Maldives: Paradise Unrivaled

After traveling to dozens of countries and even making it a personal goal to snorkel all the world’s top destinations, I thought I had seen most of the world’s splendor. Even so, the Maldives have been at the top of my bucket list. They are the lowest lying country in the world standing at only 5 feet above sea level at its highest point. Rising sea levels have been a serious threat for the islands. Predictions are that the Maldives will disappear by the turn of the century. And after seeing all those dreamy Maldives travel photographs on the internet, I knew I had to see the real thing before it was gone.

However, I knew it wouldn’t be the bargain travel destination I was used to. I figured that with all the travel points and bargains I have gotten in the past, I could pony up and save for this grandiose splurge. Besides, our marriage was near and couldn’t think of a better time to make this vision a reality than choosing the Maldives as our honeymoon destination.

The Maldives is everything you dream a honeymoon would be: a place where you can enjoy seclusion and tranquility. The agenda would be simple: to snorkel at whatever time of the day I wanted and to further increase my melanin levels as being so close to equator meant epic sun rays.

Along came the months of penny pinching, our simple at home wedding, and massive monthly deposits into our savings account.  As we researched more in preparation for our trip, we found out about the country’s very conservative Sharia Law in which homosexuality is punishable by death or jail time. Being that we were two soon to be married women, we weighed our options, got connected with friends of friends who have been to the Maldives, asked tons of questions, and read everything we could about the country.  Having a much better knowledge base about what we might be getting ourselves into, we decided the opportunity outweighed the risks and that we would be putting ourselves on the line for the sake of what could possibly be the vacation of a lifetime. This meant breaking the news to my fiancee that I had already made the reservation proclaiming that we were celebrating a honeymoon hoping they’d give us a special treat or room upgrade. Oops! Needless to say, we ended up cancelling and rebooking our reservation so we can start over and have time to go back into the closet. Nothing would get in the way of our Maldivian dreams!

Still, we were able to experience the Maldives at a fraction of the cost we could have spent thanks to all the travel miles I have accrued over the last two years. Etihad flies directly from San Francisco to Abu Dhabi then from there directly to the Maldives. This was our longest non-stop flight recorded clocking in at a whopping 16 hours and 30 minutes! Considering it is an almost 24 hour flight journey not including layovers, we needed motivation in the form of two non stop flights to prepare for the treacherous flight time. Plus, we decided to make the most of it and also stay in Abu Dhabi for three days at the St. Regis on the infamous Corniche with our SPG points for FREE. This even included a private butler who did everything from drawing up custom baths to dry cleaning our clothes. SPG Gold is so worth it!

Here’s a tip: travel to Maldives during low season to save some money on lodging. The months of July and August are the best for bargains there. Although not advisable to travel to Maldives from June- September, when we saw the prices for our overwater villas during high season, we decided to take the risk. What made it easier is that it aligned with our July wedding date. Though not ideal to have cloudy, rainy time in the Maldives at all, we only encountered about 1 day of rain in the week we were there. We made it a romantic experience to watch the rain, get wet and just stare into the vastness of the Indian Ocean while the droplets poured down. It was the only time that we didn’t see the ocean maintain its calm.

Needless to say, this trip was one where bucket list items got checked off daily. Here are our highlights:

1. Flying on a seaplane- As soon as we arrived into Male the capital of the Maldives, we were greeted and taken via a shuttle bus to an Air Conditioned lounge that had drinks, snacks, TV, internet until we awaited the arrival of our seaplane. Getting on a seaplane was a bit terrifying especially as there was heavy rain & thunderstorms upon our arrival. The seaplane was small (8-10 passengers) which was pretty unnerving as well. However, as soon as we took off, the beginning of the most surreal honeymoon story began. It was as if the plane sent the heavens flight signals to stop raining and clear the skies for us to begin taking it all in. We saw dozens of the 1,200 Maldivian islands on our 30 minute journey to Mirihi Island Resort. They were each so stunning and diverse. The atolls rose from the deep blue sea enveloped in pristine white beaches and surrounded in hues of azure water as if gems of the sea.

