It's been a week since we've returned and MANY of you have asked about this trip so I'll share what I know - Maldives was REALLY difficult to plan for! Finding a suitable resort that won't bleed you dry, and picking the right island had us grasping at straws for a few days. We picked Reethi Beach Resort because:
2. I wanted a cheap water villa that had direct access from room to reef
3. Must have good reviews for the house reef
There were a few others we considered for snorkelling - Chaya Reef Ellaidhoo (best house reef in Maldives) and - Dusit Thani (even closer to Hanifaru Bay - guests have seen mantas right at their water villa's doorstep; AND they have a gorgeous private infinity pool per water villa. Book them through the Entertainer app for 50% off until August 2015), but budget wise, Reethi best suited us.
When choosing a resort, you really need to figure out what you want to do there (Chill? Live it up? Snorkel? Dive?) and then pick accordingly (Tripadvisor reviews really helped). We zoomed in on all the resorts with good snorkelling and by chance we were introduced by a friend to Reethi which is in Baa Atoll, great house reef (free snorkelling!), cheap water villas, and close to Hanifaru Bay (protected site for manta rays - their appearance however is seasonal from July to October).
We had to take a seaplane here which was USD452 per pax (35 min flight). There are 2 other alternatives:
1. fly to a nearby domestic airport at Dharavandhoo, then transfer to a dhoni boat to the resort (USD320 per pax, 20 min domestic flight, 10 min boat ride)
2. speedboat direct from Malé to Reethi, roughly 2 hours travelling time, price not indicated
But it's Maldives right, take seaplane and try la. Really glad we did coz as we landed we saw mantas from our window which was one of the many surprises through the trip (see Alvin's video; you can hear everyone in the plane exclaiming in delight). This is not a sure thing though, and the plane ride was fun for the first 10 min which then gave way to boredom and sleepiness; plane's pretty stuffy. Still, MANTAS MAKE EVERYTHING WORTH IT. :D
Also, seaplanes don't fly at night so if you're landing after 4pm, you will have to stay in Malé for a night. This isn't an issue for domestic flights to Dharavandhoo. Note that there are NO CABS from the airport and the public bus only runs every hour. We opted for Pine Lodge because
1. They provide airport transfers (11USD per pax return)
2. Cheap (SGD65 per night/room)
3. Close to the airport (10min drive)
Pine Lodge also communicated with Reethi regarding our seaplane transfer so they knew what time we had to leave for the airport the next day. That was awesome.
The next morning we had to return to the main airport to confirm and retrieve our seaplane tickets before being transferred by shuttle (small passenger van) to the seaplane terminals (1, 2 & 3). Just show the driver your ticket and he'll confirm if you're in the right shuttle.
We didn't have to wait too long for our flight and our flight did not make stops at other islands first. I've heard horror stories where people get stuck at the seaplane terminal for a few hours and then have flights that have island stopovers. Again, manage your expectations - these seaplanes serve the whole of Maldives and they don't have set flight routines because it depends on the influx of tourists they get each day. Just let them plan, and move your butt when they tell you it's time to fly.
REETHI BEACH RESORT
Once you've found the resort of your choice you will need to figure out your meal plan - B&B, half board, full board or all-inclusive.
B&B - breakfast only
HB - breakfast and either lunch/dinner, not including drinks
FB - breakfast, lunch and dinner, not including drinks
AI - breakfast, lunch and dinner, incl drinks (they will have a list of drinks that you are allowed to order... So in reality AI isn't REALLY all-inclusive.
July is non-peak for Maldives so they had pretty good deals. Once again, it really depends on WHEN you plan to go, and the packages offered at that time. We compared prices between Agoda and Reethi's direct booking through the hotel. The package by Reethi was pretty good actually, but Agoda had a 30% off for last minute bookings (haha that's us when we booked 2 weeks before the trip):
Agoda's Prices (before taxes):
AI (only available through direct booking with the hotel at that time)
I did my calculations (based on the menu and prices of Reethi's restaurants/bars that can be found on their website) and realized that going HB/FB was just silly. A meal at Moodhu Bar (our restaurant of choice) was in general around USD50 per meal (2 mains and 2 drinks). Which means we could budget around USD100 per day for food. Also, water is USD3 per litre - not too bad.
AI was not for us because we're not drinkers nor heavy eaters so, nope. But depending on your intake, you might want AI for peace of mind. Just remember AI isn't really ALL inclusive. Which was just so pointless to me.
Also, HB, FB and AI meals are all limited to main restaurant buffets - the food is good, but if you want to eat something else like NACHOS at Moodhu Bar, it's a separate bill. For HB/FB/AI you get a 15% discount at the other restaurants.
OH. Make sure you bring a few credit cards, check your spending limit and approve your cards for overseas transactions. We had a few hiccups and for the first day, we were worried we would have to stay on the island to wash dishes for 6 months. This is because the island is CASHLESS. Everything you spend on will be simply signed off on a receipt and charged to your room account which you pay off the night before you check out. Just bring a few small change in USD to tip the staff if you'd like.
