How far would you travel for Luxury & Adventure? How about the largest Manta Ray aggregation in the entire world?! Recently, we traveled to the otherside of the globe to witness this once in a lifetime opportunity. Baa Atoll is an administrative division of the Maldives, and one of the most desirable destinations on the planet. It consists of three separate natural atolls. (Southern Maalhosmadulu Atoll, Fasdhuthere Atoll, and Goifulhafehendhu Atoll) Although the Atoll names may be hard to pronounce, make no mistake that this part of the Indian Ocean is truly paradise on earth. We were invited by Reethi Beach Resort located on the beautiful and lush Fonimagoodhoo island for a true Maldivian Island experience. We now have unforgettable memories that include free-diving face to face with multiple giant Oceanic & Reef Manta Rays, splashing in the waters of our very own private sandbank for the day, and watching the most incredible sunsets from our beach villa every single night! Does this sound like a vacation you would want to take? Then grab your snorkel and flip flops as we take you on the ultimate undiscovered journey to Baa Atoll!
• The Checklist ✅
As residents of Los Angeles, we always plan out our international travels leaving LAX. This particular long haul adventure involved three planes and one boat ride to reach our destination. As OneWorld Sapphire members, it’s always in our best interest to fly a partner airline of the OneWorld Alliance. In this case, we chose to fly Qatar Airways (which we have flown multiple times to different parts of Africa) due to its award winning Business Class and customer service. Airport lounge access is included if you are a OneWorld Sapphire & Emerald status member so we decided to arrive earlier to check in for our flight. (Tip: Always check with your airline provider to ensure you have completed the appropriate checklist of forms & documents required for your travels before departure)
Thankfully, COVID tests are currently NOT required by Qatar Airways when traveling to the Maldives (subject to change) however, completing a Maldives Immigration Travelers Declaration within 72 hours of travel is currently required. In addition, arriving passengers must have a hotel confirmation booking upon arrival to Male during your transfer to the Maldivian islands. Now that we had enjoyed a couple glasses of beer & wine accompanied by complimentary appetizers and food, it was time to board our flight!
• The Journey ✈️
Our flight itinerary included a 16 hour leg from LAX – DOHA, then a 5 hour leg from DOHA – MALE with a 5 hour layover in between, then a thirty minute flight on Villa Air from MALE – Dharavandhoo, and finally a twenty minute jet boat ride to Fonimagoodhoo island where Reethi Beach Resort is located.
(Tip: As a Privilege Club Member of Qatar Airways (Silver, Gold, and Platinum members) are granted access to the lounge at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar) Due to our Business Class booking, we were granted access to their new Platinum & Gold Lounge (South). Our recommendations include ordering the famous green lemon mint juice (served in the Qsuites) and fresh made sushi roll assortments. After a quick shower and glass of wine it was time to board our second flight and get some sleep in our lay down bed before reaching our final destination the next day. Cheers!
If weather permits, passengers that have window access can spot multiple islands of all shapes and sizes with that picture perfect turquoise water from the plane as they land in Male. After a quick flight on Villa Air and boat ride, we finally made it to Reethi Beach Resort after two days of travel!
• The Welcome 🛎
It was such a pleasure to have the Reethi Beach team waiting for us at the pier the minute we stepped off our transfer boat. We were personally guided to their reception area to complete the basic check in formalities, greeted with a welcome refreshing ice tea, then escorted to our room. To our pleasant surprise, the property grounds are quite larger compared to the other resorts we have visited in the Maldives. We found the grounds to be stunning! Finally, we have reached our Sunset Beach Villa!
The word “Reethi” means beautiful in the local language. The Reethi Villas are located on the westside of the Island and surrounded by tropical foliage. Our villa featured a king size bed, a partially open-air bathroom with rain shower, a patio with deck chairs, and was located steps away from the beach with the perfect sunset views.
• The Island 🏝
The first day we unpacked, witnessed a fish feeding of resident sting rays & reef sharks, and enjoyed a delicious dinner from Moodhu Bar & Restaurant. We both decided to try the “catch of the day” which was a grilled local jack fish caught right from the shores of the island. It was delicious! After dinner, we headed back to our room as that was all the excitement we could handle on our first day due to the major jet lag that had set in. Now it was time to get rest and dream up all the island activities we had planned for our stay!
• The Cuisine 🥘
The next morning we decided to enjoy a delicious breakfast at the Rehendhi restaurant. Reethi Beach has a variety of dining options ranging from beach side to overwater. The resort features 5 restaurants including a buffet and specialty restaurants. The breakfast buffet featured fresh fruits, pastries, made to order Crepes & Omelets, fried rice, potato wedges, cereal assortments, oatmeal, and many more options to choose from.
• The Tour 👦🏽
That afternoon we explored the island and different accommodations from the Garden Villa to their Reethi Suite which features two separate bedrooms & living room quarters. Reethi also takes an amazing sustainability approach with their one-of-a-kind Hydroponics Garden where fresh produce is grown and processed directly from the island.
