Travel

Fruit bats, manta rays and star gurus: these experiences make the Maldives unique

Powdered sugar beaches, palm trees and turquoise waters – a trip to the Maldives is the epitome of a dream vacation. Especially after the long Corona period. We show what you shouldn’t miss besides sun, sand and sea.

Warm and humid air blows in my face. I cycle on white sandy tracks through dense green jungle. Birds screech from the thicket, and just a few feet above my head, a dark figure flies elegantly flapping its wings and disappears into the green.

On my way, I encounter many more of these black giants, who disappear again so quickly that I can hardly see what it was.

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Only later do I find out that these were Maldivian flying foxes. Native to these islands in the Indian Ocean, these hauntingly beautiful creatures can reach wingspans of almost two meters and can live up to 30 years. They leave their resting quarters, especially in the late afternoon, to feed on nectar and fruit.

Niyama Private Islands: The best surf spot in the Maldives

After 20 minutes I reach my destination. The southern tip of Niyama Private Island, which consists of two islands. They belong to the Dhaalu Atoll with a total of 50 islands and are about a 40-minute flight south of the main island of Malé. I’m surprised, because the island paradise shows itself from a completely different side here: meter-high waves roll in here.

Because of the southwest and northeast winds, the island is actually one of the best surfing spots in the Maldives all year round, where a lot of professional surfers such as the Australian Josh Kerr have found their way. The good thing about it: Even beginners can get a feel for the sport there and practice in the calm lagoons with crystal-clear water.

Advanced surfers, on the other hand, either go into the water directly in the south of the island and paddle to the Vodi wave or take a boat to the surrounding surf spots. One of them is Kasabu Surf Point, only ten minutes away, which offers great waves for different levels. Or a little further south the Hocus Pocus spot, which is only suitable for experts as it is located directly above a reef.

Deep relaxation: yoga at sunset

Definitely not my league. After a training session with a surf instructor in the calm lagoon, I decide to end the day in a relaxed manner. I jump on my bike and head straight to the yoga pavilion in the south of the island. There Elle Mackie is waiting for me, an Englishwoman who spends a few months on the island to train guests.

After a sweaty 45-minute session that stretched every muscle in my body, I sit in the lotus position on the wooden floorboards and listen to the sea. A few surfers are still making their turns on the waves – behind them the sun is slowly sinking into the sea.

Even without yoga, this view automatically leads to deep relaxation. Especially after the long Corona period, it feels even better to be able to enjoy a break in an exotic place far away from Europe.

Seaplane to Baa Atoll

change of location. The next day I pack my things and get on the seaplane to fly to the next island. A very special experience, because from a few hundred meters above sea level, the white Maldives atolls look like heaps of sugar in the turquoise blue water.

It goes to the Baa Atoll, which has largely belonged to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2011 because of its coral reefs and biodiversity. A paradise for divers and snorkelers.

One of the most beautiful and also most adventurous underwater experiences that can be found there is the encounter with manta rays. These giant sea creatures, which can be up to seven meters wide and weigh up to two tons, make regular appearances in the waters there.

Swim with the manta rays at Hanifaru Bay

One of these special places is Hanifaru Bay, about 40 minutes by boat from Kihavah Resort. This 600-metre-long funnel-shaped bay has a particularly high concentration of plankton between June and November, and the majestic animals regularly gather in the hundreds to feed during these months.

They then fly through the crystal-clear water with their mouths wide open. Whale sharks, up to ten meters long, the largest fish in existence, like to come there to eat their fill of plankton.

In the early afternoon we leave by boat to witness this spectacle. Hanifaru Bay is now strictly guarded by rangers, and boats are only allowed to anchor outside of the markings. So you have to swim at least 100 to 200 meters to get into the bay. “Stay flat in the water and at least four meters away from the animals and don’t try to touch them, cross their path or swim towards them,” our guide explains. Because under no circumstances should the animals feel disturbed.

Anemone fish, surgeon fish and turtles

I’m excited. The prospect of swimming in a cove with hundreds of giant manta rays as they hunt their prey instills awe. After a short communication with the rangers, our guide enters the water and swims ahead to check the situation.

All eyes are eagerly focused on her. With mask and snorkel on our heads and fins on our feet, we wait at the railing for her hand signal. But we are unlucky, she returns to the boat. “Unfortunately, the buffet has already been cleared,” she tells us soberly. Not a manta in sight. Well, nature cannot be asked at the push of a button. I’m disappointed and at the same time very relieved – even if it’s a shame to have missed these fascinating animals.

But the disappointment doesn’t last long. We drive to the nearest reef which is only five minutes away. As soon as you dive in, the maritime diversity of the Baa Atoll is revealed in dazzling, bright colors: fish of all sizes swim all over the reef – from anemone to surgeon and parrot fish. In between, turtles leisurely nibbling algae from the corals. It doesn’t take long before we see what we were denied at Hanifaru Bay – a giant ray hovering by the reef just a few meters away from us.

Underwater breakfast in the middle of the reef

The next morning at breakfast I have another opportunity to see the diverse underwater world of the Baa Atoll up close. But this time from the dry. I’m sitting in the gourmet restaurant “Sea”, which is about three meters under water on the edge of a reef and is one of the best underwater restaurants in the Maldives – with its own wine cellar.

At breakfast, which covers the entire spectrum of luxury gastronomy – from lobster to caviar to champagne – the whole colorful variety of fish and corals of the Baa Atoll is shown again directly in front of the room-high armored glass panes of the restaurant. Even a small white tip reef shark pays his respects to the guests this morning and swims his laps calmly through the reef.

Gaze up at the night sky with Kihavah’s Star Guru

Above me, it sparkles and glitters like someone has blown fairy dust into the air. I lie in a circle with other guests on huge white cushions and look at the night sky: “Because of the low level of light pollution, you can see thousands of stars with the naked eye in the Maldives,” explains Ali-Shameem. The Maldivian native is considered the sky guru of the Kihavah resort. Since he was a child, the stars have been his passion.

It is also thanks to him that an observatory was created there on the water with the most powerful telescope that exists in the Maldives. “Because the Maldives is slightly above the equator, it’s possible to see stars from both the northern and southern hemispheres,” he explains.

Later in the observatory, he gives us a look through the telescope: we see Saturn with its pale yellow rings and Jupiter with its broad belts. However, one of Ali-Shameem’s favorite celestial objects is Omega Centauri, a globular cluster with over ten million stars.

It can be seen with the naked eye as a bright spot in the sky. Through the telescope we see this cluster, which is the brightest and most massive in the Milky Way, very clearly. Ali-Shameem’s eyes also light up like the stars at this moment: “It’s the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see in the sky,” he says enthusiastically.

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