With pristine surroundings, stunning overwater villas, fine dining, top spa, once-in-a-lifetime activities and impeccable service, it’s no surprise that Gili Lankanfushi was voted the number one hotel in the world on TripAdvisor, and keeps making the Conde Nast Traveller Gold Lists year after year.
The stunning island resort is just a 20 minute speedboat ride from Male Airport and exceeds your expectations on every level; from picture-perfect powder soft beaches to jaw-droppingly beautiful overwater villas you’ll never want to leave, and from world-class dining to the fabulous overwater spa – not to mention the countless activities on offer, including an outdoor cinema under the stars, catamaran sailing, surfing and scuba diving to name just a few (should you have the desire to leave your ocean hammock – which you won’t).
No news, no shoes: that’s the only rule at Gili Lankfanfushi.
It’s clear they take relaxation very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that each guest is assigned their own private butler, Mr. Friday, who is on call 24/7 and will arrange everything you need, whether that’s room service, a new snorkel, or babysitting service. But what really makes the hotel stand out is their genuine commitment to sustainability. Every single detail is thought out – from the design of the villas to where ingredients are sourced (they grow their own herbs, fruit and vegetables on the island), and even their activities; guests can grow their own coral or help collect valuable data for global conservation organisations.
But don’t just take my word for it (or everyone on TripAdvisor). Here are 21 reasons you need to add Gili Lankanfushi to your bucket list ASAP*.
Gili Lankanfushi is just a 20 minute trip by a speedboat (which has wifi I should add) from Male International Airport, which is a big plus in itself as many of the more isolated islands can only be reached with a connecting flight on a seaplane (easily adding a few hours on to an already long journey).
Then, on arrival at the airport, the hotel staff take your bags, show you to the boat, hand you a refreshing lemongrass-scented cold towel and a freshly pressed juice, and put your shoes in one of the hotel’s signature “No News No Shoes” canvas bags, leaving you barefoot with cocktail in hand.
2. Mr. Friday
From the moment you arrive at the island, you’ll be allocated your own personal butler, called Mr or Ms Friday (named after Robinson Crusoe’s loyal assistant and dear friend). Whenever you need something during your stay, you just press a button on the villa phone and it will connect you directly to your Mr./Ms. Friday.
When I first arrived, my Mr.Friday greeted me with another refreshing cold towel and drink, took my suitcase and drove me to my over-water villa, carrying my suitcase into my dressing room for me, and later brought me some flippers and a snorkel. During my stay he also arranged activities for me, made the bed on the roof terrace so I could sleep under the stars, and brought room service (more on these later).
You’ll get so used to their help, you’ll want to take them home with you! Parents will be happy to know that they will also look after little ones and offer activities tailored for them.
3. Natural beauty
With their strong environmental commitment, the place is kept spotlessly clean, with powder soft and sugar white sand that’s raked every day and feels like it’s been sieved, and there’s not a leaf out of place.
The sea is an impossibly clear turquoise filled with marine life, and they employ full-time marine biologists to help marine species thrive. There’s an abundance of coral, colourful fish, reef sharks and manta rays.
The stunning infinity pool with its luxurious loungers almost melts into the ocean…
… meanwhile there are leaning palm trees with swooping hammocks that are begging to be climbed into.
The colours of the sea and lush tropical vegetation are so bright that any photo automatically looks filtered, and the sunsets are unlike any I’ve ever seen – with skies so clear that at night they almost sparkle with stars.
It’s the epitome of paradise.
4. Divine interiors
Gili Lankanfushi is made up of 45 massive overwater villas (amongst the largest in the world) and come in four categories; villa suites, residences, Crusoe residences, and the Private Reserve.
Categories start with the Villa Suite (the entry level category but by far the biggest overwater villa I’ve ever stayed in, and an incredibly generously sized space for just two people) to the even bigger Crusoe Residence and finally the Private Reserve, which is currently the largest over-water villa in the world, spanning an incredible 1,700 square metres and accessible only via your own private boat.
Every villa is made from wood with thatched roofs, complimenting the natural backdrop, and is decorated in the same style with the same luxury furnishings. Inside, the villas beautifully blend natural materials with glass, creating a natural yet polished interior.
The bathrooms were my favourite part, with open-air yet sheltered showers with a view, bathtubs surrounded by glass windows that opened right up, steps that lead into the sea, and a glass floor through which you can see the colourful fish below.
The Villa Suites are almost entirely open-air space apart from the air-conditioned bedroom. You have your own terrace that steps right out to the ocean complete with about six different spots for lounging in the sun plus a covered living area, an expansive bathroom with an outdoor shower and a bath overlooking the water…
and finally, a rooftop terrace with a bed so that you can sleep under the stars (and this you must do at least once).
