Sunday, November 30, 2014

Anantara: Fulfilling a Maldivian Dream (Maldives Diaries)

Last November (2013), I was in Maafushi and knew exactly where I wanted to visit – Anantara Resort Island, this 5-star luxury complex located 10 minutes by speed boat southeast of Maafushi. Anantara’s beauty and price are quite legendary. In their Naladhu Island, you could stay in your own villa, with your own butler, and you can dictate your own menu. You ask and it shall be given, but for a price – a staggering $25,000 a day!

But Anantara has two other islands for the less exorbitant: Veli for the honeymooners and Dhigu, the main island, for the traveling family. And during off-season (before November to April, they accept day visitors; one that will set you back $178 for an 8-hour excursion from 9:30PM to 5:30PM.

Unlike other exclusive resorts, there are no restrictions in the use of their facilities (Bandos won’t even allow you to eat in their main restaurant or use their pool). I kept telling my hotel (Stingray Beach Hotel) to book me a day in Anantara. I waited for 3 days. The opportunity never came because Anantara was full. It was November, start of the peak season.

Welcome drinks

Fast forward to 2014. 

At 9:30AM, I was taken to my ride en route to Anantara. We had to halt for 5 minutes and wait for the downpour to blow over, then I was on my way to one of my dream destinations. In 10 minutes, I was in the midst of the dream.

Anantara’s ocean spread is vast. Reception is at Dhigu, the resort complex’s main island. It’s also for family consumption, so children abound. A tall Caucasian lady met me at the port and ushered me to the reception. I was offered a small cup of sweet mango-coconut concoction, while an account was created for me. I was assigned a number (#9300) which shall be used when purchasing items/services. Though $178 seem imeldific for an 8-hour stay, about $100 of that was consumable on food and drinks. And as I would soon find out, it was enough for 2 meals and maybe a snack.


Visiting Anantara is like visiting several islands: Dhigu (Main), Veli (honeymooner’s), Naladhu (for the filthy rich), and the small, albeit newly opened Gulhi Fushi themed like a desert island   There’s more in the vicinity: Moyo Island (just a sand bar with no facility to offer) and Marina Island (where employees of the resort live). Gulhi Fushi boasts of an “ocean pool”. Just across Gulhi Fushi (which literally translates to “Paradise Island”), you could see the local island of Gulhi, where ferries from Male usually drop passengers before proceeding to Maafushi. Visiting Naladhu is prohibited, but at least you could see it closer. From a distance, it doesn’t look much, though there’s a tall cottage at the edge of it.

Naludhu for the filthy... rich. :)
I found Anantara’s legendary infinity pool, a commonly featured site online when Anantara is mentioned. The pool is in close proximity to a restaurant called Aqua. A waiting staff came by to say hello. He was magnanimously accommodating he soon came over (again) to give 4 apples. The sweet gesture isn’t lost on me. I shall be forever grateful for his kindness.

Way past the pool was the pristine beach with sand as fine and as white as powder. On the sea, I found a cot hanging between poles right where jet skis zip by. It’s an oddly poetic spot, to be honest. There’s another restaurant to my right (from grilled food).

I turned left to the resort’s dramatically somber stretch of white sand beach. A makeshift “jetty” gets continually submerged underwater. And further on was a spa cottage. A Thai girl invited me in and generously offered to show me the interiors of a room. I was thrilled.

Inside the spa were 2 gurneys (massage tables) facing the gorgeous seas. A bath tub sat languidly on the fore. The floor directly under the “head portion” of the tables were glass bottoms... so you could see the rich community of ocean dwellers from the crystal waters down below. After the tour, I bade my hostess goodbye and profusely thanked her for accommodating me.

