Review of our fortnight holiday in Reethi Beach Resort (RBR) in Baa Atoll in the Maldives, in April 2002.
Reethi Beach Resort (RBR) was opened in 1998, and is one of only a few resorts in Baa Atoll, to the north-west of Male. It occupies the whole island of Fonimagoodhoo, which is about 600m long and 300m wide. The infrastructure is very low-key - you simply aren't aware of the massive logistical effort which is needed to provide a luxurious environment for several hundred guests on a small desert island. It is very proud of its low eco-impact - indeed, several times a week there is a free "technical tour" of the island, when they will show you the desalination plant, sewage plant, generators, laundry, kitchens etc, and explain how eco-friendly it is.
The island has much lush vegetation, and they clearly expend a lot of effort keeping it looking good. The rooms are set in the vegetation a few yards back from the beach. There are sandy paths connecting the buildings - it is possible to go barefoot for your entire holiday, but I'd recommend sandals or flip-flops for soft city feet, since the coral sand can be quite scratchy and the wooden jetties too hot to walk on barefoot. Dress code is definitely informal - you can dine in shorts and T-shirt if you want, but many people wore slacks or short-sleeve shirts to dinner.
Temperature varies between pleasantly warm in the middle of the night, to blisteringly hot at noon. You won't need a pullover, but you might want to take a waterproof for the occasional rainshower.
RBR is proud of the repeat business it does - many guests returning year after year. I met a family of five on their third visit.
The gardens between the resort buildings were really attractive - lots of local shrubs and trees, with frequent flower beds around the main buildings. The sandy ground was swept clean of fallen leaves every morning by a brigade of local women. The gardeners were to be seen every day watering the flower beds in the early morning, planting new shrubs and tending to the palm trees. The paths around the island were neatly marked out by plants, and were usually cool and shady.
Because there is no undergrowth or leaf litter, there are few insects - no mosquitoes, for example, which is a real blessing. There were ants and an occasional cockroach in the bathrooms, but the room boy sprayed insecticide around the washbasin, with good results. Friendly geckos emerged onto walls and roofs every evening, calling territorial warnings to each other and further decimating the local insect population.
Bird life was restricted to noisy crows, loud cooing mynah-type birds, and the occasional heron and sandpiper on the beach. There were quite a few fruit bats which patrolled over the trees in the late afternoon and evening. Their golden fur could be seen when they crawled around the tree canopy after fruits and seeds - we also watched them flying over the sea to and from the nearby islands.
Beautiful soft white coral sand, but with some harder coral chunks in here and there. The beach gets cleaned and swept regularly. You can't walk all the way around the island - there are a few areas where the beach has been eroded right back to the undergrowth or to reveal bare coral. It varied in width from nothing to 50 meters wide. We were told that the beaches shift around the island with the seasons.
The weather was mainly really hot and sunny - in the mid 30s. I found lying on the beach in the sun uncomfortably hot, so stayed in the shade for the entire holiday - and still went really brown. The nights varied from oppressively warm to pleasantly cool (low twenties C). The last three days the weather turned a bit unsettled, with spectacular thunderstorms and torrential rain showers in the morning, clearing to hot and sunny again in the afternoon.
The "all-inclusive" deal will get you really riled. The management have invented lots of "exclusions" to the all-inclusive deal in order to get you to pay for drinks etc all over again. Here are some of them:
- Drinks from the Beach Bar on your beach holiday at Reethi Beach are NOT included. You'll have to pay extra or walk the extra three hundred meters back to the main bar.
- We were told that we were not allowed to take drinks back to our room. You can always use the mini-bar in your room - but of course, that's not included in your "all-inclusive" deal.
- It's quite a long walk from the water village to the main bar, but, never mind, there's a Sunset Bar right next to the water village so you can get a cooling drink without having to slog all the way from the main bar, right? Wrong - drinks from the Sunset Bar are not included in your "all-inclusive" deal.
- Drinks at the Pool Bar, other than beer or soft drinks are not included in your "all-inclusive" deal.
- The all-inclusive deal includes a free trip called "Sunset Cocktail on a Sandbank". We thoroughly enjoyed this, because the resort really does it well. They take you out to a sandbank in the middle of the ocean - there's a log fire roaring on the sand, flaming lanterns, and a bar serving drinks while you watch the sun go down. You really feel mellow, until the following day, when you are asked to sign a bill for over fifty dollars. Hang on, this was a free trip, wasn't it? Wrong! They didn't mention it at the Welcome meeting when they told you about the trip, and you didn't read the small print on the flyer which says that only the first cocktail is included in your "all-inclusive" free trip, even though what you were subsequently drinking is on the all-inclusive list.
