"And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling." ~ Shanti
If ever there was a far off destination that evoked the alluring charms of a mirage -- a literal floating oasis amidst the bluest sea you ever saw -- well, I think the Maldives would be it. Equal parts fantasy as it is true paradise, this particular pocket of the world has long been on my bucket list, and I'm willing to bet, perhaps it's been on yours as well? After all, who wouldn't love to sleep in an ocean villa literally perched over the water?
Of course, you don't need me to tell you, but the thing about bucket list destinations, and yours truly is certainly guilty of this, is that they're easy to delay. Because they're expensive. Because perhaps you'd prefer a partner to go with you. Because the timing just isn't right. The list goes on and on.
And while I'm not here to tell you these aren't valid reasons for pause, I would like to say you shouldn't let them hold you back either. With the right amount of advanced planning, diligent saving and a great group of girlfriends, a trip to the Maldives doesn't need to feel like a distant reality.
Having just gotten back from an amazing week in the Maldives myself thanks to the incredible teams at Zapwater and Coco Collection, I can attest to the beauty that awaits you there. Soft watercolor sunrises of pink turn into blazing wildfire sunsets of oranges and purples. The ebb and flow of the ocean both wakes you up in the morning and lulls you to sleep at night. The staff at Coco Collection specifically was perhaps the most genuinely helpful hospitality staff I've ever encountered (and there have been many contenders over the years). And of course, the feeling of walking through the jungle to see a perfectly symmetrical row of villas out amidst the ocean waters, truly never gets old.
If you've been dreaming of hopping over to the Maldives, I'm here to tell you, don't delay any longer. Keep reading down below for a full breakdown of our trip and how to best prepare and save for a trip like this.
First things first, let's get some general questions and tips out of the way so you can start your planning on the best foot possible.
What time of year to go?
Generally speaking, the Maldives are going to be hot and sunny year round, with temperatures averaging between 74 degrees to 88 degrees F. But if we're trying to pinpoint here, best weather tends to be between November and April, with the busy season peaking for the holidays -- December and March. Monsoon season hits May through October, peaking around June. For our trip in particular, we were there in the middle of September and had very little rainfall during our stay, except for the very last evening and morning in town. Like most tropical destinations though, storms come and pass pretty quickly, so I wouldn't necessarily let monsoon season deter you -- just be mindful that it's a possibility you'll have a few passing rain showers.
How long to stay...
This is a matter of preference, of course, but since the travel time from the United States takes so long (we'll cover that in a moment), I'd recommend staying at least 5 full days, if not a full week, to allow for proper jet lag adjustment and travel decompression. If you're someone who needs lots of activities during your stay to warrant this length of time, don't worry -- there's lots to explore in the area.
Do you need to arrange a visa?
United States citizens do not need to arrange a visa before arriving, but we were advised to bring hotel confirmation letters while going through customs and passport control to expedite the process.
The Maldives are a small tropical nation in South Asia in the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean, just south of India. The main religion is Islam and like traveling to any conservative country, I think it's always important to be mindful of local customs. Of course, most of the resorts you'll be considering are generally lax because of the tourists coming through, but since you'll likely be traveling through the capital, Male, just know that importing or carrying alcohol of any kind is illegal. I wouldn't necessarily advise needing to wear anything different for traveling through Male, but most local women you'll see will be covered with either hijabs or full burqas -- so covering your shoulders and wearing something a bit longer wouldn't be a bad idea.
You'll hear a lot of different languages spoken in the Maldives due to its hospitality industry drawing from a lot of the neighboring countries -- India, Sri Lanka, UAE and Bangladesh. The official language of the islands is Dhivehi, which is closely related to the Sinhala language of Sri Lanka. Of course, English is spoken fluently throughout the resorts.
Make sure to pack...
Your best tropical gear! And of course, sunscreen and some bug spray. We didn't necessarily encounter a lot of bugs but since the islands tend to be densely forested with trees and tropical vegetation, I would err on the side of caution and bring some. If you get motion sickness easily, I would recommend packing some medicine just in case -- the waters can be choppy at times.
I won't sugarcoat this -- flying to the Maldives is a journey within itself. Depending on where you're flying from the United States, it can take up to 24 hours of travel time, including layovers. I flew economy with Emirates from JFK, first to Dubai (roughly 15 hour flight), before hopping to Male (about a 4 hour flight), where we transferred to a speedboat for a 30 minute ride to our first resort, Coco Bodu Hithi. The arrival journey took just under 23 hours, which included a short layover in Dubai. Of course, one look at the resort once we arrived and it was exactly as my friend Jenn Lake said, "The juice is worth the squeeze." And let me assure you, it most certainly is.
The return trip took a bit longer, due to an extended layover in Dubai (close to 11 hours) largely because of the flight patterns that come in from Male and the departures from Dubai being slightly unavoidable. No need to fret though -- the in-airport hotel at the Dubai airport is top-notch and available to rent by the hour (I know that sounds seedy, trust me, it's not). A few of the girls and I indulged in rooms to catch up on a few hours of sleep, work and a much-needed spa visit. One of the girls, Lisa, booked her room for 16 hours since she had the longest layover back to LA and her total came out to $215.
