Travel Ideas Ultimate Escape To Paradise: A Guide To The Magical Maldives

A great piece in Travel Ideas on our pioneered destination - the magical Maldives!


 


"Nature’s Playground.
The world’s leading travel destination.
Or just plain ‘paradise’.


 


The Maldives are the buzz on everyone’s travel list, and there are many phrases thrown around when it comes to describing the remote collection of tropical islands known as the Maldives, but what really sets them apart? We talk to South Africa’s only Maldives specialist, Priority Escapes, about their love affair with this heaven on earth, and why it is the best time for South Africans to visit... Francois Swart, MD of luxury travel proprietors Priority Escapes, remembers his first visit to the Maldives clearly. A Mauritian frequenter, Swart was looking for new adventures five years ago. Having travelled to Seychelles, Bali, Zanzibar, and other typical destinations for South Africans seeking island escapes, he finally made his first pilgrimage to the Maldives. It was such an enlightening experience for the veteran traveller that he has returned several times a year ever since, and it was the debut destination he chartered with his new specialist travel company. Why? “Visiting the Maldives is an experience in the divine,” says Francois. “It is a place to make you believe in magic, in adventure, an opportunity to ‘disconnect to reconnect’ to everything - yourself, the ocean, the sky, and each other.”


 


The Republic of Maldives is a small archipelagic state in South Asia, situated in the warm turquoise Indian Ocean. Southwest of Sri Lanka and India, about 700 kilometres from the Asian continent's mainland, the chain of 26 atolls (and 1192 individual islands) stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to Addu Atoll in the south. Comprising a territory spanning roughly 298 square kilometres, Maldives is one of the world's most geographically-dispersed sovereign states and, with around 557,426 inhabitants, the 2nd least-populated country in Asia. Malé is the capital and the most inhabited city, traditionally called the "King's Island" where the ancient royal dynasties ruled for its central location.


 


The islands are located on a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean; this also forms a terrestrial ecoregion, and with an average ground-level elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level, and a highest natural point of only 5.1 metres, it is the world's lowest-lying country. These factors, along with an average high temperature is 31.5 degrees Celsius (and an average low temperature is 26.4 degrees!) makes even a bad day in the Maldives an absolute delight year-round. Popular with divers for the associated abundance of diverse marine life, we must stress that diving is not necessary to enjoy the offerings of the ocean - a snorkel will suffice, and on many occasions simply a walk along the beach is a chance to spot inquisitive nurse sharks and manta rays, who many believe to be symbolic of grace, flow, and calibration for energy.


 


But let’s be honest - it’s not all about the scenery. As spectacular as it is, holidays are about the three R’s: rest, relaxation, and a really-good-time! And that’s where the resorts come in. Having personally visited all the resorts that Priority Escapes promotes, Swart emphasises what he personally looks for when choosing a vacation spot.


 


“While price point is obviously a consideration, and the Maldives is more affordable than ever before, you get what you pay for. I was insistent about pioneering the direct route to the Maldives to cut down on travel time to take clients (especially those with small children!) ‘direct to paradise’, for a start. My next priority was collaborating with island resorts which I knew would deliver what I expect in terms of service, quality, sheer delight. My first visit to Dhigali, for example (pictured) I knew that this was the experience of a lifetime which everyone needed to share, from the incredible cuisine and dining options, the delight of waking up on top of the ocean, to the spas and activities available within each hotel. It is an opportunity to have the very best amenities you could want on holiday, with some adventure and entertainment, in the most beautiful place on earth.”


 


Okay, no one wants to hear this word ever again, but what about Covid? “I think the world is learning how to mitigate risk effectively, and that life has to carry on within these confines,” Swart points out. “The Maldives’ economy is built on tourism, so they have gone to every extreme to ensure visitors’ safety, as do we with PCR testing prior to flights, in-flight safety protocols such as mandatory masking, sanitising, and insisting passengers use single-use amenities. The rooms at all the resorts we sell are deep-cleaned and sealed prior to visiting, the staff are masked up and socially distanced, and the islands themselves are at limited occupancy so you not only get more space to yourself, but safely so. I honestly feel safer there than I do grocery shopping at home!”


