Within sight of the high-rise Maldivian capital yet a world apart, the Banyan Tree resort on Vabbinfaru is a picturesque gem. Tall palms, bright hibiscus and heavily scented frangipani carpet the island and festoon the beach villas, each of which comes with its own private swimming pool. Small even by the standards of the Maldives - you can stroll across it in a couple of minutes - this perfect circle of an island has a big personality.
Why Banyan Tree?
At many resorts in the Maldives, beaches are a bit of an afterthought. The focus is on over-water villas and sundecks rather than long stretches of sand. But Vabbinfaru is fringed by a wide swathe of white sand, lapped by the gentle swell of the Indian Ocean and protected by a reef that rings the whole island. And it’s all very convenient, too, just a 20-minute speedboat ride from the international airport at Male.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
What to do
Banyan Tree resorts have been at the forefront of marine conservation efforts in the Maldives, working to rehabilitate coral that has suffered from bleaching - a potentially fatal condition caused by warmer-than-usual seas. Vabbinfaru’s resident marine biologist, Dr Steve Newman, who hails from northeast England, encourages guests to get involved in citizen science projects, planting coral and helping to monitor the health of the delicate reef ecosystem. Daily stingray-feeding sessions are an opportunity to learn about one of the resident species.
Then there are all the usual Maldivian pursuits, from scuba-diving courses to self-guided snorkelling expeditions. From your beach-front cabin, you can swim out through shallow water, little more than a metre deep, to the edge of the reef which plunges down sharply to the sea floor. Here, in the warm currents that swirl around skeletal corals, bright tropical fish graze on algae or hunt their next meal. There are bigger sea creatures too: eagle rays and sea turtles, for example, and several whitetip reef sharks, which cruise around the island, circling back now and again to inspect their masked visitors.
Strong swimmers can circumnavigate the reef in about two hours - or tackle it in portions day by day. Further opportunities for exploration await at the neighbouring resort of Angsana Ihuru, where Banyan Tree guests are welcome to swim and snorkel. The two islands are connected by a complimentary boat service.
For a change of pace, the Banyan Tree Spa provides the perfect excuse to lie back and relax, enjoying a gentle, stress-relieving Japanese massage or a more invigorating treatment using Balinese or Thai techniques. The massages take place outside, in private shaded gardens, cooled by the breeze and soothed by the sound of running water.
The villas on Vabbinfaru, with their thatched roofs and hardwood furnishings, all come with a private swimming pool and hot tub, enclosed in a walled garden for maximum privacy. You can choose between an “oceanview” or “beachfront” room, the latter jutting out onto the sand, the former set back in the treeline for a more secluded stay.
What to eat
Meals are served in the open-sided restaurant, which spills out onto a palm-shaded stretch of beach. You can also order a private villa barbecue, for which the Vabbinfaru staff will set up a portable grill outside your room and prepare a three-course feast of seafood or lamb, chicken and steak. Cookery classes can also be arranged.
When to go
The driest and sunniest months in the Maldives coincide with the worst of the British winter, running from November to April. May/June and September/October are transitional months, with long sunny spells and relatively infrequent downpours, while July and August can bring more prolonged periods of rain. The temperature is consistent throughout the year, reaching 28C to 32C during the day and dropping by only a few degrees at night.
How to get there
British Airways flies non-stop from London to Male from October to March, from £710 return. Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad all fly to Male year round from a range of UK airports, with a connection in Doha, Dubai or Abu Dhabi, from about £650 return. The resort will arrange a 20-minute speedboat transfer from the airport to the island.
How to book
For more information and to book, visit banyantree.com. Rooms are available from £380 per night, including breakfast - and until 19 December 2019, guests will benefit from a special offer to mark Banyan Tree’s 25th anniversary, including 25% off rooms, restaurant bills and spa treatments.
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.