To be fair, the brochure does say that drinks from the main bar are included (and although not stated, by implication excluded at any of the other bars), but it does seem annoying and illogical that a drink is included in one place, but not in another.
There were other things about the way the resort was run which also riled us. The most serious was that we had booked a Deluxe Beach Villa, because we wanted to be on the beach. But when we arrived: "Sorry, sir, there are no Beach Villas left." We booked this six months ago - you wait until we get here and check in before telling us you don't have a room? Never mind, they said, we will upgrade you free of charge to a Water Bungalow. No, we said, we don't consider this to be an upgrade, we don't WANT a water bungalow, we want to be on the beach (we had considered and rejected the water bungalow for this reason, not because of the extra cost). So we had to stay in the water bungalow for a couple of nights until a Deluxe villa became available. This meant packing and unpacking all over again, and we felt that our holiday didn't really start until lunchtime on day 3 of our holiday, when we were at last settled into the room that we had booked six months before.
When we checked in, they gave us a list of what drinks are included in our "all-inclusive" deal, and asked us to sign it to prove that we understood what we were entitled to - and an impressive list it is. Scotch includes Famous Grouse and Johnnie Walker, the vodkas are either Stolly or Absolut, gin is Beefeater or Tanqueray, and so on. This list clearly states that all these drinks are available at the Pool Bar - but they aren't. The list also includes bottled Warsteiner Pils, so the very first time I walked up to the bar on arrival, I asked for one, to be met by a blank stare from the bar staff. No, we don't have Warsteiner. The list seems to be pretty much fiction - most of the time we were given Gordon's gin for our G&Ts instead of Beefeater - not that I'm complaining. And instead of Warsteiner, they had the very acceptable Tiger beer.
The list also states that sandwiches, snacks and cakes are available in the main bar between 4:00pm and 5:30pm every day. This is rubbish. The first day I went diving, the boat got back too late for me to have lunch, so we turned up at the bar at 4:15pm to have a sandwich - there was a tray of sticky cakes, but no sandwiches were available. When we complained, they said that sandwiches weren't available every day, despite what the list said. The brochure says that the food available is "selected from the Coffee-Shop Menu" - but it isn't.
All these annoyances which surfaced over the first week or so made us feel that the resort management was actively seeking to piss us off. We made our gripes plain to Reception, Guest Relations, the Bar Manager, the Kuoni rep and anyone else who would listen, and conspicuously ignored that ban on taking drinks back to our room for the whole of our holiday. The resort eventually realised that we were getting increasingly annoyed, and gave us a free candlelit sunset dinner on the beach with wine included to placate us.
OK, griping over. Now for the good side - and there is a very good side to Reethi Beach Resort.
We got to spend time in both a water bungalow and a deluxe beach villa (see above). The water bungalows are very comfortable, set at the northern tip of the island about 10-15 minutes walk from the main restaurant and bar. There are about 30 bungalows built out over the water on wooden stilts in a wide arc. There is a big comfortable bedroom with a couple of easy chairs, and a big window and patio doors out on to the private balcony, screened off on both sides, with a couple of sunbeds, and a view out over the ocean.
The huge and tastefully built enclosed (ie not open-air) bathroom has a bath with TWO shower roses at one end. Huge mirror above the washbasin set into a massive tiled worktop. Beach towels are included, and all towels changed daily. There were no free electricity sockets, so re-charging batteries meant moving a bedside table and unplugging the bedside lamp and the standard lamp (they were both wired into the same plug!). Sockets are standard UK 13A flat-pin.
There was a TV, a CD player and a kettle and sachets of tea/coffee/sugar/whitener. Everything was spotlessly clean and well put together.
Our water bungalow was no 229, at the right-hand end of the arc, which looked out eastwards and got the morning sun, but of course you didn't see the sun set. No 200, at the left hand end, faced north-west and got some evening sun. There was no shade on our balcony until mid afternoon, and no breeze because of the efficient screening from the (mainly) westerly wind. I spent 15 minutes on the balcony one morning at about 10:30, and had to retreat indoors, dripping with sweat. To cool off, you can walk down ladders on the main walkway into the water, which was only a foot or two deep, but had quite a lot of hard coral around. There were colourful fish to be seen from the balconies and from the walkways - people told us they'd seen stingrays, devil rays, and small sharks swimming around the wooden pilings.
