I had seen travel stories and friends’ photos of Maldives time and time again, and on every occasion I thought, “Could it really be that beautiful?” Surely an Instagram filter has been added, I would tell myself, or some Photoshopping done.
Yet, when our boat pulled up to the Baros resort, I knew that, yes, it could really be that beautiful. Exchanging looks of awe, my husband, Evan, and I knew we were in for an incredible anniversary escape.
Ringed by an otherworldly aquamarine lagoon, Baros looks too pretty to touch. From the moment we stepped off the plane, the five-star service began – starting with a super-easy airport pickup arranged by the hotel to the 20-minute boat ride from Malé to the island. And as soon as we arrived in the luxurious fantasyland that is Baros, we were greeted with what would be an endless supply of cool towelettes and crystalline water. Our non-stop spoil-fest had begun!
Baros originally opened in 1973 – the third resort of its kind in the Maldives; it was then revamped in 2005. Now boasting a total of 75 villas, it has become a favourite destination for those looking for luxury, romance and seclusion; in fact, it was named “World’s Most Romantic Resort” by World Travel Awards in 2012, and is ranked number one in TripAdvisor’s “Top 10 Hotels for Romance in Asia” and fifth in the same website’s “Top 25 Hotels for Romance in the World”.
We stayed in one of 15 over-water pool villas, featuring our own infinity pool on a spacious sunbathing deck with direct access to the ocean and a front-row seat to every sunset. In addition to having a dedicated villa host on call 24/7, the room included an iPod docking station, a programmed iPod and Bose surround-sound system, plus a selection of books, complimentary Wi-Fi and a library of DVDs to go with the large-screen TV – clearly, everything you’d need for total relaxation and luxurious isolation (that is, if you’re not using Wi-Fi for work…). However, with a personal plunge pool and private verandah, who really needs electronics anyway?
You really can’t go wrong with a Baros beachfront villa, either; in fact, if I have the chance to go back, I’d like to give the beach villa a go for a different experience. The benefit of the beach villas is the fact that you can walk right out your back door and plunge into the part of the lagoon where the colourful sea colony is at its most bustling. Just snap on your snorkel gear and you’re good to go. Although it was nice to have a ladder from our over-water villa deck into the water, we didn’t end up using it much; rather, we found ourselves snorkelling from the beachside, where there’s more sea life.
That said, the advantage of an over-water villa is total seclusion – there’s literally not one soul in sight and the deck overlooks an endless horizon. It has also become the quintessential Maldivian resort experience to stay over-water, so there’s a good chance your heart is set on it. I don’t blame you – it’s incredible, and, if you’re going to splurge on an over-water villa at some point in your lifetime, this is the place to do it.
Baros may be isolated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, but this island sure knows how to serve up some luxury dining experiences with a side of romance. The resort’s Lighthouse restaurant is definitely the highlight. It’s also Baros’s trademark; the over-water pavilion with a white sail pinnacle roof is an iconic structure that’s visible long before the island even comes into view.
Menu items include Asian spice-grilled mahi mahi fillets and pan-fried lemongrass sand-lobster tails (US$43), and sesame-crusted Tasmanian salmon with lime, dill and chilli crème fraiche ($41). Our alfresco dinner at The Lighthouse was one to remember, and, once we’d tasted the signature cognac-flamed lobster bisque ($27), it was clear why the restaurant is regarded as one of the best in the Maldives. Grab a sundowner upstairs at The Lighthouse Lounge before dinner or for a post-meal tipple; the lounge features an extensive menu of drinks and canapés, accompanied by live jazz music from a Maldivian band every Friday.
For a more casual meal, Cayenne Grill is a great option. Overlooking the lagoon, it serves both lunch and dinner, with a menu that includes an extensive salad bar, wood-fired pizzas, wraps, paninis, teppanyaki, satays, tandoori platters for two and a variety of other international specialties. Don’t miss the weekly Maldivian night, where you can sample local favourites like spicy mud crab, Maldivian curries, grilled fish, Maldivian “short eats” (pastry snacks), local tropical fruits and banana fritters – accompanied by bodu beru drumming and dancing that’s unique to the islands.
For breakfast, Lime restaurant is the place to go for a casual daily buffet of Asian-influenced dishes and international options. It’s open for all-day dining as well, offering a selection of sandwiches, burgers and wraps (we loved the grilled vegetable focaccia, $20), as well as an assortment of skewers ($9 to $16), salads ($23 to $25) and fish and chips ($30).
