Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru

This resort is the first one that we visited in the Maldives. You know they say if you start from the high end, you will never trade downwards for anything else. Well, perhaps that’s true, because the next one’s supposedly even better (read here).

Located just 25 minutes’ by speedboat from Male international airport, it was already late in the evening when we arrived. Coming out of the terminal we walked directly across to the pier and boarded one and headed onto the resort.

Arriving here via the jetty already makes you feel you are truly away from home.

The azure blue sea beckons you to dive in. We were to spend many a lazy day just walking along the piers on both ends of the small island watching the sunset or simply just staring at the beautiful shades of the sea.

The lagoon

Surrounding the atoll island on all sides, we had the shallower side right in front of our villa. Most of it is sand though but there are some spots of corals. Because we got the beachfront property, our “backyard” was essentially the beach, making access to the lagoon very easy.

Our little pavilion provided solace from the scorching sun and a place to lie down to read a book or catch a nap (we did many a time). Little did we know that right in this stretch of water lurks sharks and large sting rays. You see, this lagoon acts as a sort of nursery for baby black tip sharks.

While they do forage and hunt in the open sea, they return to the safety of the lagoon. It is funny that when w snorkeled, they would investigate us and swim in circles around us. With my myopia, I could not see them and could only ‘see’ how close after examining the photos on the water camera!

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The sting rays on the other hand were just opportunists as we gathered. At the time we were at the resort, they had been fed for approximately 5 years. So they have become accustomed to this routine and stops by everyday around 5pm – on the clock! The marine keepers feed them with squid and fish and guests are obviously not allowed the same. These creatures have a long and sharp sting and getting impaled by one can be fatal.

From the arrival pier to the sunset pier on the opposite end is Vabbinfaru “highway”. There is said to be a law in the Maldives which stipulates that a road (or path) be made to facilitate access to both sides of the island. Perhaps this is for safety and evacuation purpose? We never found out why.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The lagoon at the sunset pier side is deeper and seems to be home to large schools of fish hiding under the pier structure. There were literally no coral here, though we saw some days that the resorts’ staff were sinking structures into the water – sort of coral “farming”.

Marine Sanctuary

When we arrived we saw just beyond the arrival pier some cages in the middle of the lagoon. Only when we were briefed at the Marine center by the resident biologist did we know that the cages are home to turtles.

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About 10% of the Green turtles that hatched are kept in the laboratory for about 6 months. They are cared for until they reach a certain size. As a species that is under threat, the sanctuary’s aim is to have as many as possible released back into the ocean. So when they become large enough, they are placed back into sea, but first in a protected environment.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They are kept in the protective cage pen structures for a further 18 months to facilitate their growth and also to let them become familiar with the environment which they will come back to lay their eggs. They are tagged, so this support studies about their migratory patterns. Once released, they will be on their own. And hopefully well equipped for size to survive and return to breed.

The cage structure is far out to the edge of the lagoon, and to get there it is quite a stretch to swim. It is good to know that not all of the money spent on this journey went to line corporate pockets.

Snorkeling trips

Snorkel Safari25As with most resorts, the Banyan Tree organizes snorkeling trips. True, not all activities are free but in this case it was. It was a “safari” tour to nearby Baros resort which takes a 20-minute boat ride.

Vabbinfaru House reefs08Beware that the safari is getting to deeper waters near the channel. Here the currents are stronger and at least 5-10m deep. Be generous with the use of life vest where necessary as it can be very tiring to keep swimming and try to view the ocean depths. The coral colonies here are definitely richer and more varied. They are also very vibrant! For this atoll, the reef falls precipitously into the depth of a wide channel.Vabbinfaru House reefs09

Snorkeling closer – and back at the backyard lagoon of ours, we floated with the help of a large pontoon. Usually for lounging on the beach, we used it to float over the shallow corals so as not to damage them. Taking photos up close of the corals was so much fun.

Our villa – Hugu Mas

We are staying in villa number 48, a great auspicious number… with its own Jacuzzi and deck chairs to relax. It’s an open shower, though the entire villa is walled off from the other adjacent ones. We were using the Jacuzzi every day!

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The room is large and spacious and the interesting thing was – there is no television. And even wifi had to be accessed at the concierge lobby area. Quite a place to really get totally off the grid.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the “back” is our access to the beach. The little pavilion hut is where we spent a lot of time. Here we would hang our snorkel fins and rinse off the sand. Our view of the beach and sea is so nice that we did not wander off much. Why do that when you have the sea at your beck and call? For some reason, a stork sits perpetually at our pavilion or on top of it.

Bored? Stroll the beach and pick up a hermit crab. Don’t hurt him though!

Resort & facilities

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Fruit bats, see him?

As an island, it is relatively isolated in the sense you cannot simply hail a cab and start exploring on your own. There is no option but to dine on the island. Prices for ala carte orders can be rather expensive, so most folks are on the full board regime here. And the food is really overwhelming. Having lobsters and scallops for lunch every day can get to you!

The beachfront is a wide expense of soft sand. Every evening the off duty staff of the resort can be seen playing beach volleyball or football.

The marine center also organizes fishing tours for a fee but that usually occurs in the wee hours of the morning or late in the night. Both not appealing to Suan. You can take the boat over to nearby Angsana Ihuru

The package of 5D/4N did not come cheap. At that time, it cost us S$3,200pp that covered

  • Flights to/from Singapore
  • Full board (3 meals) for the 3 nights’ stay and
  • Most activities free (except for scuba, night fishing etc)
  • Complimentary speed boat transfer. Well, how else will you get there on your own?

Most folks at the resort seem to be from western Europe.

Yes there are more affordable resorts and these days budget airlines do make it very economical to fly into the Maldives. As a first visit, we wanted the luxury and that is what we got. Would not have it any other way… perhaps it was the weather, but we rate this resort at 7 out of 10. Food was fantastic and facilities top notch. But somehow it was less memorable than our journey to Velavaru. Read more about that journey here.

August 2007

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