Tick a bucket list box by heading to one of these four island idylls. Because who doesn’t want to call a tropical paradise their own, even just for a little while?
From the air, The Maldives scream that you’re approaching a vacation nation. The turquoise and white patches in the deep blue of the Indian Ocean look like exotic bruises, but for anyone gazing on them for the first time, it’s impossible not to feel a frisson of excitement.
They each raise expectation, those beautiful little islands – and The Maldives is home to 1,200 of them, many seeming to orbit the country’s 26 atolls like planets around aquamarine stars. However, no matter where you’re travelling, expectation can be a killer. Given how often images of The Maldives are used to promote the very notion of an idyllic holiday, the expectation of having a great time while visiting is enormous. To take the pessimist’s view: there seems an awfully long way to fall.
Then there’s the cost – the Maldives is a breathtakingly expensive place to holiday. But then you talk to anyone who’s actually visited this tropical paradise and, without exception, they gush unreservedly about their experience; nowhere is comparable, the sky, the colours, even in the rain, it’s truly beautiful…
The Laamu Atoll
All those picture-perfect azure waters and stilted villas are found all over The Maldives. However, Six Senses Laamu is the only resort on the remote Laamu Atoll, where adventure-lovers can swim with whale sharks and manta rays, parasail across the islands or surf the powerful Huvadhoo Atoll waves, witness turtles hatching on the beach after dark, dine in underwater restaurants and indulge in underwater spa retreats. While the cost doubtless puts plenty of people off, it could just be that it’s so expensive simply because it’s the best.
A diver’s dream
The Maldives is renowned for some of the world’s best reefs and diving destinations, with dive centres located across many of the country’s islands offering experienced divers specialty courses including cavern diving, night diving and digital underwater photography.
For more, go to visitmaldives.com and sixsenses.com/en/resorts/laamu
Just 40km from vibrant Sri Lankan capital Colombo, Kalutara sits on the bank of the Kalu Ganga (River) and is the gateway to the golden beaches and resorts of the south coast.
From November to April, whale sightings along the south coast of Sri Lanka are frequent. The countries’ blue whales have become cetacean celebrities, having been repeatedly featured on big budget BBC natural world extravaganzas. At 100 feet long, the largest living animals on earth typically feed in colder waters and migrate to warm waters to breed and calve – and it doesn’t get much warmer than Sri Lanka, a country five degrees above the equator.
The vibrant Sri Lankan capital Colombo has plenty to offer, from temples to beautiful beaches to delectable cuisine to shopping, absorbing entertainment and a buzzing nightlife. It’s also a convenient gateway that lets you travel to other parts of the tropical island for a day of adventuring before heading back to the city.
Just 40km south of Colombo, sitting on the bank of the Kalu Ganga River, the town of Kalutara is one such day trip. The gateway to the golden beaches of the south, from the gleaming Gangatilaka Viharaya (popularly referred to as the Kalutara Bodhi due to the Bo tree on the lower terrace) to the 19th-century Richmond Castle, Kalido Beach to beautiful Roman Catholic churches, country fields and toddy tappers, Kalutara has a lot going on. Visitors can also take a boat ride along the Kalu Ganga.
A suburb of Colombo in Western Province, Kelaniya is famously known as a site where the Buddha gave a sermon on his third and final visit to the country. Known for the Buddhist temple built on the banks of the Kelani River, the location where the Buddha is said to have visited, the art inside the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara dates back to the Kandyan era and the early 20th century. This spiritual site attracts visitors of all faiths.
Yala National Park is an easy daytrip from hotels in this area and it’s here that hundreds of peacocks, crocodiles and even a few leopards can be found. En route to the park, there’s a chance a wild elephant will come thundering out of the bushes, too.
Each morning, fishing boats pull up onto the private beaches of many hotels along the south coast, wicker baskets brimming with fresh clams, giant lobsters, prawns as long as your forearm, crayfish and rainbow-coloured fish. Chefs race down to the beach to take orders from guests – and at lunch or dinner, your bespoke meal is served.
For more, visit srilanka.travel and avanihotels.com/en/kalutara
Paradise exists on a private island located just off the North East coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania. Once found, &Beyond Mnemba Island Lodge is impossible to forget – and why would you want to?
