|Eriyadu Resort, Maldives|
Does this Maldivian Hotel challenge seem completely unfair from the get go? Would the locally run Eriyadu have anything on the International Bellwether? To find out, I had to develop criteria with which to compare and contrast the two Maldivian resorts. However, before the battle, I need to set the stage: My wife Lisa and I spent six weeks of the Summer of 2010 in Sri Lanka and we deemed it prudent to spend ten beach days in the brilliantly beautiful Maldivian Islands to recharge our batteries before returning to Los Angeles.
Let it be known, you likely cannot go wrong in the Maldives and there are hundreds of resorts to choose from. I would recommend conducting a thorough investigation before selecting a resort but I would not necessarily simply rely on a resort brand name that you are comfortable with. That said, according to our Lonely Planet guide book, the only real way to get to know the Maldivian culture is to spend some time on the main island of Male, the only island that is dominated by the local people rather than Italians or Germans on holiday. Therefore, we spent the first two nights on Male at Candies, a local establishment that we highly recommend. This island is one of the most densely built places on Earth, and uses nearly all the available land to house the country’s predominant population of approximately 300,000, a mix of Sinhalese and Dravidian people who came from South India and Sri Lanka.
Male does not really have any “sights” to speak of but there are a variety of nice cafes and despite the dense population, the pace of general life is relaxed. We did find a tasty and authentic Thai restaurant and we window-shopped the island’s many clothing stores. Fishermen, naturally, sell the daily catch in the market; the size and variety of the fish was amazing. Still, to be truly honest with the reader, the best photo I took of Male is the one when we were on a boat heading towards the Eriyadu Resort; looking back toward the capitol, the boat’s wake seemed to separate from the city and its life.
Upon our arrival at the Eriyadu Resort, we realized immediately that we had found a special place. One could probably circle the isle on foot in 15-20 minutes if some sand erosion did not make this feat impractical. After a brief albeit friendly welcome, we were shown to our room, a nice habitation literally steps (okay maybe 40 steps) from the beach. Our accommodations were set under a group of swaying palm trees that offered plenty of shade. The room had both an indoor shower and another outdoor one with a view of the stars at night. Our television had maybe two or three channels, all in incomprehensible languages (but who came here to watch TV). The room was spacious and fairly comfortable but nothing extraordinary. The open-air thatched roof that we ate under provided our three buffet style meals per day and was set away from the beach without a view to speak of. The food was decent to tasty, especially the fish or local curry dishes. The bar area was close to the ocean with good views but the atmosphere was ho-hum; the staff nice enough but not overly enthusiastic about our presence.
But then we stepped out on the beach. Think isolation, extreme beauty in the hues of the crystal clear waters and sheer whiteness to describe the sweet powdered and sugared sand. Looking out toward the sea, almost nothing was visible with the exception of two or three islets too far to really notice. We mostly had this area to ourselves as the beach was empty most of the day; only a few people were actually staying at the resort. This was a great place to relax, read a new novel, watch the stunning sunsets, or as we were soon to find out, drop into the warm clear waters to view the abundant coral and aquatic marine life.
Only a few feet under water, beautiful and healthy coral reefs surround the entire island. Swimming over the reef is a large variety of species and colors and shapes that traverse these waters. We saw schools of butterfly fish, multi-colored parrotfish, trumpet fish as well as rock cod. There were many angelfish, anemones with clown fish swimming in them. There were also groups of sweetlips, surgeonfish, triggerfish and unicorn fish as well as huge wrasse.
The sea bottom was only a few meters down so viewing marine life was easy and rewarding. About a five minute swim from the shore, the reef dropped away, and we floated in a blue abyss, over what appears to be a twenty-story drop. In this area larger fish such as grouper, turtles, and white-tipped reef sharks could be seen frequently. In fact, the snorkeling was so superb that we typically swam around the island three times per day as each time proved better than the last. When our heads were not underwater we spent time reading under the palms, lazing on the coastline with calm water lapping at our feet, or soaking up some sun with the pristine blue sky above us, and only a few spare, interestingly-shaped clouds to frame the scene.
