Take Me Back to Kanuhura

Let’s set the stage:

You’re flying over a lagoon with countless shades of cerulean and turquoise, dotted only by a few small islands. The islands are so small that from this height, they almost don’t even look like islands– just ribbons of electric blue paint on the dark blue canvas of the Indian ocean. The earplugs in your ears muffle but don’t drown out the rhythmic thrum of the propeller plane outside your window. You’re seated so close to the pilots you can practically smell their aftershave.

For the first time in your life, you actually don’t ever want this plane ride to end.

But, as with all good things, it’s over quickly, a mere 30 minutes after departing Male’s seaplane airport. The barefoot pilots kick their sandals back on as they begin fiddling with the controls and preparing for landing. The color of the water changes dramatically as you get closer and closer to the surface. Finally, with a controlled skid of a landing on the turquoise water, you’ve arrived at your island home paradise for the next few days.

A smiling staff is waving, alluring fresh coconuts adorned with purple-specked orchids cradled in their arms for your arrival.

…. Raise your hand if you could use a tropical vacation right about now.

***

The Kanuhura Experience:

Let’s backtrack a bit here: how did I, a former New York City public school teacher, end up at one of the Maldives’ top 5 star resorts?

I was invited to speak on the subject of storytelling and authenticity in destination marketing at the inaugural World Travel Writers’ Conference. Naturally, I extended my stay so that I could explore a bit more of the Maldives after the conference. I stayed at four resorts during my two weeks in the Maldives, all lovely in their own right, and each perfect for a different kind of traveler: one for the budget-conscious, another for the trendy and nightlife-centric, another for surfers.

Yet of all the places I stayed, I can definitely say hands-down that Kanuhura is the most luxurious and boutique-feeling option. With a small size of only 80 villas (other places I stayed numbered well into the hundreds), the attention to detail in Kanuhura is unmatched.

In addition the beautiful rooms, our villa came with a private plunge pool just a few minutes walk from the white sand beach. On the beach, we had two private lounge chairs and umbrella, also just steps from our villa.

This was one of the best locations on the island because we had sunset views every single night. This being the Maldives, there are — of course — overwater bungalows as well, which face the sunrise. But I quite loved our little private pool facing the beach, particularly because of those fiery Maldives sunset shows.

staying at Kanuhura

All the villas are all attended by a personal villa host and cleaned twice a day. At first, this seemed excessive, but I grew to greatly appreciate how there was¬†never any sand in the villa — one of my biggest pet peeves about being in beachy locations. Oh, and the nightly dessert treats definitely didn’t hurt ūüėČ

What I loved most about Kanuhura was how it provides luxury without pretense. Ultra-luxury can make me a bit uncomfortable — afraid I’m going to break something or do something uncouth (both very probable). But Kanuhura is laidback; its mission to is balance the carefree spirit of bohemians and the understated sophistication of the jet set. They have an official “no news, no shoes” policy — going barefoot everywhere along the island is encouraged — even to dinner.

They offer a balance of luxe and adventure, from a range of holistic and ayurvedic treatment options in their spa as well as a variety of land- and water-based adventure activities.

Let me say that while I don’t typically live an exceptionally luxurious lifestyle, I am an absolute¬†fiend for massages and no matter what my financial situation is, I always schedule at least one monthly massage. I’ve gotten massages all around the world — in probably well over 20 countries at this point — and I can say that hands down, the massage I had at Kanuhura’s spa was the best of my life.

If you’re more into adventure than massages and spa treatments, Kanuhura’s still got your back. Snorkle in the vibrant house reef or take a boat dive with their on-island dive school. The more adventurous amongst us can even try jet skiing, wakeboarding, or windsurfing. I prefer what I’ve deemed “soft adventure,” so I stuck to exploring their pristine house reef and doing sunrise yoga.

The pain of waking up early for sunrise yoga was quickly fixed by an amazing in-villa breakfast (or should I say in-pool breakfast?) complete with champagne and tropical fruit because hey, you only live once.

The food at Kanuhura is a whole different level as well — easily my favorite of all the 4 resorts I stayed at. The breakfast selection was insane: I literally had sushi for breakfast every day, complete with miso soup, fresh fruit, and of course — mimosas!

