So, we are a budget travel family, right? I mean by being frugal we can afford to go on more trips and see more things… plus frugality usually puts us in situations where we meet local people at groceries stores and markets. I love it. Hostels. Ramen ‘cooked’ in a hotel mug and hot water from the tap.
BUT, the Maldives is not a budget destination. It can be. You could stay at a small hotel in one of the towns and truly experience Maldivian culture; it is a Muslim country with stricter dress codes and different laws. However, our vision was – for once – not one of seeing culture, but instead, experiencing an environment. Essentially, we wanted what most westerners want- an island paradise like the Maldivian tourist bureau has sold for decades. For that, you need to pay.
Flights weren’t too bad in price, but the trip was exhausting. We flew Gulf Air from Frankfurt to Bahrain, had a 6 hour nighttime layover there, and continued from Bahrain to Male the Maldive’s capital. In Male we waited another 2 hours as the sun rose, then took a small plane to Dharavandhoo in the Baa Atoll, and a further boat to our resort.
The Reethi Beach Resort was perfect! Its a barefoot, but upscale, kind of place that focuses on ecofriendliness and maintaining their amazing house reef. We got two Deluxe Sunset Bungalows – one for Bryan and I, one for the kids who are now too old to be ‘kids’ at 12 and 15. They were beside each other, and each had their own swing and loungers on the beach.
Each of the bungalows had a nice porch, a sizeable main room with a big bed and a couch seating area. The bathroom was neat and open-air above the shower… loved that shower! Super hot water super fast!
Our section of beach was small, which I love. I prefer a short beach tucked up into the treeline since it’s easy to move in and out of the shade. The sand was soft and easy to build into castles; the water was warm and we could hear it all night.
On our first day we were so tired, after check in around 1pm we napped. In the afternoon we wandered the island which is quite forested and lush. The inner trails are all soft sand and so well groomed that we didn’t wear shoes again until the day we left.
We stopped into the Ocean Fanatics watersport center to see about their trips to Hanifaru Bay. This is a UNESCO maritime protection area and reserve where giant Manta rays and Whalesharks migrate May to November. They had just gotten word that a couple Whalesharks were in the bay with some Manta’s, so we ran to get ready and jumped on the boat.
It had been a pretty rainy day, and the boat ride out was choppy. But, we swam with Manta Rays!! It was incredible. Our tech – Zoe’s gopro and Bryan’s gopro – wasn’t working or charged properly, though. So our pics didn’t work out. However, the Ocean Fanatics guide got a great shot of Zoe snorkeling with the Manta’s. We missed the Whalesharks – they are rare to spot and had moved on by the time we made it out; they really are a bonus to the Manta swim if you spot one.
The weather our first day was rainy and stormy, and we found that every day had some kind of rain blow through. Sometimes it was gorgeous and sunny, other times a storm would build and the rain and wind kicked up so we head inside to read or over to the gym for some badminton. But, quickly the weather would change and we would be back out swimming. It was quite a good method to stay sunburn-free, as the forced inside time reminded us to reapply sunscreen! Though, we each did end up with a patch here or there that got missed.
After that first day, we were tired. We spent the next days enjoying the island. Snorkeling on the reef right outside our door was incredible. The reef parallels the west side of the island, so we spent hours out there admiring the colorful fish and coral.
There was a pair of local sea turtles we swam with on a few occasions, plus a shark and squid. There were also really mesmerizing mini jellyfish that we tried to avoid, but couldn’t quite miss all the time and got a bit stung up once.
On land there were a lot of super cute hermit crabs, a resident crane family, and lots of cool lizards. Another amazing creature we watched were the bats! Yes. Fruit bats lived on the island and we’d watch them fly over and back to the next island over. So unexpected and cool to see bats on an island during the day.
One the east side of the island, at 6pm every evening, one of the resort employees feeds the local stingray and shark population with fish offings from the kitchen. Around 5pm the rays and sharks start to migrate into the shallows to get ready, and we went quite a few days to swim with them! There were blacktip and lemon sharks, plus the rays.
Food at the resort was great! I chose to book us with half board, which saved quite a bit of money versus the full board or all-inclusive options. So, we got a buffet breakfast and dinner… eating breakfast late and dinner early was plenty of food. My only suggestion for a repeat visit would be to bring some Ramen packs for the first day and the occasional lunch (there was a tea kettle and mini frig in the room). Each night the buffet was differently themed down to the least detail like matching musak and decor. The restaurant was open-air with a massive natural wood roof and supports, but open sides for the sea breeze.
In the evenings there were events at the largest bar / hangout space; live music, a cultural dress show, a movie night. There was also a space where the kids enjoyed pool and ping-pong. Mostly, though, we walked the beach at night to see the stars and the bioluminescent algae!
The first time we saw the algae, Bryan and I were on our anniversary date! We had gone to the overwater bar after dinner, spent time listening to the live music, and then wandered. This whole trip was really such an incredible anniversary, I don’t think we will top it. It’s 19 years!
The little glowing algae were so cool, that we ran to show the kids. It would wash up as little glowing blue green specks on the sand. On a later evening, we found them out there smearing it on their hands and legs!
We jumped on a second Hanifaru bay excursion on a different day to try for some more Manta snorkelling, but they weren’t out there. It was a bummer, but it made us really appreciate our luck on the first day!
We also tried the free SCUBA session one evening, swimming on the east side with the sharks and stingrays. But, we really just loved the beachy island activities. Sand, reading on the loungers, snorkeling the reef, it was all so lovely.
Our final day was interesting. We checked out of the room at noon, but didn’t need to leave the island until 4pm. Avi and I kept our swim gear on, and packed airplane clothes in a day back. We swam and snorkeled, then cleaned up and got ready in the gym showers. Putting shoes back on after 5 days was a bummer, but the trip back was quicker.
We opted for taking a seaplane on the return trip to Male – it cut our time down by quite a lot and the whole thing had Bryan super stoked. He was jealous when he saw that these pilots fly in shorts and Tshirts, no shoes, beards and hair. It got him all excited about flying again. In Male we had time for dinner, and then took Gulf Air back to Bahrain, had a shorter 3 hour layover, and then an overnight flight into Frankfurt. It is pleasantly warm and fallish here back home, but I do miss not needing shoes.