I was perusing the internet from a modest flat in Bologna a few years back when an email advertising a cheap airfare to the Maldives came.
Is it really only $100 to fly to my ideal destination? Yeah, yeah, yeah!
I was in the second year of my indefinite travel at the time, and my income was close to nothing. But I’d wanted to dive in the Maldives for as long as I could remember and was convinced that I’d be able to do it. I had to figure something out.
Just about a month and a half later, I found myself in the Ari Atoll, staying with a local family at an Airbnb guesthouse. I was among the first backpackers to visit the Maldives since the country had just recently approved laws enabling residents to build their own guesthouses.
I felt like I had discovered a tremendous secret! Everyone appeared to assume you had to be a billionaire to visit the Maldives, yet here I was with nothing but a backpack and a few other things to my name. I swam with manta rays and whale sharks after renting snorkel equipment from a sea cucumber fisherman. We ate with our fingers.
Nevertheless, certain details were lacking. On the nearby islands, I couldn’t drink beer or wear a bikini. Both of these activities are forbidden in the Maldives, which is a conservative Muslim country. I was able to recuperate from the booze, but it was unfortunate that I was unable to swim before leaving the island.
I’ve often wondered what it’s like to vacation at a resort where both are permitted. When I found myself in Sri Lanka this year, I decided it was past time to see if it was still feasible to live there without being really wealthy. This time, I stayed at a cheap Maldives resort that included food, drink, and, most importantly, diving.
I returned to Ellaidhoo Cinnamon in Ari Atoll, the same atoll I had visited previously.
And this time I flew there by seaplane, and the scenery was breathtaking, with circles and clusters of coral reefs and overwater villas. I really enjoyed how the skipper wore no shoes.
Neither did I during my whole time in the Maldives. That seemed to bring us closer together.
Upon arrival, a couple things became clear: this was definitely a resort and tourist island, and there weren’t many residents.
Locals’ jobs are confined to cleaning, entertaining, and guiding since they cannot provide booze or meat. As a result, you are more likely to encounter individuals from all over the world working on the resort islands.
Resort islands also include those characteristic overwater bungalows, which are uncommon on indigenous islands.
Although I haven’t stayed in one, they make for fantastic photographs.
Another thing I like about my stay at Ellaidhoo was that I could bring diving or snorkeling equipment with me whenever I wanted to dive or swim along the house reef, which was a pretty spectacular coral with loads of species.
In my opinion, any location that provides me with unlimited diving is really valuable.
On my first day, I observed a reef shark inside the first minute.
I saw schools of fish, magnificent coral, and even heard that some divers had spotted a whale shark one of the mornings there- below. I was disappointed to have missed this, but it just goes to show that the Maldives has some pretty amazing underwater species.
I questioned if I would miss my prior local experience, and while I liked the opportunity to immerse myself in Maldives culture, I also thoroughly immersed myself in resort culture.
This is a rare occurrence for me, but it was ideal in the Maldives.
On the nearby island I drank a lot of delicious iced coffee, got an all-inclusive wristband, and went for beer on the resort island.
Is it wrong for me to confess that I favor the latter?
I really like being able to spend the entire day in a bikini in the pool or on the water.
The two sensations were so unlike that choosing one over the other would be like choosing between passion fruit and summer cherries. They both belong in my life, and please, God, don’t make me pick!
I enjoyed them both, and I appreciate that they are both reasonably priced (full disclosure, I didn’t pay for this second trip, but rooms at Cinnamon Ellaidhoo may be a steal, especially during the off season; you can see hotel prices here).
While comparing the two, I can absolutely say that I felt quite welcome at both settings. The locals were lovely, and the resort staff was really kind and attentive.
Going both ways, maybe on the same trip, struck me as the ideal way to explore the Maldives.
*This post was created in collaboration with Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts. They didn’t ask me to write a positive review, and if they had, I would have still written precisely what I believe here. Your trust is always prioritized!