Like any big trip, total flight cost will vary depending on the time of year and how far in advance you plan. For reference though, I just did a quick Google Flights search for a month out -- November 7th through the 14th -- departing from the greater New York area to Male in the Maldives and roundtrip is currently $900 to $1200 range. I don't know about you, but I've personally paid more to go to Europe before and that's hopping over only one ocean. If you're unfamiliar with the Google Flights feature -- I highly recommend using it for your next trip. It makes it super easy to track and monitor prices for flights you're eyeing, with email alerts once prices drop.
As far as transfers go from Male to your respective resort, make sure to confirm when you book accommodations that your speedboat or seaplane leg is confirmed as well. Generally speaking, this will be addressed when you book your room.
Where to stay...
For the purposes of my post today, I'm happy to share two different and unique properties under the Coco Collection umbrella: Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu. I'll break down my thoughts and who I think they're ideal for below.
Ideal for the honeymooning/vacationing couple or smaller, more intimate groups of girlfriends. Would also make a great solo retreat! Between the two properties, average room rates were more expensive here.
We spent our first 3 nights at Coco Bodu Hithi and it certainly hit all the quintessential Maldivian notes for us: calm and romantic setting, with the picture perfect bungalows over the water. If I'm being absolutely honest up front, I'd have to say I fell pretty hard for this property, mainly because of the rooms we were set up in (more on that later though).
Bodu Hithi island is in North Malé Atoll and is a short speedboat transfer away from the airport -- 30 to 4o minutes. Amazingly, after such a short boat trip, you'll feel miles and miles away from civilization once you arrive. The resort is zen-like -- quiet and serene -- with plenty of tucked away alcoves with a lone hammock or hanging swinging chair to read a book undisturbed. As far as the property space itself, it's smaller in comparison to Dhuni Kolhu, and therefore feels much more intimate.
Of the four room types Bodu Hithi offers, we were lucky enough to be set up in their Coco Residence villas -- their over-water bungalows -- set apart from the rest of the island. Featuring high ceilings, a private infinity pool on the back deck, floor to ceiling windows to really expand your ocean view and exceptional service from one of their dedicated Lifestyle Hosts -- there's very little reason to leave this haven out on the water. And since it's situated right next to the Stars restaurant and the Coco Spa, you really don't have to walk that far for everything you need. Personally, I loved the fact I could see right into the lagoon waters every morning, spotting fish, sting rays and reef sharks alike, all while sipping my morning coffee.
In total, there are five restaurants on property, each with a slightly different vibe, formality and cuisine, meaning you can sample something a bit different each evening if you wanted to. All room types will vary in price, size and amenities available -- while we didn't get to tour the different rooms, you can peek their details here.
I'll go into activities in the next section, but make sure you book yourself a spa treatment if you stay here and say hello to our favorite staff member Gotham, who was quite possibly the sweetest, most helpful human being I've ever met!
Ideal for a larger family trip, perhaps multiple groups of friends with kids or even a family reunion. Would also be great for a bachelorette or divorce or single ladies party alike -- the livelier, the better! Between the two properties, there's more price range flexibility here.
Mid-way through our trip, we transferred to Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu for a two night stay by heading back to Malé via speedboat to catch a short seaplane ride (3o minutes) to the Baa Atoll waters. And while I already admitted I loved Bodu Hithi for its serenity, I also fell equally in love with Dhuni Kolhu's liveliness. The resort itself is much more sprawling, a lot of the villas situated more central on the island allowing for a more "lost in the jungle" vibe, as opposed to the ocean vibes of its sister property.
At first blush, I will say we saw significantly more guests at Dhuni Kolhu than at Bodu Hithi -- which may be attributed to the room price differences and the actual layout of the island's common areas. This didn't detract from our stay, mind you, it just resulted in a slightly different energy.
There are six different types of rooms to choose from -- I was fortunate enough to stay in the beach villa facing the sunrise side of the island. With it's own private pathway leading to the beach, a back patio dipping pool, high ceilings, a secluded outdoor bathroom and shower (sounds odd, but I loved being able to shower while listening to the birds overhead) and an oh-so romantic 4 poster netted bed, I felt completely tucked away in a jungle oasis, with the ocean in close earshot. You can see the rest of the room types here.
On property, there are four restaurants on property, one of which is a full-service buffet. Being that we were a large group of busy-bodies, I have to say, there's something nice about going to a buffet to set the pace of your meal, so you can go about your day and activities as you please. Of course, buffets seem like a perfect option for a large group of friends or family, especially if you have kids. On the subject of kids, we noticed more children at this property, just something to be mindful of, when choosing.
Between the two spa experiences, I have to say I LOVED my treatment here at Dhuni Kolhu, opting for my first ever reflexology treatment and a back, neck and shoulders specific massage -- ideal before a long day of traveling. Their treatment rooms are open air, meaning you can hear all the birds chirp and come to life during your session. TL;DR: it's heaven.