The moment our guided tour had ended, we received a group text message from the resident diving & water sports company on the island that would change our lives forever! We had fifteen minutes to grab our camera gear, suite up and head out to Hanifaru Bay where more than 100+ Manta Rays had just been spotted!
• The Company
Ocean Fanatics is an innovative sustainability driven diving & water-sports brand in the Maldives and happens to be located on the Reethi Beach Resort property grounds. In collaboration with Reethi, Ocean Fanatics is led by 4 industry experts and aims to create genuine experiences for each guest. The company is not only vocal about environmental issues, but also educates guests who join in their water activities. Our first trip out with Ocean Fanatics was to a place called Hanifaru Bay. Hanifaru Bay is a long and narrow bay at the small uninhabited island of Hanifaru. The bay is a protected marine park due to the importance of its Manta Ray population, and the whole Baa Atoll has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The boat ride only takes about twenty minutes to reach Hanifaru, and we happened to be the first trip out this morning. Upon arrival, we quickly secured our snorkel masks & fins that were provided by Ocean Fanatics, switched on our cameras and jumped into the water. The excursion involved a short distance swim to where the Manta Rays are located due to boats not being allowed in this part of the protected area. The average annual water temperature in Baa Atoll is 84 degrees Fahrenheit with up to 30 meters of visibility so the ocean conditions were quite pleasant. After about ten minutes of swimming, our tour guide signaled us to look underwater, in which case we encountered one of the most incredible experiences we’ve ever had! The Manta Ray migration!
• The Education 📖
Did you know that Manta Rays belong to the elasmobranch group the same way sharks do? Their flattened bodies have given them the nickname, “flat sharks.” Using their winglike pectoral fins, Manta Rays have developed the ability to move within the water column giving the appearance as if they were flying underwater. There are currently two species of Manta Rays: Resident Reef Manta Rays & Giant Oceanic Manta Ray. The resident species of Reef Manta Ray are primarily found within Baa Atoll during the aggregation period. Both species of Manta’s feed on plankton, so instead of using teeth, they utilize their gills to filter the microscopic food from the water. Baa Atoll specifically supports one of the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean creating a rare environment which serves as a transportation hub for planktonic larvae of reef organisms from both the western and eastern side. Baa Atoll is positioned perfectly to trap a concentration of plankton when the southwest monsoon dominates weather patterns. From June to November zooplankton is funneled into the atoll, attracting hundreds of Manta Rays and Whale Sharks. Yes, you read that right … Hundreds!
• The Adventure 🤿
The very first moment that we looked into the water there must have been about forty Manta Rays directly below us swimming in sync in a graceful appearance. As we glided along the waters further from the boat into Hanifaru Bay we were quickly surrounded by over one hundred Manta Rays! Although we have encountered Manta Rays prior to this trip, this was our first time ever witnessing something so majestic. We immediately started free-diving down a few meters to get a closer look, and realized that we were surrounded. At this moment, words cannot express the experience we both had. Imagine being surrounded by a hundred gentle giant sea creatures in an environment where you have zero control over the currents and they are dancing gracefully in what appears to be “ballet” like above you, under you, to the side of you, and directly in front of you. Manta Rays are harmless creatures and a true site to behold in their natural habitat. We had finally witnessed the great Manta aggregation! The tour ran about 45 min to an hour. Depending on the ocean conditions and weather, Ocean Fanatics works with the rangers to spot when the Manta Ray is in the Bay. This allows tours to operate with high chances for guests to see the Mantas. During our stay, the shop operated up to three tours (two in the morning, one in the afternoon) conveniently for guests to go at their leisure. Tip: GoPro’s worked great for our snorkel excursion due to how close in proximity the Manta Rays were to us.
• The Resort 🏖
Once we arrived back to the island, it was time for lunch which was served buffet style at Rehendhi restaurant. Afterwards, we headed toward reception to the other side of Ocean Fanatics to try their Water Bike. There are many different activities for guests to choose from such as kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, catamaran sailing, windsurfing, to name a few, but we chose the water bike for the great drone shots. The area where you go biking has calm waters and is an easy activity for the most novice beginner. Sunset usually occurred around 6 pm every evening, and we watched every single one! Our Sunset Beach Villa, amongst the others, was perfectly situated just steps away from the best viewing spot on the beach. This evening Reethi Beach has arranged a dinner at their Reethi Grill. Like most upscale seafood restaurants on the mainland, Reethi Grill offers guests to choose from a fresh seafood platter of multiple fish and shellfish for their grilled entree. We decided to choose one of the most rainbow colored lobsters we’ve ever seen. In addition, we ordered a surf & turf dish accompanied by tuna tartar, lobster bisque, salad, mashed potatoes, and fresh vegetables. Dinner was fantastic, and the executive chef personally introduced himself at our table enhancing our already wonderful experience.