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Seaplane view

2. Staying in an overwater villa at Mirihi Island Resort– After a short ride, we landed on a dock and were greeted by about 5-6 Mirihi Island Resort staff in a private boat that whisked us away a la 007 to the resort itself. Not only did we know we made the right choice, but we felt entirely like royalty (cue in Jay-Z’s Oceans song here). Immediately, we knew we were in good hands. We got out to a gorgeously picturesque long dock where the main resort offices awaited us. Our host invited us to hand him our shoes and he handed us cool water straight from the coconut while our bags were whisked away by another employee. We could certainly get used to this. Every single need was always quickly attended to. We then got a short tour which included explaining that the island has a saltwater desalinization plant that provides fresh filtered water and sparkling water to guests of the resort daily. When our host showed us to our overwater villa and opened the door we were surprised- my wife would describe the feeling as being mortified- with a “happy honeymoon” message on our bed made from fresh flowers.IMG_6550Our room was also decked out with complimentary rose champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, and a bowl full of local fruit. After getting over the initial shock and realizing that we were in good hands, we decided we had no choice but to  blow our cover and celebrate our marriage.The overwater villa was perfect. It had a private deck overlooking the house reef with stairs leading to a voluminous ocean wonderland. There was a shower right on the stairs making rinsing and cooling down a breeze. The bathroom was spacious and had a full glass sliding door to enjoy the view and step in and out conveniently. Our bed also had a glass sliding door to take it all in. We had a Bose speaker bluetooth system allowing us to enjoy our own music selection inside or out. No need to worry about forgetting your sunscreen or fighting for hotel lounge chairs- everything is just a few steps away in the convenience of your own overwater villa. IMG_7298Throughout our stay, the entire staff (who live on the island) knew and were attentive to asking how our honeymoon trip was going during our stay. Mirihi Island seemed clear of any homophobia we might have otherwise experienced and we couldn’t recommend it more for queer travelers. We are afraid staying in an overwater villa will spoil our future travels but the decision to do so for our special moment was surely worth it.

3. An idyllic castaway island of our own- Being on Mirihi island makes you feel like you are in a completely remote place. Looking out into the Indian Ocean, you cannot spot any nearby islands. Out of the 200 or so inhabited Maldivian islands about half of those are comprised of luxury resorts. Though this is not good news for your budget, it is incredible news for your sense of relaxation, serenity, and peace. Mirihi island is considered one of the smallest islands in the Maldives at only 1,150 feet long by 165 feet wide. Our overwater villa was on one side of the island and the restaurant and bar was on the other. Within less than 10 minutes, we had taken a lovely leisurely stroll through the entire island. Unlike many other islands we have visited, there are no street vendors or hawkers selling souvenirs ever. Many days were spent on the beach or in the water with an occasional sighting of another couple or family. This is not hard to understand when there are only 37 villas in the entire island. A far cry from Cancun, Honolulu, or any other popular tourist beachfront destination. In the Maldives, there are no mosquitoes. Yes, you read this correctly. You will not encounter mosquitoes during your visit because they have been eliminated. Add to this, a record of very little medical concerns recorded and almost no crime anywhere and you can see how this is really the perfect destination.IMG_65464. Swimming with whale sharks- The South Ari Atoll where Mirihi Island Resort is located is home to the largest fish species on the planet: the majestic whale shark. In fact, the Maldives is one of the only places in the world where you can expect whale shark sightings year round. Our journey to see these gentle beasts, began with a boat ride where we were told that as soon as there was a whale shark sighting, we would have to be ready to dive right in with our snorkel gear on ready to catch this once in a lifetime experience. While we were both thrilled, that excitement was just as strong as the deep seated fear we had in the possibility of actually coming close to a 40’ long whale shark. “Could I actually go through with this?” I frequently asked myself while on this boat ride. Finally, the call came. We dove and joined dozens of other tourists that came from all over the world for this one experience. It was mesmerizing and exceeded our expectations. As soon as I saw this magnificent creature in motion, I knew I was safe and felt at home in its waters. After about 20 minutes, we got back on the boat and headed back. At least that is what I thought that was happening. When we least expected it, we were told to jump again and there we were, witnessing another whale shark. I was sad that I was one of the last people on the boat to jump as I was not prepared for this. However, my delay meant that I dove right on top of the whale shark and for just a few minutes, experienced a world with just me and this stunningly cool creature.

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The magnificent whale shark that was too big to capture with one shot but here is my attempt.

