Review of our two-week stay at Diamonds Thudufushi, Ari Atoll, Maldives, in December 2017.
An uneventful 10 hour BA overnight flight in cattle class from Gatwick, followed by a couple of hours waiting at the seaplane terminal for the excellent 30-minute flight to Thudufushi, with great views of the coral reefs under the clear Indian Ocean.
On the return seaplane flight, we stopped at nearby Moofushi to drop off and pick up other passengers. The international flight home was a pain, as we were seated next to a large, noisy and irritating family. Not much of a choice of films to watch, and the BA food is pretty average, too. We've learned to steer clear of the pasta dishes, as the pasta usually seems to be dry and hard. The only other choice was chicken, so we had two almost identical chicken dishes during the return flight.
Irritatingly, BA have changed for the worse the "Moving Map" display in the entertainment system - it no longer shows height, speed, headwind/tailwind, outside temperature and so on, just the aircraft's position on the map, and ETA. When there are no films worth watching, this is the most interesting thing to have showing on the seat-back display. Why spend money changing it for the worse? What was wrong with it?
The only good thing was that on both BA flights the Boeing 777 was only two-thirds full, so we were able to stretch out a bit.
The weather at Thudufushi was mostly fine and sunny, with just a couple of days with wet and windy tropical squalls. The season clearly hadn't settled down yet – the wind direction kept changing from day to day. We were told that nowadays the calm, settled north-east monsoon doesn't get fully established until January.
This was our eighth visit to Thudufushi over the last 21 years, so we'd already asked for beach villa 24, where we've stayed before, and were glad to be given it. There's sufficient shade on the beach, and at this time of year there's usually plenty of beach. Also, you can vary how much breeze you get by moving up or down the beach. Some rooms have no beach outside – if you get one of these, ask for a different room. The sand on the beach moves around the island from season to season and over the years. This time, while rooms 1-37 mostly had plenty of beach outside (apart from a couple around room 19-20), rooms 38 to 45 had hardly any beach in front.
As usual, our room attendant, Ahmed, kept the place spotless during our stay – we seemed to get fresh sheets and towels every day. The room is comfortable - see our comments on our 2015 visit for more detail about the room contents.
There's now Wi-Fi in every room, and while it won't break any speed records, it's good enough for most purposes, in particular for cheap Skype voice calls back to the UK. Irritatingly internet access disappeared everywhere except Reception for two or three days during our stay – it took a while for a replacement part to arrive. But the fact that you can get internet access at all is not bad for a tiny dot in the middle of the Indian ocean.
We had a guest for the first few days – a cattle egret frequently joined us on the veranda to drink from the water-bowl which is provided so you can wash the sand off your feet before entering the room. While very pretty (see the photos), we didn't appreciate him pooing on the veranda or in the water-bowl, so we eventually shooed him away.
We were also delighted on our last morning to watch from our room as a pod of dolphins swam past less than a hundred metres away.
Food + Drink
The quality of the food is even better than on our last visit. Chef Giacomo is still in charge, and he clearly ensures high standards. There's plenty of choice, with regular themed nights (eg Mexican, Maldivian, Oriental) and for me, the highlight is the fresh tuna steaks, cooked before you on the bbq grill, plus a fresh side-salad. I also indulged myself at the ice-cream counter – the resort is Italian run, so the gelati are top-class.
Again, see our comments on the restaurant in the our 2015 visit for more detail about the choice available.
Our waiter, Mohammed (from North Ari Atoll), worked hard and soon learned our preferences – he eventually moved us to a table in a prime location right next to the beach.
A particular highlight was watching from our restaurant table as a pod of dolphins swam by just offshore one morning at breakfast.
Guests get a free "Maldivian dinner" in the garden, and a free meal at the Teppenyaki restaurant – we decided to try both. For the Maldivian dinner, the hotel goes to a lot of effort to lay on a feast at a table set up in the garden, with masses of local Maldivian food. Now that we've experienced this once, we probably won't repeat the dinner in any future visits.
