Heaven on Earth: Dip Into the Maldives

Niyama Private Island Resort’s Two-Bedroom Ocean Pavilion has a private pool, an outdoor Jacuzzi and a deck with floating loungers, daybed and dining table.

It’s a scene that’s pinch-yourself perfect. A hammock is strung above the turquoise shallows, just offshore from your luxury resort. Wade out and then recline over the water while exotic fish swim beneath. Heaven on earth? The Maldives serves up infinite Instagrammable moments like these. Composed of more than 1,000 islands in 26 atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a favorite tropical getaway for the cool crowd. Of course the powdery white beaches and crystal-clear water are reason enough to go. But beyond the dreamy scenery, the country has morphed into a jetset destination thanks to an array of five-star resorts with overwater bungalows and trendsetting amenities (underwater dining, anyone?).

A firm favorite is Niyama Private Islands, a far-flung paradise formerly known as Per Aquum Niyama Resort. The thrill starts with the arrival by seaplane. Once you’ve landed at the international airport in the capital city of Malé, you are whisked to a chic, Wi-Fi-equipped lounge to await transfer by seaplane. It’s a quick flight to Niyama; you’ll wish it was longer because of the awesome aerial views. Niyama’s friendly team, including the fabulous General Manager Hafidh Al Busaidy ([email protected]), greets you at the dock. Several guests told Luxury Travel Advisor that the minute they stepped off the plane, they felt a special vibe here. Sure, Niyama checks all the boxes for a memorable five-star resort experience, but it’s the genuinely warm service that sets it apart from other Maldivian resorts. It’s about barefoot luxury, but with serious cool factor. Al Busaidy said he sees an emotional connection happen here with guests. A well-traveled California family, who chartered a yacht to surf the Maldives, told us that Niyama would rank in their top five resorts globally because of the service. No wonder there’s such a high number of repeat guests. 

Niyama comprises two islands, dubbed “Play” and “Chill,” and so it appeals to a variety of travelers: couples, singles and families. In fact, Niyama has the biggest kids club in the Maldives, and one of the finest we’ve seen anywhere. It’s more like fun summer camp, with a slew of different age-specific activities and a highly qualified team (the staff can speak 10 different languages). The Explorers Kids Club is situated on “Play,” along with the “Surf Corner” and water sports center — from where you can participate in activities like snorkeling trips and the Coral Adoption Program.

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Niyama Private Island Resort’s Subsix is the first underwater restaurant in the Maldives, located six meters below sea level.

Secluded on the tip of the island, the Niyama Surf Corner is unique in the country. The Maldives is known for terrific surf breaks, but few resorts can boast this kind of proximity to big waves. Niyama’s Surf Guru, Ricardo Periera, can arrange coaching, video analysis and boat or seaplane transfers to other surf spots. Professional surfers stop at Niyama on their Maldives circuits; we saw champions Mick Fanning, Matt Wilkinson and Conner Coffin riding the waves. Even non-surfers appreciate the Surf Shack, where a Jamaica-born rastaman serves up rum drinks and a cool Caribbean soundtrack. This is an ideal place for sunset drinks, bare feet in the sand. 

The Drift Spa is located on “Chill” and overseen by experienced Spa Director Ana Marques ([email protected]), who has worked with international brands like Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental. Throughout the year, Marques recruits celebrity fitness trainers and renowned practitioners in fields like Chinese medicine and holistic beauty. Treatments include deep tissue massages and exfoliating scrubs, but there’s also the promise of eternal youth — Read: Intraceutical oxygen treatments, transformative facials or even botox injections.

A word about Niyama’s contemporary accommodations: Whether you choose a water pavilion or a beach suite, you might find it difficult to tear yourself from your room. There’s a full-size fridge (with homemade ice cream replenished daily), a deck with loungers, entertainment system with a gourmet popcorn machine and open-air shower. A personal Thakuru, or private butler, attends to your every whim. The sprawling overwater pool pavilions are particularly magical. Go for a dip in the turquoise lagoon; watch the manta rays swim below while you shower; or spot a rainbow as you sip champagne on your daybed facing the plunge pool. Note: The Family Beach Suite, equipped with a pool and direct beach access, is a great set-up for up to three adults and two children. Traveling with an entourage? The Crescent was designed as a private enclave with five overwater pool villas, accommodating up to 14 adults and eight children. A dedicated staff can arrange a private barbecue and a movie under the stars. For VIP bookings, luxury travel advisors can reach out to Director of Sales Matai Gilroy ([email protected]).

It’s tempting just to loll in your pool all day, but there’s much to explore. Each guest is given a bike for the duration of their stay. Cruise along the sandy pathways, fringed with luxuriant vegetation, crossing the causeway that connects the islands. Of course you can also walk these tranquil paths, or call your Thakuru for a lift in a golf cart. 

