Talcum powder beaches, fifty shades of blue, and a world without masks. As I dangled my feet in the Indian Ocean from my water villa, I wondered if a magic carpet had transported me to this insanely gorgeous country at a time when we had written off travelling during COVID-19. I always wanted to visit the Maldives, but I never thought I’d end up going in the middle of a pandemic. However, it turned out to be a near-perfect escape.
For starters, each resort is safely cocooned on a separate island, hence there is negligible risk of getting COVID-19. Secondly, you do not need to quarantine as you only enter Maldives after testing negative. Thirdly, Maldives gives a visa on arrival so there is no hassling paperwork.
Things to do before leaving
When I travelled earlier this month from Delhi, I flew Air India via Trivandrum where I had to show a COVID-19 negative report at immigration. In the flight, the mandatory face shield and mask had to stay on except when dry food boxes were handed out–no alcohol or hot beverages are served. Recently, IndiGo has started flights from Mumbai to Male on Thursdays and Sundays. Once you land in Male, you go through the usual process of checking and stamping the passport–nothing extra.
Reaching the resort
The spectacular 45-minute ride via a 15-seater seaplane that took me to the resort was my first tryst with Maldives–from Male, you access your chosen island either by seaplane or speedboat. As I passed each atoll dotting the ocean, I gazed in wonder at the stunning shades of blue and the water so clear that you could spot every coral. I was dividing my week between two resorts – Kandima Maldives and Heritance Aarah.
“Now you can remove your masks,” I was told at Kandima. Hearing these golden words seemed like someone had given me my pre-pandemic life back and I was ready for my dose of sun, sand, and Vitamin Sea.
Kandima is a stylish, modern resort with an oomph factor so instead of the usual room keycard, I got a green RFID wristband that is worn all the time – and I loved not having to search for my key each time I was going to my villa.
No masks at the resorts do not mean they take things casually. Under a health and safety programme called K’OnGuard, there are regular temperature checks, deep cleaning of rooms, social distancing at restaurants, and contactless check-in via the ‘K’ app. I knew that I was in safe hands.
Located on the largest island in Maldives at Dhalu atoll, Kandima has more than 250 villas and studios. It was dark by the time I reached my aqua villa, but I slept with the curtains open and the blue sea welcomed me the next morning. From my private deck that had its very own Jacuzzi, I could soak in in the ocean view.
Kandima truly lives up to its name of an active lifestyle resort. Apart from boasting of one of the longest pools in Maldives, it has a football field, a tennis court, a gym, yoga studio, and water sports like scuba diving and snorkelling. My most thrilling experience was a ride where a seat like a sofa with four persons is tied to a speedboat – as it gains speed you are thrown in every direction. During those 20 minutes, you forget every worry in this world.
But when one good thing ends, it paves the way for an equally exciting but different experience. Our next resort–Heritance Aarah was a traditional-looking, sustainable resort with villas that stunningly stretch right into the sea–it is the first one in Maldives to have a LEED Gold-certificate.
I squealed in delight in my room when I realised the ocean was literally below my feet – there was a glass floor next to my bed. Each night I’d watch sharks, stingrays, and Manta rays from my outdoor deck. Apart from the usual water sports, this resort offers an unusual ”village” experience – they have set up a traditional hut, locals are weaving thatch, and I learn about their food, life and customs.
From the best ice tea given as a welcome drink to the 18-spice butter that accompanied the fish or the freshly baked bread basket, each meal at the six restaurants and five bars here was a celebration. But the morning that will stay with me forever is the floating breakfast they served in the infinity pool – after all, it is not every day that you sate hunger cravings in the middle of a pool surrounded by the ocean.
The four nights passed in a jiffy. Two days before leaving a technician came to my room to do a COVID-19 test as the report takes 48 hours. One night before leaving I had to fill a number of forms.
Then, sadly it was time to don the mask again. When I reached Male airport, besides the temperature check, they asked for the QR code scan of the online health declaration form. My immigration in Trivandrum was smooth, but I had to give a number of details like address, number, the purpose of visit, etc. before catching our flight. At the New Delhi airport, there were no checks or mandates.
It was hard to say goodbye to Maldives. This week seemed like a dream that I didn’t want to wake up from. All I can say is ‘Wake me up when COVID-19 ends.’
Know before travelling
Number of COVID-19 PCR tests: Two, one before arriving in Maldives that should not be older than 72 hours. The second one in Maldives done within 96 hours before departure flight.
Forms to be filled up before reaching Male: Online health declaration form where you need to upload your picture and the negative PCR report. They give a QR code which should be kept. This needs to be filled 24 hours before arriving in Male. You also need to register and fill up a form stating how you are feeling.
Cost of COVID-19 test in Maldives: US$150 (Rs 11,000 approx.) at the resort.
Forms to be filled up before leaving Male: Online health declaration form on the government portal. Before arriving in India, a self-reporting form where you have to upload your COVID-19 negative report. After filling this, you need to apply for an exemption to avoid institutional quarantine. You will get an e-mail saying the exemption approved.
*Please check these rules before planning your trip as they are changing frequently.
All images: Courtesy resorts