I’m hanging upside down internally tussling over whether to giggle or gulp in alarm. From this upended viewpoint I can see the beach sitting above the vibrant blue of the sea like a thick layer of white icing on top of a cake. I strain my abdominal muscles in an attempt to right myself but to no avail. I am left with no choice but to inelegantly tumble to the floor and haul myself to my feet, my face rosy from the effort.
I am spending an hour in a beachside studio learning how to do aerial yoga. Our teacher, Judy, makes contorting her form in the low-hanging silk slings look as easy as could be while teaching us how to move through traditional yoga postures. These have an array of fauna-inspired names – Bumble Bee, Vampire and Batman to name a few and prove both challenging and exciting as Judy displays endless patience at our ineptitude and laughter. “I’m a stressed bat!” I hear my friend yelp as she wildly battles with both the slings and rising panic.
No, this is not how most people imagine passing the time when they head off on holiday to the Maldives. Then again, Kandima Maldives is not like most hotels in this stunning area of the world.
Before heading to this island nation in the Indian Ocean I was concerned that becoming bored during the holiday was a real possibility – many people had warned me of this. Most holidaymakers in the Maldives are there on honeymoon and thus have one very obvious activity with which to occupy themselves. I, however, had taken my best friend which, not to put too fine a point upon it, rather freed up time in that department. So, was sunbathing the only real option?
In short, no. At Kandima there are a plethora of activities to enjoy – aerial yoga being just one. What’s more, it is not nauseatingly stuffed with lovers staring into one another eyes (although there certainly are a great number of couples, both young and older). Kandima attracts families and friends, too, so whatever your dynamic, you’ll feel at home. After all, I’m told, “No one says no in Kandima.”
My friend and I sample just a few of the activities available out on the water. On the first day, we opt for standup paddleboarding over glass-bottomed kayaking. The rather laissez-faire watersports staff offer no instruction so we have no choice but to entertain ourselves trying to master the moves alone, with varying degrees of success.
In between desperately trying to stay upright on the board, I am able to enjoy the scenery around me, as being out in the water affords a delightful view of the island’s shoreline. As a first-timer to the Maldives I can’t get enough of the palm-fringed, bright white, sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. It really is just like in the photos.
It’s not just scenery and flora you can ogle at Kandima, though. Eagle Rays are a common sight – we spot both them both while paddleboarding and beneath our overwater villa – and there are parrotfish swimming below the deck at one of the restaurants. At one point a baby blacktip shark even swims right up to the beach as we sit at the bar. “It’s a wildlife mecca!” my friend excitedly cries.
Of course, if it’s getting up even closer with nature that you’re after then I highly recommend Turtle Quest – a snorkelling trip out to a nearby reef to (hopefully) spot turtles. This proves the highlight of my trip.
A group of us hotel guests take a boat out and are accompanied in the water by two guides. The underwater world that we discover there is breathtaking. There’s myriad of fish of all different colours and patterns: bright green, purple, orange, striped, spotted, tiny, huge – you name it.
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The best bit of all, though, is when the group lay eyes on a green turtle. I’m told it’s the smaller of the two that frequent the reef but it certainly dwarfs the other fish. It’s a majestic, slow-moving creature which glides serenely through the depths, skimming over the coral below, parting its way through the crowds of fish.
More than once it swims up towards the surface and pops its snout out of the water, ostensibly to breathe, but to my mind, it’s almost as though it’s curiously examining where the intrusive landlubbers have come from. The reptile is so close to me I’m tempted to reach out and touch it but the animal glides off again leaving me burbling with excitement behind my mask at the close encounter.
Another worthwhile sea excursion is Dolphin Quest. For this we set off in a boat an even smaller group and it’s not long before we spot pods of bottlenose and spinner dolphins. The latter we see playfully jumping and twirling out of the water and swimming in front of the boat, while the more subdued bottlenose shyly swim to one side, their long noses occasionally visible under the water.
We sit on the roof of the boat to benefit from a 360-degree view of the impressive spectacle. The dolphins seem to be everywhere I look at one point and the guides are keen to point them out when they surface and answer any questions you have. Flying fish too join in the adventure as their streamlined torpedo forms charge out of the water at full pelt, a blur of fins before they return to the blue.