There is a "Sunset Bar" next to the entrance onto the walkways which is open at lunchtimes and at sunset (but drinks are chargeable - see above). To sunbathe in the shade, you have to walk off the Water Villa complex altogether, and go and find a spare place on the beach. You'll be lucky to get a sunbed though.
Many people are attracted by the romantic notion of the water bungalows, built out on stilts over the lagoon, with a private balcony. Maybe we are just too practical.
De Luxe Beach Villa
Much nicer. Even bigger main room, divided by a screen into a comfortable bedroom area and a nice sitting area with a colonial-style cane settee, easy chairs and coffee table. There is a covered verandah outside facing westwards, also with a couple of cane easy chairs and a small table. You can then walk under some shady trees out onto the beach and into the sea. There is a double swing outside, and we had three sunbeds - two on the beach and one under the shady trees. The rooms normally have two sturdy wooden sunbeds, with foam mattresses. There's a knee-height tap at the entrance to the veranda to wash the sand off your feet before entering the room.
The bathroom is partially open air with a two-foot wide garden strip under the open air part - you can sunbathe while sitting on the WC! All the rest is similar to the water bungalow, except that there were a couple of free electricity sockets, and no CD player or tea/coffee-making facilities. Naturally all the rooms have minibar, efficient aircon and a fan.
Our room was no 130. We recommend that you ask for a room number between 110 and 125 - the beach is a bit wider and softer, and you get a huge thatched sunshade on the beach.
We enjoyed the readily available shade, the swing and the verandah - ideal locations for sipping something long and cool while watching the sun set.
Two huge open-sided, high-ceilinged, wood-beamed, thatched rooms full of dining tables and chairs, separated by the buffet area. There was a huge variety of food available - half a dozen main courses, meat, fish, hot vegetables, lots of different fresh salad vegetables, fresh bread, oils and garnishes, and cakes, fruits, gateaux etc for afters. All the food was well cooked, and continually replenished. There was frequently a griddle area where food was freshly cooked to order.
Full marks to RBR for the restaurant and food - the food was plentiful, fresh, tasty and imaginative.
The restaurant had a different dinner theme every night - Sri Lankan, French, Arabic, Italian, Asiatic etc. Naturally, there was always plenty of tasty, fresh, meaty spicy fish cooked in a variety of ways.
We had a table to ourselves, laid with thick red and blue cotton tablecloths and napkins, all changed at every meal. The laundry bill must have been huge. Our all-inclusive deal included unlimited, very acceptable, house wine by the glass. Bottled wine was available from a list at extra cost.
Our young waiter Ahmed (they all seemed to be called Ahmed), was a sweetie. He was always giggling, but very efficient and attentive. Linda was jealous of his long curly dark eyelashes. He would often show us origami tricks - folding the flyers on the table into jumping frogs, fish etc. He soon learned our preferences, and would have bottles of water and glasses of wine ready when he saw us coming. He came from Gan, way down south, like a lot of waiters. He was always cheerful, even though it can't have been much of a life - living in a dormitory, not allowed on the beach, with four days off a month, and he only got to go home once a year, for a month, in the rainy season.
Linda wanted to take Ahmed home with us....
The main bar had a large covered area, again, open-sided, high-ceilinged, wood-beamed, palm-thatched, with a long counter with tall chairs. The covered area had a sandy floor over wooden flooring. The sand was raked and brushed every morning, and supported lots of easy chairs and tables. Between the covered area and the beach was an open decking area, with more tables and chairs, and interspersed with tall and elegant palm trees. This was on the east side of the island, so you couldn't see the sun set from the bar.
Most evenings there would be an event on - crab racing, disco, local traditional dancing or drumming, spa demonstration, a good variety of stuff.
The waiters were very friendly and would come round regularly to take your orders, occasionally dropping off (free!) saucers of nuts, popcorn etc. As usual, they mostly seemed to be from India or Sri Lanka.
Off to one side was a TV/games room with a pool table, table football machine, ping-pong table, dartboard etc. During our stay there was a Formula One race shown live on the TV, with chairs lined up for the fans.
Once a week there was a party on the beach at the small Beach bar. Also near the Beach bar they would lay on romantic candle-lit dinners at sunset on the beach for selected guests (repeat bookers, honeymooners - and those who complain about the all inclusive deal).
