, your bags are whisked away, and you are guided to your speedboat transfer or the seaplane terminal for the final leg that will take you to your island.
I was on my way to Coco Bodu Hithi, reached easily via a 30-minute speedboat ride. This was a lifesaver after a long flight (the last thing I wanted to do was get on another plane), and the fresh Indian Ocean air did wonders to rejuvenate me. In my own personal “White Lotus” moment, we motored up to the dock, where staff members in uniform smiled and waved. I stepped off the boat, was handed a cool, scented towel, and was greeted with, “Hello, Rebecca, did you have a good trip?” It gave me my first glimpse into the level of service you find in the Maldives, where everyone, it seems, knows your name.
I was assigned (ahem) a personal butler, Gowtham, a kind, gentle spirit who anticipated needs I never knew I had and truly, sincerely just wanted me to be happy. Here at Coco, there is never a sense that the resort staff is less than thrilled to meet your needs. It’s the opposite. Everyone just wants you to have the vacation you want, and it makes them happy to make you happy.
Gowtham was like a genie who appeared before I had a chance to rub my magic lamp. He’d show up as I was emerging from the ocean and offer to carry my snorkeling gear back to my villa. After I ordered wine at dinner on the first night, a bottle of red appeared in my room the next day, along with a 6-pack of beer for my husband. Wearing heels to dinner one night, and with a bit of a walk ahead of me, I was relieved when he pulled up in a golf cart, making me feel like Cinderella in a chariot.
At the end of the week, my husband turned to me and said, “Everyone deserves a Gowtham, even if it’s just for a week.” You know what? He’s right.
Eating, Drinking, And Wandering Opens Up New Worlds
There are few places you can go where you never see another American, and this is one of them. Sitting at dinner, you’ll hear every language being spoken around you — German, French, Urdu, Swahili, Arabic, and more. I struck up conversations with travelers from the UK, who loved discussing Harry’s new book and American politics. I’ll never forget the Frenchman at the breakfast buffet balancing a plate of toasted bread, ham, and cheese. When I nodded appreciatively at his choice of food, he responded proudly, “Croque monsieur!” Although a stilted way to communicate, it was lovely to vacation among people from all over the world.
We are all familiar with the bar scene at vacation resorts, but in the Maldives, alcohol doesn’t take center stage. Here, you’ll find a hookah bar where visitors puff on sweet-smelling elixirs and gaze out at the turquoise water. As a 100 percent Muslim country, alcohol is not promoted as it is elsewhere. If you want it, by all means, have it, but you won’t see over-imbibers stumbling back to their rooms or late-night party revelers disturbing their neighbors.
Also, the food! Every morning is an adventure — is that brown, fuzzy ball a nut or a fruit? I broke open longan, loquat, and tamarind like little jewels and googled how to eat them. Curries of various types are an option at every meal, served with papadum crackers, along with fresh skipjack tuna, and saagu bondibai, a traditional Maldivian pudding.
Then there is just the vibe, the way you feel when you’re here. This is a place to come and relax, to breathe in the incense that burns in the open-air lobby. To wander among fragrant frangipani to the sounds of the cuckoo birds’ ascending whistles. To marvel at the sparkling phytoplankton that wash up in the night waves, leaving a glowing trail in their wake. To come eye-to-eye with water hens, their stilted gait carving star-shaped footprints in the sand.
The magic of the Maldives is real, and you can only get it here.
Easily Visited Multiple Islands
One of the many benefits of staying at Coco Collection Resorts is that they own sister properties on two separate islands. After my week at Coco Bodu Hithi, I caught a seaplane to Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu. The two experiences were nothing alike and I wouldn’t have changed a thing at either. I would have missed out on so much if I had experienced only one island.
At my first resort, I stayed in one of the sprawling over-the-water villas. No matter how many photos I’d seen in advance, nothing could have prepared me for how truly dreamlike they are in person. Coco Bodu Hithi’s villas are as luxe as the rest of the island, with beautiful people in flowing sundresses dining at private, candlelit tables on the beach.
I didn’t think Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu could match it, and I was glad it didn’t because it had its own unique qualities that I treasured. I stayed in a garden villa with beautiful views and a private pathway to the sea. I showered outside and slept with mosquito netting around my bed. I walked barefoot to dinner, gathered with others to watch the sunset, and with no butler this time, relaxed into the back-to-nature vibe of my second resort.
It may seem like a hassle to move locations midway through your vacation, but I can’t recommend it enough. The best way to do this is to book properties that work together to make your transfers seamless. Coco scheduled everything, picked up my bags, transported them first by boat and then by seaplane, greeted me at my second island, and did it all again when it was time to depart. They even set me up with a tour guide at the airport, who spent the day with me in Malé until my late-night flight.
A dual-island adventure doubles your fun and gives you a change of pace. You will enjoy entirely different snorkeling experiences on each atoll, unique atmospheres, and various types of lodging.
Pro Tip: The waves under those sexy over-the-water villas can sound like a hurricane at 3 a.m., so light sleepers might prefer the land villas. You decide whether you want to socialize with your fellow travelers or have a private vacation.
Speaking of being a hermit, both Coco properties made me feel like I had the islands to myself. My husband and I snorkeled for two weeks straight without bumping into anyone else. It wasn’t unusual to stroll an empty beach, even though we visited during peak season. We never waited to be seated at a restaurant, stood in a line, or put our towels on a lounge chair to “save it.” All those typical vacation experiences go out the window in the Maldives.