Edit: On the last day we realized we could pay off the total bill in cash! So it's not that they don't accept cash (make sure the notes aren't torn or crumpled, they're sticklers about that), but through the vacation there will be no transactions until it's all consolidated on the last day. Also, Maldives has a 10% service charge and 12% GST - this comes up to a whopping additional of almost 25% extra in your bill. Take note.
Snorkel and dive expeditions are organised by the Dive Centre - and these are the main four programs for snorkelling (sorry, didn't dive so can't review - but you can always email them for more info, they're very responsive)
1. Hanifaru Bay (Manta Ray cleaning station, seasonal) - USD80 per pax
2. Turtle Reef - USD50 per pax
3. Coral Reef - USD50 per pax
4. Night Snorkel - USD50 per pax
For all above trips, budget some tips separately for the Dive Centre staff who bring you out.
When you swing by the Dive Centre there's a notice board where they state their next schedule for each expedition. Just write your room number, name and no. of pax and you're done. Hanifaru Bay is super popular so if that's important to you, quickly go do it once the list is available.
Bring your own snorkel, mask and fins to save some money especially if you want to snorkel everyday. They can also be rented at the Dive Centre at a price. The currents at Maldives in general are not weak and it's easy to get exhausted when the currents change. Always check with the Dive Centre if you're not sure about tides and currents, even if it's a short swim around the house reef.
Ok, Hanifaru Bay freaked me out SO BADLY I returned to the boat immediately after jumping in (coz my snorkel bounced off my head when I jumped and I just couldn't get it back on amidst the choppy waves) and simply watched from the boat's top deck (vomiting up my breakfast for extra joy). Definitely bring an underwater camera/GoPro and TEST THAT IT WORKS before going.
Here's a video of all the mantas we missed, thanks to Abdul our snorkel guide who noticed we were on the boat and missing all the action. We're definitely going back. Also, special thanks to Chi Wern and Chin Ling for lending us their snorkelling/diving gear! Saved us quite a bit on gear rental, thanks guys!!
Snorkelling in the house reef is free and very awesome (FISHIES GALORE)!
Which brings me to my next point:
We picked the water villas, and got room #222. There's a resident parrotfish right outside our balcony (we see it everyday) plus we are sort of angled towards the sunrise. I think it's a good spot coz we've gone out to the reefs at the other water villas and we definitely have the best no. of fish to swimming distance ratio. Any room after #222's reef access is straight into rocks (ugh) so don't pick those. They're also closer to the seaplane landing site so it can be noisy when you're afternoon napping.
There are also garden villas that you can choose from that are cheaper and may be nice if you want direct access to the beach. Each room has their own deck chair on the beach, so don't go lounging on another room's.
Free wifi at the reception, Moodhu bar, main restaurant and main bar. Going totally barefoot here is encouraged (yep, we dumped our slippers in the room once we checked in and didn't use them until we left).
After all that's said and shown, please remember none of our experiences are guaranteed, but I can tell you where we saw them -
Mantas - seaplane landing, Hanifaru Bay
Assorted marine life (parrotfish, creepy stalker fish, 'Dory' from Finding Nemo, black tip reef shark, cuttlefish, eel, rabbitfish, angelfish, fish schools etc) - water villa shores during low tide (mornings, under the plankway), water villa reefs, house reef, under Moodhu Bar.
Sharks, sting rays, black tip reef sharks - fish feeding at the dive centre jetty, 6pm daily.
Dolphins - sunset bar.
Sunset - sunset bar.
Sunrise - from room.
Rainbow - dive centre jetty during fish feeding.
Full moon - reception jetty/dive centre jetty
Bioluminescence (neon blue plankton) - go only when it's the new moon, sunset bar side would have least light pollution
Main population here are Germans, Swedes, Danish and British. Few kids, mostly super fit retirees and young couples. Fewer Asians - Indians/Sri Lankans (x10), Chinese (x4), Japanese (x4), Vietnamese (x2), Singaporean (us). Everyone's very friendly, very few are racist, and when we walk on pathways and brush past each other we always smile and say hi to everyone. That's also the best way to find out more about the island - some of them are return visitors and one Brit lady gave us so many tips on astronomy. She's also the reason we went to the fish feeding to spot sharks coz she said she's seen the arrow headed one before. She was super delighted to see the video we shot, haha!
Here's the damage:
Pine Lodge - 65SGD 1 night
Pine Lodge Airport Transfer - 22USD
Seaplane Transfer- 904USD
Reethi - 1450SGD for 6 nights
F&B at Reethi - 700USD
Snorkelling - 275USD
TOTAL - 4075SGD not including flight to Malé (SQ miles FTW)
We definitely want to go back.