Travel

Four nights in the Maldives taught me something I wish I’d known 10 years ago


Travel lover Alice Murphy learned a lot about her idea of the perfect holiday on a tiny island in the Maldives (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

Technicolour sunsets. Swaying palm trees. Shimmering water that feels like stepping into a bath. Time and space to sit back and do… nothing.

It sounds like paradise, but until I spent four nights in the Maldives, it was my idea of holiday hell.

I love to travel, and am lucky enough to do so more than most. But my usual itinerary looks a lot more like 30,000 steps a day storming through as many historical sights as opening hours allow than vegetating horizontally on a sun lounger.

Before the Maldives, I’d most recently been to Uzbekistan, driving seven hours across the Kyzylkum desert and scaling secret tunnels in the belly of a Central Asian mosque.

So when I was given the chance to visit one of the 1,192 pristine sandbanks that make up this Indian Ocean haven, I felt anxious. What on earth was I going to do in an all-inclusive resort that you can walk from top to bottom in 15 minutes?

It’s safe to say I’ve always struggled to unwind. And if you told me that half a week on a tiny island in the South Nilandhe Atoll would finally teach me the joy of relaxation, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But it did — and it’s changed my idea of the perfect holiday forever.

A short stay in Sun Siyam Vilu Reef in the Maldives finally showed Metro.co.uk’s Alice Murphy what it’s like to fully relax (Picture: Metro.co.uk)
It turns out a holiday doesn’t need to be filled with dozens of activities (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

First impressions

As we touched down in the densely-populated Maldivian capital Malé, I wondered how quickly I would devour the books I had hauled halfway across the world. And what would I do then? Lie alone with my thoughts?

My anxious brain was already fretting about where it would take me with little distraction but sun, sea and sand as we boarded a seaplane that would fly us 145km south to Sun Siyam Vilu Reef, a five-star resort built on a coral reef.

I needn’t have worried. The 35-minute journey alone is enough to fill your head with awe and serotonin. Crewed by the barefoot pilots of Trans Maldivian Airways, we soared over turquoise ocean speckled with white sand banks and the familiar outline of the Maldives’ iconic accommodation: overwater huts.

My fear of boredom had started to dissolve into the azure waves by the time we landed at our destination, where we were greeted with juice-filled pineapples and a chauffeured golf buggy that took us to the villa that would be our home for the next four days.

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The Maldives is home to some of the world’s most spectacular sunsets (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

The setting was otherworldly, with crystal clear water lapping against the shore and soft yellow sand glistening in the sun. But what struck me more than anything was the welcome from our ‘island hosts’, Erika and Mohammed, who must greet dozens of guests each week but still managed to make us feel like the first.

Behind the door of the villa lay luxury I’d never experienced before, with a cavernous bedroom backing onto a huge walk-in wardrobe, and a Jack and Jill bathroom (two sinks!) looking out on a terrace where a sparkling infinity pool flowed into the sea.

As the day wore on the clear blue sky became mottled with pink, melting into a candy-hued sunset of orange and purple that I know I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

If you asked ChatGPT to show you heaven, I thought, this is what it would give you. Why was I so worried about coming here to do nothing?

The view from the Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane that takes you to one of the country’s 1,192 islands (Picture: Metro.co.uk)
A night in an Sun Siyam Vilu Reef villa like this one starts from £470 for two persons sharing (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

The joy of doing nothing

It didn’t take long for me to realise I’d got the Maldives – and my presumption of sun, sea, and sweet all else – spectacularly wrong.

After hours flip-flopping from pool to ocean, I’d worked up enough of an appetite to try a smorgasbord of dishes from one of the island’s three restaurants. An eclectic menu caters to every palette, with freshly caught tuna sashimi to start, Maldivian curries laced with chilli and dried fish for main, and an array of cakes, creams and fruit to finish.

From the first bite, I became obsessed with masmirus, a Maldivian sambal of dried tuna, garlic, ginger and chilli. I drizzled it over everything, relishing the spicy kick as I stared out from the restaurant deck onto the ocean that seemed to stretch on for eternity.

At first it felt strange to spend hours over dinner, just enjoying the view. But I soon felt as though I’d missed out on more than I’d realised on previous trips, barrelling about like a roadrunner, desperate to fit too much in. Terrible conflict plagues so much of our world right now that it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the darkness. In those moments, looking out over the gently lapping waves, I felt so lucky to be somewhere that feels so at peace.

