When it comes to bucket list travel destinations, the Maldives are never a bad idea. Known for its crystalline turquoise waters, powder white sparkling sand, over the top luxury villas and best-in-class butler services, it is the ultimate dream of luxury and tranquility. And as many of us are plotting our current, and post-pandemic escapes, it’s top of mind for many.
Made up of more than 1,000 islands peppered across the Indian Ocean, this tiny nation is located to the south and west of India and Sri Lanka. And when its borders reopened to travelers from all countries on July 15, 2020, it instantly became Instagram’s favorite socially distant travel escape (with the exception of its capital city of Malé, which is off-limits to visitors).
As a family and couples’ destination that rivals only the likes of lavish escapes such as Bora Bora and Fiji, the Maldives are most notably known for luxury hotels set on private islands and the occasional celebrity sighting. But even more so than that, it’s known for peace and tranquility, which, after the year we’ve all had, will need it in our next vacation.
As you map out bucket list worthy destinations to plan your next vacation, here is what you need to know about planning the Maldives getaway of your post-quarantine dreams.
The Maldives, like many other countries, has its own travel procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For starters, all travelers must present a certificate of a negative PCR test carried out within the 96 hours prior to departure, clearly showing the name and address of the laboratory, as well as the date of the sample taken.
Next, you’ll complete a health declaration form and upload your negative test result within 24 hours of your departure flight. Once complete, you’ll be issued a QR code that allows airport officials to verify your information and approve your stay in the Maldives.
Then you’re asked to make some very important decisions via a digital questionnaire from your resort. For Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani, this is taken very seriously as you unlock the next level of luxury on your soon-to-be Maldives vacation. And seriously, when we talk about luxury, we’re talking about what kind of pillows you want on your bed (there are about a dozen options) and snacks you’d like waiting for you upon arrival.
There are quite a few options to get to the Maldives, but a flight on Emirates will be your best option. Whether flying from New York City, Washington D.C. or Los Angeles, or connecting in Dubai through its stopover program, Emirates is top of the line when it comes to luxury, and will enhance your visit to your dream destination. Not to mention, the airline has prioritized safety measures for passengers, making it a reliable (and safe) airline for such a long-haul flight.
Once you arrive at the airport, you’ll have a QR code from your Maldives Health Declaration form which you’ll probably be asked to show a few times before you board the flight. As you board the plane, you’ll be given a hand sanitizer wipe and ushered to your seat. If you’re lucky (which many are in the wake of COVID) you’ll have a whole row to yourself, and feel safe knowing all the other masked passengers had a negative COVID-19 test, too. The biggest thing with Emirates is that you have to wear both a face shield and a face mask. The shields are provided by the airline and are mandatory on both flights.
Once you arrive in the Maldives capital city of Malé, there will be a Soneva host waiting for you to escort you to your Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane flight to transfer you over to the resort. From there, you’re shuttled over to Soneva’s private lounge and offered snacks, beverages and light refreshments, before boarding your short 30-minute stopover flight to the resort. From there, a boat ferries guests to the resort’s private island, Kunfunadhoo.
If you’re going to go all out, you may as well choose a resort brand that is frequented by the likes of Queen Beyoncé herself, along with Katy Perry and Gwyneth Paltrow — and that’s Soneva. Offering up two options — Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani — there’s a resort that suits every type of traveler.
The first, Kunfunadhoo Island, is an untouched island in the western Maldives’ Baa Atoll which comprises Soneva Fushi’s plush accommodations, and has seen increased demand for guests during COVID. And obviously for good reason. These beautiful beachfront villas and overwater bungalows feature butler service, outdoor bathrooms, upscale amenities, and perks such as sliding right into the Indian Ocean from your room. A network of winding jungle pathways connects the many restaurants, bars, spa, tennis court, gym, outdoor theater, and other amenities, making it the perfect option for seclusion from the rest of the world (because if you’re going to quarantine, why not quarantine in style?). Not to mention, the spa is to be enjoyed here, along with the observatory and outdoor movie theater with free screenings. With a remote island location, plenty of privacy, and castaway-style luxury, it’s no surprise that celebrities are drawn to Soneva Fushi.
After you’ve enjoyed all that Soneva Fushi has to offer, hop on over to its sister property — one of the expensive resorts in the country, Soneva Jani. It’s made up of over 50 over-water villas, split between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 (Chapter 2’s twenty seven new Water Reserves opened just this December and have been designed to maximize a sense of space, privacy and seclusion). In fact, while hotels and resorts around the world have shut down due to border closures and plummeting demand, Soneva Jani not only remained open, but recently debuted these luxurious villas and an all-inclusive pricing model dubbed Soneva Unlimited. The best part about them —both offer up the largest one-bedroom over-the-water villas in the Maldives.
Prefer to stay on land? Both Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani offer up land retreats, well away from the other accommodations, offering the same benefits of the over-the-water retreats, but set in the jungle.
On the Maldives, restaurants and bars are limited to whichever island you are dining on. At Soneva Fushi, guests can eat in a treetop, nest-like bamboo pod at a restaurant called ‘Fresh In The Garden.’ “Naturally distanced” nests seat two or more guests, and the central open kitchen gives you front-row seats to the action, or while at Soneva Jani, enjoy lunch at ‘The Crab Shack’ where you can try the Sri Lankan Mud Crab curry, or the Alaskan crabs that rotate through the week.
If you love the water, then you will definitely be overjoyed by all of the water activity options in the Maldives. Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani both offer snorkeling and diving in a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, making it a once in a lifetime aquatic adventure. These excursions include a visit to Hanifaru Bay, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to swim among manta rays and whale sharks. Also, free non-motorized water sports rentals such as sailboats, kayaks, and snorkels are available for guest use at any time. And those who want more of a retreat on land, can enjoy free yoga classes and free loaner bicycles around each of the islands for more exploration.
Of course, if you choose to travel during COVID, it’s not a decision to make lightly. Assess your own risk, make plans for pre- and post-trip testing, read up on the local rules and regulations, as well as what regulations you have to follow upon return to your home state.
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19, there are restrictions on international travel, and some areas are still under lockdown. Travel at your own level of comfortability and always follow local health advice. A regularly updated list of available accommodation, sights, and transport can be found on the Visit Maldives website.