Located at the end of a long covered wooden jetty, this really nice covered area has a dozen tables where you can get a variety of snacks such as club sandwiches, burgers, fresh fish etc. Very pleasant. As clearly stated in the brochure, not included in the all inclusive deal.
Extremely impressive and well-equipped, with an outside tennis court, indoor badminton and squash courts for the masochistic in the heat. Also an air-conditioned gym. A full-time and pretty fit-looking sports professional to look after you.
Water Sports Centre
Very well equipped, windsurfers, cats, jet-skis, canoes, waterskiing, banana boat rides, etc. Didn't use it.
The Serena Spa specialised in Ayurvedic massage and also had a sauna, steam room and cold plunge pool. They also did very skilful henna tattoos. The spa building was carefully designed to be very atmospheric - quiet, cool, with Indian carvings, plants, and with incense and the sound of a water fountain and mystical eastern music wafting through the air.
Grill and Chinese/Maldivean Restaurants
Speciality restaurants that we didn't use, as they weren't included in our deal (though we were entitled to a 20% discount).
A real spectacle - at 6pm every night they fed fish at the diving jetty. Huge numbers of small to medium-sized fish and some enormous stingrays and some spotted guitarfish (big, shark-like fish, with attendant remoras) gathered every evening for this. One of the staff waded knee-deep into the sea and threw bits of fish into the water, causing the water to boil as a feeding frenzy broke out amongst the smaller fish. The stingrays were quite insistent, shoving hard at the guy's legs, and getting the lion's share of the food.
Some very well organised trips for people to go on - two free trips per week were included in our all-inclusive package. We went shopping at a local island (a couple of souvenir shops), followed by the Sandbank sunset cocktail referred to earlier.
We also went on a sunrise fishing trip, starting at 6:30am - we were told that they catch some serious fish on this trip. We trolled plastic squid around a hook on long lines behind us for two and a half hours without getting a single bite. But we did see a turtle on the surface, and some fantastic dolphins porpoising just a few yards ahead of the boat.
We also hired a deserted island for a morning for the "Robinson Crusoe Picnic". A bit of a hoot - they drop you off at a deserted tropical island ten minutes boat-ride away, with a picnic. You are allegedly guaranteed to have the place to yourself, but in fact people can canoe or catamaran over from the Resort island. After we were dropped off, the departing dhoni made a detour to examine something floating on the water some five hundred meters away - we were told later it was a pair of turtles, mating on the surface. The snorkelling is better over there, but watch out for the crows - as soon as you go off exploring the island, they descend on your picnic. Once again, the Resort managed to make us laugh by giving us a plate of coleslaw, and no cutlery.
Other trips included a trip to the atoll's capital island, night fishing and so on.
Underwater, the coral begins a few meters off shore - leaving a sandy strip where you can lie in the shallows to cool off. The coral is a bit beaten up, but supports plenty of colourful fish: we saw blue-green parrotfishes of half a dozen different species, Powder-blue Surgeonfish, black surgeonfish, Oriental Sweetlips, Titan and Picasso triggerfishes and a hundred other varieties all just a few meters off shore. The Resort has cut a few rather indistinct narrow channels marked by buoys through the coral so that you can swim safely out to the drop off even at low tide. At the drop off were huge numbers of fusiliers and blue-black Red-toothed Triggerfish. People saw eagle rays, stingrays and turtles at the drop off (but I didn't, grrrrr!).
My dive computer said that the water temperature was 29°C - but in the shallows off the beach it was often much warmer.
The "Sea Explorer" Dive Centre is relaxed, friendly, professional, and well equipped. All the BCDs and regs looked brand new, with the BCDs bearing the Sea Explorer logo. When you check in, you are allocated a crate to keep all your bits in. There are hangers on a rail for your wetsuit. There is one rinsing tank for cameras/regs, and a separate one for everything else. The regs and tanks are DIN, but they can also issue international connectors. The BCDs had the second regulator mouthpiece integrated into the end of the BCD filling/emptying control pipe, rather than on a separate hose from the first stage - air is fed to it from the BCD hose.
There is the usual PADI-based classroom and a workshop. Check out Sea Explorer's web site for courses available and a price list. My dives worked out at about GBP28 each (inc hire of BCD, reg, tank, weights and boat). Add a bit more for a computer if you haven't got one.
