The Maldives is one of those places that looks so perfect it looks photoshopped – it just doesn’t look real. Like a desktop background, one of those idyllic far away places you might come across on the internet, a destination you might add to your life’s bucket list of things to do and places to go – until life (and reality) snaps you out of your daydream.
When I had the opportunity to visit the newly refurbished and relaunched Sun Aqua Vilu Reef in The Maldives, there was no way I could turn down what became for me the holiday of a lifetime.
The Maldives is not just one place, it’s in fact hundreds and hundreds of tiny coral islands on long extinct volcanoes peppered around the Indian Ocean – many are owned by luxury hotels or resorts, some are local islands where people have been living for generations, and some are completely uninhabited. These islands form what are known as ‘atolls’ – there are a total of 26 atolls that form the Republic of the Maldives.
One of these islands is home to Sun Aqua Vilu Reef – a beautiful island called Meedhuffushi Island, situated in the heart of the South Nilandhe Atoll, just a 40 minute seaplane ride from Malè International Airport.
When we landed at Malè International Airport we were taken into the Sun Aqua Vilu Reef airport lounge – a plush lounge where they offer tired travelers complimentary drinks, snacks and massages whilst guests wait for their seaplanes. After a bit of pampering we boarded our tiny seaplane and were dropped off on a floating dock where we waited for a motor boat to come and collect us.
We didn’t have to wait long and were soon taken to Sun Aqua Vilu Reef. Picture translucent turquoise waters so clear you can just about make out the individual shells at the bottom, a sea richer in fish than your average aquarium, pristine, powder-fine white sand lining the island, and thick, lush vegetation with coconut palm trees giving the island shade, life and colour. Under the shade of the palms are 62 shell-shaped thatched beach villas – on the other side of the island are 41 ‘water villas’ which mirror the shape of the island forming a huge oval above the aquamarine waters. It’s as close to paradise as you could ever come. Paradise on earth – or more accurately on water.
As soon as we arrived, our bags were taken from us and replaced with fresh coconut water and cold scented towels.
After we had checked in, we were given a quick tour of the tiny island whilst our bags were taken to our room.
On one side of the island, a wide beach faces a lagoon that’s perfect for sailing and sheltered swimming, while on the other side a good but narrower beach runs alongside a house reef (one of the best house reefs in the region) that offers incredible snorkeling.
Overlooking the lagoon is the main restaurant, the swimming pool and the pool bar.
Hidden in the tropical jungle was our beach villa, one of the Sunset Deluxe Beach Villas, which was a spacious villa with a walk-in wardrobe, a writing area, a reading area and a large stand-alone bed in the middle of the room.
The open-air ensuite bathroom beautifully combined modern luxury with indoor-outdoor Maldivian living as half of the bathroom was sheltered by the thatched roof and the other half by the palm trees – so you can shower under the stars at night.
Arguably the best feature of the villa was not the villa itself but the private back garden it comes with – a private sunbathing area with beautiful ocean views, private swimming pool, beach and a chair swing called a sala to enjoy the late afternoon sun and breathtaking sunsets.
Once we had freshened up and recovered from our flight, we enjoyed a few cocktails by the main pool bar and then strolled along the moonlit beach to our beach dinner.
To our delight, a private beach buffet and barbeque had been laid out for us with a beautifully laid candle-lit dining table and waiters ready to pour our wine. This is something that Sun Aqua Vilu Reef are able to do on request – they have a private part of beach away from other guests where couples can enjoy a private romantic meal.
We sank our teeth into island life with fresh barbecued seafood from the barbeque, enjoying the sound of the wind in the palms and the waves softly lapping against the beach.
After a good night’s sleep we headed to extensive breakfast buffet – a glorious buffet spread with every breakfast food you can imagine from made-to-order omelettes and Full English to rice, noodles, curry, porridge, pastries, and piles of unusual tropical fruits. Fuelled up and ready for the day we got on a boat and were taken to Bandidhoo island for a local island excursion.