 


So what are our top 10 reasons for visiting the magical Maldives? 1. Ultimate privacy and peace


2. The climate - experience summer in July!


3. The most romantic place on earth 4. Incredible marine life and pristine beaches 5. Authentic Maldivian cultural experience and unrivalled service 6. Water villas! We mean it! 7. Wonderful family options at resorts 8. More accessible to South Africans than ever before 9. No visa, no quarantine, no stress 10. Luxury on all fronts - “no one should be less comfortable on holiday than they are at home!”


Francois’ Maldives Must-Dos “I know I have a reputation for being extra, but I would absolutely always recommend going the extra and staying in a water villa! It is a bucket-list life experience, and one that is unforgettable. Waking up to the sound of the ocean beneath you, and falling asleep to fish swimming below, sipping on a glass of bubbly while in a bubble bath overlooking the horizon… It is incredible. You only really know what I’m talking about if you’ve been there. And opportunities to do this are the most affordable for South Africans that they have ever been.” “Whatever ocean experiences are available, DO THEM! In December I was offered the opportunity to swim with sharks when visiting Cinnamon Velifushi (pictured)… I was so anxious I almost didn’t go through with it at the last minute and it remains one of my all-time highlights. It is a humbling and mesmerising experience to be with these creatures in their own habitat. I also saw the famous bioluminescence on this beach, a natural phenomenon where the beach literally glows in the dark! Next on my list is a whale shark experience (pictured) at the new Radisson Blu resort.” “This is THE place for romance. Most resorts offer incredible honeymooning options, but they are also growing in popularity for actual weddings. A commitment to love that begins in paradise has the best start possible, and while it is so very special it astonishingly often works out cheaper too. There are private dinners for two beneath the stars on sandbanks, couples’ spa days in overwater chalets, or experiences like the Finolhu Beach Bubble (pictured) which is just… well... it’s going to get you into a lot of credit with your partner, let’s put it like that!” What you need to KNOW BEFORE YOU GO, in a coconut shell: - The governing religion is Islam. - This means no alcohol on the mainland, for example, but yes at resorts. - No visa is required… - ...but a negative PCR test is (resorts organise this for the return flight) - Travel insurance. Get it. It’s worth it and will cover your extended stay in a worst-case scenario. - You get to your island resort from Male via either seaplane or speedboat. - The warmest thing you’ll need is a cardigan, but pack your coral-friendly sunscreen! - Some resort packages include snorkeling gear, otherwise you can rent or take your own. - On that note, always check your package exclusions! Something might sound cheaper until you account for the extras, like bottled water or snacks. - Their immigration paperwork has gone digital! Complete your Imuga online 24 hours before landing in Male.


[Priority Escapes’ top tip? “You need a low resolution picture of yourself to complete the paperwork, so simply take a screenshot of your preferred image and use that to upload,” advises Swart.] These stunning islands are the height of relaxed indulgence, and offer an experience which can best be described as a getaway on a desert island, but with high quality accommodation, spectacular food, excellent service, and an extensive range of activities. This makes it the perfect destination for couples, adventures, families, weddings, friends, and even solo travellers looking for a spiritual experience or rejuvenating break. What’s next? For the traveller looking for a little more fiesta, Swart says his next offering to balance the scales of travellers’ requests is none other than Cancun, Mexico. Recognised throughout the world for spectacular white sand beaches, sparkling Caribbean Sea, and - of course - tequila! With unique natural landscapes, rich Mayan culture, water activities and adventure, there is something for everyone. Indulge in international fine dining experiences as well as local delights, play on renowned golf courses and in sophisticated spa facilities. There are exclusive shopping malls or authentic handicraft markets, as well as the shows, bars, and nightclubs that give fame to its incomparable nightlife.


Bookings for December’s direct flights are open at www.priorityescapes.com, with deals for Mexico and Maldives guaranteed to make your escape #DirectToParadise an unforgettable one!"