I hopped on a water shuttle to take me to Veli, an island designed with honeymooners in mind, and where children are not allowed from 6 AM to 6 PM. A row of traditional Maldivian water cottages dot the shore of Veli. There island has several facilities that includes Origami (a Japanese restaurant), an Orchid Garden, an open air cinema garden for couples, a bar called “78 degrees”, a Thai restaurant called “Baan Thula”, and, midway between the island and Naludhu,  the “Pavilion”.

It was way past noon so I hopped back to the water shuttle to take me back to Dhigu for my lunch. I was famished so I ordered quite a few selections. How else would I consume my $100 or so? Pizza Gamberetti (mozzarella, shrimp, cherry tomato) at $30; Stir fried Beef (mixed pepper, onions, oster sauce, rice) at $35; Grilled Chicken Bread Burger with Salsa (lettuce, lemon, steak fries) at $25 and a can of Coca Cola. It was admittedly fit for a whole community.

The sun was partially out after lunch so I walked around to take more photos with a bit more sun

Overcast skies provided convenient protection against the otherwise unhealthy sun. I rushed to the reception to arrange for a shuttle that would take me to Gulhi Fushi. The ride didn't even take 5 minutes, way past Naludhu to the right and Veli to the left. It was a small island populated by 2 waiting staff: the charming Gayan and the bright-eyed Amsal.

Gulhi Fushi (“Paradise Island”) is small you could walk around and across it in 15 minutes. There’s a bar/restaurant, a kitchen, an ocean pool (6 feet deep) and several cabanas with light green bean bags. There’s a white duyan where the sand bar is. During low tides, this sand bar turns up allowing leisurely walk to Veli, reminding me of the islands in Rihivelli. Gayan kept giving gifts, it was embarrassing: from apples to “magic drinks” which he specially concocted. Later that afternoon, he’d challenge me to guess the contents: I got 3 out of 4. Mango, Lemon, Passion Fruit and – finally! – “bitter lemon”.  He was quite pleased I didn't get the last one. The younger and bashful Amsal, assigned to the kitchen, didn't get it either. We laughed as we guessed. “You’re crazy,” I had to chuckle.

I didn't even notice, but it felt like being home. 

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Free shuttle rides from Dhigu's pontoon to the honeymooners' island of Veli (where children aren't allowed).

The island of Veli

Site map of Anantara resort island.

This photo only coutesy of

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Morning in Maafushi Part 2: Maafushi When It Drizzles

It was the monsoon season. It would rain in the evening and create puddles all over the local island of Maafushi.

I was up very early because there was an attention-calling heavy downpour at 4AM. The wind howled and blew like crazy. I was getting concerned. What becomes of my visit to my dream island of Anantara?

I was in Kaani’s restaurant at 7:15 AM all stoked for my day trip. As bonus, their buffet spread included mashuni (below), Maldive’s staple breakfast entree, a combination of coconut meat, tuna pieces and coffee/tea.

I’ve seen a different version from Stingray last year; it was “whiter”. This one looked like a finer version of rice sprinkled with seeds. It would have been spicy, but they adjusted it for the untrained palate.

After breakfast, I decided to see the eastern shore (a mostly deserted area on the island) which is barely a 15 minute walk from Kaani (located west). I rushed to the other side of Maafushi to check out the coast. I was there yesterday but it was dark already. 

The waves broke a hundred meters from the shoreline. Odd. Why would it refuse to move closer to the shore? Kelps were all across the seemingly stagnant sea. Southward, a ship was docked on a sandbar, and a couple of Caucasians were walking towards the ocean with their diving gear. Otherwise, the place was eerily deserted, a resounding contradiction from the opposite side of the island where the jetty is.

I like mornings like this.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

My buffet haul in Kaani Beach Hotel. Mashuni (left) is served.

The eastern shore of Maafushi is eerily deserted.

Independent divers out for an early adventure.

The only establishment I found in that portion of the eastern shore. 

Puddles from last night's thunderstorm.

A sprinkling of colors.

Election statistics are written on walls.

Washing jar in front of Kaani Beach Hotel.