For lunch each day, we opted to stay put on our beachside loungers and order from the Sails Bar, which, by night, transforms into a romantically lit cocktail bar where local musicians play three times a week. During the day, Sails offers a menu of easy sandwiches and salads, and those oh-so-necessary piña coladas and beers.
And if you’re looking for something slightly out of the ordinary, there are plenty of bespoke dining experiences available upon request. Whether you want to dine aboard a luxury sailboat or have a picnic on the sandbank, the Baros staff can make it happen. In-villa dining is available too, if you don’t even want to move from your own private deck.
The Marine Life
As animal lovers, one of our favourite aspects of the trip was getting up close and personal with the marine life. Though we had snorkelled before, we were a bit apprehensive about taking to the sea unsupervised from the get-go. Luckily, the knowledgeable team at Baros’s Marine Centre gave us a private, guided refresher session to familiarise us with the sea life and the house reef.
Never in my life had I been so close to sharks (don’t worry, these ones are harmless) and such a rainbow of brightly hued fish. There is an amazing diversity of sea life in the Maldives, with various corals, stingrays and over 2,000 species of exotic fish in all shapes and sizes – from butterfly fish, angelfish and clownfish to oriental sweetlips, triggerfish and Moorish idols. The best part is that we got to learn about many of them beforehand in a brief introductory session. Once in the water, I was sure the fish would swim away from me, but, in fact, they didn’t even bat an eye, letting us observe them from less than an arm’s length; the photos taken of us underwater by the snorkelling guide were a real bonus – we brought them home on a thumb drive.
And those snorkellers who have already explored all the nooks and crannies of Baros’s house reef can opt to join a snorkelling safari, going out on a boat to explore at least two other reefs in the area.
There are currently 12 resident turtles who call Baros’s house reef their home: Pana, Sandy, Goofy, Aya, Arnie, Bonthi, Dex, Parsley, Tiger, Sparky, Coco and Schumi. While we saw almost every other creature there is to see during daylight, we were bummed to miss the turtles during our snorkel outings. Reason enough to get back to Baros!
Another fun option for exploring the house reef is taking one of the resort’s see-through canoes for a whirl. It’s a great way to familiarise yourself with the island and reef while seeing the colourful fish below. We did this as our first activity and loved every minute of it. I’m awful at paddling a canoe, but it sure made for a fun hour of taking in the sights – and togetherness.
The Dark Side
At Baros, snorkelling and diving doesn’t have to end at dusk. In fact, creatures like eels, octopuses, lobsters and shrimp are much more active at night. Night-snorkellers and divers can watch parrotfish going to sleep, lionfish waking up, lobsters running around the rocks – including the slipper lobster, a species not seen during daylight – and corals come alive as they feed with their tentacles. The “Diving on the Dark Side” adventure is open to all guests at Baros who are experienced snorkellers and divers, and have been out on the house reef during daytime.
Dedicated to raising awareness and helping to protect the precious aquatic environment, the Marine Centre team also conducts various environmental awareness and education programmes, like the coral transplantation (or “coral gardening”) workshop that we took part in. In fact, all Baros guests have the fascinating opportunity to help create small coral nursery areas around the house reef; the aim is not only to reproduce corals, but also to establish homes for various fish and invertebrates like starfish, crustaceans and sea urchins, among others.
Here’s how it works. Corals are tiny animals that live in colonies and reproduce sexually over a few nights a year by releasing their eggs into the water. During the remainder of the year, they simply bud off and create clones of themselves – marine biologists have been making use of this in order to produce more sea life. By increasing the reproduction of the most successful clones, they hope to develop stronger corals that can withstand high ocean temperatures and global warming.
After an introduction to coral regeneration, we went into the ocean to collect broken but still living coral fragments from the seabed and then went back on sand to affix them to a man-made coral table. Once they were tied on, we helped carry the table back into the water and watched as our guide placed it amongst the other transplanted nurseries. These regenerated corals are regularly monitored and photographed to document the types of marine life they’re attracting and how they’re progressing in their environment.
The workshop, which was about an hour long, added a different educational element to our relaxing beach vacation, and is something we’ll always remember. We didn’t just learn about sea life and coral renewal – we actually got to contribute to helping the environment firsthand, even if it was just in a little way.
