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.
Scuba Bucket List Maldives Vlog – Fuvamulah: Island of Sharks
First in a three part vlog from Jake Davies (JDScuba) & Giovana Braia on their recent trip to the Maldives…
With countries opening their borders after almost two years of lockdown it was time to head to a destination which we had high on our list for a few years which was the Maldives. Whilst planning the trip we wanted to make sure we got to experience the Maldives, from its local islands to one of the many resorts that can be found around the archipelago. Whilst also ticking off the many shark and ray species that can be seen.
There was one island in particular that we wanted to visit, an island that’s become more and more popular over the last couple of years and that is the incredible island of Fuvamlulah. However, it wasn’t long after arriving into the Maldives that we realised that the bag that had the underwater housing and some dive kit hadn’t got on the flight in Dubai. Not the start we had expected but we weren’t going to let this ruin the incredible trip that we had planned.
Situated in the deep south of the archipelago, skipping over the equator is Fuvamulah Island, an hour and a half flight from Male airport. The island offers one of the most unique shark encounters in the Maldives: diving with Tiger Sharks. The number of Tiger Sharks found around Fuvamulah has made the island an ever increasing important area for these sharks. Around the island the water drops off to hundreds of meters, where the water can upwell from the depths bringing cold nutrient rich water to the surface. This provides for even more exciting encounters that can occur within the blue and around the plateau cleaning station with species such as Thresher Sharks, Great and Scalloped Hammerheads, Oceanic Mantas and Whale Sharks. Tiger Sharks are guaranteed at the island, whether they are seen out in the blue or at the famous ‘Tiger Zoo’ which is located at the mouth of the harbour.
We booked our diving and accommodation with Fuvamulah Dive School, as part of the ‘one day look‘ package. As part of the package, they organise the flights, transportation whilst on the island and a place to stay at the Fuvamulah Inn which is only a 5 min journey to the dive centre situated at the island’s harbour.
We had two days diving booked where there were three dives a day which included a dive at ‘Tiger Zoo’ each day. This dive was planned for the end of the day as the sharks follow the fishers out when they head out in the morning and then follow them back where they then stay around for the offcuts.
Heading out on the first day of diving we went out to the plateau to take a look at the cleaning station in case any Threshers were around as well as the possibility of some pelagics. Jumping into the 29 degree water was definitely a change from the colder waters off the Welsh coast and the visibility was incredible. We headed down, taking the time to keep an eye out for any shadows in the blue, before reaching the plateau. A few small White-tip Reef Sharks were seen patrolling the ledges along with a large female Tiger Shark cruising below in the depths. After 40mins and no sign of Threshers it was time to head back, where the 6m safety stop was accompanied by another large female Tiger but sadly no pelagics.
Following a surface interval we then headed to the next site, just a short steam out of the harbour to where the beach drops off to depth creating an almost wall-like dive. The dive provided plenty of coral including some huge fan coral at the deeper depths. The large amount of coral also provides for some encounters with Hawksbill Turtles.
For the last dive of the day we went to the famous Tiger Zoo. Swimming over to the shallow ledge, we set up in a line whilst the dive school divers hid fish offcuts around the site to bring in the Tiger Sharks. In position, holding on as there was a swell running, we saw a glimpse of the the first Tiger Shark emerging from the distance. The Tigers found in the area are mainly large female sharks, growing over 4m in length and in some cases over 5m. As they came close it was incredible to look at these amazing Apex predators in their eyes and how graceful they glide past. In total, five sharks appeared, providing some close up encounters. During the second day and another visit at Tiger Zoo, a total of seven sharks were encountered, all providing the same close up curious experience. During the the dives the Fuvamulah Dive school team were incredibly professional and ensured that the dives were carried out in a safe and enjoyable manner.
Surfacing after Tiger Zoo saw the end of the two days diving at Fuvamulah – two incredible and unforgettable days of diving where encounters in the blue alongside those at Tiger Zoo will never be forgotten. It’s a diving location that’s definitely recommended but also a spot that should be continuously monitored to better understand the population of the many species that are found around the island. Fuvamulah surely is the ‘Island of Sharks’.
A 2am start beckoned for the beginning of our next journey, a flight back north to Male airport to then head to Dhigurah for a few days to explore another local island, this time on the lookout for Whale Sharks. Whilst also continuing to hope that our missing suitcase would finally arrive with us.
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Back with a bang!! (Part 2 of 2)
Sean Chinn reports from The Maldives…
Hopefully you have read part 1 of my “Back with a bang” blog series – reading about how epic day 1 of diving back in the Maldives with The Scuba Place onboard Sachika really was. If you haven’t then check it out HERE. You may now be thinking how can the rest of the week compete with that kind of adrenalin-fuelled awesomeness of day 1. Thankfully for me and the rest of the group the week continued to deliver some truly memorable moments underwater with amazing marine life interactions. Life onboard the boat also added to what was one of the best dive trips of my life.
MANTAstic adventures continued in day 2 as we enjoyed another memorable encounter with one of the oceans most graceful animals. Dive 2 saw us at ‘Camel Rock’ dive site, a stunning cleaning station full of colourful fish waiting for their client to glide in. The current was slight but still required the group to get close to the sand and wait in hope for a manta to turn up. As I waited I noticed a nice space on the sand behind the cleaning station, sheltered from the current it was a more peaceful place to wait and then my movements were rewarded massively. As it happened I moved to the perfect location where the manta would first enter the cleaning station and I screamed with delight to alert the others. 20 minutes were then spent with this beauty as it spent time hovering getting cleaned and then circled the group and back in to the station numerous times. One of the best feelings is when a manta hovers directly above you allowing a special connection between species.