5. Incredible biodiversity- We have been to many places that are considered top notch snorkeling spots in the world (Indonesia, Fiji, Great Barrier Reef, Belize) and thus far none have compared to the biodiversity under the sea in the Maldives. One of the reasons we selected Mirihi Island is that it was rated one of the top places for snorkeling/diving because it has both a house lagoon and coral reef known by some as a dreamy duo. Its house reef has actually been voted best in the entire country. Simply stepping off of the deck of our villa we encountered the most colorful, diverse and exotic marine life we have ever seen in our lives. What is also incredible is that there are night lights beneath the overwater villas that you can turn on in order to enjoy the abundant night fish from your own private deck. For the more adventurous, you can jump right into the water, venturing beyond the villas at night and lighting up your way to even more diverse night marine life. For those of us who don’t scuba dive, there is no need to here when all the life is right outside of your private deck in clear, calm, shallow mint colored waters.

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Malila enjoying some snorkeling
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Manta ray sighting

6. No shoes, no credit cards, no cash, no problem- From the moment you step foot on the island, you realize that the brilliant white sand is some of the finest in the world and you can’t help but going barefoot. Also helpful is the fact that the inside floor of the resort is also white sand giving you the sense that you have never left the beach. If you are worried about bringing the fine sand into your room, fear not as there are buckets of water and ladles you can use to clean your feet before you enter the room. You do not ever need a credit card to do anything during your stay at Mirihi Island because they keep tabs on everything for you. You don’t even need cash for tips as there is a communal tip “jar” at the front where you put your tip for the whole experience on your last day. What a brilliant idea and way to further reduce the worry factor! If only all resorts would do this.

7. Duniye Spa- We got a discount to enjoy the spa services and both indulged in a Balinese massage. We are always weary of hotel/resort spa services as we have been disappointed many times over. However, from start to finish, it was one of the best massage experiences we’ve ever gotten. Make time after to savor that tea they give you at the end.

8. Speed boats and Dhonis at your beck and call– We decided to get adventurous and despite warnings that we wouldn’t get in, try our luck at going to the famous underwater restaurant Ithaa at the Hilton Conrad Maldives. A dhoni whisked us away to Conrad Island and once we had seen, done and eaten everything we possibly could, they returned to bring us back to Mirihi.  Even though we weren’t able to get a reservation at the exclusive underwater restaurant (maybe next time), we enjoyed our trip to the island and getting up close and personal with the overwater restaurant. The use of private boats to get from island to island certainly gave us that luxury experience and made our vacation feel that much more exclusive.

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Here is a picture of us arriving at the Hilton Conrad.

9. The food- Every day is a culinary adventure to a different part of the world. With a world class top Chef Felix, we were never disappointed. And at Mirihi, it was all you can eat 5 star food and choices galore. Every single course had multiple options for the most discriminating of tastes. Make sure you book a stay for their lobsterfest on Saturday. My personal favorites were the exotic fruit choices for brunch and the seafood night for dinner.

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Sushi night was one of my favorites!
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Decadent deserts

10. Big, bad sharks! Let’s face it, most of us aren’t shark fans. We certainly aren’t either. We were warned to expect shark sightings but told they wouldn’t be scary like in American movies. We thought it was a joke but apparently it wasn’t. Our first sighting with these frightening creatures was actually terrifying. We were paralyzed by how close we were and how very far we were from our villa stairs. Once we realized the shark didn’t even appear phased by us, I swam toward it more and began to follow it. Shortly after, I had a WTF moment with myself and turned around. We had a few other close encounters of the shark kind and they were all a great adrenaline rush. The island also hosts lots and lots of adorable baby sharks who swim up to the shores in search of tiny fish to snack on. These juvenile grey finned reef sharks can range from palm sized to your size. But don’t worry, the staff said that sharks aren’t interested in eating humans because of the lush marine life they have plenty to eat. By the end of our time there, they almost became our friends.

11. Surreal landscapes- The colors of the sky, water, and sand are in such vivid color that there is no need for Instagram filters or fancy cameras. We do recommend investing in an underwater camera. The water is crystal clear and the subjects are pretty photogenic. Plus, it is pretty convenient to have your social media worthy shots come from right next to your own private stairway to the oceanic heaven under the Maldivian sea. They allow for a new level of relaxation and contemplation that is so fulfilling, you may be too busy taking it all in to photograph it. In fact, we decided not to bust out the camera until our last day in which we reserved a few hours to walk around and do some photoshoots. We recommend you do the same. Enjoy the fact that you are a real person in a surreal setting. The camera will still be there after you soak it all in to have eternal proof of the magic that is the Maldives. We cannot wait to go back! IMG_8083

This post was originally published on: Get Lost With Lesbians

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