Guests who would like to contribute to this environmental programme without doing the “dirty work” can donate to the Coral Reef Rehabilitation Fund, which allows them to sponsor one or more coral tables that will be filled by the Marine Centre team and added to the growing reef. A personalised nametag is attached, and photo updates are sent twice a year. In fact, when we were placing our coral table underwater, our guide took snapshots to send to some of the coral table sponsors.
The folks over at Baros sure know how to make your stay special. They’re willing to go above and beyond to make your holiday everything you want it to be; and if you don’t know exactly what you want, they’ll help you figure it out by offering some ultra-romantic suggestions. Here are three ways to ramp up the romance level during your stay, and spoil yourselves silly.
1. Private Cruise
Don’t miss a sunset tipple onboard one of the resort’s boats, Nooma, a traditional handcrafted Maldivian sailboat, or Serenity, a luxury motor yacht. While many couples opt for dinner cruises or half or full-day chartered sailing excursions, we enjoyed a private, one-hour pre-dinner sunset sail – with champagne, of course – on Nooma, which was both romantic and relaxing.
There are plenty of other boat experiences available too. If your partner is a dolphin lover, have the Baros Guest Experiences team arrange the “Sunset Dolphin Cruise” with champagne and canapés – you’ll surely score major brownie points. And if fishing’s your thing, choose a “Fishing by Twilight” outing with a “catch your own dinner” plan. Guests who don’t mind getting up early can also learn the traditional Maldivian method of fishing with a hand line during a “Hand Line Trolling at Dawn” excursion. Whatever floats your boat!
2. Sandbank Dinner
If the weather permits, treat yourselves to a private dinner for two on Baros’s sandbank. Accessible by boat, it’s straight out of something on The Bachelor (the American TV series with exclusive, over-the-top dates) – a “you only live once” sort of thing. Though the rain kept us from our own scheduled sandbank dinner, the Baros team was able to prepare Plan B – a lovely dinner in a vacant beach villa, complete with our own private chef who prepared our meal in front of us – the same delicious five-course meal (US$695 for two) we were meant to enjoy on the sandbar. A lovely night, despite the rain. You can also arrange a sandbank breakfast or picnic lunch if you’d prefer a daytime excursion to the secluded sandbar.
3. Couple’s Spa Treatments
The Spa at Baros Maldives is hidden in a lush, tranquil setting and is absolutely beautiful. An extensive array of over 15 massages is available, plus a vast selection of facials, scrubs, hand and foot therapies, and other treatments. We opted for the Baros Signature Massage (a soothing blend of Swedish, Thai pressure point and hot stone massages) in one of the four private spa suites, especially designed for couples. Each spacious suite has two change-rooms, a bathroom and a steam-bath, plus an outdoor relaxation area with a rain shower and an outdoor tub. In-villa spa treatments are also available.
Wedding and Vow Renewal Celebrations
Baros’s dreamy setting makes it an ideal destination for both wedding and vow-renewal ceremonies and receptions. In fact, the resort has become quite popular for its vow renewals, which can be done at a variety of locations on the island, including The Lighthouse, the beach, the sandbank or on the Nooma sailboat. Leave the details to the Baros staff, or work with them on choosing a menu, a wedding cake and other important arrangements.
When you’re at Baros, be sure to check out the Maldivian Lounge, a mini-museum that’ll give you a better sense of Maldivian culture. With displays of locally made artefacts and a collection of authentic antique maps of the islands, the lounge adds an extra dimension to your tropical island getaway.
Sure, everyone speaks English on the island, and other languages too (in fact, there are staff members from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the Philippines and elsewhere), but why not use some local lingo?
Hello: Assalaam alaikum
Have a nice day: Baajjaveri dhuvahey
Please: Adhes kohfa
Thank you: Shukuriyaa
I love you: Hih dheefeemey kalaa ah
We flew non-stop on Tigerair to Malé’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (Tigerair flies in and out of Malé on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays), and non-stop on Singapore Airlines back to Changi (SQ flies to and from Malé every day). Other carriers that fly to Malé include Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, Sri Lankan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Korean Air, Etihad Airways and Air India.
The flight to Malé is a little under five hours, and not needing a visa to enter makes the trip a piece of cake. It took us no time to get our luggage, thanks to the airport’s small size, and Baros provided transport to and from the airport via boat (the dock is literally outside the airport), which made the experience easy and relaxing.
Room rates range from around US$730 for the Deluxe Villa to $1,500 for The Water Villa, depending on the season. For packages and special deals, and more information, visit the website.