After four days of this paradise, we were taken by boat to our upscale and final destination, the “Four Seasons Kuda Hura”. Immediately after we arrived we knew that we were in for a big change. First off, the staff was incredibly friendly, so nice that their effusiveness could have been faked, but in reality it was true friendliness. After days of tolerating the indifferent staff at the Eriyadu Resort, this change was refreshing. We had an excellent breakfast with fine views over the water while we waited for our upgraded over-the-water bungalow to be set up. The buffet breakfast was superior to Eriyadu’s fare in both quality and variety. The presentation was nicer as well, with an aura of class rather than simply that of function.
A wooden bridge led to our little stand-alone house. Arriving in a small golf cart type vehicle – and I’m not making this up – we passed a school of baby white-tipped reef sharks. Our quarters “over the sea” were luxurious. We had excellent ocean views from every room, even from the separate rooms of the shower and toilet. All of the room’s amenities were of extreme high quality, nicer than what we have at home. From the Bose sound system, to the large LCD television, with a plush bed and excellent decor, we were living in style. Even the robes and towels were ultra soft. The outdoor patio over the water was lovely and we saw a few stingrays swimming under our bungalow. So far, based on the quality of the room, the resorts amenities, and the extreme friendliness of the staff, Kuda Hura was kicking Eriyadu’s ass.
After checking in, we went to speak with the overtly kind water-sports employees who happily informed us precisely about the location for the best place to snorkel. We walked along the beach and I couldn’t help but notice that this island was not nearly as remote as where we stayed in Eriyadu. At least two other large islands surrounded the Kuda Hura, including an island with an indigenous population. In addition to not having that special remote feeling, the quality of the water and sand, despite being quite nice, did not possess the drop-dead beauty that of that we had just left behind. Somewhat disappointed, we entered the ocean to partake in yet another excellent day of snorkeling.
We swam and swam but it was difficult to find the reef. In fact, the most notable reef was growing on man-made metallic domes as part of a restore-the-reef project sponsored by the resort. I left the water feeling dejected. We approached the staff
that had suggested the snorkeling area and they agreed that despite being the best available snorkeling, it was not up to par with other places, especially since we were scuba divers. They then suggested that we go on a boat tour to the “house reef” located near the island, but which was too far for swimming due to strong currents and powerful, windy weather. We agreed to go on the tour the next morning but when we arrived, the trip had been canceled due to the strong currents and a vast quantity of small sized stinging jellyfish. Because it was the Four Seasons and we insisted on going, they took us out in the boat. The house reef here was much deeper, the water far more volatile and difficult to navigate. Despite seeing maybe the largest octopus that I have ever seen, the aquatic life and reef diversity was somewhat disappointing.
At this point, I literally felt like leaving and heading to another island. I did not come to the Maldives to stay in a posh resort and I wanted to be able to enjoy the waters, take in some natural beauty, and swim in a real-to-life aquarium. Kuda Hura, despite the positives that the resort has to offer, definitely disappoints in the above qualities.
Finally, we had a tasty lunch, having given up on snorkeling. However, when we returned to the water-sports area later that day, the wind was plentiful. I watched a lady wind-surf easily back and forth, making me think back nostalgically when I was a G.O.
in Club Med years ago, and I was windsurfing daily. Both Lisa and I decided to try a board and we were immediately hooked. Our snorkel time became windsurfing time. We were out in the water at least three times per day, improving each time out. Sometimes lack of one thing leads to another surprising positive change, something we don’t necessarily expect.
So, which property wins the battle? For friendliness and quality of accommodations, amenities, water sports and food, the Kuda Hura wins hands down. For natural beauty
and great snorkeling, Eriyadu reigns victorious. Obviously, what is most important to you will dictate where you spend your holiday. For me, seeing the Maldives meant staying on a remote island with extreme beauty and excellent snorkeling. For this reason I choose the lowly two-star as victorious over the Four Seasons Resort. Still, to be fair, the Kuda Hura is a beautiful place with a great staff and excellent conditions for windsurfing.