There’s stand-out dining, too; travelers are spoiled for choice with nine different F&B outlets. As its name implies, Nest is a unique treehouse perched high in the treetops. Down below, a lush organic garden supplies 40 percent of the resort’s produce. Tribal transports you to Africa, with a dramatic design recreating a boma, the traditional wood enclosures in the African bush, illuminated by flaming torches. Don’t miss a meal at Subsix, the first underwater restaurant in the Maldives, located six meters below sea level. The magic begins with a boat ride transporting you one-third of a mile offshore. From the dock, descend the steps down six meters to discover a vast underwater world. Indulge in Champagne breakfast or lunch while watching colorful fish through the glass walls. Next to Subsix you’ll find the gastronomic restaurant, Edge. Like the sophisticated food, the wine list is impressive; rare vintages include Pétrus, Grand Vin, Pomerol 1998 or La Tache Grand Cru, Romanée-Conti, 1996. Is breakfast more your thing? The buffet at Epicure deserves a special shout-out.

Anantara Dhigu’s 1,338-square-foot Overwater Pool Suite has floor-to-ceiling glass panels providing sweeping views of the ocean. 

Oh and that overwater hammock we mentioned? That’s located at the Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort. Anantara operates a handful of properties in the Maldives, and there’s a cluster of complementary resorts that are conveniently situated just a 35-minute boat ride from the international airport. Dhigu caters to families, while Anantara Veli is a honeymooner’s haunt, and Naladhu is the exclusive “private island” experience. Guests staying at Veli can access the facilities on Dhigu, and vice versa. The exception is Naladhu, which is connected to Veli by a long boardwalk with the exquisite Thai restaurant, Baan Hura, situated in the middle. Only Naladhu guests have gate access, with their key cards to Naladhu private island.  

An Anantara vacation can be as relaxing or action-packed as you want. Kayak, snorkel or go on a dolphin quest to see hundreds of playful dolphins jumping in the surf around your boat. There are also giant inflatable swans on which you can float into the turquoise lagoon. Don’t want to leave the luxury of your villa? Snorkeling gear is provided in-room, so you can slip into the sea directly from your private deck. There’s also a yoga mat, fitness kit and binoculars, so between Sun Salutation poses, you can look for marine life on the horizon. 

Anantara Dhigu’s Overwater Spa has nine spa suites with glass floors allowing guests to enjoy a massage while watching the fish swimming beneath. 

Room Tips: Anantara Veli’s Deluxe Overwater Pool Bungalows provide amazing sunset views. Room Nos. 181-190 are located at the very end of a long boardwalk lined with bungalows, so a flashlight (provided) is helpful at night. At more than 1,300 square feet, these villas are gloriously large, equipped with a wine fridge, Nespresso machine, soaking tub in front of the window and a plunge pool over the lagoon. Anantara’s mantra is authentic luxury, and the room design reflects the Maldives setting; local touches include bedside books about the history of the archipelago. On the adjacent resort island of Anantara Dhigu, the beach villas are getting a cool makeover with bright colors and whitewashed wood. Each of these villas comes with a private beach dotted with lounge chairs. For VIP bookings, luxury travel advisors can reach out to Edyta Peszko ([email protected]), cluster director of sales and marketing.

Fun for foodies: Our favorite restaurants, along with the overwater, teak-designed Thai restaurant, include Origami, serving first-rate Japanese fare at Anantara Veli, and Sea Fire Salt, a stylish spot for fresh fish at Anantara Dhigu, complete with a fabulous overwater deck. Another Must: Talk to your villa host about arranging lunch on “picnic island.” Take a kayak, pontoon, or walk at low tide to reach this hideaway. Romantics should consider Anantara’s “Dining by Design” experience. A candlelit table can be set up in the sand, just for two.

Another resort distraction? Not one, but two full-service spas. Nestled in lush gardens, Veli’s spa champions wellness, balance and Ayurvedic therapies. This is a tranquil space, where experienced therapists are focused on results-oriented treatments. Dhigu’s spa has a different vibe since it’s an overwater experience, set up on a deck. Massages come with knock-out views through a glass floor. While you’re getting buffed and sloughed, you can watch the fish swimming beneath. Can’t choose between all the inspired offerings? Reach out to the spa director, Melissa Powell ([email protected]). 

Anantara Veli is a honeymooner’s haunt. Shown here is the view from the bathroom of the Deluxe Over Water Pool Bungalow.

ACCESS:

The Maldives may seem far-flung for American travelers, but it makes an ideal add-on for Asia itineraries. Combine a culture fix in Cambodia or Sri Lanka with a relaxing beach break in the Maldives. Airlines like Etihad and Emirates fly regularly to Malé; the flight from Sri Lanka is just over an hour. Note that the international airport is in the midst of a robust expansion project, financed by Chinese investors. A new, larger runway will be able to accommodate aircraft like the Airbus A380, and an estimated 7.5 million passengers a year.

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