There are 8 restaurants, ranging from Asian fusion (we had some delicious curries and sushi there), to amazing Italian pastas, to fresh fish, to more casual salads, sandwiches, and juices.

My favorite of all the restaurants was probably Drift, their deserted island restaurant — the tuna shown above was ordered there.

When Yulia and I went, we were literally the only two people dining on the island — and with the chefs and waiters, there couldn’t have been more than 6 people on the entire island! It’s easy to get there — just a short 5 minute boat ride from the main island of Kanuhura — but it feels a world away.

I’d be remiss not to mention all the amazing places to relax and lounge around the island. While you could very easily and very happily shut yourself in the privacy of your own pool or overwater villa — there are so many wonderful places to get some sun, swim, or socialize with a drink all around the island.

The main pool has a swim-up bar — of course! — with some delicious and insanely creative cocktails made with herbs from Kanuhura’s very own garden. And of course, the pool has an ocean view as well.

The sunset bar area is also fantastic and definitely worth mentioning. There are countless areas to lounge and relax here and the aesthetic is simply gorgeous.

One of my favorite and most unique touches about this bar area is that you can organize a “make-your-own-mojito” station in one of the little teepee-style covers. A bartender will come and show you how to make all different sorts of flavored mojitos — we tried the standard mint, pineapple, and passionfruit — before allowing you to strike out on your own.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we were both pretty awful at making our own mojitos — the ones our bartender made us were far, far better! But it was fun to make it ourselves nonetheless, and I’m sure that people who go a little less rum-crazy than we did would have a much better shot at making their own mojitos.

For parents who are traveling with kids, they’ll be happy to note that Kanuhura has a kids club on the island, so there’s plenty of fun to be had by little kids and adults alike.

A Note on Sustainability:

As with many hotels in the Maldives, Kanuhura is taking drastic steps to decrease their carbon footprint. In particular, they are doing an excellent job at reducing plastic usage across the board. I can’t recall seeing a single piece of plastic during my stay.

The straws are all made of sturdy paper — a major improvement over plastic straws, which often end up stuck in sea turtle noses and inside fish and shark stomachs. They’ve also completely eliminated plastic water bottles by having an on-site water desalination and purification plant on site. They’re also making an effort to reduce reliance on cargo ships bringing in produce from overseas by growing their own herbs and some fruits in their on-site Chef’s Garden.

They’re also doing great work to reduce pollution and ensure the health of their in-house reef. I saw many beautiful and healthy fish during our snorkel around the reef, which I feel is testament to the work Kanuhura is putting into keeping these reefs pristine for future generations of guests to enjoy.

Cost:

Offering 5* luxury in the Maldives, Kanuhura does not come cheap — nor is it as expensive as its some of its fellow 5* neighbors. Doing a quick search, I was able to find prices in March as low as $865 per night, half board (breakfast & dinner) and June for as little as $661 per night (room only). While this isn’t cheap, it offers a great value compared to other 5* resorts in the area. I recommend booking directly through their website as that’s where I found the best prices. Keep in mind this does not include the return seaplane transfer, which costs an additional $550 per person.

Their peak season is Christmas, so don’t expect to find any reasonable prices in this time period, when rooms soar up to $1700 per night!

I’d recommend traveling in the shoulder season. I spent two weeks in the Maldives in mid-September, which is technically the rainy season (it runs from May to November). However, it barely rained at all during my 2 week stay. Most of that is luck, but in general, the rainy season in the Maldives is incredibly unpredictable — now moreso than ever due to climate change. You can have storms for days — or you can have perfectly blue skies nearly all day with an occasional shower for a few minutes.

It’s a risk to take (and Kanuhura plans for rainy day contingencies with a lot of indoor activities) but if you are dreaming of a 5* Maldives experience — there’s no better time to get a good deal.

Are you planning a Maldives trip? Let me know in the comments!

Note: I was a guest of Kanuhura and the World Travel Writers’ Conference during my time in the Maldives. All experiences and opinions are entirely my own.

