How to Do Maldives Right As a First-Timer
The Maldives feature regularly on most travel enthusiast’s bucketlists. Bunny thinks deservedly so. Its otherworldly beauty, combined with a crowd-free holiday experience, is definitely something to long for.
Bunny is lucky enough to have been to the Maldives three times. She loves it! It is one of her favorite holiday destinations in the world and she would go back regularly if she could afford it.
This is Bunny’s guide on how to do Maldives right as a first-timer.
First, let’s get some facts straight:
- The Maldives is expensive. Very expensive. Be prepared for this or your holiday will be ruined by the constant complaining about the prices (Yes, we are looking at you, Mr. Bunny!). Going on half- or full-board might be a good idea depending on your choice of hotel.
- You will most likely stay put on the small island where your hotel is located. Only one hotel is allowed per island in the Maldives. Choosing your hotel wisely becomes a crucial factor for a successful holiday.
- There is not much to do apart from enjoying the sun and exploring the fabulous marine life, or perhaps indulging in spa treatments at your hotel. This is not a cultural destination. You go to the Maldives to enjoy the nature, peace and quiet, and to be pampered.
- The Maldives is gorgeous! Choosing your hotel wisely is important, but even if you somehow manage to screw things up on the hotel front, you will still be able to enjoy the amazing sea, impeccable beaches and unforgettable sunsets that the Maldives offers for everyone.
- The Maldives is a conservative Muslim country but this does not need to feature in your holiday experience. If you don’t visit the locally-inhabited islands (most tourists don’t), you can happily live in the bubble of your own island hotel like in any other tropical destination. But…
- It is forbidden to bring alcohol into the country. They will confiscate your bottles at the airport (you’ll get them back when departing). But rest assured that alcohol will be available at your hotel. If you are a heavy drinker, be prepared to pay dearly for your hobby.
- The Maldives is a year-round destination. The temperatures are constant throughout the year and it rarely rains for days, even in the rainy season. However, the prices jump up a lot during the high season. Accordingly, the Maldives is best avoided during the most popular times (Christmas, New Year, and school holidays).
How to Organize a First-Time Visit?
Keep it Short
Bunny recommends a short visit for first-timers, either as a standalone holiday, or, if you are flying from far away, combined with Sri Lanka for an excellent dual-base holiday in the Indian Ocean.
Keeping your first visit short (4-7 days) will help keep the costs down and allow you to go for a fancier hotel for an all-around brilliant experience.
Time It Right
As mentioned above, you can make considerable savings by timing your stay so that you avoid the high season (January-March). Don’t even think about going to the Maldives for Christmas or New Years! It is not that it will be crowded. It is because you would be paying two times or more for the same room than in November or May.
Go Independently Or Use an Agency
Bunny has organised all her trips to the Maldives independently. This has been relatively hassle-free. However, sometimes going through an agency or a travel agent can be a good deal, particularly when combined with flights.
So either option for the Maldives is perfectly fine.
It is important to time your flights so that you arrive early and leave late. There is no sense in paying high prices only to arrive late in the evening or leave very early in the morning. Linger. You will enjoy the island even if you have to give up your room early on the day of departure.
With so many lovely islands to choose from, you might be tempted to go island-hopping in the Maldives. Don’t.
It is quite difficult, and very expensive, to hop between the different islands in the Maldives, even if the distances are not (always) great. There is no regular transportation between them and you will have little choice but to use the expensive transfer services of your hotel.
Bunny thinks it is better to choose one base, stay put and enjoy a hassle-free holiday.
How to Choose Your Hotel?
The Maldives is full of gorgeous, luxurious hotels with amazing rooms, facilities and every possible amenity you could think of. If money is no obstacle, you can have it all.
Mere mortals, such as Bunny, have to think about their priorities and get the best possible hotel they can afford.
Bunny would advocate the following important factors to think about when choosing your hotel in the Maldives:
The Maldives comprises more than 1200 small islands. A vast majority of these are uninhabited but approximately 100 have been developed as resorts. You can choose an island that is within a short speedboat transfer from the capital, or go for a hotel in one of the Maldives’ further lying atolls. If you choose the latter, you will need a sea plane ride to reach your destination. These flights only operate during daylight hours.
If you are organising your trip independently, ask the hotel in advance what is the latest possible arrival time to transfer for that day. Otherwise you will be stuck in the capital, Male, for a night. Not that there is anything wrong with Male as such, it is just not the tropical paradise island you are paying a top dollar for…
Most people who come to the Maldives expect great snorkelling and/or scuba diving, yet the hotels offer very different experiences in this regard. Some have excellent house reefs that allow you to start snorkelling practically from your own terrace, while others require you to take separate trips for any snorkelling (usually at a hefty cost). The beaches can also vary, although you are most likely to get a fabulous beach experience no matter where you choose to stay.
Bear this in mind: You will be on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there will be no Tescos or Walmarts around. You have to make sure the food that the hotel offers is to your liking in order to fully enjoy your holiday. Most hotels in the Maldives cater to all kinds of diets on advance notice but you will also want to make sure you will actually like the food they are offering. Carefully read Tripadvisor reviews, good and bad, to get a good sense of the food quality at your prospective resort.
