Having been to the Maldives on a couple of occasions prior, we wanted something a bit different this time round, especially since this was also the first time that my son was in the picture. The Maldives is incredibly beautiful, but it does have a reputation as a destination for honeymooners, divers and people who want to do absolutely nothing. I’m not very good at doing nothing on holiday, I really like to have things to see and do, and to be able to explore a bit so when we came across Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa, it seemed as though it had something for everyone – the perfect solution!
Villingili is one of the largest resort islands in the Maldives, although it really doesn’t feel like it. All of the accomodation is made up of private villas, and with the luxury of land mass on their side, all of the villas on the island are set well back from the main path – they really are some of the most private I’ve seen in the country.
There’s also plenty of over water villas, and although these have the benefit of direct access to the water, they’re not nearly as private as the villas on dry land. As my son is only two, water villas aren’t recommended for families with kids under the age of 8 so we chose a deluxe pool villa which was actually made up of two separate rooms behind a private walled off area with both a large bedroom and bathroom and a separate lounge, with a large private pool and direct access to the beach and ocean down a short path.
When we booked the room, we had no idea that it was going to be quite as big as it turned out to be! I’d also imagined that the pool would be a plunge pool, similar to most other properties in the Maldives, but it was actually a decent size pool, certainly big enough to swim in!
I think we spent the first few days just completely in awe of the room alone! When travelling with a little one it worked out to be the perfect choice. The toddler was more than happy splashing about the pool for hours on end, and when it came to nap or bedtime, with the separate lounge we were still able to enjoy our own space and do our own thing in the other room (a god send with little ones!). There was also a dining table on the deck which meant we were able to enjoy evening meals in the villas without the need for a babysitter.
As for the rest of the resort, there was so much to do around the island. Bikes are provided for each villa, complete with kids seat or child’s bike where relevant, so we were able to get around ourselves between restaurants, or up to the main pool, as well as just exploring around the jungle and beach areas.
Restaurants and Bars
There are currently three main restaurants on the island – Dr. Ali’s Asian food, Fashala Mediterranean, Javvu where breakfast and lunch is served is also open for dinner and Endheri, a beach bar offering light snacks and some incredible cocktails. Dr. Ali’s had the most extensive menu and offered the most wide-ranging choice of cuisines so although all of the restaurants were excellent, this was the one we visited most frequently. The in-villa dining menu is also pretty extensive with a range of options but if you want something special or something different for the kids, in our experience the Chef and team were only too happy and went out of their way to accomodate any specific requests.
Activities and Spa
With all of the activities on offer, it was almost hard to know where to fit in any lounging around on the beach!
The island Eco Tour was a really interesting opportunity to learn more about the island and the nature and wildlife and the toddler loved seeing the huge amount of wildlife including enormous flying foxes or bats, birds, lizards, frogs and fish!
I also found the historical aspect of the island very interesting – during WW2, the island was used as a secret naval base for the British Eastern Fleet, for added security in the case of Singapore being lost to the enemy. As a result, there are still a number of sites around the island from an old dhoni boat shipwreck to an old ammunition bunker, a disused well and artillery building remains.
Golfers will also love Villingili as the island is also the only place in the Maldives with a nine hole golf course, which is the largest course in the country, and quite possibly one of the contenders for the most beautiful golf course in the world!
There’s also a chance to meet the island’s coconut climbers and see them in action as they scale the palm trees to collect coconuts for eating and drinking throughout your stay. It was pretty interesting not only seeing their talent, but learning about the different stages of coconut growth and which stage each type is most beneficial for – young coconuts are best for drinking, while older coconuts are best for cooking.
A popular spot to visit after breakfast was the Green Lagoon in the centre of the island, a natural tidal lagoon fed by a small channel to the ocean where we were able to feed wild Tilapia and other fish.
We also loved exploring the back side of the island where the water current prevented swimming and where at low tide we were able to explore the shallows and rock pools for crabs and fish.
One of the other things that drew us to Villingili in the first place was the opportunity to explore off the island and see a bit of what daily Maldivian life looks like.
On the Addu City day trip we were able to see the ‘city’ and though it was barely big enough to be classed as a town in most other countries it gave us a fascinating insight into how people live and the industries in which they work.
The other off-island trip we took was an afternoon dolphin cruise. The Atoll is home to large pods of dolphins that come in during the day to rest and play after their night’s hunting out in the wider ocean. The chances of seeing dolphins are not guaranteed of course, though dependent on the conditions, it is usually pretty likely and of course the crew know the favourite places to spot them 😉
If you’re travelling with young kids, another great option is to take the glass bottom boat excursion, where you’ll have the chance to see everything on the reef -fish, turtles, coral and all without getting wet.
And the spa – I love a good spa and if you know anything about Shangri-La, you’ll already know that their Chi Spas tend to be top notch and with some amazing treatments. The local specialty is the Kandu-Boli Ritual inspired by the area using locally made coconut oil and cowrie shells.
As well as snorkelling and diving trips organised by the on-site dive centre (there’s a WW2 shipwreck for some excellent diving in the Atoll), the island also has its own house reef which is easily accessible from the steps near the water villas, just follow the marked path between the buoys to reach it.
The Bottom Line
Our time spent on this island far exceeded our expectations, we chose the Shangri-La Villingili Resort and Spa because it provided more options for things to do and we were not disappointed. It was just so lovely being able to have a bit of freedom and cycle around the island, but also having the involvement in the eco and wildlife activities, both scheduled and impromptu – you can’t get far on a tropical island like Villingili without spotting something interesting. And what I really loved was the opportunity for the outdoor lifestyle, it was fantastic for the toddler to be able to see fish in a natural lagoon along with frogs, lizards, bats, turtles, dolphins and more in their natural habitat – these are things that he just doesn’t get exposure to by living in Abu Dhabi, certainly not as easily or at such close quarters.
The rooms had just about everything we could have imagined so you can pack pretty light: waterproof jackets, umbrellas, life jackets for reef swimming and as well as all the usual bathroom amenities, mosquito repellent, after-sun, laundry detergent and more was also all provided.
Kids cots are also available at no extra charge as are extra beds for kids.
Check the available deals direct on their website also as often kids under the age of 12 can eat free for the duration of your trip.
It’s also worth noting that Shangri-La Hotels have a ‘Golden Circle’ loyalty programme – if you plan to stay with any hotel in the group more than once it’s well worth signing up for the free membership as the more you stay, the more perks you’ll receive.
Although the Maldives is only four hours away from the UAE, Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa is the Southernmost Island of the country (it’s the only Maldivian Atoll you cross the Equator to reach and there’s absolutely nothing else south of the island until you reach Antarctica) so to reach it you need to take a second plane from Malé (the resort will organise this for you) taking between 70 and 90 minutes which lands at Gan airport and from there, you’re met by hotel staff who take you the short 10 minute speed boat ride to the island resort. It can be a bit of a trek with little ones in tow when you consider the transfer times in between flights, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.