My personal highlights from the island? Walking back to my villa each evening after dinner through the many winding jungle paths and feeling just so immersed in the island itself. During our stay here, we also toured a neighboring residential island, Thulhadhoo, where we had the chance to chat with a few locals -- including Khadeeja -- who was so warm and gracious, having invited us into her home. I love being able to meet locals when I travel so I was happy to see that Dhuni Kolhu offers guided cultural tours like this.
Sharing all activities in the next section!
What to see and do...
At Bodu Hithi we were busy, partaking in:
- Snorkeling day trip to a nearby coral reef with their resident marine biologist -- she was fascinating to chat with, especially now that a lot of the surrounding coral reef has been unfortunately bleached. Thankfully, the property is doing a lot to revive the reefs in the area, with considerable success.
- Floating breakfast at the common pool area.
- Sunset cruise in a traditional Maldivian boat.
- Spa treatments -- Maldivian massage.
- Cooking class with one of their chefs -- we made fish curry, a favorite amongst the staff because it's a dish a lot of their mothers used to make them!
- Bonfire lit BBQ dinner on the beach.
At Dhuni Kolhu, we were equally busy, partaking in:
- Tour of a local residential island, Thulhadhoo, where we had the chance to chat with a few locals.
- A visit to the on-site turtle sanctuary where they rescue and resuscitate injured turtles, with hopes to return them to the ocean.
- Dolphin sunset cruise on a Maldivian boat.
- Edible spa treatments and my aforementioned reflexology and back treatments.
You can read about the full activity packages offered at each property here and here. As someone who loves active water sports, I'd definitely consider adding scuba diving, jet skiing, wake boarding and paddle boarding to the list.
Tips for saving...
Soooo the million dollar question: How much does this all cost? Let's say we're still considering that November 7-14th time frame I mentioned above for the $900 round trip flight option. Between flights and room rates (starting at $579 + room taxes a night) for 6 nights, you're looking at starting your budget around $4,500, which doesn't include activities or all your meals. I will admit, that's not a cheap trip by any means, but there are ways to make this achievable and completely reasonably priced and it all depends on how you structure your time and activities.
A few things to caveat here: I would definitely consider the room type you're booking and what amenities you're really looking for, you can save some cash here if you're realistic as to what type of room you need -- especially if you're someone who craves more outdoor time anyway, the room may be an after thought at the end of the day, since you really won't be spending much time in it. Alternatively, consider sharing a villa with a close friend/girlfriend/partner -- they're certainly large enough, most with double sinks and lots of closet space, you'll have more than enough room.
Moreover, here are a few of my tried and true tips for saving for big trips, once you've settled on your comfortable budget for the trip:
- Research your credit card perks and perhaps consider a travel credit card that might allow for point accumulation you can redeem during this trip, either on your flight or accommodations.
- Audit your monthly expenses -- nothing crazy -- but perhaps give yourself a goal of cutting one thing out that really adds up you could live without until your trip. For me, that's morning coffees at local cafes, especially since I have a Nespresso machine at home. It's amazing how fast $5, 5 days a week adds up. Do that for 6-9 months, and you can practically cover your flight without really trying that hard!
- Similarly, when my boyfriend and I are planning a trip together that we're paying for out of pocket, we cut WAY back on dining out expenses and make more meals at home. Saves a ton of money.
- I don't know about you, but I always feel good about decluttering my life, especially if I can make a few extra bucks along the way. Try selling a few easy things here and there -- an old desk you no longer need or perhaps some dresses or coats that aren't your style anymore -- and add it to the travel fund!
- Have a birthday or a major milestone coming up? Instead of gifts or bottles of wine, ask your friends to contribute to your travel fund as a present!
- Research will always pay off for trips and if you notice certain times of year might be cheaper rate wise, go for it!
- If you're someone who likes to buy a bunch of new dresses and vacation gear, consider renting your wardrobe via Rent the Runway. You all know how much I love their service, but especially for trips, where I don't really want to spend extra money on new things to wear.
And there you have it -- the Maldives in a nutshell! Without hesitating, I would most definitely head back -- it's like no where else I've ever been before, a dream-like destination that stays with you long after you land back home. And my hope is that some of you, after reading this, feel empowered to head there as well, regardless if the timing feels right. Sometimes, you just have to get up and go, right?
OUTFIT DETAILS (in order of appearance here in post): Self Portrait dress (old, similar style here) // Amaio skirt and bathing suit (borrowed) // Rosie Assouline dress (old, here's another statement Rosie Assouline dress currently on sale!) // Johanna Ortiz dress (borrowed, similar style here) // Choosy linen top and pants (gifted. similar style here) with Hermes scarf // Dior shirt (old, but if you check The RealReal often enough, you'll probably snag one of your own!) with Carolina Herrera ball gown skirt (similar style here) // Johanna Ortiz dress (borrowed)
Huge thanks to the Coco Collection and Zapwater teams for inviting me on this incredible trip -- all trip expenses were covered and comped, however, all opinions expressed here are my own.