Planned dives are published on the noticeboard outside 24-36 hours in advance, with a description/diagram of the site, and you are invited to add your name to the list. This is good, because you can read about the site, and decide if you want to go or not - at other resorts, I've not found out where we're going until I'm already on the boat. Morning dives were two-tank, afternoon dives one-tank. There were usually two morning boats going to different sites at 8:30 and 8:45, and they generally got back at about 1:30pm, which meant a bit of a scramble to get some lunch before the restaurant shut at 2pm. The afternoon boat left at 3pm. They don't publish a list of all the local dive sites, so you don't know what's possible.
You have to assemble your kit wrapped tightly in your weight belt 15 minutes before the boat goes, so that the boat boys can load it onto a trolley for transport to the dhoni. You dress your tank when you get on the boat, which nearly always left spot on time.
There are seven or eight instructors, German, English, Italian, Maldivian and Japanese (ignore the staff photos shown on their web site - only Angelo remained when I was there). All speak at least two languages, and all speak English. Most of the divers were German, so most briefings were carried out in German first, then English for the remaining Italian, Brit and Japanese divers. They will allocate buddy teams if you aren't already with someone. You can either follow an instructor around, or go off on your own with your buddy if they are happy that you will be ok. They insist on a five minute safety stop at five meters at the end of each dive, max depth 30m, max dive time 60 mins, otherwise you are left to decide your own dive profile.
I did twelve dives, mostly on thilas or outcrops off a house reef. They were all memorable for the sheer numbers, colours and varieties of reef fish, and the excellent vis of 30m+. The hard coral is showing considerable signs of re-growth, even where completely bleached - there are patches of red, blue, yellow everywhere. The really exceptional sites which I would recommend are:
- Huruvali, which for some reason had been completely untouched by the coral bleaching disaster - the fantastic hard and soft corals were stunning, just like I remember them from pre 1998.
- Aquarium, which I visited three times. This is a sandy depression surrounded by coral fingers, and when the tidal conditions are right, it is full of sharks and rays. The idea is to hang onto the coral finger on the left hand side, and wait to see what turns up. On two occasions there was a fly-past of a formation of seven eagle rays, on one occasion two eagle rays repeatedly circled around just a few meters in front of us. On one occasion we saw twenty, yes twenty, grey reef sharks circling above us to our left. They then descended to have a look at the line of bubble blowing divers on the finger, swimming in line astern right in front of us, then turning round and swimming past us and above us to get a second look. On another occasion a group of four grey reef sharks swam past. Also seen nearby were several stingrays, one of which deliberately swam close to two of our group in order to be stroked as it flew past!
On other dives I saw several huge and curious Napoleons, which came to have a close look at us. Other people saw turtles and dolphins underwater, but I didn't (grrrr!).
On one fantastic surface interval, while motoring slowly between our morning dive sites across a mirror-calm sea, we came across a pod of 50 to 60 dolphins cruising along on the surface. As we approached for a closer look, the whole pod took off, porpoising clear out of the water as we followed at full speed, watching them for ten minutes or so before turning away and giving them a rest. When we reached our second dive site (Huruvali), still grinning and chattering about this great encounter, a big turtle popped up beside the boat, took a long look at us, and dived again.
Dolphins in much smaller groups were regularly seen from dive dhonis, and even from the beach at the Resort, swimming past the house reef.
RBR is an attractive and very pleasant resort, with lots to do (unlike some Maldives resorts). The quality of the rooms is high, the staff are friendly and cheerful, the food is excellent. The diving in Baa Atoll is exceptional.
There was an inexcusable screw-up over our room, but the resort offered us what they felt was a free upgrade by way of compensation.
We were annoyed at a continual stream of rules designed to make you pay for drinks, even though you've already paid for all-inclusive. When we went, the premium for all-inclusive over full board was only about GBP4 per person per day, so if you are prepared to put up with the exclusions, it's still a good deal. We'd have been happier if they removed the silly rules, and charged a bigger premium....
We ignored the resort's ludicrous ban on taking drinks back to our room, and they seemed to accept this. Their main concerns were (1) that they would lose the glasses, and (2) that we would give drinks to other guests who weren't on the all-inclusive package. We made a point of always returning empties to the bar, and they could see that we were drinking the stuff ourselves, and that we clearly weren't taking away that many drinks.
Again, the resort understood that we weren't happy with the room screw-up and other things, and offered us a free candle-lit dinner on the beach, which was nice.
All in all, we enjoyed our stay - this is one of the few places we'd consider going back to, provided they stop annoying us with silly rules.