Resort Report for our (second!) holiday in Maldives 2004 - Vilamendhoo, Ari Atoll, December 2004.
Our seventh visit to the Maldives - an all-inclusive deal through Cosmos. We decided to try the "other end" of the season - ie early December instead of April. November is supposed to be season turn-round time from the wetter, stormier south-east monsoon during June-October, to the drier, calmer north-east monsoon between December and April.
Good non-stop flight from Monarch, even though it left an hour late. An alarming arrival in the Maldives as the pilot aborted the landing at the last moment. A rain squall had swept across the runway, obscuring his view. We circled for half an hour until the visibility improved and we could land.
Speedier than usual through immigration and our bags were early off the carousel. A rapid transfer by bus over to the seaplane terminal, and then a two hour wait for our flight to Vilamendhoo. During this flight there was little to see as the rainclouds hung thick and low over the atolls - a shame, as this view is usually one of the highlights of the holiday. After landing the rain cleared momentarily as we scrambled across the pontoon to the waiting dhoni, and then settled in again as we checked in and splashed along through the puddles to our room, number 100, on the northwest side of the island.
Vilamendhoo is a long thin island about 900m long and 300m wide in the middle, tapering to nothing at each end. The long axis is almost east-west, with the Sunset Bar at the western end. The two jetties, the dive centre, reception, the main bar and the dining area are all in the middle of the southern side. The bungalows are a mixture of semi-detached and detached arranged around the perimeter of the island, set back a few meters from the beach.
The main common areas (restaurant, reception etc) are in the middle of the island on the south side. The staff quarters and services (eg generator, laundry, sewage plant etc) are towards the western end.
The island is quite heavily wooded - from the sea you can hardly see any buildings at all. In the interior, all the fallen leaves and coconuts are left where they land to rot, providing a very natural habitat. Only the paths and beaches are swept clean every day.
Vilamendhoo is located about a km back from the eastern edge of South Ari Atoll, and has a biggish outcrop of coral to the east of the island. This, together with the east-west orientation of the island and the location of the services at the west end protected Vilamendhoo from the worst of the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami less than a fortnight after we left. There was very little damage, nobody was hurt, and the island was completely back to normal within 24 hours. Contrast this with Ari Beach (White Sands), just ten miles south, which was more exposed and suffered heavy damage - two guests lost their lives, all the guests had to be evacuated, and the island was closed for some weeks for repairs.
Reception is open 24 hours a day, with a library of English, German and Russian books and magazines to borrow. Safe deposit boxes available here for free, accessible three times a day, after breakfast, at lunch and before dinner.
Near the main bar and restaurant there's a jewellers and a souvenir shop with two table-tennis tables next door. At the western end of the island are floodlit tennis courts and a volleyball court. There's a water sports centre with a couple of catamarans and some sailboards, but they didn't seem to be doing much business.
Every day at 5:30pm they come around the island with a machine that generates a dense white cloud of insecticidal smoke. We also had a mozziecutor going in our room. However, we still got bitten quite a bit - don't know whether this is because of the time of year or because the island has plentiful undergrowth.
The beach was white coral sand with occasional lumps of broken coral in it, which meant you had to watch where you put your feet. Otherwise the beach was great outside our room, though we tended to lose the sun at about four pm behind the trees.
The main problem was that on most of the northern side of the island, from about room 70 to room 34 at the eastern tip, there was no beach at all. The sea had eroded all the sand away back to ironshore or a concrete wall. You could step down from the concrete retaining wall into the sea, and then wade on the ironshore or sand in the lagoon. I would have been very cross if I'd been put in one of these rooms without a beach - that's what you come to the Maldives for.
The southern side of the island was better, with most rooms having a good bit of beach, but even here, the trees grew right down into the water in places.
Note that the beaches do migrate around the island with the seasons - this is what it was like in Dec 2004.