The Teppenyaki meal was also something that we probably won't take up next time either. The chef is supposed to juggle with his cooking implements while cooking a meal on the griddle in front of you. Our chef kept dropping his bbq fork while juggling, and we were surprised by the amount of salt and soy sauce that went into the meal.
It was good to see all the familiar smiling faces behind the bars - Kholil, Udaaya, Akash, Upali etc. There seems to have been a shake-up since our last visit, with former Head Barman Roshan being moved to a new position as "Water Villa Host" (a kind of Butler-type role), and the appointment of several new bar staff, including a new Head Barman, Lesly, and a new Nepali barman, Ramjee.
I'm afraid that the house reef at Thudufushi is pretty much dead – the once-beautifully-coloured hard corals are now grey and lifeless, and covered with algae. The twin threats of coral bleaching (caused by higher than usual water temperatures as the climate changes), and the invasive Crown of Thorns starfish (which eats and destroys the corals) have ruined it. We first came to Thudufushi in 1996, the year before the increasingly frequent coral bleaching events started, and we well remember how stunningly beautiful and colourful the hard corals were then. It breaks my heart to see the house reef looking like it does now.
There are still some soft corals, and plenty of fish, but unless these now regular bleaching events stop, I can't see the hard corals ever recovering.
Fortunately the hard coral at depth is less heat-stressed, and hasn't been as badly affected, so diving enables you to appreciate it more like it used to be. The service from the IDive dive team (they're also on Facebook) keeps getting better. The huge dive dhoni is equipped with all the facilities you need, and the boat boys deal with all your kit after the dive, stripping your tank and putting all your gear into your crate. They'll take your crate ashore, rinse it all off, and hang it up to dry. Just put your name down on the noticeboard if you want to go on the following day's dive, and your kit will all be back on the boat in your crate, with your wetsuit neatly folded on the bench for you.
The kit for hire is all good quality Scubapro – I used one of IDive's full-length wetsuits for the first time, and was impressed by how much warmer I felt after the dive than with my 20-year old shorty!
We were lucky enough to see lots of dolphins several times from the dive boat on the way to or from the dive sites, and I managed to get some video of the dolphins playing in the boat's bow-wave - check out the "Photos" section below.
Highlights this trip were several reef manta rays and dozens of grey and whitetip reef sharks at Maavaru Corner (a manta cleaning station), a well-camouflaged baby scorpion fish just 5cm long, at Ali Thila, a formation of six eagle rays hovering motionless in the current at Himandhoo Thila, and another group of nine circling round us at Thudufushi Thila. Also more sharks, Tuna, Barracuda, Napoleons, turtles, octopus, stingrays, nudibranchs and millions of reef fish at other sites.
The dive sites I visited were:
- Thudufushi Thila (twice). Always good value, with lots of big stuff to see: sharks, barracuda, turtle, eagle rays, stingrays, octopus.
- Panettone Kandu. Lots of sharks.
- Ali Thila. Grey and white-tip reef sharks, spotted eagle rays, a tiny baby Scorpionfish, almost invisible.
- Maavaru Corner (three times). A sensational Manta cleaning station. Manta rays, dozens of grey reef sharks, white-tip reef sharks, stingrays, eagle rays, masses of barracuda and colourful snappers in shoals.
- Himandhoo Thila. Napoleon, grey reef sharks, six eagle rays, nudibranchs.
- Tamala Thila. Nice coral, turtle.
- Kuda Miaru Thila. Lots of grey and white-tip reef sharks and barracuda, plus nudibranchs, octopus, eagle rays, morays, shrimp.
- Panettone Corner. Napoleon, loads of grey and white-tip reef sharks, stingray.
- Moofushi Kandu. Lots of white-tip reef sharks, Napoleons, eagle ray.
My 12 dives cost US$1175.04, which converted to £882.86, ie £73.57 per dive. Expensive, but the service from IDive is superb, and the underwater life near Thudufushi is fantastic. Thanks to Federico, Govinda, Roberto, Chokka and the rest of the IDive crew.
Each page contains about ten to fifteen pictures, totalling approx five to eight MB per page.
Another wonderful holiday in what feels like a second home. We're already planning to return next year!