Other options out on the water are sunset cruises, scuba diving and Maldivian hand-line fishing to name a few, but if you don’t fancy shelling out more for such trips and want to save the pennies, Kandima also offers regular free snorkelling excursions closer to the island. Remember, if anything goes wrong, the hotel has it’s own medical centre so care is easily to hand – unlike on other Maldivian islands.
If you want to take a more chilled-out approach altogether, there are plenty of relaxing activities on offer, too. For instance, there are a number of free yoga classes. We try one on our first morning and the stretching and breathing session proves glorious after the mammoth trek across the globe to get there. (That said, flying with the affordable Turkish Airlines did mean the flights went off without a hitch and the transfers were more than manageable. Pro tip – the food may be good with Turkish Airlines but save room for Turkish delight at Istanbul airport – samples are everywhere and truly scrumptious.)
If you’re not sure what’s on when at Kandima, be sure to make use of the hotel’s own app – a map can be found there plus timetables as well as recordings of bookings you’ve made to make life ever easier for you.
The best way to relax and get rid of any travelling tension, of course, is to go to the spa. Open from 10am to 8pm every day, the award-winning esKape spa (yes, the letter K is shoe-horned into everything here) offers a wide range of treatments. I plump for a Balinese massage. This uses traditional, ancient Balinese methods of massage with a combination of palm and thumb and specially blended oils. It’s intended to ease muscle tension, calm neural pathways, encourage circulation and reduce stress levels, which it certainly delivers – my masseuse doesn’t shy away from the firm pressure requested and really digs into my knots. Bliss.
If you’re after more unusual treatments, esKape also offers such intriguing-sounding sessions as ear candling. Body scrubs, facials and foot reflexology are also all on the menu, as well as more extensive packages.
The spa is positioned next to the shoreline and hearing the sound of the waves mingling with the calming spa music and the chirruping of birds during my massage was really rather glorious. What’s more, the women’s changing room opens up to a small courtyard complete with its own small pool and banana tree, providing an excellent, verdant sanctuary for those looking to continue their peaceful experience. A tasty ginger and honey tea is also served after my massage to extend the feeling of pampering and it’s possibly the best I’ve ever had.
A more unlikely way to keep yourself busy at Kandima is to attend an art class at the KULA Art Studio. Now, I hear you, an art class sounds an awful lot like school. I for one went into the session with trepidation – I am notoriously terrible at art. However, it actually proved to be a wonderful way to spend an hour and, at the very least, it gets you out of the boiling sun and into a well air-conditioned studio.
Aima, the friendly Maldivian resident artist, leads our private class. She explains that while the classes are popular with children, families and couples also enjoy them. She remembers well one burly male tourist who was surprised to find himself pleased as punch with his finished artwork.
While I haven’t picked up a brush since school, my friend regularly finds herself sketching – but we both get plenty out of the class. The canvases and paints are all laid out when we arrive and Aima has plenty of pictures to get our artistic juices flowing, from marine life to beautiful scenery. Or, of course, you can simply use your own imagination.
I choose to paint two local fish (one of which I’m sure I spotted while snorkelling) and Aima is right on hand to give me help. She gives me all the encouragement I need (a lot) and I feel myself grow in confidence. She’s also quick to rectify my mistakes (of which there are many) to prevent any tantrums (often the way art ended when I was a child). By the end, I’m thrilled with the finished result and am proud to call the canvas my own to take home.
Right next to the art studio is café Aroma. The spot is situated next to a freshwater lake complete with a fountain, mangrove trees and sculptures. All in all, quite a refreshing change from the tropical vibe elsewhere. I recommend indulging in the sorbets at Aroma – the piña colada and black hawaii are really tasty, while the coconut ice cream is made from coconut water on the island. The plethora off sundaes look delicious, too – I’m most tempted by ‘Velvet,’ a combo of black hawaii, dulche de leche & velvet ice cream, peanuts, vanilla cream and oreo biscuit.
The food is, in fact, excellent throughout Kandima. The two main buffet-style restaurants are Azure and Zest. The latter is open for breakfast and dinner while Azure is open for all three meals. The two offer a wide range of options, from English and European dishes to Asian and local cuisine, from healthy dishes to more indulgent meals.