Not as good as other times when we've been to the Maldives. Cooler, windier, rainier. We had rain showers every other day. Nevertheless, still hot on the beach when the sun shone - as usual, I stayed in the shade pretty much all the time to keep comfortable, whereas Linda toasted out in the sun.
Our detached bungalow (about half of the bungalows are semi-detached) was at the northwest of the island, just 100m from the Sunset Bar (very convenient), and about five minutes walk from the restaurant and main bar. It was set back about 20m from the beach, with trees and bushes in front, providing plentiful shade. There was some noise from the diesel generator, but it wasn't too obtrusive.
A large double bed, two dressing tables (one with a minibar built under), lots of hanging-, shelf- and drawer-space. Good big bathroom with an open-air garden. Large shower area, WC, washbasin with plenty of room for bathroom supplies around it and a huge mirror. All neat, clean, tidy, kept immaculate by the room boy. Clean towels (inc beach towels) every day.
Aircon and a ceiling fan kept the room cool when needed. A couple of free UK-style 13A sockets for recharging batteries etc.
Outside was a large covered veranda with a couple of cane chairs and a coffee table. At the side of the bungalow was a separate entrance with a tap at knee height for washing off the sand from your feet before you go inside.
Each room had two numbered heavy wooden sunbeds on the beach, and we were asked to store the mattresses in the rack at the side of the bungalow to prevent them from being blown away.
The restaurant is near the jetties on the south side of the island. It has four separate wings filled with tables for two or four. In the centre is the buffet area. Good food, fresh and tasty, with plenty of choice. For lunch and dinner there were always two different kinds of rice, and a pasta; two or three curry dishes, also beef, chicken and fish dishes, lots of fresh salad and garnishes. You can even have a nice hot bowl of soup. Fresh fruit and half a dozen sweet dishes. At breakfast there was a selection of fruit and cereals, or you could have eggs cooked to your requirements at the fry station.
No pork at all - the island is run by a Maldivian hotel company. So you couldn't have bacon with your breakfast egg or omelette. Tragedy.
We shared a table with another Brit couple, though we would have preferred to have had a table on our own. We could have insisted if we'd wanted to. You keep the same table and waiter during your holiday. Wine was served by the glass - we soon got our waiter trained up so he brought glasses as soon as he spotted us arriving. On the evening before your departure, your waiter will decorate your table lavishly with flowers and ingeniously folded napkins to resemble trees and ducks.
There are two bars - the Main Bar next to the restaurant, and the Sunset Bar at the western tip of the island. Service was quicker in the Main Bar, but the Sunset Bar has more atmosphere, since you can relax on deckchairs on the beach to admire the sunsets. Snacks are also served in the Sunset Bar - eg a toasted sandwich with a generous portion of chips and a bit of coleslaw.
You were not supposed to take drinks away from the bars to your room - but as usual we ignored this rule and nobody objected.
Again, they insist on you having the same waiter, which really doesn't work very well, since if "your" waiter is off-duty, or busy elsewhere, you just don't get served very quickly while "other people's" waiters ignore you. Half way through our second week, "our" Sunset Bar waiter disappeared - he was said to have gone to Male for a short break - but this meant that service became even slower. We transferred our allegiance to the Main Bar, where "our" waiter was super-efficient.
There was also a TV Lounge next to the Main Bar, with satellite TV - there always seemed to be Brits clutching glasses of beer watching football. The Dive Centre frequently showed a good video shot at the dive sites near the island to drum up business.
In the Water
The house reef was very snorkellable, with the drop-off just a few yards offshore. The dive centre had cleared ten well-marked channels out through the reef so that you can get out to the drop-off even at low tide. You couldn't usually swim over the coral even at high tide - the water just wasn't deep enough. Ebb and flow of tidal currents meant that you could often drift from one exit to the next. Although the coral was a bit beaten up, there were plenty of fish to be seen, and the occasional passing ray.