The next couple of dives allowed me to shoot some macro for the first time in two years. I was a little rusty and unlike parts of South East Asia, The Maldives is not full of unique macro subjects. However, there’s still plenty to get the practice in and enjoy looking deep into the reefs. A leaf scorpion fish was the highlight of the macro subjects, although a sneaky black cheek moray eel that was initially hiding came out and gave me a little nip as I hovered taking photos of the leaf scorpion fish. Luckily it only gives a graze but I think it was time to move along and look elsewhere.
After a couple of macro adventures it was now time to go BIG and it doesn’t get much bigger than the biggest fish in the ocean. We were off to find whale sharks and it wasn’t long before we were on what felt like a navy mission snorkel. All lined up on the edge of the Dhoni ready to “Dive, Dive, Dive.” I was a little nervous plummeting into the water with all my camera gear in hand but that was alleviated once I saw the whale shark coming as the mayhem began. A free-for-all of snorkelers competing for the whale sharks attention. After three visits to the Maldives it was my first time seeing one here, albeit in crazy circumstances to start with. It was slightly humorous seeing flailing arms and legs swinging wildly trying to keep up with this beautiful beast gently swimming along. Thankfully everyone respected the distance and the whale shark didn’t seem too bothered by all the attention and stayed around as we got back on the boat to kit up and dive.
The dive itself was incredible. We dropped in front of the whale shark and watched it pass and swim off into the distance. The reef then delivered some great encounters with a hawksbill turtle in initially. Then some male whitetip reef sharks persistently pursuing a female in their attempt to mate with her. They continued to circle close by and I was really hoping to capture some amazing behaviour but the female wasn’t in the mood this time around and gave them the run around before disappearing.
A sleeping nurse shark and scorpionfish added to the unique life on the dive but it was the safety stop that will stay with me forever. My greatest ever safety stop as I asked dive guide Big Ali to blow bubble rings and pose for a photo he was suddenly photo bombed by a whale shark. Yes! As I looked at the display composing the shot of Ali I couldn’t believe my eyes as a big shadow passed behind him. I screamed in delight (I do this often underwater) as I swam towards Ali to get his attention to the shark before proceeding to take some photos and enjoy what felt like a solitary moment with the shark after the madness at the start of the dive with the first whale shark.
I really could keep delving deep into my explanations of each dive on this trip as they all delivered incredible moments but I should start to condense it a little now before I take too much space. Grey reef sharks would become the stars of the show towards the end of the week as I finally was able to get some nice shots of them after two previous trips not delivering. Better visibility and close passes meant I could really work on my grey reef shark portfolio and was ecstatic with the interactions, especially at one of my favourite dive sites of the trip – ‘Fish Head’. We watched as they patrolled the outer edges of the reef with the occasional burst as they hunted. The mass of fish life including beautiful schooling bannerfish added a splash of colour to the scene for two incredible dives there.
We were also super lucky to introduce a new manta ID to The Manta Trust with our visitor at Fesdhoo Lagoon on the night. With the light at the back of the boat attracting the plankton we had to wait until around 10.30pm for its arrival. I was pretty much the last person left waiting at the back of the boat with one guest coming back up from his room to check. As we were speaking I caught a white ghostly figure in the corner of my eye. It was a little deeper than previous years but I knew straight away what it was as I shouted MANTAAAA!! I quickly got my camera and snorkelling gear on and spent the next couple of hours with this new beauty. I called out to get others to let everyone else know it was here and suddenly the whole boat was at the back of the boat or in the water to marvel at the beauty as it barrel rolled at the back of the boat. Fairplay to dive guide Little Ali also, as he offered to take people diving even at 11.30pm. I decided to stay snorkelling but some had fun diving as well.
Every dive was amazing with truly wonderful moments to talk about. Maiya Thila night dive was again incredible. Marbled rays were an ever present on the dive hunting along with whitetip reef sharks, moray eels, giant trevally and octopus. Hawksbill turtle were a hit on a number of dives with not a care in the world as they swam within inches of you and on one occasion one even lay on my leg as I was photographing an octopus. Charismatic and charming they were there to the end and delivered the best moments on the very last dive. Time spent on deserted islands also added to the charm of this trip with a beach BBQ under the stars providing a welcome escape from the boat in paradise. The dancing on the beach almost as good as the final nights party onboard, but the less said about that the better.
Our parting gift underwater was snorkelling at the famous “Fish Tank” dive site. Unfortunately due to our flight time the next day we were unable to dive but those familiar with the site will know it’s easily accessible by snorkel. With stingrays visiting knee deep water around the tuna factory. It was mayhem!! The current was ripping and suddenly hoards of snorkelers entered the water not familiar with currents. It was a crazy 45 minutes in the water with an array of stingrays and people but it didn’t take away from what a spectacular week we had and I always look at it as an adventure. I’m looking forward to the day I’ll be back onboard Sachika in the Maldives as I’ll be back for sure!!