Everyone – including the staff – goes barefoot at &Beyond Mnemba Island Lodge. It’s the best way to fully experience heart-shaped Mnemba Island’s stretches of chalk-white sand and the shaded paths meandering through the island’s tropical forest. Dining is done with your toes in the sand, too. Often rated as one of the top ten beaches in the world, Mnemba has seen more than its fair share of international celebrities and honeymooners. Besides the idyllic setting, the remote nature of the Lodge beckons. There are just ten bandas (traditional-style cottages made from woven mats), meaning there can only ever be a maximum of 20 guests. Each banda is cleverly hidden from the next. There are not too many walls, no doors (therefore no room keys to worry about) and there’s no glass in the “windows” (large openings that frame views of feathery casuarina trees and mangroves).
Winding pathways from each cottage lead to a sala – a covered private space that’s ideal for afternoon tea or sunset dawas (coffee and lime cocktails) – and sun-loungers on the beach where you can sit for hours watching the ocean’s jade and cobalt stripes shift with the tides. With so few visitors, it’s possible to spend the entire time on Mnemba not having to interact with anyone but a private butler, if you so desire.
Days on Mnemba Island can be whiled away in search of caramel-coloured sunis (petite antelope), brought here from Zanzibar’s Jozani forest, and Ader’s duikers, one of rarest species of antelope that roam wild.
Breakfast consists of creamy pineapple curd, granola with yoghurt, berries, smoky honey from nearby Pemba island, herby cheeses, mangosteen, papaya and mango, followed by warm baked goods. Lunch and dinner under the stars often includes chilled gazpacho, a king fish nicoise salad, grilled calamari or lobster and seared prawns, followed by a grapefruit sorbet. Local fishermen moor their rustic wooden dhows off Mnemba at different times of the day, delivering freshly caught fish.
The house reef, a colourful coral garden, is a short swim away from the shore. Meanwhile, a ten-minute boat ride from the island takes you to Kichwani where there’s a steep underwater slope. Here, schools of snapper are interrupted by the odd trumpet fish on a mission. Bottlenose dolphins pass Mnemba just about every day, often gathering in the Kichwani area’s pellucid waters. &Beyond Mnemba Island Lodge has received a number of awards for its many marine conservation projects. One of the most important is its ongoing green turtle research. The island is one of only two protected nesting sites for the endangered animal and over the last two decades or more, an average of 34 turtles have come to lay their eggs here annually.
For more visit zanzibartourism.go.tz
From exquisite shorelines to tropical forests abundant with wildlife, Praslin and La Digue, the Seychelles’ second and third largest islands, offer some of the best locations for a storybook island adventure.
This archipelago a thousand miles east of Kenya offers an island adventure to remember. Not only are the 115 islands of the Seychelles home to some of the world’s best beaches (the white sand of Beau-Vallon on main island Mahé instantly springs to mind), they’re also a nature-lovers dream, with dramatic rock formations and exotic plants and animals to discover, like Praslin’s UNESCO-listed Vallée de Mai where the rare coco de mer grows, or Frégate island where giant tortoises roam. Best of all, the Seychelles has largely managed to avoid environment-ruining development and its sprinkling of royalty-approved hideaways are some of the most eco-aware (albeit pricey) hotels on the planet.
Praslin and La Digue
The second and third biggest islands on this island nation are renowned for their exquisite shorelines and tropical forests. In terms of size, Praslin measures 10km by 3.7km, so driving around the island really doesn’t take long. Anse Lazio – Praslin’s most renowned beach – is located in the north-west. It is postcard perfect: giant granite rocks border a sweep of glistening white sand and palm trees jut out at impossible angles while their bottle-green fronds stretch towards turquoise waters. It’s not far from one of the most photographed beaches in the world – Anse Source d’Argent. Anse Georgette is one of the Seychelles’ most picturesque beaches where, if you’re lucky, you may spot dolphins at sunset. It can only be reached from luxury resort Constance Lémuria. Limited day passes are available to experience its famous white sand.
Vallée de Mai
Vallée de Mai is 19.5 hectares of lush palm forest and looks like a scene from Jurassic Park. It’s actually one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Seychelles and it is teeming with coco de mer palms. These trees are unique to Praslin and its neighbouring island, Curieuse. The forest lies at the heart of the island and it is the first stop for many visitors here.
Coco de mers can live for around 200 years or more and, interestingly, they don’t ever fall down. A dying coco de mer simply shrivels back into the earth, leaving behind a small, dried-out “bowl” which looks a bit like a primeval colander.
For more information, visit seychelles.travel