Travelling across the Maldives, The Edition brings you reviews of the crème de la crème of Maldivian resorts, hoping to inspire your next holiday getaway. Indulge in the tropics vicariously through the experiences of our writers, and pack your bag right after!
Crossing the Equator down past Huvadhoo Atoll, excitement abounded when the twinkling lights of Addu Atoll came into view as the ‘Maldivian’ airplane began its descent in the southern skies. The last hues of the vibrant sunset had already faded but the deepest of blues still clung to the horizon as we landed in Gan International Airport, located in the southernmost island of Maldives which makes up the lower “tip” of this lovely, heart-shaped atoll.
I considered my friends and I lucky. The setting sun had been a joy to behold during the first half of the 90-minute flight from Velana International Airport; but the 10-minute speedboat ride that bore us from Gan to Canareef Resort Maldives, situated in the oblong island of Herathera in the east of the atoll, was even more enchanting as the clouds drew back to reveal a stunning full moon. It was my very first visit to Addu and I was already enamoured.
Upon disembarking, we were warmly received at the jetty by the resort staff. They led us under a natural archway formed by two palm trees into the sandy lobby, where we were plied with refreshing iced lemon tea as we checked in. Within a few minutes, we were whisked away in a cozy buggy to our suites.
Of the 271 villas on the extensive 58-hectare island, mine was a sunset beach villa with polished wooden floors, a plush king-sized bed and earthy tones accentuated by soft lighting; immediately comforting and promising relief from the stress of city life.
The best part of the bungalow, however, was the sliding glass back doors leading out to a wooden patio with lounge chairs, enclosed in a private backyard fenced by lush shrubbery. The enclosed space opened out to the western beach, and I caught my breath as I gazed out at the white sands that stretched seemingly endlessly to either side, utterly dazzling in the moonlight.
With the heart of a thalassophile, it was near impossible not to heed the call of the sea and go for a dip under the full moon, but the rumbling of my stomach called me away to join my friends for dinner first.
We convened at Kilhi, one of the three restaurants in Canareef, named after the brine- and fresh-water ponds and lakes found alongside many a mangrove across the archipelago. In that regard, Canareef is also one of the rare resorts in Maldives to feature quite a few ‘kilhi’ (or ‘kulhi’ in the standard central dialect) - which I would see in all their sun-kissed beauty come morning - which gave off the quaint, island-life vibes uncommon in most tourist resorts.
After a filling dinner of diverse international gourmet offerings, from minestrone soup and chicken fillets grilled live by cheerful chefs, to delicious homemade macha and blueberry ice cream, we retired to our rooms for a good night’s sleep before the next day’s adventures.
If one were to sketch a Venn diagram of “the different types of morning people”, I would fall into that very specific combination of “not a morning person” and “desperately wants to be one”. As dawn broke over my first morning, however, I was quite proud of unlocking that achievement - I was up before the sun, rousing my protesting roomie to join me in catching the sunrise.
We crossed the narrow island, from our sunset villa to the eastern coast just barely three minutes away from foot, to soak in the first rays bathing the sands and ocean in shimmering gold. Indeed, the best way to kick off a get-away.
Waking up at the crack of dawn is sure to give one a hearty appetite and we indulged in a big breakfast at Kilhi, before setting off to explore Canareef. One friend took off on a bike, while the rest of us unfortunate souls, who never mastered the skill, walked. But don’t feel too sorry for us; although a large island, most of the main facilities were within a 15-minute walking distance from our villas, and the winding sandy paths with looming greenery on either side, occasionally giving way to breathtaking vistas of beach and sea, were utterly therapeutic.
Our exploration took us past some of the mangroves the island boasts; scenic bodies of water that gleamed blue and grey, reflecting the wind-chased clouds racing across the cerulean sky. We ran into a couple of geese at one but were promptly chased off, laughing (someone might have screamed), by the gander who made it very clear that this was his territory and no, we’re not allowed to photograph the missus.
After a brief stop at the well-equipped resort gym - just a look, mind you, none of us were all about that fit life once vacation mode was on - and a photo session - “for the -gram!” - at one of the charming swings strategically placed around the island (this one with a fantastic kilhi view), we stumbled across the Chef’s Garden. Amiable staff offered us a tour of the garden, where we got an insider look at the well-tended fields and greenhouses of home-grown produce. Locally beloved Scotch Bonnet peppers and watermelons, greens such as spinach and kankun, and herbs ranging from rosemary to coriander, all thrived under the caring hands of attentive on-island farmers.
By then, we decided our chilled out vacation intro had lasted long enough and it was time to get the adrenaline kicking. Shortly after a light lunch, our excited little group headed off to the water sports centre, because what’s a tropical holiday without some vitamin-sea.
My vague plan of hitting up the house reef with a snorkelling session went off kilter as soon as we arrived. Our attention was immediately drawn to bright sunshine-yellow, and how could we say no? It is not everyday that you get to ride a banana boat with equally mischievous friends, with whom you launch a campaign to thwart the attempts of the speedboat captain to send you all crashing into the sea.
We were caught by surprise the first time, screaming in glee as the boat overturned, but our war faces were ready as we hauled ourselves back onto the banana for the second round. We successfully overcame three more attempts at overturning us - “They’re about to turn! Lean left! Lean lef - I SAID LEFT!” - before weariness crept up our strained arms and we succumbed to the blue on a particularly unforgiving turn. No complaints here though, because -
“The important question is, did everyone have a blast?” asked the captain as he helped me out of the water.
“My arms are about to fall off, but it was so fun!”
“That’s alright, then”, he grinned and I had to agree.