Although they feel open, the villas are built facing the open sea so you can’t really see anyone else, and they can’t really see you. It’s a sense of total privacy that you can rarely achieve on holiday.
Larger residences also include air conditioned living rooms, private overwater hammocks, private couple’s spa including sauna and steam room and some even come with their own wine cellar, cinema and private gym.
5. Your own set of wheels
Although the island is small and you could easily walk from one end to the other in less than 15 minutes, each guest is given their own bicycle (labelled with their room number) for the duration of their stay.
The bikes come with a handy basket to put your things in, and the peddles have a soft padding to them which makes it comfortable to cycle around barefoot.
Alternatively you could also use the free golf buggy taxi service, or even the water taxi. One evening after a little too much wine I forgot my bike and took a buggy home, only to find that my bicycle had been returned to my villa the following morning!
6. Sleep under the stars – in your own villa
If you ask your Mr.Friday, he’ll transform the daybed on your private roof terrace with luxurious linens, perfect for a romantic night spent sleeping under the stars.
It’s lovely and cool at night, I didn’t experience a single mosquito, and the starry night sky was overwhelmingly impressive. But you don’t have to commit; once you’ve had enough of the outdoors you can just saunter down the stairs in your villa back to your bedroom.
7. Lay in a Hammock in the middle of the lagoon
Swim, take a canoe or ask the water taxi to get to the hammock in the middle of the lagoon.
It’s a beautiful place to relax – but leave your book at home!
The waves will almost certainly knock you over.
8. Watch a movie under the stars
The island’s secluded outdoor cinema featured a large cinema screen with approx 15 – 20 comfortable deckchairs, from which you can order dinner, popcorn and champagne. The cinema shows films twice a week but is also available for private viewings the rest of the week.
9. Dolphin watching
Sign up for a dolphin watching excursion – this is not something you’ll want to miss. The marine biologist joined us and was able to teach us many interesting things, whilst we sipped champagne and saw the wild dolphins up close.
10. Breakfast on the beach
Start your day with breakfast at Gili’s beach restaurant, where you’ll sit in shaded wooden chairs beneath the palms, feet in the sand and a banquet of exotic fruits, freshly squeezed juices (including watermelon) and Birchler mueslis, as well as pastries, breads, preserves, Maldivian cuisine, full English breakfast and even sushi.
Downstairs there’s also an array of chocolates and cheeses. Help yourself, or have it all brought to your table.
There are also funny little juice pots labelled with their benefits, like stress relieving, or detoxifying.
11. Room service
Or skip the buffet and call your Mr. Friday instead for a lazy and leisurely in-villa breakfast.
Gili Lankanfushi is the pioneer of ethical, sustainable, barefoot luxury in the Maldives. They breathe sustainability into everything they do, and every part, big and small, ties in with that philosophy.
The entire hotel is built from sustainable materials including plantation teak, palm wood, bamboo, pine and even telegraph poles.
At Gili, everything is recyclable and made from recycled materials. All rooms provide organic toiletries in refillable pretty earthenware containers, to minimise plastics use and wastage. Evenold linen fabric is upcycled into placemats and cute coasters.
Sustainability is at the heart of the island’s vision, with an emphasis on preserving the natural environment, protecting the fragile marine ecosystem and leaving only footprints behind.
An advanced rocket composter can process up to 100% of the resort’s food waste, producing compost which in turn nurtures the island’s extensive organic herb garden. As a lot of their ingredients are grown on the island itself, nothing arrives in packaging and the hotel has minimal waste. They even treat their own water.
The island’s dedicated desalinisation plant is used to provide glass bottles of still and sparkling water for all guests – thus eliminating the need for plastic water bottles.
13. Home grown
Unlike other resorts in the Maldives, Gili Lankanfushi largely produce their own ingredients, and source the others locally.
As part of the island’s sustainability project, the herb garden is one of the chef’s biggest accomplishments.
If you consider how difficult it must be to grow anything on a remote sandy island, it really is amazing how many different herbs, fruits and vegetables they have managed to grow successfully and that fill the menus.
14. The 360 Table
Located next to the herb and vegetable garden, the 360 Table is on a circular wooden elevated platform in between palm trees, with panoramic views.
For private dining only, it offers absolute privacy, a 6 meal tasting menu as well as breathtaking sunsets.
15. Eat your way around the island
There’s no shortage of places to eat at Gili Lankanfushi. Aside from the three main restaurants, they can also arrange memorable private or destination dining experiences.
Dine on the beach surrounded by lanterns or in the garden where much of the produce is grown, with the fragrance of herbs all around you.
Try the tasting menu at the Japanese Peruvian Fusion restaurant By The Sea, or, for something totally unexpected, try the underground wine cellar for a memorable and atmospheric wine and cheese or wine and chocolate tasting.
