The Maldives has been on Lindsay Yap’s travel wish list for the longest time, so she made the most of her recent five-day getaway to this tropical island nation. If it’s high on yours, read on!
Niyama Private Islands is located on Dhaalu Atoll, about a 45-minute seaplane ride away from the Maldivian capital Malé; you can also choose to take a 30-minute domestic flight to Dhaalu Airport and a 10-minute speedboat ride to the resort. Despite the heftier price tag, I recommend taking the seaplane as it’s a huge part of the whole Niyama experience. Seeing the islands and reefs from above is amazing, and that famed turquoise shade of Maldivian water is exactly as intense as you imagine.
We visited in late November, which is the end of the monsoon season. Though we experienced some cloudy skies and passing showers, it was nothing too drastic to affect our plans. The weather in the Maldives can be erratic, so a longer stay allows for more hits than misses – the perfect excuse for stretching out your trip!
The resort is spread across two islands – dubbed “Play” and “Chill” – with over 100 rooms made up of a mix of overwater, beach and pool villas and pavilions. Despite being at almost full occupancy while we were there, it didn’t feel crowded. That was something we really appreciated; looking out to the beach from our villa, we almost felt like we had the island to ourselves.
Villa and butler
During our stay, my sister and I were put up in a Beach Pool Villa on Chill. We especially loved the privacy of our own pool, while having direct access to the beach. The villa has a spacious patio with a swing and loungers for enjoying the sea views, while the room itself is perfect for two: a comfy king-sized bed, a day lounger and a TV with a decent movie selection (with an in-room popcorn machine to boot!). The pretty bathroom boasted an open-air shower with a water feature and pathway leading to it; note that, since it’s half outdoors, you’ll likely share the space with some insects.
A great thing about staying at Niyama is that each room gets a personal thakuru (butler) – ours was Laith, and he was amazing. The friendly guy ferried us about on his golf cart, including to meals at restaurants located on the other island, Play. Jetlagged on our first morning, we woke up very early and were hungry for breakfast. As it was raining, we decided to call Laith to give us a ride. Little did we know that we’d called him before he started work for the day (oops!). Despite this, he still picked up our call and came to the rescue of two hungry girls.
Loads to sea
Of course, the Maldives is all about the water, and we took advantage by heading out on a dolphin cruise on our first morning; the creatures excitedly jumped and swam about beside the boat. We also went kayaking and jet-skiing – the water-sports centre offers these and other fun activities and excursions including paddle boarding, parasailing, wakeboarding, diving and fishing.
Our jet-skiing guide Mu-sif was especially attentive as I was a first-timer; he ensured that we were doing things right throughout our allotted time. After returning to shore, he offered to take me out on a quick ride on his own jet-ski to see some of the area. When I told him I hoped he didn’t have any fast take-offs, sharp turns or other tricks up his sleeve, he just grinned and said, “Don’t worry!” But he was extremely patient, despite me grabbing him tightly and shrieking in his ear as we shot across the water at top speed. All he said was, “As long as I can breathe, it’s okay!”
The next day, we headed out on a snorkelling excursion and were glad to see a familiar face on our boat. It was Mu-sif, who accompanied us in the water, snapping underwater photos along the way. Though we loved the snorkelling, there were areas of coral reef that weren’t anywhere near as vibrant as we’d expected; Mu-sif explained that the Maldives has suffered ongoing coral bleaching since 2014 due to increasing water temperatures. It was sobering to see first-hand the impact of global warming on this beautiful natural environment.
Don’t miss the wonders of the Drift Spa, by the way. (Overwater treatment room, anyone?) My coconut oil massage was amazing – my masseuse even took care to wipe the excess oil from my feet after the treatment so I didn’t slip on my way out.
Dining at the resort gets a definite thumbs-up. There are seven restaurants across the two islands, each with its own unique offerings and themes. We especially enjoyed the seafood, which, coming from local islands, was always incredibly fresh.
Each morning, we dug into a generous buffet spread at all-day dining spot Epicure that overlooks the sea. We also had the chance to enjoy Asian cuisine at Nest. In a lush green setting, the restaurant serves up a mix of delicious dishes, including teppanyaki for lunch. Another must-try is Tribal, offering Afro-Latin cuisine with rich flavours; everything here was tasty but we were especially impressed with the dry-aged beef. If you’re up for game meat such as crocodile and ostrich, you’ll also not be disappointed.
Ever dreamt of dining underwater? You can do that at Subsix. Located a three-minute boat ride from Play, the restaurant is surrounded by glass windows so you can watch fish swim by as you have your meal. We visited for lunch and highly recommend going for the Subaquatic lunch set, a five-course meal including wagyu and lobster. Above Subsix is Edge, serving fine dining food with a touch of molecular gastronomy. It has both indoor and outdoor seating; we enjoyed an alfresco dinner there with a cool sea breeze.
For a quick bite, both The Deli and beachside café Dune serve up sandwiches, pastries and drinks. For sundowners, don’t miss Surf Shack on Play; with great tunes, drinks and sunset views, the chill reggae bar has everything going for it.
For the ultimate treat, have the resort plan a private dining experience for you. You can enjoy a customised menu presented by a personal chef and waiter at your preferred location and time – anything from a gourmet lunch on a deserted island to a romantic dinner under the stars. Our dinner by the beach was incredible, and included a grand fire-lit walkway to our table, a tree with pretty dangling lights and two cosy bean bags. We savoured the surf-and-turf menu while looking up to a sky full of dazzling stars – truly breathtaking.
Just for kids
Family-friendly Niyama is home to the Explorers Kids Club that organises fun activities for children aged one to 12 years (an additional fee applies for one- and two-year- olds). The grounds include an outdoor area with a playground and splash park.
To book your Maldives escape, visit niyama.com.