My fatigued arms were fully rejuvenated later as we sought out Sanctuaire Spa for some pampering. Hidden in the midst of a lush garden, we were warmly invited in by the therapists, who guided us through their offered services as we sipped at refreshing iced ginger tea. I paired my treatment with ‘Tranquility’, a blend of ylang ylang and vetiver oil that worked its healing magic perfectly. The golden ambiance of the private room I was led to was calming, as were my therapist’s skilled work, and I found myself blissfully relaxed and drowsy.
Sleep could wait though, for we returned to our villas to see a cordial invitation to a cocktail party. Dressed to the nines and ready for a good time, we headed to Dhoni Bar, a sprawling high-ceiling establishment adjacent to Canareef’s Olympic-sized pool, where disco lights flashed and the resort band got us into the mood with groovy music.
We mingled with the guests and staff, helping ourselves to a delectable range of finger foods, from canapes and spring rolls to fried chicken bites and coconut balls. A couple of us were invited to join an intense billiards match at the pool table, while another was lured towards a mini-massage corner for a power stress down and quick tension reliever (“Never say no to a free spa!”). We spent the night lounging about and bopping along to the beats, enjoying a ladies night out with mocktails in hand.
Our second day dawned with an impending sense of excitement. I had been looking forward to this, the special day trip Canareef offered to Hulhumeedhoo - the joint islands of Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo - just north of the resort. A 10-minute buggy ride brought us to a sturdy wooden bridge that spanned from Herathera to the local island, across a turquoise channel. Piling into a jeep, we were soon speeding down bumpy roads, taking in the island-life vibes accentuated by low-lying, colourful houses and the sheer greenness missing from the capital.
Our first stop was at ‘Koagannu Gaburusthan’, the oldest cemetery in Maldives. Wandering among the towering tombstones, weathered black from exposure and time, it proved to be an intriguing, educational experience even for a Maldivian, and I listened with increasing interest as our guide recounted how the historic graveyard came to be.
Minds whirling with tidbits of time immemorial, we were further swept away as we came across more relics of our nation’s history in Hulhumeedhoo. With the distant birdsong of Dhondheeni (white terns) - a protected species indigenous to Addu - in our ears, we explored the remnants of a once-underground bunker used by the British during the Second World War, standing in the midst of ruins while waves crashed against what remained of its walls.
We dallied for a few minutes at a couple of the taro farms Addu is known for before heading out to the MVP of Hulhumeedhoo: the wetlands of ‘Mathikilhi’. Chucking our shoes, we braved the swampy journey, bare feet sinking ankle-deep into the muddy path which cut across a never-ending field of water grass until we came to wooden walkways erected over the small lake in the centre of Mathiklihi. It made for a stunning sight, with quaint bridges and picturesque resting spots nestled over the murky waters atypical of mangroves and wetlands.
It was late afternoon by the time we ended our Hulhumeedhoo trip. Grabbing a quick lunch to appease our rumbling tummies, we headed back to Canareef, desperate for showers and rest. The day’s excitement was not over yet, though. As the sun approached the horizon, we skipped over to the jetty, where the resort’s ‘dhoni’ (Maldivian boat) was waiting to bring out the angler in us.
They say that fishing is in the blood of every Maldivian. A broad generalisation, but even those who may not care to hold a reel cannot deny the joy of an ocean sunset - and that day was particularly glorious. Despite the creeping gloominess across the evening sky, the sun shone almost stubbornly as it descended, sending fiery rays of gold and orange piercing through iron-grey rain clouds, to the effect of an iridescent inferno resting upon a dark horizon.
It was to this vision that we cast our fishing lines, aided by the attentive crew of the ‘Koamas’. While a couple of my friends opted to just watch - “Reel faster! Faster, girl, or it’ll get away!” - I enthusiastically unleashed my lowkey love of fishing. Undoubtedly luck plays a great part, but I like to think past family fishing trips played a role in my success, as I gleefully reeled in not one, not two, but three reef fish!
For an hour and a half, the boat was filled with intermittent yells every time we felt tugs on our lines. All of us were lucky enough to not go back empty-handed, and upon our return, the smiling crew promised that our day’s catch meant barbeque for dinner.
Tired though we were, we could not resist taking a detour to the inviting Olympic-sized pool at Dhoni on our way back. The poolside was almost empty, most of the guests enjoying drinks and games inside, and our “brief” dip stretched to almost an hour, the lazy swim proving to be the perfect way to unwind after a packed day.
Dinner was a splendid affair. As tantalisingly promised, six of the fish we caught were brought out, steaming and grilled to perfection with delicious seasoning that made my mouth water. Blissfully full, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow that night.
The third day was our last at Canareef. The morning dawned clearer than the previous days, almost mocking us as we prepared to leave. Thankfully we had one last chance to seize the day before our noon departure - a morning dolphin cruise.
Back in the dhoni Koamas (which, aptly, means ‘dolphin’ in the local language), we rode out in search of the beautiful creatures. The ocean echoed the blueness of the sky above, spread out like an azure canvass as far as the eye can see. The trip took us from Herathera, across the atoll towards Addu City, giving us a close look at the islands of Hithadhoo, Maradhoo, Feydhoo and Gan connected by the notorious Addu Link Road. Our enduring luck throughout this trip appeared to have exhausted itself and we did not come across any dolphin pods unfortunately, but the exceedingly pleasant dhoni-ride made up for it.
At last, it was time to bid our adieus. Settled into the speedboat that would take us back to Gan, I reflected on our visit as we waved back to the staff who came to see us off. Our short stay did not feel as such, packed with adventure and experiences as they were. Yet, I mused that I would certainly love to visit Canareef a second time to give a shot at what I missed out on this time. Addu, I knew, boasts some of the best surf breaks and dive spots in the country, and given the chance, I would surely explore the world that lay beneath the glimmering waves of the south.
Until such an opportunity though, here’s to Canareef and a lovely first-time visit to Addu!