Bandos Island Resort: A Surprisingly Eco & Affordable Maldives Paradise

I used to think that the Maldives were as expensively inaccessible as they were undeniably beautiful. In my mind, it was reserved for a honeymoon: something that made this marriage-skeptical commitment-phobe itch to think of.

After becoming a travel blogger, my eyes were opened to the expansive world of budget travel in the Maldives: local islands, public ferries, locally-owned guesthouses on Airbnb.

But what I never realized until I actually arrived in Maldives was that there was something in the middle: a way to enjoy a traditional resort experience without spending your entire life’s savings.

Something that couldn’t quite be classified as “budget” – but that you wouldn’t have to steal from your theoretical future child’s college education fund to afford.

That place, my friends, is Bandos Island Resort, a mere 10-minute speedboat from Malé Airport but with some of the bluest waters and whitest sands you can dream up.

While I was a guest at Bandos Island Resort thanks to the sponsorship of the World Travel Writers Conference in the Maldives, I was shocked to learn how affordable this resort is for the average middle-class traveler, especially if you travel off-peak.

Cost of Staying at Bandos Island Resort

Even in February, one of the busiest months, the cheapest double room is about $280 per night (with breakfast only included).¬†But travel off-peak in a month like June or July, and you’ll be rewarded: that same double room is only $172 with breakfast ($337 full-board for two people).

** Note: I looked up these rates on booking.com while writing this article — prices will likely change, but were true at time of writing. Also note that these prices are not inclusive of the 22% tax that is mandatory on all stays and purchases in Maldives **

Now, I’m not trying to say that these prices are budget-friendly for everyone, but let’s put these numbers into perspective. I’ve seen average motels in Moab, Utah go for well over $200 a night. You’d be hard-pressed to find a decent hotel room in central NYC or London for under $300. Now, I love me a good city, but I’d take a week in Maldives over a week in gray London anyday!

Just look at those island blues.

Be aware: the rainy season in the Maldives is technically from May to October. I went in September, was there for two weeks, and never had more than 10 minutes of rain spread over a few different days.

However, I was told that right before my arrival, there had been several days of super stormy weather — so be prepared if you choose to travel in the off-season!

Bandos’ proximity to the Mal√© airport is part of what makes it so affordable. If you add in a seaplane, no matter how affordable the resort is, you’re looking at an extra $500 or so on top of your stay… Ouch. So if you want a budget-friendly trip to Maldives, make sure you look at hotels that are within a speedboat transfer’s distance of Mal√© and be sure to ask about the transfer cost before booking anything.

At the moment, Bandos charges $76 return for a speedboat transfer per adult, which is rather reasonable (in the alternate universe that is the Maldives!)

Cost of Activities at Bandos Island Resort

One of the other things that makes Bandos so affordable for a Maldives resort is the relatively low cost of activities. A half day snorkeling or island hopping trip will cost $45 plus tax.

A sunset dolphin cruise, like the one in the photo below, will cost about $40 (plus tax) for a several hour long boat ride.

They also have a fantastic dive center on Bandos – I went diving with them three times and saw so many amazing creatures in their house reef (you can also borrow a snorkel set and snorkel right from the beach, if that’s more your speed)

The boat dives were even better, though! We went to Aquarium, where you can see massive schools of brightly colored fish plus beautiful corals, anemones, and others. But one of the highlights was our second dive, where we went diving with enormous manta rays swirling above and below us. I was shocked when one went right above me and I could see through its gills to the water above it.

Dives cost $62 plus tax per dive with all the equipment included, plus a $18 supplement if you choose to do a boat dive. If you’re a diving fanatic, you can even buy a package of 10 dives for $500, making them $50 each — a good value if you can fit them all in!

Sustainability at Bandos Island Resort

You may think there’s no way a resort in the Maldives can be eco-friendly… but Bandos is doing its best with some innovative and sustainable initiatives.

The #1 thing Bandos is doing to combat waste is through their bottling plant, which is located on-island and was established in 2015. Reusable glass bottles are pressure-washed, sanitized, and rinsed before being filled with purified, filtered water. Since the average daily consumption of bottled water is 800 liters, the water bottling plant is able to save the disposal of over 288,000 plastic bottles per year.