The quality of the food can vary from tired buffets to absolutely amazing culinary experiences. Choose according to your preferences and budget.
It is not just the room price that matters in the Maldives. Transfers, food, drinks, entertainment, tips… It all adds up in the end. Make sure you know what is included in the rate before you make a firm booking.
There are few all-inclusive hotels in the Maldives (and Bunny would not recommend that concept in the Maldives) so you will have to factor in quite a bit for food and drinks and other extras during your holiday.
Being on a small island, you are likely to bump into fellow guests quite frequently. The way they behave will undoubtedly have an effect on your holiday as well. Bunny recommends that you read reviews with one eye on the potential clientele as well. That way you will make sure the hotel you choose will offer the kind of ambiance you appreciate.
Do you want to mingle with the bling-bling crowd? Be surrounded by kids? Enjoy partying? Speak Russian? The choice is yours, make it a smart one.
Cocoa Island by Como
Does all that sound too complicated to you or like too much hard work? Luckily for you, Bunny has already done all the legwork for you!
She has discovered the best hotel in the Maldives: Cocoa Island by Como. This is, in fact, Bunny’s favourite hotel in the whole world (and she has been to a few…).
In Bunny’s opinion, Cocoa Island has been able to perfectly capture the best of the Maldives. It is small and intimate. It is definitely luxurious but not in a flashy way. The atmosphere is serene and everything just oozes well-being, beauty and relaxation.
Unfortunately, Cocoa Island prices have crept up in recent years, but Bunny still considers it the best overall hotel in the Maldives.
At Cocoa, you have the feeling that you are on your own gorgeous, private island. There are only 33 suites, all over water and some of them modeled to look like traditional Maldives fishing boats. Bunny has stayed at the hotel while at full occupancy and she rarely saw other guests apart from meal times. Perfect!
Everything at Cocoa Island seems to be effortlessly beautiful. The island itself, the beaches, the facilities, the suites… It is all well-designed, simple and harmonious.
Cocoa Island has excellent food! It is difficult to believe that such sophisticated cuisine exists on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Almost everything has to be imported but the offering is always fresh and tasty.
In addition, the food at Cocoa Island is (can be, if you don’t opt for all the deserts…) super healthy, with lost of options for vegetarians and vegans. The Como Shambhala menu also includes a lot of raw food options.
"Super healthy food!"
The staff to guest ratio at Cocoa Island is 2:1. The service is unobtrusive but efficient, always friendly, always accommodating, and mostly invisible. Bunny loves that!
The icing on the cake is that Cocoa Island is to easy get to. There is no need for small seaplane rides (Bunny is not a fan). A comfortable speedboat ride takes you there in 40 minutes, directly from Male airport.
Amazing House Reef
The snorkeling at Cocoa Island is fantastic. Now this may be the case for many, if not most, hotels in the Maldives but the house reef at Cocoa island offers you the opportunity to start snorkeling from the terrace of your own water villa and bump into a turtle or lionfish 30 meters later. This is exactly what Bunny has experienced.
There is a fabulous drop-off which you can swim to and follow for dozens of metres and feel like you are inside a National Geographic documentary whilst snorkeling.
Bunny has been to Egypt, many Caribbean island, Mauritius and more, but rates the snorkeling in the Maldives as the best.
Como Shambhala Spa
Cocoa Island has a heavenly spa. Bunny has always had a top notch experience there, regardless of the chosen treatment. If only the prices were a bit lower, she would indulge a lot more…
The Como Shambhala toiletries available in the suites are so lovely that Bunny orders them online when she hasn’t visited a Como hotel for a while and her reserves are running low. The scent always brings back lovely memories.
Bunny’s Tips for Cocoa Island
Bunny is a great fan of Cocoa Island but it doesn’t mean she cannot think of potential improvements or ways to make your stay even better. She particularly recommends the following:
- All rooms are over water and that is exactly the way to stay in the Maldives. While the more expensive rooms offer some fantastic features, the smallest, and least expensive, Dhoni suites are perfectly fine for experiencing the Como magic.
- Never pay the full price. There are regular offers on the Como website and/or through travel agents. In particular, check out the four nights for the price of three offer that is usually valid throughout the low season.
- Go for a meal plan. Full or half board are available. It is much nicer to enjoy the excellent food when you don’t have the prices in your head all the time.
- Bring snacks. There is always fresh fruit in the room and you won’t go hungry if you are on any of the meal plans but Bunny is a great believer in snacks. So bring your favorite selection with you and save some money on your food costs.
- The organised activities are very expensive. Unless you are rolling in money, just make the most of the complimentary activities: snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing, the lovely hydrotherapy pool and complimentary yoga classes offered at Cocoa Island. Bunny just loves the hammocks scattered throughout the grounds too!
Maldives in a Nutshell
Maldives is definitely one of those destinations you have to visit at least once in your lifetime. It might not be budget-friendly but it is most assuredly amazing.
Just time your visit right, choose the best hotel you can afford and enjoy. And start saving up for the trip now!