• The Excursion 🐚
The next day on our itinerary was highly anticipated because Reethi arranged a speed boat to a private sandbank for just the two of us. The boat ride was only about ten minutes, and we were able to bring along everything we needed. The sandbank was completely surrounded by turquoise water and soft white sand beaches. While some guests can enjoy complete relaxation at this sandbank, we decided to snorkel around the waters testing out our new underwater scooter. Imagine clear blue skies, the sun shining bright, warm turquoise water surrounding you, and white sand beaches as soft as pillows beneath your feet. This was truly paradise. The entire excursion lasted around three hours roundtrip, and we felt completely relaxed upon returning to the resort. Tip: Travel by speed boat to the private sandbank to ensure you have more time on the private island. Bring sunscreen, beach towels, a small snack, and snorkel gear. That evening we decided to try out their dinner buffet which was Chinese inspired cuisine. This happens to be one of our favorite types of food so we were especially excited. The made to order station featured fresh fried rice allowing guests to choose each ingredient they wanted to add. One of the main entrees was a roasted duck which looked delicious, however, we opted to try the chicken chow mein noodles instead. That evening Reethi Beach offered a movie night showcasing, “The Jungle Cruise” starring Dwayne Johnons and Emily Blunt. Although this is a great movie, we decided to have drinks with a couple new friends we made at the resort.
• The House Reef
The morning we collected our snorkel gear and headed straight out to the house reef in front of our Beach Villa. The swim only took about ten minutes due to the amount of shallow waters & coral reefs, but once we reached the drop off there were so many colorful fish swimming around us. At one point, we saw medium sized Napoleon Wrasse and Parrot fish, three medium sized blacktip reef sharks, and plenty of colorful reef fish. This also allowed us to try out our underwater scooter a second time with deeper water conditions. Reethi Beach has an excellent house reef with an abundance of marine life right outside their front door. The only thing worth mentioning as a precaution is to ensure you are a decent swimmer. The current can be a bit choppy and the shallow coral reefs can easily be avoided if you know how to swim. Otherwise, practice safety first with utilizing a floatation device.
• The Ocean 🌊
As we made our way back to shore, an exciting group text came through to both our phones. A Whale Shark had been spotted in Hanifaru Bay! This was the same place we swam with all the Mantas, and we were not going to miss this! As previously mentioned, the boat was leaving in approximately fifteen minutes so we had to grab our stuff and move quickly! Although we ended up making the excursion, the Whale Shark had already swam off to a different part of the Bay by the time we arrived. There were still plenty of Manta Rays swimming around us during our search for the Whale Shark, however, we did not get a chance to spot it. In any case, we were able to try out our new iphone dive casing which was perfect for those portrait shots of the Manta Rays. Again, the Manta aggregation is truly a sight to behold, and we recommend it for any adventurer who loves the ocean.
• The Couples Massage 💆♀️💆♂️
On our last day, Reethi arranged a couples massage at their onsite Coconut Spa. This was the perfect ending to our adventurous trip. Both of our masseuses were originally from Bali and performed a full body Balinese massage. The last time we experienced a Balinese massage was in 2018 when we visited Bali. We both agree that this type of massage is our favorite. Our treatment began with fresh tea and choosing the type of massage oils we wanted them to use. We both chose the coconut oil base due to its great benefits it has for your skin. Next, we escorted to a private room where we started off the typical Balinese treatment with a quick foot massage and cleaning. The following hour was complete bliss. Both our massages were amazing, and we ended up spending another half hour in the calming area drinking plenty of fluids watching the turquoise waves wash ashore.
• The BBQ Beach Dinner 🍖
The last evening at Reethi Beach was a romantic BBQ Beach dinner completely set up by candle light. Our night began walking through an archway covered in LED lights to a beautiful table set up on the beach. We ordered a couple cocktails with our waiter and then made our way to the serving area. There were two stations that caught our eye. A separate grilling area with fresh vegetables, meat and seafood kababs ready to be grilled by our private chef & a chilled seafood buffet. Our dinner was nothing short of magical, and the dessert bar at the end was the cherry on top! We easily spent a total of three hours enjoying each others company, reminiscing on our time here at Reethi, and already planning our second trip back! This was the perfect end to an amazing trip.
• The Farewell 🛫
The check out process was typical, and we managed to have a quick farewell drink with our new friend from the marketing team before leaving the island in style. Reethie had arranged a seaplane by Manta Air to fly us straight back to Male rather than the original route we had taken for our arrival. The only part of the process that was difficult was leaving that beautiful island behind. Overall, Reethi Beach delivered a true Maldivian experience. The team & staff were wonderful, the resort grounds were amazing, the activities were incredible, and the accommodations were great! Thank you Reethi Beach for creating our true Maldivian experience, and we look forward to visiting our new Maldivian family again soon!
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