The executive chef John Bakker – formerly of the Ritz in London – has turned dining on Gili into a real experience. Once a week there’s an Asian street-market experience set up on the beach, with six live cooking stations.
I tried a little bit of everything from fresh sashimi and salmon tartar to Vietnamese spring rolls, Maldivian kulhafillah salad, South Indian beetroot salad, fresh mussels served with spring onions and herbs, and for dessert a lemongrass coconut soup, Sago mango pudding, lychee flan, Pandan creme brulee and Wasabi cheesecake.
Four evenings per week the beach and overwater bar are transformed with the Asian Street Market, Mediterranean Spice Souk, Passage to India and Maldivian Seafood Grill nights.
Gili’s main restaurant Over Water Grill offers prime cuts of meat cooked on hot lava stones.
Located over the water, the expansive restaurant has panoramic views and lovely lounge areas perfect for cocktails and canapes at sunset.
In the middle of the bar area, there’s a lowered seating area with a circular cut-out hole where you can see the lagoon below and the marine life swimming by.
Meanwhile, By the Sea offers a Japanese and Peruvian fusion culinary adventure offering authentic sushi, sashimi, teppankyaki and more, as well as boasting an open kitchen and breath-taking views of the ocean.
16. Salad Bar
You’ll need a week or two to just do justice to the hotel’s array of eating options, so it’s easy to overlook the salad bar in the main restaurant – but don’t.
From chocolate salt, coffee salt and tumeric salt to every olive oil and vinegar you could imagine, including lemongrass infused, plus every salad leaf, vegetable, seed and nut you could think of, the salad bar needs to be tried at least once!
17. Wine tasting
Located under the sand, the incredible underground wine cave contains 600 varieties of wine from more than 30 regions around the world, plus chocolate and cheese rooms. Here, you can experience wine and cheese or wine and chocolate tastings, in beautiful surroundings.
The table is made from an old tree that collapsed during the Tsunami, and because the room is a bit chilly, guests are given hot water bottles to rest their feet on.
18. Snorkeling and diving
Ask your Mr. Friday to bring you some snorkeling equipment (it’s free of charge) to explore the waters near your villa, or pop down to the dive center to be shown the best snorkeling spots via a guide.
Before we ventured out, we were given a presentation from the island’s marine biologist who talked us through all the different marine species.
Swimming with our group, our guide pointed out the different fish so we wouldn’t miss any. She also showed us their coral lines project, where the hotel (and guests) are able to grow coral to help marine life thrive.
Gili Lankanfushi is close to over 20 local and 6 Safari Dive sites, and their Ocean Paradise Dive Centre offers diving in both North and South Male atolls to some of the most exciting diving spots.
19. Marine conservation
Conservation is also taken very seriously, with the island regularly hosting visiting scientists and academics studying the coral reef ecosystem. The island’s dedicated marine biology team monitor the health and biodiversity of the surrounding coral reef ecosystems, measuring light intensity and sea surface temperature, identifying and tracking manta ray and turtle populations, and educating guests about the underwater world through lectures and guided snorkelling trips.
Lastly, Gili Lankanfushi’s Coral Lines project provides a nursery environment for new corals to grow, bolstering the house reef and monitoring health and survival types across coral genotypes. Guests who dive can also take the opportunity to help out in the collection of data for organisations such as SharkWatch and the Manta Trust.
In 2012, Gili Lankanfushi Dive Centre was awarded PADI Green Star Award for demonstrating a commitment to environmental conservation and later became certified by Green Fins, an organisation working to help dive centres around Asia become more environmentally friendly.
20. Plenty to do
If you’re not the sun lounging beach holiday type, you can start your day with a spot of sunrise yoga on the beach…
… or make use of the resort’s high tech and fully equipped air conditioned gym, with floor-to-ceiling windows with a view.
You can also head to the surf shack for a surf lesson – but don’t expect big waves; our instructor simulated waves by pushing the back of the surfboards forwards in the water. During his lesson he taught the basics of surfing – from standing on the board and keeping your balance, to being able to turn around quickly and efficiently.
You can also enjoy windsurfing, water skiing, tennis (they have tennis courts), kayaking, fishing (including big game fishing), Hobbie Cat sailing, and don’t forget you have the before-menioned bicycles, snorkels, board games in the room, DVDs, outdoor cinema, cooking classes, sushi making classes, wine tasting, scuba diving and sunset dolphin cruises.
21. Pure pampering
Last but not least, if you don’t feel like being active but don’t want to do nothing, there’s the fabulous overwater Meera Spa.
Here you can watch tropical fish swim beneath you through the glass floor whilst you enjoy a massage – or opt for the private, open-air double treatment room on the beach, shielded by greenery.
Every treatment starts with a mineral-rich seaweed foot cleanse, which is a symbolic ritual to wash away your worldly woes and you then have a whole host of treatments to choose from.