Maldives: Archipelago Extraordinaire


Our travel correspondent Yashmin Ismail explores a deeper shade of blue in the Maldives.

Following a suitably bond-esq arrival by speed bateau at Cocoa Island—part of the constellation of paradise isles in the Indian Ocean, 600km south of India—I am greeted with a tall glass of the freshly squeezed local fruit tipple. The pace palpably resets to zen o’clock.

This Robinson Crusoe Island represents the pinnacle of idyllic, if you’re after powder-white sand and azure blue.

Part of the revered Como Hotel group, this private island resort showcases boutique luxury at its best. 33 water-bungalow suites and villas line up over a turquoise lagoon, largely taking the form of the traditional dhoni—an olde worlde Maldivian fishing boat—reached via planked walkway.Our duplex dhoni loft suite features 3D panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows. The en suite bedroom rises in the form of a palatial port-a-cabin up top, with stairs winding down from a high raftered ceiling to a suitably stylish lounge with oversized Balinese-style daybed, dominated by an even more stylish seascape backdrop. The clean-lined, airy interiors with white linens and sheer drapes against glossy dark teak woods, accented by hand-finished furniture, evoke a colonial grandeur inspired by the traditions of southern India.The adjoining double bathroom suite with roll-top bath, shower and walk-in wardrobe is almost as large as the boudoir, adding to the overall marine luxe. A very good morning consists of a dip into the blue from one’s own private sundeck, before a healthy signature Shambala breakfast.

Despite the limited choice of eatery, the isle is a foodie haven. Foot-in-sand meets fine dining at Ufaa (Maldivian for happy)—the resort’s restaurant run by head chef Shane Avant, serving modern interpretations of Indian and Mediterranean cuisine with a Southeast Asian influence and particular emphasis on locally sourced, seasonal produce. The Como Shambala menu offers an uber healthy signature melange to nourish the palate, body, mind and spirit with the use of mostly raw, organic foods rich in living enzymes, vitamins and sea minerals—in line with Ayurvedic nutritional principles. Spoilt for choice without deviating from the exquisite, themed nights range from Indian and Thai to the traditional seafood barbeque – with the lobster grill being the star of the show.Tented candle-lit dinnerThis is a honeymooners paradise and often the venue for many a successful proposal. The private tented candle-lit dinner certainly creates a world-class air of romance with its four-course menu, champagne, lanterns and exquisite bouquets, against a surreal backdrop of gentle waves, moonlight and stars. It’s a difficult spot to turn anything down.Turtle in the MaldivesThe heavens of the ocean are located in the Maldives, where extraordinary encounters of the marine kind are commonplace; the country is home to over a thousand beautiful reefs.  Getting up close and personal with manta rays, swimming with turtles and whale sharks, and exploring a spectacular seascape are largely reasons to visit. The house reefs are pleasant to explore and the famous Guriadhoo Channel lies on the island’s doorstep, but to see the immense one must journey further afield. Ari Atoll, Mushimasmingili Thila (fish head), Maaya Thila (one time best global night dive site), Lankan Manta Point, Maldives Victory and Maalhos Thila all offer kaleidoscopic submarine adventures that do not disappoint—particularly when visited during peak season.Largest fish in the seaWhether diving or snorkelling, all depths of experience here offer something very special. Swimming with the largest fish in the sea indulges a beautiful contrast of magnificence and gentile. Whale sharks can reach up to 40 feet and are harmless filter feeders that suck in plankton and small fish. Encounters with these gracious giants are very much high up on the marineophile bucket list.Hydrotherapy poolA huge emphasis on wellness has inspired the Como Shambala retreat, which offers Asian inspired holistic therapies including Ayurvedic treatments and day spa packages in the form of wellness paths. Morning and sunset yoga and meditation in an open-air pavilion, as well as a dedicated hydrotherapy pool all help keep you in the zone. The Como Shambala signature massage is a bespoke 90 minutes of top-to-toe bliss—highly recommended.

The resort aesthetic is by Singaporean architect Cheong Yew Kuan. The style is deliberately restrained—a simple yet sophisticated mix of the contemporary and the indigenous—laid-back luxe in nature.Jetty at Cocoa Island, MaldivesLocally known as Mukunufushi, Cocoa is located among South Male’s coral atolls (group of islands). At a mere 350m in length, the isle snakes out into a perfect split that disappears with the evening tide. It is located in the opposite direction to the majority of resorts (at North Male atoll), hence it occupies a more undisturbed area that’s also protected from currents due to the encircling reefs. The lush local landscape features palms, wild sea grapes and hibiscus.Island life, Cocoa IslandThe Maldives offers a heady mix of sun, sea, sand and serenity, however the overall experience is very much dictated by the choice of resort. The island country stretches 900 kilometres from north to south and is made up of almost 1200 tiny, low-lying coral islands—grouped into 26 atolls—which are peppered with resorts ranging across the spectrum.

For a more rustic, intimate island adventure with a change of pace—literally in its own timezone (an hour ahead), Makhundoo Island @ North Male atoll is a great alternative. Beach bungalows, top-notch cuisine and a comparably strong reef offer similarly exciting aquatic adventures, at a lower key.

Whether dolphin watching at dawn or handline fishing at dusk, big-game fishing, jet-skiing or windsurfing, the Maldives really is the ultimate nautical nirvana.

For the clearest waters and lowest humidity, visit between Dec – May.

  • BA flies direct from Gatwick to Male
  • Top dive spot: Ari Atoll for the whale sharks


Written By Yashmin Ismail