Part 4: Vilamendhoo Resort
Jim and Cary report on their trip to visit various resorts and liveaboards in the Maldives. In Part 4, they visit Vilamendhoo Resort… Last island stop for Jim and Cary. But hang on, there are the liveaboards to come!
Our last island stop before boarding our liveaboard for the second week of our Maldives adventure was at Vilamendhoo Resort where we spent two short-but-sweet nights. Vilamendhoo Island is in South Ari Atoll, near to LUX, so we transferred there by a short speedboat ride. However, please note that usually you would transfer by seaplane directly from Male Airport, which takes 25 minutes. Even though it rained for much of our stay, (so photos were a little depleted), this inclement weather did not dampen our enjoyment.
Within the Maldives context of upscale island resorts, I’d honestly say that Vilamendhoo was the most down-to-earth property we visited. Just to be clear, though, this is not a negative. After all, we’re divers and therefore we quite like things being ‘au naturel’. The moment you arrive at Vilamendhoo it’s evident that this place is relaxed and laid-back; never a bad thing on a holiday!
That said, Vilamendhoo IS an upscale Maldivian resort, offering all the creature comforts that by now we were getting dangerously accustomed to, white-sand beach, excellent spa, over-the-water villas, eat-all-you-want buffet spread, bars serving sun-downers, a la carte restaurant, yep, all boxes checked, so we must be at another great Maldivian resort.
Vilamendhoo represents excellent value for money, within the Maldivian context, of course, as it offers ‘Garden Rooms’ (no sea view). We think these are perfectly adequate for divers, given that you’re away from your room diving for most of the day.
Their Garden Rooms are probably not as suitable for honeymooners, but don’t worry they’ve got that covered too. We know because we were accommodated in a ‘Jacuzzi Water Villa’ (adults only i.e. 18+). And, yep, we did feel a little naughty being there, given that we haven’t just tied the knot but not enough to make us request a room-change, of course. So bear with me one more time as I do my best to make you envious in describing our not-so-modest room. This shouldn’t be too difficult. Here goes: over the water (as implied by the name), sunbathing terrace with steps down to the sea, Jacuzzi for two ‘under the stars’, large double bed, Jacuzzi, mini-bar, rainfall shower, Jacuzzi, satellite TV. OK, ok I’ll stop now! (But did I mention the Jacuzzi for two?)
Being divers, the coolest part of our Vilamendhoo experience was walking up the wooden pathway from the stunning beach to our villa (past the spa), as each time we did we could witness a fabulous sight; a group of about eight beautiful, tiny baby black-tip reef sharks, each no more than a foot long, swimming amongst two shoals of thousands of silver-sides. As the sharks swan through the shoals, they in turn would gently part in that same wonderful, ghost-like way they do at a reef whenever a fish passes through. It was so captivating to see and a real highlight of this trip; pure unspoilt nature and all going on just a metre from our beach! If anyone ever needed a reminder of what a fantastic but vulnerable creature a sharks is, and therefore in need of our protection, this was it. We thought being able to watch them here, without having to dive, was also a very cool education for any non-divers staying at the resort.
See how sharks can bring me to distraction? OK, back to my report on Vilamendhoo Island Resort…but those sharks were at Vilamendhoo, so that’s a cool reason to go there, right?*
*Some small print: Warning! Sharks move. They are therefore not guaranteed to be there, exactly where we left them, when you go to Vilamendhoo. (Hopefully you knew that already.)
So far I’ve described the Jacuzzi Water Villas (did I mention the Jacuzzi?) and the Garden Rooms. Dotted along the beach there’s also the Jacuzzi Beach Villas (I’m not saying a word) and their final room category is the Beach Villa. One nice aspect is that this beach has a lot of trees providing shade and these trees are also home to tons of fruit bats, which in the Maldives bizarrely fly around during daylight hours and so are easily spotted, just another very cool feature of the place for nature-lovers.
Apart from the two main buffet restaurants (eat-all-you-want), Vilamendhoo also has an ‘Asian Wok’ a la carte over-the-water restaurant, the Hot Rock Restaurant on the Sunset Bar beach featuring seafood, steak or chicken cooked at your table on ‘hot rocks’, for adults only and three other ‘optional’ á la carte choices: a snack menu at the bars and pools; room service and a selection of special dinners served on the beach. There are also four bars.
Let’s talk diving! We dived with the resident operator, Euro Divers. Our first was a check dive with friendly French dive-guide Kevin on the House Reef. To be completely honest, this reef was just OK, not mind-blowing, perfectly suited for your check-dive on your arrival day or an afternoon’s potter. One nice idea is that you can do a ‘one way’ dive, i.e. not have to double back to your entry point, as they have six different entry/exit points, each clearly marked out underwater with ropes that indicate where the cut in the reef is for a safe egress. So we did exactly that and at the end of our dive just walked out of the sea, puffing chests out as we passed fascinated snorkellers and deposited our cylinders at a conveniently positioned bench on the beach to be collected by the dive centre’s staff. House Reefs are meant to be convenient and this one was super-convenient, so Euro Divers get a bonus point from us for this simple but effective service.
The next day we joined another friendly (Swiss) guide, Leila, on a dive Dhoni for the two-tank morning trip. As mentioned earlier, the weather was a bit rainy/windy/wavy (November is the change of monsoon in the Maldives, hence the weather can be a bit of a mix of sun, wind and rain), so Leila was obliged to change her dive plan. We’re always happy to see that a guide is flexible and able to adapt the plan to the conditions on the day; it shows common sense, experience and a consideration for the guest divers.
I mention this change because it meant that we did not dive our originally planned site, Vilamendhoo Thila. Why is this important? Well, because we came back and dived Vilamendhoo Thila the following week on our liveaboard. The dives we did whilst staying at Vilamendhoo were good BUT the dive we did at Vilamendhoo Thila from the liveaboard was arguably one of the best dives we did all week. It was absolutely glorious folks – so rich with reef life and coral, schooling fish (blue line snapper, red tooth trigger fish etc.), sharks and just loads and loads of batfish parked in our bubbles, a simply magical dive. This dive site is literally just out from Vilamendhoo Island, around 200 metres from the over-the-water restaurant. Until we dived it, I had left Vilamendhoo with the impression that one would stay there mainly for one thing – that it offers the chance to see whale sharks all year-round. Now, that’s a pretty good reason in itself! However, once I dived Vilamendhoo Thila I got the full picture of precisely what diving this resort has on its doorstep. Sincerely, if I just dived Vilamendhoo Thila every day for a whole week and never saw a whale shark, I’d still be pretty happy. So there you go, all the reasons you need to stay at Vilamendhoo Island Resort.
I hope you’re enjoying reading these reports as much as I am writing them. My next report will be my last about the Maldives, which will be all about our one-week safari on-board Emperor Voyager.
Jim and Cary own and run UK-based tour operator Diverse Travel. To find out more about the Maldivian itineraries that Diverse Travel offer, visit www.diversetravel.co.uk/maldives.