We eat breakfast at Zest every day and I oscillate between a lighter selection of mueslis, yoghurt and fresh fruit, and a heartier breakfast of tasty waffles, French toast and bacon – there’s something for everyone.
As for lunch at Azure, one day I choose the ingredients for a pasta dish and watch the chef rustle up the end result right before me and another day I opt for a stir fry and similarly see it whipped up there and then – both of which prove mouthwatering.
If you’re looking to make your mealtimes a bit more special and want a break from the buffet then there are no shortage of other restaurant options.
For healthy cuisine, there’s Mediterranean joint Azure. The restaurant has recently relaunched their whole menu – there’s no gluten or dairy or oil in anything and nothing is fried. Perfect if you’re looking to maintain your bikini body (a hard feat here, I can tell you.)
A favourite of ours, though, is Smoked, which offers meat, fish and vegetarian dishes from the open BBQ kitchen and Teppanyaki grill. For starters, we tuck into a rich and tangy peri peri duck liver and a fresh and juicy catch of ceviche. For mains, the tuna proves succulent and tender while the baby back pork ribs, paired with a rich sauce, fall right off the bone. The bread served with cajun butter and artichoke dip does a mouth-watering supporting act. As for dessert, the recommended sticky sweet malva pudding and grilled fruit platter go down a treat (no pun intended).
Also excellent is the food over at Sea Dragon, which offers authentic Asian cuisine with a modern touch. We eat lunch here and tuck into an appetising array of dumplings, pork buns, spring rolls, rice and prawn wonton washed down with a palatable white wine. There are also live fish and shellfish in display tanks should you wish to personally select your critter of choice. During the daytime we spot dolphins out at sea from our table, their backs glistening in the sun as they dive.
Sea Dragon is particularly impressive at night, though, thanks to the atmospheric lighting and enormous red Chinese lanterns in the entrance-way. The spot also offers the adults-only Forbidden Bar where DJs play into the night.
Drinks and cocktails are not hard to come by on the island, however, and the happy hours are most welcome. We spend more than one evening in the Beach Bar, ordering piña coladas from the pool itself and relaxing in the water as the sun sets. Despite visiting the hotel in peace season, Kandima never once feels too full or hectic.
There’s also Breeze Bar which, to our joy, will quite literally stay open until the last person leaves. The bar boasts regular live music – there are two residential bands which play five days a week while a third band is flown in from Maldivian capital Malé once a week, we are told. One night we enjoy a reggae band and another, a local band plays well-known classics, and many people are up dancing. Of course, if it’s hardcore partying you’re after the Maldives simply isn’t the destination for you but Kandima certainly does a fabulous job of serving up the party atmosphere.
This is particularly the case at the hotel’s monthly Full Moon Party. This takes place out on the beach in front of the bar – there’s a fire pit, games, a DJ out on the sand and a huge selection of fun, flavoured margaritas. Sometimes they even offer full buffets.
The moon itself is a highlight, if you’ll forgive the pun. It’s just so, well, full. The giant white orb is quite simply the brightest I think I’ve ever seen it and sheds a surprising amount of light down onto the island. There’s something rather liberating about dancing on the sand under the moon – we make friends with some other guests who are quick to sing the praise of Kandima. Even members of off-duty staff join the party and are eager to chat and mingle. Definitely not something to be missed if you time your holiday right.
As for returning to your room afterwards, there’s a little buggy that regularly taxis guests around the island but I also recommend renting a bicycle – it’s the perfect nifty way of getting around without having to wait for the buggy – and they come in cute blues and yellows and have baskets.
What’s more, there’s something wonderful about cycling along beneath the palm trees in swimwear, feeling the heat of the island on your skin. Not something you can ever experience in England, that’s for sure. Boredom? What boredom?
Rooms with half board meals option at Kandima start from approximately $314 (£234) plus taxes. One week’s stay on half board from £1,638 pounds plus taxes.
Harriet flew with Turkish Airlines. Flights from the UK to the Maldives start from $814.00, including all taxes and other charges.