Traveling during Covid is complex, admin-heavy, and requires plenty of research before you go. Yet for health conscious voyagers up for a bit of a challenge, the rewards can be immense.
At only a four-hour flight away, with tropical weather and gorgeous beaches, the Maldives has plenty to offer travelers. plus there are plenty of incredible hotel deals on at the moment.
So I booked myself a trip.
It was both far more complex and far more rewarding, than I imagined.
Pre-travel Covid paperwork
The complex part came in the form of admin.
I’m about to spout a lot of logistics at you. It might sound confusing and it was and is. But it might also help you, especially if you’re considering your own luxury mini-break.
So here we go.
Like any Emirates flight to the Maldives at the moment, a PCR test was required for travel – one to exit the country, one to re-enter. On landing in the Maldives, you are required to present a health declaration form. Returning to Dubai required a permit approved online. Since I was bouncing between two resorts (the affordable Kandima Maldives and the more high-end Vakkaru Maldives), I also needed to have a Split Stay form approved by the Maldives Ministry of Tourism.
All this meant I arrived at Malé airport with a binder full of paperwork – and somehow, I still got stuff wrong. My Covid test had expired, because it was done 78 hours instead of the required 72 hours before departure.
Officials pulled me aside at immigration and told me I had to take another test.
Three hours and one intense, double-nose-swab-plus-throat-swab test later, I was finally allowed through. I got lucky; the next day, a whole family was sent home for something similar.
So the moral of the story is: don’t do what I did. Make sure your test results come in less than 72 hours before departure if you’re heading to the Maldives. Al Zahra hospital is offering PCR tests for Dh150, or you can get someone to come to your home with VIP Doctor for Dh350. Emirates also offers home testing for Dh250, but you need to be flying business and in a group of at least two.
Life on the island: Kandima Maldives
My first destination was Kandima Maldives, a 50-minute Manta Air seaplane ride away from the capital. At around Dh900 per night, the trendy, approachable property combines white-sand beaches with wallet-friendly prices.
There’s plenty for the fitness-conscious traveller: a good-sized gym with free weights, TRX, treadmills, weight machines, all facing a lengthy palm-lined outdoor pool; sunset yoga; the longest outdoor pool in the Maldives; a lake with paint-brushes and easels for mental rest; clear kayaks for time in the sea; snorkeling among colorful fish on neighboring reefs; long tree-shaded paths for jogging and endless beaches.
I booked into an aerial yoga class and can recommend it highly. It had the perfect balance of beginner-friendly moves and more challenging skill techniques.
For food, the property’s all-day dining served up plates of fresh fruit alongside traditional Maldivian dishes of dried tuna and coconut. Several of Kandima’s 10 restaurants were closed temporarily, but a high-end dining option was still open on certain nights of the week.
The overall vibe was relaxed with a bit of adventure. Hammocks swung from trees and in the sea an the decor featured pops of bright blue and bold pink.
Life on the island: Vakkaru Maldives
Up next was Vakkaru Maldives, a high-end resort that effortlessly combines luxury with boho-life. Overwater villas come with private pools and steps leading directly into the sea, while beachfront rooms nestle among 2,300 palm trees. It’s definitely on the pricier side (rooms start at around Dh4,000 per night), but like many Maldivian resorts, it has special promotional packages available at the moment.
I spent my mornings jogging around the numerous island paths, past the property’s organic garden or through its tennis courts. On the one day it rained, I visited the gym, which is a showstopper. It’s small (one Smith machine, a few treadmills, several free weights) but is blessed with the most incredible view ever, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea. And for the fitness fanatic, Vakkaru has a personal trainer who can lead mini-triathlons.
Like other properties, Vakkaru offers all kinds of watersports, ranging from kayaking to snorkeling with turtles. And I cannot recommend highly enough snorkeling with Manta Rays in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Baa Atoll.
The property’s six restaurants and bars span everything from salads to fresh sushi and sashimi. The team even whipped up plates of smoked watermelon and vegan rolls for my plant-based traveling companion.
When not eating or swimming in the massive shared pool, guests relax at Vakkaru’s overwater spa. Here floors are made of glass and fish swim by during massages.
I personally fell in love with the singing bowl meditation (“great for insomnia,” the instructor told me), which happened at sunset overlooking the sea. This is one of several new enhanced light and no-touch treatments.
What’s different during Covid
It’s easy to see the appeal of island life during the current times. Due to the very nature of how hotels in the Maldives are set up, social distancing happens almost automatically. Villas are separated and everything is outdoors.
Yet even here, things have changed.
There are a lot of little differences, like hand sanitizer stations everywhere and daily temperature checks (usually done at breakfast). Reminders to social distance are placed in communal spots like the gyms. Medics are available for on-island PCR tests and masks must be worn to and from Male.
These pale in comparison to the one big, striking, undeniable change: there simply aren’t many people there. I’ve been to the Maldives before and have never seen the beaches so empty, the restaurants so quiet, the always-calm-settings even more incredibly serene.
While there’s definitely a sad aspect to this, there are some unexpected silver linings: increased personalized service plus more affordable room rates. And the sea is still vibrantly blue and the sand still dazzlingly white.
Personally, I know I’ll be going to the Maldives again. The admin is intense, but the place is as lovely as ever.
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist and globally recognized influencer and leader in the body acceptance movement.