Other initiatives to reduce waste include a Solarhart system to heat water, which reduces the energy needed to heat water by 80-90%. They’re also in the process of constructing an entirely on-island sewage treatment plant that produces clean reusable water with low energy outputs.

A hydroponic garden fed by recycled water reduces reliance on imported produce (a huge resource suck in an isolated island nation like Maldives).

They’ve also signed the Biosphere Reserve Pledge with UNESCO as of 2016, agreeing to reserve 800 square meters of the Bandos House Reef — which is one of the healthiest house reefs I’ve ever seen, remarkable given its proximity to Mal√©. They’ve initiated several coral gardening programs that naturally rehabilitate damaged but live coral.

So, if you think Maldives is out of your budget — think again. One week at a Maldives resort could actually end up costing you less than a week in Paris, London, or NYC.

Intrigued? Check the most recent and lowest prices on Booking.com now!

Think resorts in the Maldives are too expensive? You might be surprised at what they actually cost!

Note: I was a guest of Bandos Island Resort while I attended the World Travel Writer’s Conferences sponsored by Maldives TV. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. Also, this post contains affiliate links, which may make me a small commission at no extra cost to you.

7 Things That Surprised Me About the Maldives

When I got the email inviting me to come to the Maldives for a conference, I pinched myself, wondered wildly if it was all some prank from a disgruntled blogger I accidentally threw shade at, and refreshed my email again and again to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

Then I promptly went out and bought the brightest bikini I could find, because retail therapy is for good things too, no?

I spent two weeks in the Maldives… and I still can’t even believe I just wrote that sentence. The Maldives has always seemed so inaccessible to little old me: too far, too expensive, too romantic. It was a place I always thought I’d save for later — a place I wasn’t yet ready for, that I’d go to when I was rich, successful, and in a fabulous relationship.

Well, one half out of 3 isn’t bad.

As I spent more and more time in the Maldives, I began to understand a bit more of what makes this island nation so unique and surprising.

While you may think of just perfectly manicured rows of bungalows, as always, there’s more to the story. Two weeks visiting just 5 islands in a chain of over 1200 isn’t much, but bit by bit I began to chip away at the postcard image of the Maldives to discover some surprising things about this ocean paradise.

1. The huge difference between local islands and resort islands

The islands of the Maldives can be split into two distinct categories: resort islands and local islands. When you think of Maldives, it’s far more likely that you’re imagining resort islands: overwater bungalows, fancy cocktails, and that brilliant aquamarine water — only the last of which you’ll find on the local islands.

The view from a local island, Huraa

I’ll readily admit I didn’t spend much time on the local islands — the idea of going weeks without alcohol is nearly enough to induce the shakes (oops did I actually admit that?! sorry, Mom and Dad and everyone you tell to read this blog) — but next time, I’m planning on exploring more of the local side of life, booze be damned.

I did a day trip to Huraa, a local island near Male, and found the waters to be super beautiful with colorful houses everywhere — it’s definitely tempting to come back and visit properly in the future, and since Airbnbs start around $40 per night for a guesthouse… it won’t break the budget, either.

Suprising Maldives facts

The difference between local islands vs. resort islands is so noticeable because the Maldives is a strictly Muslim nation — except when it comes to privately owned islands, aka the resorts. On local islands and in the capital, there isn’t freedom of religion; pork products and alcohol are banned; women dress quite conservatively.

Meanwhile, in Maldives resorts, you’ll often find non-halal food, plenty of alcohol, and bikini bottoms so small they’ve nearly been absorbed by the person’s buttcrack (no disrespect, I wish I could rock that look).

If you’re traveling only to the resort islands, this won’t matter much. If you plan to spend any time on the local islands, it’s best to keep this in mind so you can respect the culture and not be caught off-guard.

2. The resorts aren’t just for honeymooners

I always kind of thought that the Maldives was a¬†honeymoooners’ destination and not much else — that if you weren’t taking romantic jacuzzis or rocking the bed with your fellow newlywed, you’d be shit out of luck for things to do in the Maldives.

Well, this is so not the case — and thank god for my forever-single ass, because to think that I’d have to wait for Prince Charming to swim in those blue blue waters is low-key heartbreaking.

