Plunge into Turquoise Water in the Maldives

Wander With Wonder – Discovering Wow Moments Around the World or Across the Street

The Maldives’ Sun Siyam Resorts offer endless ways to get active in the water or lounge on land. Read on for how to plan your stay in a Maldivian-owned resort.

I’d seen pictures of glamorous overwater villas on faraway islands, but I’d never stayed in one until visiting Sun Siyam Iru Fushi in the Maldives. And while all the flashy stuff was lovely—the private plunge pool, the bathtub overlooking a turquoise lagoon, the see-through patch of floor so you could lie in the bed and watch fish passing below the villa—my favorite part was a metal ladder. I could suit up in a mask and flippers, then climb straight down into the lagoon to snorkel. The water was warm and clear and full of fish and coral. Every time I got out, I wanted to get back in. And so I spent nine days in the water or walking around islands, still wet and salty.

My private ladder down to the lagoon at Iru Fushi. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Getting to the Maldives

Sun Siyam Resorts had invited me to check out its resorts. The Maldivian-owned chain includes five resorts in the Maldives and one in Sri Lanka. I visited three of the resorts, staying three nights at each.

It’s a very long flight to the Maldives. I flew from Portland to Seattle, then Seattle to Doha. Fortunately, I stopped over in Doha for a couple of nights. Then, I took a 4.75-hour flight from Doha to the Maldives capital, Malé. After waiting around at a seaplane terminal for a while—Sun Siyam has a fabulous lounge, so this was a cushy wait—I took a 45-minute seaplane to Siyam World. The seaplane had spectacular views of turquoise lagoons in the middle of islands and different colors of blue, green, and brown according to the shallows and the reef systems.

Incredible Maldives views from the seaplane. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Meet the Resorts

Siyam World is the chain’s newest resort, opening about two years ago. It’s in Noonu Atoll, which is north of Malé. In the Maldives, resorts occupy a whole island, rather than islands being split between different resorts. Siyam World is one of the country’s largest resort islands, full of activities. Some of its unique features include a water park full of slippery climbing structures, tennis and badminton courts, a horse ranch, and a friendly cat colony. Go-carts are coming soon.

Siyam World. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Siyam World Iru Fushi is the quietest, smallest, and most deluxe of the three resorts where I stayed. It’s a 10-minute speedboat ride from Siyam World. I was assigned a butler, the kind and helpful Abdullah Fayaz, who drove me to dinners in an electric golf cart and could explain the uses of every plant on the island.  Iru Fushi also has one of the best spas in the Maldives, plus nightly entertainment like karaoke and fire dancing. This was my favorite resort because it was quiet, beautiful, and easily walkable, with excellent snorkeling and friendly staff.

Thatched roofs at Iru Fushi. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Siyam World Olhuveli is the closest to Malé, so it gets the most entertainers. This resort is spread over three islands. Two are family-friendly and slightly boisterous, while Romance Island is quieter and adults-only. Buses serve the three islands, or you can walk and get a lot of steps in. For me, the standout features were the easily accessible house reef popular with snorkelers and the nightly (though not guaranteed) appearance of huge manta rays.

Every night, I saw manta rays at Sun Siyam Olhuveli. Photo by Teresa Bergen

While each resort was different, they worked hard to make visitors feel at home. “Hospitality is what the resorts all have in common,” creative director Sara Siyam told me. “One of our unique selling points is Maldivian hospitality.”

Resort Activities in the Maldives

All three resorts have robust water sports programs, athletic courts, spas, and excursions involving marine life. The show’s star is that turquoise water, and I spent as much time in it as possible.

Snorkeling in the Maldives

Over nine days in the Maldives, I probably went snorkeling 15 times, and I dove three times. Being in the water with nurse sharks, eagle rays, giant clams, turtles, and colorful fish was the highlight of my visit, whether I was snorkeling at the surface, free diving, or had a scuba tank strapped on my back.

Turtle sighting! Photo by Ahmed Saamee

At Siyam World, I participated in a coral restoration project. Marine host Meimei Ismail taught me how to attach pieces of coral to metal frames, which are dropped to the sea floor to augment the reef. Ismail, who is from Malaysia, is still finishing her marine biology studies and worries about the world’s coral health. “I want to give more awareness for us as humans, to help our oceans. It’s important not only to the marine life but also to every human being.”

So far, Siyam World guests have attached coral to about 100 frames, which I visited while snorkeling.

Meimei Ismail demonstrates how to attach coral to a metal frame for the restoration project. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Island Tours

Joining a tour of a local, non-resort island was also fascinating. A group of us took a boat from Olhuveli to nearby Guraidhoo. My guide, Ali Shaheem, showed me around the island, pointing out the mosques, school, mental hospital, indoor badminton court, and medical clinic. He also showcased the burgeoning tourism business.

