ABOVE: Landaa Giraavaru
A trip of a lifetime in the Maldives to snorkel with the manta rays, visit a Maldivian village and relax on a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve at the Ayurvedic spa
Soaring across crystal clear turquoise water on a speedboat, with the wind whipping through my hair, I’m en route to a place I’ve been wanting to visit my entire life: the Maldives. The Republic of Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, is comprised of 1,192 coral islands and a chain of 26 atolls stretching 35,000 square miles. In the last three decades, the tropical paradise has become a mecca for marine biologists (there are more than 1,100 species of fish), ocean conservationists, surfers, honeymooners, spa aficionados and families alike.
As I arrive at the dock at the Four Seasons Maldives Resort at Kuda Huraa, where I’m greeted by a friendly and welcoming staff, it’s clear that I’ve landed in paradise. The property, complete with 96 guest rooms spanning modern beach and overwater villas (guests can watch fish swim directly below the private ocean deck), a Marine Discovery Centre, five restaurants, and a Kids club and Teen center, offers a host of activities from turtle safaris and dolphin cruises to scuba diving, a surf school, cooking classes and Maldivian village visits.
LEFT + RIGHT: Landaa Giraavaru
For a break from the sun and water activities, take a small boat to the spa on a private island replete with treatment rooms lined with glass-bottom windows situated underneath massage beds. “It’s about hearing, feeling and seeing the water, and we want it to feel like a cozy, second home while you’re here,” says Spa Director Maxime Lureau, a formally trained podiatrist. Inside the tranquil spa, featuring Malibu–based Osea skincare and bodycare products, treatments include the Secrets of the Sea, a nighttime ritual designed to promote deep relaxation and improved sleep beginning with a dry skin brush and warm wrap consisting of flower essences and vagus nerve oil. (The vagus nerve runs from the brain through the face to the abdomen.) Next, drift away in an organic Gigartina bath (red marine algae known to boost immunity), followed by a Healing Waters massage. I booked a pedicure with Lureau, who examines each foot, uses special tools, and makes recommendations based on individual needs.
After a few blissful days, I head to the sister island, Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, situated on Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, for a full spa and marine life immersion. Upon check-in to the 103-villa oasis, once the site of a coconut plantation, I’m handed a manta phone (or special cell phone) for the manta-on-call program that rings from headquarters when manta rays are spotted in the area. I place my phone in my bag and watch it obsessively over the next few days. Eventually, the phone rings, and I make my way to the Marine Discovery Centre—complete with aquarium exhibits; a new, two-person submarine adventure on the Super Falcon 3S that plunges to 120 feet for prime viewing of dolphins, sharks, coral and fish; and an outdoor sea turtle rescue center—to board a boat for a snorkel with the manta rays (one of the most thrilling experiences of my life).
ABOVE: Kuda Huraa
In the meantime, I linger over a leisurely lunch at Blu Restaurant perched above the water, and try the new Yoga Energy Trail with 15 outdoor stations strategically positioned around the property for strengthening, stretching and toning. I head to the Spa & Ayurvedic Retreat—with renowned visiting yogis and all-inclusive Ayurvedic immerisions ranging from seven to 21 days—for an Ayurvedic consultation with Spa Director Dr. Shylesh Subramanya followed by Abhyanga, a head-to-toe massage performed simultaneously by two therapists designed to increase immunity and reduce signs of aging. I also opt for the transformative Devi Bhavani, a ritual for women, intended to cultivate positive, life-affirming changes through sacred songs, healing sounds, a massage and a bath lined with floating flowers.
As the sun rises on the last day and I wake to the sound of gentle crashing waves outside my villa, I can’t help but begin to plan my return trip.