Sure, the people surrounding me were predominantly couples, but very few in-your-face newlyweds. More common were small families and groups of friends, meaning that I didn’t feel out of place during my time visiting different resorts in the Maldives.

3. The Maldives is doing its best to be sustainable, but it’s unclear if it’ll be enough

According to some estimates, the Maldives will either lose 77% to nearly all of their land by the end of the century. The Maldives is the flattest nation on Earth — its highest point is not even 3 meters above sea level — with 80% of its land lying a meter below sea level. As such, it’s especially susceptible to global warming and rising sea levels.

Despite this, Maldivians have their eyes locked on a hopeful future. New resorts are springing up; plans to expand the airport and encourage industry on these islands are in the works. For being the flattest nation in the world and 99% water, Maldivians don’t seem particularly worried about the rising sea levels — or if they are, they’re doing a good job faking it.

That said, many of the resorts are doing a lot to be sustainable. Two of the four resorts I stayed at (Bandos and Kanuhura) have water bottling or desalination plants right on island, drastically reducing their use of plastics by providing drinkable water in reusable glass bottles instead. Virtually all Maldives resorts have their own waste management and water treatment facilities on island.

As admirable as these steps are, though, these are small steps undertaken by a population of 400,000. No matter what Maldivians do to be more sustainable, the continued existence of the Maldives is contingent upon slowing the rising sea levels. That means their future is essentially in the hands of much more populous and wasteful nations such as the United States, India, and China, which is why we must continue to agitate for change, sustainability, and science in our home communities.

4. The Maldives has its own language and writing system

If you’ve ever had the dubious pleasure of talking to me for more than 10 minutes, I’ve probably managed to drop in a reference to the fact that I’ve learned more than one language. Yes, I know, I’m just that charming.

The Maldivians speak a language called Dhivehi, which is related most closely to Sinhalese, the language of Sri Lanka — which makes sense from a geographic perspective.

Dhivehi is written in a unique script found nowhere else on Earth. The script is called Thaana, and it’s written from right to left, similar to Arabic. Some of the letters derive from Arabic numerals; others from other numeral systems. Cool, right? Just me? All right, let’s move along here…

5. The water really is that blue

Honestly, a photographer never has an easier day than a sunny day in the Maldives. It’s almost criminal to post-process those photos.

Counter to everything you’ve been taught about photography, the trick to good photography in Maldives is simple. Shoot in daylight, best between 10 am and 2 pm. No need for golden hour here: the water looks its best with the sun directly above it. And for god’s sake, keep your hands off the saturation slider. There’s no need.

6. It isn’t exclusively for the rich

Maldives will never be a “budget destination” in the way that Thailand and Indonesia are. Dorm beds don’t exist, but guesthouses on the local islands start from as little as $30 or $40 a night for a double room. Meaning that if you travel with a friend, a shared room in paradise will only cost you about as much as a dorm bed in many parts of Western Europe. In fact, it can be done on a budget of about $60 per day. Crazy, right?

Ferries to the local islands cost from $2-3 from Mal√©, the capital. Once you’re on a local island, prices are fairly standard — think $1 for a coke or bottle of water, and anywhere from $5-10 for a meal.

Activities such as diving in the Maldives can cost a bit more, but are still fairly affordable. My friend Janet did a fantastic breakdown of Maldives trip costs on all kinds of budgets, so check her post out for further details.

7. Maldivian food is delicious

I didn’t know what to expect when it came to Maldivian food… oh, was I in for a treat.

Warning – if you’re not into seafood or spicy food, take a seat in the back. This one isn’t for you… so step aside so I can have unimpeded access to the buffet, thanks.

Maldivian food is influenced by Sri Lankan and Indian cuisine – as in, lots of curries and spices. The Indian flatbread roti is called roshi here, and it’s eaten with most meals, especially breakfast. Maashuni is another typical Maldivian breakfast food: flaked tuna with shredded coconut, onion, and chilis. Fish for breakfast? Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

If you’re not into spicy food or fish, most resorts will have some mild and Western options for you. But if you have an adventurous palate, you’ll fall in love with the flavors of the Maldives.

Note: My trip to the Maldives was sponsored by the World Travel Writers’ Conference and Maldives TV. All opinions are my own.¬†