For those channelling a Crazy Rich Asian-style hankering for a deluxe diving getaway, the Maldives should top the list.
Since gaining independence from the British in 1965, the tiny island nation has made tourism its main industry. And guests with deep pockets are spoilt for choice: the Maldives’ 28 atolls are dotted with luxury resorts along the seafront, each pushing the frontiers of ultra-luxe hospitality. In 2018 alone, more than a dozen five-star properties threw open their doors, with several more expected to open throughout 2019.
For decades, hardcore divers have descended on the Maldives to seek out premium deep-water experiences in the many sites off the atolls. While luxury resorts do not hold exclusive rights to these spots, only a few deliver opportunities that combine fabulous living and expertly executed dives.
Here are some of the highlights of a four-night diving holiday with The Four Seasons Maldives, which offers one of the most competitive itineraries.
The Four Seasons has three resorts in the Maldives: “garden island” Kuda Huraa on the North Malé Atoll, and Landaa Giraavaru and the exclusive Private Island Voavah on the Baa Atoll, both of which lie within Unesco-protected biosphere reserves. Baa is home to some of the most fascinating underwater systems, including seasonal congregations of manta-rays in large numbers, and breathtaking coral colonies.
A Four Seasons seafaring adventure typically starts with an overnight stay at Kuda Huraa. Then its time to board the Four Seasons Explorer, a luxury catamaran yacht (arguably the Four Season’s fourth resort, albeit water-based), for a few days of diving, deep-sea fishing, and dolphin spotting. After daily explorations in the waters around a few lesser-known atolls, the trip ends at the Landaa Giraavaru resort.
Service with a flourish
The Explorer is one of the most extravagant – and reportedly the fastest – yachts in Maldivian waters. With three decks, 10 staterooms and one suite, the vessel is staffed by a crew of 25, including personal chefs, diving instructors, underwater videographers, marine biologists and a massage therapist.
Diving may be the primary activity, but this experience also doubles as a mini pleasure cruise, where guests – the Explorer hosts no more than 22 people at a time – can indulge in massages, picnics and intimate meals under the sun or stars.
Splash in tranquil waters
Expect to participate in two to three dives each day, at various sea spots that include the famous coral reefs around Baa. If you visit between July and November, you’ll get to see crowds of manta rays, which return to the area annually to feed.
It is on clear days when the sun is bright and high that these underwater expeditions reveal sea creatures in all their glory, from tiny cleaner shrimps to festive-looking nudibranch clumps and sleek black-tip reef sharks.
Sink into island life
With two top resorts book-ending the trip, expect plenty of pampering moments before and after you step off the yacht.
Kuda Huraa recently refurbished its overwater pool villas, which have individual sundecks facing out to sea. The resort’s restaurants serve international, Mediterranean and Indian cuisine; among them, the Reef Club does delicious seafood lunches, served at tables with unobstructed views over the water and villas. The spa – which like the villas, is built on the water – has an extensive menu of treatments.
Over on Landaa Giraavaru, the larger of the two islands, secluded Mediterranean-style beach villas – each with its own 12-metre-long pool – offer privacy just steps away from sandy white beaches.
The dining experiences range from grills to Italian. The Sea Bar, which feels like a remote island outpost, is worth a mention. It sits right out to sea and can be accessed by a narrow boardwalk; hop onto a bar stool and sip your cocktail in peace while lemon sharks and reef fish swim beneath your feet.
Activities here include snorkelling to motorised water sports. There’s also a spa offering both New-Age and traditional treatments and has an Ayurvedic doctor on the premises.
Supporting marine conservation
The Four Seasons is fierce about marine conservation and has Marine Discovery Centres at its resorts, as well as turtle rescue and rehabilitation facilities, all headed by teams of marine biologists, scientists and researchers. There’s also a special “Flying Turtles” programme, where injured turtles and cetaceans are rescued, rehabilitated, and then sent for adoption to aquariums around the world. The centres also run a coral replantation drive around the damaged reefs.
Luxuriate in isolated surrounds
Four Seasons opened its third resort in the Maldives, on the Voavah atoll, in late 2016. Private Island is a hideaway that is about 15 minutes by speedboat from Landaa Giraavaru. It feels exclusive, too: there are only seven villas, each with fully-manned kitchens and well-appointed outdoor spaces for hosting celebrations. When we visited, the island was being readied for the birthday weekend of the daughter of an Indian tycoon.
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