10 Things I Love About The Maldives : Etienne de Villiers
1. Travelling In Style: Travelling around the island nation takes on a very Miami Vice mode as you hop from a speedboat onto a seaplane or a multimillion dollar yacht. My journey in the greatest paradise on earth is always off to a luxurious start as the speedboat glides over jewel-coloured waters, weaving between the postcard-perfect setting of the uninhabited islands of the majestic Indian Ocean, or during a scenic seaplane flight I look down in awe at the hundreds of islands dotted like water lilies in an azure pond.
2. Drumming Up Local Culture: Traditional Maldivian activities invite you to delve beneath the surface of this fascinating culture with experiences that stir the senses and arouse the imagination. I love tuning into the authentic rhythm of Maldivian life by learning how to play the Bodu Beru drums, an art that has evolved over years to refer to the music itself. As the slow tempo gradually reaches a crescendo, those around are enticed to join in song and dance, affording a glimpse into this island nation’s history.
3. Savouring The Freshest Maldivian Coconut: Every morning, walking through an old coconut plantation on a sandy path to my office, my visual and taste senses are astounded as barefoot tree climbers serve freshly picked coconuts to anyone who passes by. I watch in amazement their agility as they masterfully ascend the trunk and minutes later descend to open the coconut shell expertly, using only a small cutting tool, for me to savour the quenching water and sample the delicious young flesh with a carved natural spoon.
4. Unique Insights Into Typical Maldivian Islander Existence The Maldives is so much more than just luxury resorts – more than 300 000 people call it home. From many of the resort islands you can take a short boat ride to a nearby local island to experience the traditional Maldivian way of life up close and personal. Try the ‘short eats’ of local sweets and savouries which inevitably are coconut or tuna-based, and often very spicy. Look out for Thun’du kunaa or mat weaving, one of the most prominent of Maldivian crafts, and traditional lacquer ware. In the island nation’s bustling capital, Male, visit the Old Friday Mosque with its famed fine lacquer work and elaborate woodcarvings, and the bustling fish market.
5. Story Time In Paradise: Our Anantara resorts are a paradise for story collecting travellers and our guests can enrich themselves in a mystical afternoon of Maldivian storytelling at the Coconut Grove of the exclusive Naladhu Maldives resort with the Bodu Katheeb (Island Chief), Didi, as their gracious host. Here we are enriched with tales of heroes and spirits who traversed the waters of the Maldives’ atolls in days of old, affording a fascinating first-hand glimpse into this island nation’s history. Inherently special, these tales are passed on from generation to generation in the same artful expression that has been used for centuries.
6. A Dhoni For Two: As the day slowly drifts away with the setting sun, you can indulge in the ultimate romantic experience when you sail into a tapestry of unimaginable colours with a Dhoni, a traditional Maldivian sailboat. Ostensibly designed for romance, it is perfect for intimate sunset sailing with a significant other, sipping on champagne and sampling delectable canapés whilst simply lying back and relishing the tropical breeze on an endless ocean at the end of yet another perfect day in the greatest paradise on earth.
7. Symbols Of Love: I’m a romantic at heart and although I’m definitely not planning nuptials anytime soon, the Maldives will definitely be my first choice should that day ever arrive. The resorts offer an endless array of idyllic options, from a sandy white beach to a luxury yacht or even an underwater wedding, but I will opt for a ceremony on a deserted island, featuring various symbols of love expressed in rituals, such as flame, floral vine, sand and rings rituals, preceded over by the Bodu Katheeb (Island Chief).
8. Hanifaru Bay: Hanifaru Bay lies within the Baa Atoll, 20 minutes by speedboat from our Anantara Kihavah Villas resort, and is one of the few places on earth where whale sharks gather to mate. In June 2011 UNESCO declared the Baa Atoll a Biosphere Reserve. Though you literally only have to walk into the water in front of your resort villa to swim with turtles or see a school of dolphins go by, the short trip to Hanifaru Bay takes you a world away when you swim with hundreds of mantas. Within a few weeks the whale sharks will return, and I will definitely be the first one on that speedboat.
9. Night Fishing: All the resorts offer sunset fishing excursions. But nothing beats joining weather-beaten local fishermen for a night’s fishing on their traditional Dhoni (Maldivian fishing boat)! It’s an ancient scene, one which plays out every night of the year here in the Indian Ocean. They start by catching reef fish with live bait on a hand line just off the island. As darkness descends across the ocean the Dhoni steers further out to sea, where the recent catch becomes the bait for night’s harvest of tuna, snapper, dorado and wahoo. Many fishermen still use the moon and stars to navigate – you’re unlikely to see a GPS on a local fishing boat.
10. An Underwater Paradise Unlike Any Other: Imagine your own aquarium filled with Oriental sweetlips, spotted eagle rays, red-tailed and butterfly fish in a warm, deserted lagoon. All you need are goggles and flippers, stepping into the ocean right in front of your villa and there striped lionfish, moray eel, parrot fish and bright orange clownfish look for a meal around the corals, while just a bit further away trevallies chase whatever they can. Neon fusiliers and surgeonfish are all around with midnight and two-spot snappers in the distance. Linger here long enough and your patience might be rewarded with a glimpse of an eagle ray or turtle hurrying by. This is truly the greatest paradise on earth!
Editor’s note: PR guru Etienne De Villiers has spent more time in five-star hotel and resorts than elsewhere. After leading PR team for number of luxury hotels in South Africa and Middle East, Etienne joined Anantara Resorts as the Area PR Manager for its 4 resorts in Maldives. He led the PR team of award winning Anantara Kihivah Villas for its successful launch in 2010.