The high-class Indian getaway
Snorkelling in cerulean waters to catch glimpses of vivid fish; soaking in the hues of the sunset from your private pool villa; dining on elusive islands as the chef brings you freshly prepared catch — there’s nothing like workation or vacation like this. And turns out, Indians have pursued all this and more in the Maldives, surprisingly when international borders closed and a pandemic was declared in the world. Open up your Instagram feed and you’ll find a number of folks in Maldives ever so frequently. The nation of islands in the Indian Ocean seamlessly became a preferred destination among the jet setters of the Indian upper class.
The Indian High Commission in the Maldives released data to validate this — the top source market for Maldivian tourism in 2020 was India, with 62,905 arrivals — accounting for 11.3 per cent of the total share. The country recorded a sum of 5,55,399 arrivals in 2020 (lower than the 1.7 million in 2019, but much higher than the targeted 5,00,000 for the year). For 2021, the tourism authorities are targeting 1.5 million arrivals.
Maldives opened for tourism when the world was battling one of the worst pandemics of history, on July 15, 2020, with free visa-on-arrival and no mandatory quarantine or testing on arrival of foreign guests. It was an unquestionable choice for a lot of folks who needed escape from the mundanity of the lockdown India was under.
However, “travellers were and are still required to submit an online health declaration form within 24 hours prior to departure, along with a negative Covid-19 RT PCR test that must be conducted 96 hours prior the scheduled time of departure from the first port of embarkation en route to the Maldives,” cites the website of Maldives Marketing and Public Relation Corporation (MMPRC), the national tourism office of the Maldives. Travellers arriving into the nation are granted a 30-day free visa on arrival and are also scanned for symptoms along with a thermal evaluation.
Growing connectivity can be attributed to this rise in Indian travel to the Maldives. Five Indian cities — Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Kochi — have flights to the country’s capital city of Malé — with airlines such as Indigo, Spicejet and Air India offering direct connectivity from some of the metros, under the air travel bubble established between the two countries. Only recently, Spicejet and Indigo announced the advent of direct flights between Mumbai-Malé and Kochi-Malé, respectively.
The two nation’s governments — Indian and Maldivian — also share friendly bilateral relations; and Indian airlines have been encouraged by the ministry of civil aviation of India to add frequent services to the Maldives-capital. In recent news, India has provided financial assistance of $250 million to the Maldives to help it mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.
Along with ease of connections, the wide array of hotel choices from budget, mid-level to premium luxury, has appealed to Indians from different sections of the society. Travel agents have also begun customising all-inclusive and refundable packages which are quite tempting for those looking for a relatively affordable Maldivian experience (yes, this is possible).
Azure island nation
The Republic of the Maldives, a small archipelagic state in south Asia, is situated in the Arabian Sea, in the Indian Ocean. Lying southwest of Sri Lanka and India, Maldives consists of 1,192 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls (coral reefs).
Tourism is the largest economic industry of the island nation, playing an important role in bringing in foreign exchange and employing more than 2,500 in the travel business. Maldives’ tourism industry started modestly back in 1972 with only three hotels at that time. Currently, there are about 100 operational resorts; with each resort occupying a whole island. This, in my opinion, is one of the USPs of visiting Maldives — having an entire island resort at your disposal to explore and indulge in. Known for its pristine white beaches with azure waters, Maldives is a haven for nature and water aficionados.
Travellers engage in a number of activities around the resorts and natural coral reefs including swimming, fishing, scuba diving, water-skiing, windsurfing and kite boarding. For recreational divers, Maldives is almost paradisal with its clean water and exceptional underwater landscape.
For the luxury seeker, Maldives is a natural choice with its array of luxe resorts spread across its length and breadth. While some of the resorts are accessible by boat via Malé, others can be reached via a sea plane route from Malé airport. Even in the ongoing scenario of the pandemic, a number of new resorts have sprung up in the country. This includes THE OZEN COLLECTION – OZEN RESERVE BOLIFUSHI that opened in December 2020. This is the second resort by THE OZEN COLLECTION and has been “completely redesigned to enrich guest experiences with a refined aesthetic of timeless luxury, subtle opulence, and Maldivian charm.” Located in South Malé Atoll, Bolifushi Island is just a 20-minute luxury catamaran ride from Velana International Airport. While it’s extremely difficult to handpick hotels for the ultimate Maldivian experience, here are some of my recommendations.