Alice on a sunset cruise where dolphins flipped and twirled out of the water (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

Plenty to do in paradise

But even if you can’t get on board with sitting back and drinking it all in, icy cocktail in hand, you won’t be short of things to do in the Maldives. There’s plenty to do for every preference, from wine tasting and hot stone massages, to diving trips where you’ve more than a good chance of coming face to face with a whale shark.

Jet skis can be rented as well as flippers and masks, perfect for ocean lovers to explore the nearby reef. My favourite moment was a group snorkelling tour, where we sailed about 30 minutes from the island and swam next to giant sea turtles and a cornucopia of colourful fish.

A sunset cruise where dolphins put on an enthralling performance, flipping and twirling above the waves, is something I will always feel privileged to have seen.

It didn’t take long for Alice to realise she’d got the Maldives spectacularly wrong (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

So captivating is Sun Siyam Vilu Reef, it has seen one German woman return more than 40 times in eight years. Affectionately dubbed Mama by a team of resort staff who clearly adore her, this lucky traveller has even been given her own residence, a beachfront villa marked with a sign that reads ‘Mama’s House’.

It’s clear that the people behind Sun Siyam Resorts know how to give back. On Bandidhoo, an island about an hour’s boat ride from Sun Siyam Vilu Reef, this community spirit is on full display in the form of an outdoor gym and playground, funded by the resort as a thank you to locals.

Affordable luxury

There’s no doubt that Sun Siyam Vilu Reef is a luxury resort, but it’s surprisingly affordable when you consider its location in the heart of one of the world’s most expensive holiday destinations.

A one night all-inclusive stay for two people in an overwater villa at Sun Siyam Vilu Reef starts from £470 – a bargain compared to many of its counterparts across the atoll. One night at the newly opened Soneva Secret – the Maldives’ priciest resort – will set you back £2,556. And if you want to spend Christmas in that particular slice of paradise, the price shoots up to a cool £8,880. 

Surely this is what ChatGPT would imagine heaven to look like (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

If that slaps the brakes on your Maldives travel plans, don’t panic – there are plenty of budget-friendly places to stay, too. Since 2009, the Maldivian government has allowed independent guesthouses to open on non-resort islands, where rooms can cost as little as £25 per night. Airbnb also operates in the Maldives, as does the Couchsurfing community, with about 2,000 active hosts spread across the 1,192 islands.

For the cheapest deal, travel experts advise booking from May to September. And they say you shouldn’t be discouraged that it’s billed as the wet season — rain showers are infrequent and almost always short.

As we boarded a seaplane to carry us back to Malé and the mundanity of reality on our final morning, the sun was rising over the undulating horizon. I felt calm and overwhelmingly grateful to have spent four days in such a unique and extraordinary paradise. 

There’d been no real itinerary. No bustling city streets with 9 bars to choose from. No imposing buildings that have stood for thousands of years and weathered multiple wars. But I’d never enjoyed a holiday more.



Which Sun Siyam Resort is for you?

Metro.co.uk spoke to Sun Siyam Resorts travel marketing director, Angie Sloan, about what each Maldivian resort has to offer. And Angie is a woman who knows, having been to each destination many times!

  • For action, adventure and adrenaline hits, Angie says you can’t look past Siyam World, which offers a plethora of high-octane activities including go-karting, horse riding, a full-size international football pitch and the world’s first underwater jet-pack.
  • If you’re looking to be pampered, Angie recommends the award-winning Sun Siyam Iru Fushi, home to The Spa by Thalgo France which has a menu of over 160 treatments.
  • Best for affordable luxury is the multi-island Sun Siyam Olhuveli, says Angie. Just a 40-minute speedboat ride from Malé, it has access to some incredible snorkel and dive sites – including shipwrecks!
  • For romance, anniversaries and special occasions, Angie’s go-to is Sun Siyam Iru Veli. Reviewers on TripAdvisor seem to agree, with dozens of travellers calling their time there ‘unforgettable’.
  • Finally, if you’re simply after world-class cuisine, Angie says it’s tough to choose between Sun Siyam Iru Fushi and Siyam World. Both have 16 and 18 restaurants and bars respectively – take your pick.

Alice Murphy was a guest of Sun Siyam, at Sun Siyam Vilu Reef.

Etihad flies from London Heathrow to Velana International Airport with a stop in Abu Dhabi from £642 return; Qatar Airways flies from London Heathrow with one stopover in Doha from £773.


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