When you visit somewhere as magical as the Maldives for the first time, it is safe to say that there are certain expectations that you hope will be met. The postcard perfect photos that populate every travel blogger’s Instagram feed in the region set the bar high; what appears to be a tropical paradise of tiny white atolls sprinkled over vast turquoise waters. Landing into Male at 7am after a red-eye flight from Dubai, these hopes and expectations were firmly in our minds; albeit not yet in our eyes as it’s a little difficult to paint a picture flying at 32,000 feet in the dark of the night.
Immediately after landing, we were met by the very friendly team at JA Manafaru resort. Although the resort itself is a few hundred kilometres from mainland Male, JA Manafaru have an excellent team to welcome you from the flight no matter the time. With a few hours until our seaplane was scheduled to depart, we were more than happy to be whisked away to the calm and tranquillity of the JA Manafaru Lounge; food, drinks, beds and, most importantly, great WiFi made the wait more than enjoyable.
While Katie made herself more than at home (getting a few hours’ sleep on the chair/bed), I made the most of the time in the lounge and stocked up on food and drink. The walk to our seaplane was short and within minutes we were sailing, or rather flying, above the turquoise waters below. They say that the Trans Maldivian Airways is the most scenic airline in the world and it’s not hard to see why. JA Manafaru include return transfers within their packages, so it was probably the most jaw-dropping free ride I will have in my life. Simply spectacular.
Landing on JA Manafaru an hour and a half later, there was a sense of sadness that the flight had ended, but a sense of excitement as we spotted the island, and the photo-perfect water, out of the plane windows. Met by song and dance, we were each handed a refreshing welcome drink and introduced to our respective Hosts for the stay; ours being Jessica, a lovely smiling German. Typically I am a little averse to having someone hand-hold me throughout a stay, but my mind was quickly changed.
I whole-heartedly believe that the care and attention of the staff on JA Manafaru deserves an entire paragraph in itself. Firstly, Jessica made us feel completely at ease and familiar with the island within minutes of arrival. From the comfort of a golf buggy we toured the island and she pointed out all the restaurants, bars and other amenities that were available to us. It was incredibly informative and certainly helpful for our tired and slightly disorientated heads. We then made our way to our Sunset Water Villa which, as the name suggests, definitely had that wow factor. More on that later, but Jessica showed us around the villa very thoroughly and was on call throughout the stay to organise anything we needed. It was an absolutely luxury not having to think for myself for four days. As for the other staff, every single staff member on the island was friendly and helpful. A smile was backed by real knowledge of the island and it was an absolute pleasure to spend our time on the island with these people. A special mention goes to Shaab and Nizam at the restaurant for lunch as we ate there every day and they very quickly became a regular instalment in our day. Also, to General Manager Vlad and his wife Theresa, who very kindly took the time to host us for a dinner on our final night. Their great hospitality and conversation was only surpassed by the quality of the food.
Our accommodation for the stay was the Sunset Water Villa which perfectly combined the impressive natural surroundings with a very comfortable experience. Walking in through to a desk area with views out over the ocean, the bathroom to the left housed a very spacious bathtub, open air shower and his-and-her sinks. Opposite, the villa then flowed effortlessly into the living and sleeping space. The bed was really comfortable and we slept so well on the island; probably aided by the sound of crashing waves outside. In the floor, we had our very own glass window to the ocean below, but it was outside on the deck that the best views were to be found. It was tough to decide whether to descend the ladder into the ocean or just relax in our infinity pool while the sun set in front of us. It’s incredible that something this impressive could have been constructed on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
For food and drink, there were a choice of restaurants on the island which each had their own distinct menus and cuisines. Breakfast was served buffet style, but one morning we decided to have a floating breakfast in our aforementioned infinity pool. It was great not to have to leave the comfort of our own villa and simply enjoy the ocean as we snacked on eggs benedict and glasses of champagne. Lunch each day was served in the Andiamo Bistro and Pool; and Italian-inspired menu that was the perfect design for the warm afternoons. The crispy chicken salad was a personal favourite, as was the slightly more indulgent steak sandwich. Each evening we aimed to eat at a different venue. Ocean Grill proved to be a firm favourite, and the cuts of meat were absolutely beautiful. Each Monday, JA Manafaru does host a Maldivian dinner in the White Orchid restaurant over the water. This is a must-see and a must-eat; a cacophony of Maldivian song and dance alongside servings of seafood, curries and rice. Maldivian food is a combination of cream and spices; certainly a cuisine that works well with my palate.
Activity-wise there is plenty to do on the island, which alleviated any concerns I may have had about staying in the Maldives. The highlights were definitely cycling around on the island bicycles, the sunset yoga and the Lucky Dolphin Cruise. The sunset yoga was particularly surprising; a strenuous stretch followed by ten minutes of deep relaxation. When we closed our eyes, the sky was darkening. When we opened them again, it was a ferocious red and simply breath-taking. The Lucky Dolphin Cruise was also a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We had all the luck; a group of wild spinner dolphins met us deep in the ocean after an hour of searching. They playfully swam around the boat, dancing under the bow as we cut through the tranquil waters. It was Planet Earth-esque, played out right in front of our very eyes.
There are so many superlatives that I could use to describe JA Manafaru, and there are probably so many amazing things about this island and resort that I haven’t quite had the word count to mention. My parting thoughts are to say this; if you want to do the Maldives then do the Maldives the right way. Ja Manafaru ticks all of the boxes and then some; the sand, the sea and the staff have left a lasting impression on the both of us that will always stay in our hearts and minds. We are already planning a (future) family trip back.
JA Manafaru is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Legend Collection. For more information visit www.preferredhotels.com