The Maldives is the sort of place that you mention to friends and almost universally receive a sigh of longing in return. The dreamy collection of islands with their crystal clear waters and beach huts has been one of the most popular destinations in the world over the last few years - and it appears to be a hugely popular destination for people wanting to get away in 2023. With dry season from December - April, it is the ultimate destination for some of that winter sunshine.
The only problem with the Maldives is knowing where to visit, particularly if you have never been there before. With thousands of island resorts to choose one, and each one prides itself on its own identity and style, it can be overwhelming for sure. As such, we looked at two sister resorts nestled close to one another (it’s a tough gig, but someone has to do it), to look into whether Dhawa Ihuru or Banyan Tree are the right resorts for you…
Dhawa Ihuru (formerly Angsana Ihuru) review
Our first stay was at Dhawa Ihuru, the newly rebranded resort that was once known as Angsana Ihuru. Located in North Malé Atoll, it means that the transfer is a mere 25-minute speedboat ride from Male airport, making it very handy to get your holiday started as soon as possible.
As thrilling as a seaplane might be, it means a lot more hanging around at the airport as your cases are weighed and so on, while a speedboat is certainly the faster method.
Upon arrival at Dhawa Ihuru, I was immediately struck by how tiny the island really is, like a deserted paradise island decided to turn into a resort.
The staff are very gracious and dedicated to ensuring you have the most wonderful time on the island, and the intimate feel between them and the guests is immediate.
The hut-like villas are sweetly nestled into one another - while of course giving guests more than enough of their own backyard beach space which again backs onto the beautiful, pale blue ocean. The rooms themselves are contemporary, with a delightful outdoor jacuzzi pool and shower under a canopy of trees.
So what I was saying about the island being small? It takes a mere eight minutes to leisurely circumnavigate the space - or three Taylor Swift songs, as I learned - and includes a dive centre and watersports centre, a spa, a spacious bar and a restaurant.
The resort’s vibe isn’t just about rest and relaxation, although many holidaymakers can be spotted settled in a deckchair with a paperback - the real appeal of Dhawa Ihuru is its stunning snorkelling and diving conditions.
The reef is located so close to the shore that keen snorkelers - even beginners like we were - will have no trouble in swimming into the gaps in the reef as signally by signs in the ocean before being able to skim over the reef and check out the brightly coloured fishes and coral that teem with life beneath the surface. You might even be lucky enough to spot a shark (don’t worry, the harmless kind) or a turtle or two.
For keen divers, the resort also has a unique special feature - the Rannaamari Wreck. Located reasonably close to the shore, snorkelers will be disappointed as the wreck only becomes visible ten metres below the surface - but if you’re coming to the Maldives to dive, it is a must-visit.
The island also offers a spa with a full list of treatments, a gallery, a kids club and a gym, and for those that want to find more adventure, you may also opt to try cooking classes or join on an excursion. As much as you would think you would be hard-pressed to find adventure on such a small beached island, there is certainly that and more.
Where to eat
You have one option - unless you fancy a little room service - and that is the resort’s Rivoli restaurant. The dining area usually hosts a buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner - though occasionally will provide a set menu for dinner - and there is anything you could want from Maldivian delicacies to make-your-own ramen to curries to pizza. The restaurant also comes complete with a cooking stand, where a chef will make fresh omelettes for breakfasts, sear fresh tuna for lunch, or steak for dinner, depending on your preferences!
To book, visit Dhawa Ihuru
Banyan Tree review
If Dhawa Ihuru is a deserted island that turned into a resort, then Banyan Tree is an upbeat, tropical village. Much bigger than its sister island - and although it is located a mere five-minute speedboat ride away, there is a clear difference between the two resorts.
While Dhawa Ihuru appeals to keen divers or snorkelers who are content in spending their time checking out the reef and beyond - and indeed, speedboats of Banyan Tree guests are even ferried to Dhawa for this exact reason, Banyan Tree is all about those honeymooner vibes.
Greeted by waving members of staff and smooth check-in, arriving at the villa I was struck by how much three nights at this place wouldn’t be enough for me. The villa - a round home with cool furnishings including a four-poster bed, a corner snug, a shower nook along with burning incense and slippers laid out by the bed alongside matching dressing gowns, was the stuff of dreams.
And I haven’t even mentioned the outside yet. The front entrance is complete with a small private swimming pool and a hot tub with a comfy day bed in a sunspot, while the front of the villa is complete with shaded day beds under a hut, a hammock and more sun beds to push right out onto the beach, which is just a few metres away. Idyllic.
While it seems like choosing your station, and your book and staying there for the rest of the week would be a good idea - those who are more adventurous have plenty of other opportunities to choose from. With Banyan Tree, guests are offered paddle boarding, swimming with turtles or manta rays, and can even gather to watch the manta rays being fed in the late afternoon. And for those who love a tipple, there is always happy hour at the bar in mid-afternoon, where guests can even have a game of ping pong over their Pina Coladas.
Where to eat
Once again, the breakfasts are buffet, while lunch and dinner depend. On one occasion, lunch was BBQ where you could select your meat, which was then cooked and brought to you - delicious. In other cases, the whole meal was a la carte and your menu was full of tasty options. We particularly loved the sashimi platter starter, the ox tail soup, and the fish main.
Are there any downsides?
The biggest downside during our stay was the sound of building works due to an infinity pool construction. While it is completely reasonable that these works would have to take place while guests are staying at the resort, I saw no mention of this on the website - and would have thought a 'heads up' would have been in order for prospective guests so they know that they will be getting some drilling alongside their dream vacation. Not to mention, one morning the drilling began before 8 am, not ideal for the lazy holidaymakers wanting to sleep in.
That being said, the staff were conscious of the inconvenience and kindly offered us a complimentary lunch for the disturbance. That being said, it would have been kinder still to have warned guests ahead of their booking. This aside, we will very much be back again - preferably once the infinity pool is finished and open for business!
To book, visit banyantree.com
WHAT IS THE WEATHER IN THE MALDIVES LIKE?
What we heard the most during our stay was that the weather in the Maldives was very unpredictable, and even differs from one island to the next. We wished we had known this as - ahead of our trip - we had looked at BBC’s weather reports with a keen eye, working out what days would be rainy and which would be sunny - and had accepted that for most of our week looking like we’d be swimming in the ocean while holding umbrellas aloft.
In reality, it rained - an amazing tropical rain - for all of one hour before clearing to sunshine throughout our entire trip. In late November, the country is just coming out of the rainy season - and while going to the dry season is obviously the smart move - the reality is that you just don’t know what sort of weather you might be getting until you’re there. Good luck!
HOW TO TRAVEL DIRECTLY TO THE MALDIVES
While the popular choice is to take two flights from the UK to the UEA and then onwards to Male airport, a much faster (albeit, more expensive) option is to take a direct British Airways flight which is around 10 hours. The only airline to take the flight path, it is a clever way of making more time out of your stay rather than the usual option which takes 13 hours plus.
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