There were a number of baby black-tipped reef sharks, about two or three feet long, circling in the shallow lagoon just off the beach all day, joined occasionally by turtles, stingrays and moray eels.
On one occasion we came across two blue surgeonfish performing some sort of mating dance by swimming in a tight circle round each other over and over.
The Dive Centre
The excellent dive centre was run by Werner Lau (though it isn't any more, so details of staff, packages offered, equipment etc will have changed). All the staff (Germans and a couple of Maldivians) speak good English, and all were cheerful and friendly.
All the usual gear for hire seemed to be good quality, well maintained. There are two fresh water rinse tanks, one for cameras and regulators, one for everything else. There's masses of outside hanging area for your wetsuit and BCD, and a wet room locked overnight for other stuff. On arrival you have to listen to the house rules (they have a lot of these), and they insist on a check dive on the house reef.
They have a 6- and a 10-dive package, also an unlimited shore diving package, when they'll carry your tank to your chosen exit point by wheelbarrow, and collect it afterwards. If you take these packages, the check dive is free. You don't have to book the packages - they automatically give you the appropriate package price once you've done that number of dives. The packages are cheaper if you book them before you travel - however, if you catch a cold on the plane over, or rick your back carrying your suitcase, you may not be able to do all the dives, so I don't book them in advance.
They have four dive dhonis, all of which go out every morning and afternoon, to sites up to an hour away. Once a week, there is an all day two-tank trip by one boat to outlying dive sites, including lunch. The morning dives leave at 9:00, and are back between 11:00 or 12:30, depending on how far away the sites are. There are also early morning dives and night dives.
My 10 boat dives ended up costing about £32 each - about average for the Maldives.
The diving was not as good as other diving I've done in the Maldives. The water was murky - visibility rarely got up to 20m, and the mixed weather often meant that it was quite dark underwater.
I visited the following sites, all of which had masses of good coral and reef fishes. My camera housing started playing up, refusing to turn on the camera, meaning I missed out on photo opportunities on three dives. I shall have a word with Ocean Optics about this.
Fairly beaten up reef on the southeast side of the island for my check dive - but plenty of fish to see.
Good tilla, a turtle on the reef top.
This is a Marine nature reserve - and it shows. Huge clouds of blue lined snappers, sharks, octopus etc.
WTRS (white tip reef shark), stingrays, eagle rays, morays, plus the usual coral and reef fish.
Nice Tilla with good coral & reef fish. Swim through along channel (hence the site's name) at 18m depth.
Supposed to do Paradise Rock as well (just 200m away), but didn't since vis was poor (10-12m). 1 WTRS. Big shoal of Moorish Idols. Nice big tilla with good coral & reef fish.
Failed to find reef on 1st attempt (leader spent 5 mins on surface helping somebody with ear problems to get underwater). Vis 10-12m. Climbed back on boat to try again. Turtle, nice coral & reef fish, nudibranch (Phyllidae). Saw 2 dolphins from boat on way back to Vilamendhoo.
On edge of atoll just 10 mins from the island. Medium/strong current inwards, vis 30m. 1 WTRS, several Giant Morays.
On edge of Atoll, VERY strong current inwards, vis 30m, little finning, just hang onto reef. 4 WTRS, big Napoleon, several Giant Morays.
Beautiful tilla, top at 8-12m, nice coral & reef fish. Little or no current, vis 15m. 6 Phyllidae nudibranchs.
Snorkelling, diving and resort photos. Each page is between 0.5Mb and 1Mb in size, so may take a couple of minutes to load over a slow dial-up connection.
Good value. A very pleasant stay, marred only slightly by below-average weather. Good diving, marred only slightly by poorer than usual visibility. Snorkelling reasonable. Excellent room, good food, good atmosphere, service a bit slow at the Sunset Bar.
Would we go again? Probably not - there are so many places to see, and this wasn't as memorable as others we've been to. Having said that, this was good value for the Maldives.