Maldives Border Miles
A destination so popular it has its own loyalty programme — that’s Maldives for you. A tourism loyalty programme called Maldives Border Miles now ensures that you earn a little bit every time you visit the island nation. Initiated by Maldives Immigration, together with joint stakeholders; Ministry of Tourism, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) and Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), the programme was launched in December 2020. Each of the three tiers — Aida (bronze), Anantara (silver) and Abaarana (gold) — are defined by a variety of rewards, services or benefits that increase in value as members progress. Enrol as a member of Maldives Border Miles before your travel to the Maldives on imuga.immigration.gov.mv/mbm. Points will be rewarded if you stay in a registered tourist facility and if you stay at least three nights in the country.
The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
A range of carefully crafted luxurious experiences are lined up at this uber-luxe resort by Marriott International. This includes the beautifully located Iridium Spa that features body scrubs and massages for complete relaxation. You can also hire the in-house Azimut Flybridge 66 yacht, christened Norma. Your own private charter, the yacht is perfect for diving expeditions, family adventures, romantic getaways, or overnight trips. The glistening sand at The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort beach (Alba Beach) is ideal for private dinners under the starlit sky; and for a more casual dining set up, visit Alba restaurant. A private lagoon and an outdoor infinity pool are some of the other frills here. marriott.com
JW Marriott Maldives Resort & Spa
Situated on a private island in Shaviyani Atoll, JW Marriott Maldives Resort & Spa offers the unique Thakuru service that creates personalised itineraries for your stay. This includes spa and wellness therapies, private dining arrangements, and dolphin cruises to name a few. An interesting fact about the resort — you get an extra hour of sunlight everyday here, as the resort’s time zone is an hour ahead of the capital, Malé. Highly recommended is an experience of their Overwater Pool Villa that offers a sunset view from your private pool paradise. A number of activities can be enjoyed on the family-friendly resort including boating, jet-skiing, kayaking, scuba diving and volleyball. marriott.com
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
Nestled in the South Ari Atoll, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is close to 42 dive sites and in the idyllic locale for seeking out whale sharks, turtles and manta rays and shoals of vivid marine life. A special mention goes to The Muraka, which is the resort’s two-storey, three bedroom residence that offers unparalleled views of the Indian Ocean and its own infinity pool. An undersea bedroom and living space, a dedicated team of staff, a 24-hour personal chef, and butlers are some of the other indulgences of this exceptional space. The resort also features its in-house Dive Centre and a Water-sports Centre. conradhotels3.hilton.com
Intercontinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort
Situated close to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Intercontinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort boasts a myriad of marine life in its lagoon including a unique manta ray sanctuary. White soft sands and palm trees line the stunning island resort. Guests of the resorts have access to a number of complimentary benefits including Breakfast at Cafe Umi or The Retreat, afternoon tea served at The Collective, evening digestifs at The Retreat and The Pool Bar, and all-day refreshments at The Retreat, The Collective and The Pool Bar. If embarking on an exploratory excursion to Hanifaru Bay or adopting your own manta ray is on your bucket list, book your Maldivian stay at Intercontinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort. ihg.com
Raffles Maldives Meradhoo
The main island of Raffles Maldives Meradhoo features 22 villas including Raffles Residences, Beach Villas and Deluxe Beach Villas. A stay here gives you access to overwater Raffles Spa, the main pool and a white sand beach. Restaurants Thari and The Firepit, and an “island interpretation of the legendary Long Bar” can be found on this beach. The Overwater Island features 16 villas, with some facing the east allowing you to witness spellbinding sunrises and the others facing west for majestic sunsets. The resort is currently offering a number of offers on its website including “Rise and Shine” offer that gives you a $100 worth spa voucher and in-villa breakfast. raffles.com
Barefoot and sustainable luxury along with slides that dive into the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean — translates to Soneva Fushi — that completed its 25 years in 2020. The premium luxury resort has recently launched its Water Retreats that have stirred a lot of excitement in the luxe seekers’ segment. Accessible by a curving jetty near Dolphin Beach, the eight Water Retreats offer utmost privacy to guests, where you can watch the sunset spectacularly from your private pool…or slide! Also check out Soneva’s ongoing Soneva Stars programme that includes experiences with a host of visiting Michelin-starred chefs, world-renowned astronomers, celebrated sports personalities, authors, therapists and practitioners. soneva.com
Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Maldives
Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Maldives is spread across the Emboodhu Finolhu island in the middle of a Maldivian lagoon. If you wish to experience classic Taj Hotels’ hospitality in the island nation, this resort is the obvious choice. It is a 15-minute speedboat ride from the Malé airport with 64 sea-view suites and villas across the isle. For fresh seafood, make a reservation at Deep Sea or experience a cinematic Teppanyaki dining experience at 24 Degrees. A range of activities including water sports such as snorkelling and scuba diving can be enjoyed on the resort. You can also indulge in signature therapies at the resort’s Jiva Grande Spa Maldives, featuring Indian and Ayurvedic treatments. tajhotels.com