There’s a fenced area called Bikini Beach, where foreigners can swim. Otherwise, people are expected to cover their knees and shoulders. The highest building on the island, a new hotel that looked about five stories tall, is still under construction. He even took me to the “cat farm,” where cats live on a patch of land under old boats.

The larger of Guraidhoo’s two mosques. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Sun Siyam Accommodations

The resorts follow a general layout of beachfront property for guests, with staff housing in the middle. Most of the guest accommodations are beach villas or overwater villas. These come with or without a private plunge pool. At both Siyam World and Olhuveli, I had a beach villa with a pool, while I stayed in an overwater villa at Iru Fushi. While these are deluxe, there are even bigger villas for family groups.

Private plunge pool at my beach villa at Olhuveli. Photo by Teresa Bergen

The villas were all beautiful, with big beds, lovely linens, in-room espresso machines, and plenty of storage space to unpack. Outdoor furniture makes a relaxing place to hang out or drape swimwear to dry in the sun. The bathrooms were works of art with big tubs. My beach villas both had outside, open-air bathrooms. While I loved the outdoor showers, I had to slap away mosquitoes while brushing my teeth.

Glamorous outdoor bathtub at Iru Fushi. Photo by Teresa Bergen

I liked the overwater villa best. In addition to the ease of snorkeling access, every time I walked on the pier out to my villa, I saw interesting marine life below—giant cowtail stingrays burrowing in the sand or baby black-tipped reef sharks playing in the shallow water.

I want to live here! Photo by Teresa Bergen

Dining in the Maldives

All three resorts had extensive buffets and specialty restaurants. The food was wonderful and varied. Being vegan, I always wonder if I will starve in places I visit. There is no chance at the Sun Siyam Resorts. My best buffet picks were the breakfast smoothie stations, fresh fruit, and a big selection of Indian food, especially at Olhuveli.

I ate at many of the specialty restaurants, too. At Siyam World, Andalucia made me an enormous vegan paella, and Arigato rolled up some beautiful vegan sushi. Taste of India at Iru Fushi presented me with a huge and varied thali dinner. But Iru Fushi’s French restaurant, Flavours, was a real surprise with its vegan cauliflower tempura and sweet potato cakes.

Cauliflower tempura at Flavours, Iru Fushi. Photo by Teresa Bergen

At Olhuveli, I got a delicious pizza at a restaurant on the beach despite my server looking very dubious about leaving off the cheese.

Cheeseless pizza is possible! Photo by Teresa Bergen

Sun Siyam Cares

Beneath the glamour of Sun Siyam’s luxury villas is a rags-to-riches story. When Ahmed Siyam Mohamed was only twelve years old, he lost his mother. He left his island in Noonu Atoll to seek his fortune in Malé when he was only 14. It was the 1980s, and tourism in the Maldives was just getting going. He offered his services as a tour guide, worked as an airport rep, and saved his money. He met Aisha Faiz, his now ex-wife and current Sun Siyam COO, at 19. “And they fell in love,” Sara Siyam told me over lunch at Arigato at Siyam World. “They got married. They had me when they were 23. And in 1990, right before I was born, they started a small travel agency in his bedroom.” Yep, this evolved into the Sun Siyam Resorts empire.

Sara said her father never forgot his roots and the importance of sharing with less fortunate people. The empire is also committed to the environment. Their Sun Siyam Cares program addresses environmental concerns through solar energy, biodiversity conservation, promoting local heritage, and other measures. Four resorts have already reached Travelife Gold Certification for sustainable tourism practices and are now working toward diamond level.

At Iru Fushi, guests can participate in a tree-planting program. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Iru Fushi’s sustainability and hygiene specialist, Erkaiym Tabyldieva, told me about their ever-evolving efforts, such as getting a shredder to make green waste into finer fertilizer. She said that the island’s desalination and purification plants produce all the resort’s still and sparkling water. That’s a lot of plastic saved since eliminating plastic bottles in 2021.

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If You Visit the Maldives

The Maldives has two seasons: the southwest monsoon (approximately May to November) and the northeast monsoon. The southwest monsoon is the rainier, so prices drop, and you can usually get a better deal. January through April are the driest months. “But even if it rains, it’s not going to rain for the whole day,” Ibrahim Maahil Mohamed, the Iru Fushi Dive Center manager, told me. “Sometimes it rains for two to three hours. Compared to other countries, we have very stable weather year-round.”

I visited in November at the tail end of the southwest monsoon. There were occasional rain showers, and one afternoon, my boat excursion was canceled due to rough seas. But otherwise, I did everything I wanted. And I was wet most of the time anyway. That turquoise water is irresistible, making an escape to the Maldives a bucket-list beach escape. We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder for more of our favorite beach vacations.


Plunge into Turquoise Water in the Maldives