Bandidhoo island is a traditional working fisherman’s island…
We stumbled across a beautiful ancient mosque carved out of wood…
… and met some children playing hide and seek!
Then we discovered the most beautiful 400 year old Banyan tree!
When we returned from our local island excursion we popped by the Dive Centre for some snorkels and made our way to the house reef. We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and snorkelling in the warm, shallow and crystalline waters, mesmerized by the schools of colourful and unusual looking tropical fish, and exploring the beaches.
The next morning we decided to try a Maldivian cooking class and learned a handful of traditional recipes from a group of local island ladies!
This lady desiccating a coconut with her bare hands looked pretty badass in her specs!
They showed us how to make all sorts of wonderful dishes, which we got to enjoy for our lunch.
After lunch we decided to avoid the hot afternoon sun and head to the spa. The Sun Aqua Spa consists of six private treatment pavilions each with open air flower baths, open showers, a hydrotherapy area and double treatment beds. The spa offers a lengthy menu of Ayurvedic wellness rituals, pampering beauty therapies and massage techniques from around the world, as well as a selection of signature therapies such as a rich scrub of coconut or coffee, a herbal ‘Udavarthanam’ detox or a relaxing, fragrant flower bath. We indulged in full body massages and were kneaded from top to bottom until we felt like putty!
Feeling incredibly happy and relaxed we then joined the Sunset Dolphin Cruise – a motorized boat with a roof deck where we collapsed into a pile of comfortable pillows and bean bags. We were told it was called the ‘lucky’ Sunset Dolphin Cruise as you had to be pretty lucky to spot one – conditions have to be perfect and even then you need a bit of luck!
We sipped our champagne, admiring the late afternoon glow bouncing off the calm clear waters, when suddenly we saw a whole group of dolphins jump up and weave in and out of the water in the distance!
We slowly approached them and were quickly joined by many more dolphins – about 40 in total – all playfully chasing our boat, swimming alongside us and showing off their pirouettes in front of our boat. It was incredible!
For about an hour they played around – until the sun set and it was time to go back.
The following morning we awoke to our last day and we were determined to make the most of it. After another extensive breakfast we went on a full day trip, starting with an organic farm visit on a local island where we found lots of free roaming goats (who we fed banana leaves to), local farmers and all sorts of crops they were growing.
Next, our boat took us on a snorkelling safari, anchoring near a shallow reef in the middle of the sea, which turned out to be the best snorkelling we had ever come across – large turtles glided alongside us as we admired thousands of colourful tropical fish and beautiful corals. The visibility was astounding – in places even exceeding 50 meters! We took advantage of our boat being anchored and took it in turns to dive off the roof of the boat into the warm clear waters below.
After a full hour of swimming we were ready for lunch, and our boat took us to a tiny uninhabited desert island for a picnic lunch.
This ‘picnic’ turned out to be a long dining table set up on the beach under the palm trees, complete with white table linen, silverware and an extensive buffet complete with chefs barbequing giant prawns and fresh fish right in front of you!
We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon playing in the warm clear waters, exploring the tiny island and playing beach volleyball, occasionally returning to the table to pick at the leftovers.
Reluctant to leave, we were taken back to the island, only to find ten wild manta rays along the beach, being hand fed by one of the staff! These wild manta rays are known to swim to the island every day around the same time (between 5 and 5:30) like clockwork, then they swim right up onto the beach where they eat pieces of raw fish straight out of someone’s hand!
We packed our bags back at our beach villa and lazed on the sala (beach swing), savouring the tropical breeze, the sound of lapping waves and the warm hues of oranges, pinks and reds as the sun set. Scrolling through all the photos we had taken there wasn’t a single one that we wanted to delete.
We strolled along the beach at sun set, soaking up the paradise and reflecting back on what were probably the most wonderful days of our lives.
It’s safe to say The Maldives is as close to picture-perfect paradise as you can come, and Sun Aqua Vilu Reef is the perfect spot if you’re looking for a super relaxed barefoot luxury holiday experience – just pack a swimsuit, some flip flops and your camera (no filter required).