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Cocoa Island: Maldives

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The COMO Hotels and Resorts are quickly becoming one of my favorite hospitality groups around the world. After several great stays at The Halkin in London, I knew it was time to see how the resorts side of their business looked with a visit to the famed Cocoa Island in the Maldives.

The island (known locally as Makunufushi) is tucked around the southern part of Malé’s coral atolls– a quick 40-minute speedboat transfer from Malé’s international airport. On our visit to the island we had some inclement weather which made the transfer rather exciting!

Cocoa home boat

It’s hard not to get excited by the photographs of the island. When you arrive it’s as if you’re showing up to your own private island in paradise. There are only 33 suites and villas sprinkled and spidered across the water giving you total privacy– nearly all of them are fashioned to look like Dhoni’s (Maldives style fishing boats).

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The water underneath these villas at times was less than a foot deep. It was a great place to see rays and my favorite little reef sharks. They looked almost animatronic the way they swam around the shallow waters.  I kept wondering if one of them had frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads.

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The design inside the villa was simple, chic, and totally comfortable. From the moment we arrived it felt like we were right at home. The resort allows you to have every meal inside the living room of your villa if you wish (looking out over the water), or at a small restaurant on the edge of the island. No request was too much for Cocoa Island–they were baking us gluten free bread daily, and accommodating to everything we could imagine needing on our trip.  The quality of the food on the island wins my highest praises.  Nothing was short of absolutely delicious.

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The beauty and serenity of the beaches were just amazing. Sandbars stretched hundreds of yards in several directions making for great strolls around with occasional dips into the bathtub like ocean, and snorkeling galore.

It was on Cocoa island I received my first Scuba Certification from a fantastic instructor named Takashi. We spent a good 30 minutes one afternoon following a sea turtle around the reefs of the island at only 10 meters. A moment I’ll never forget. I’m truly spoiled now!

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Last but not least, the spa can not be missed. Oh yes, the spa. COMO Shambhala knows exactly what they’re doing in this arena. The Ayurvedic style treatments and therapies were absolutely heavenly– as was a visit to their beautiful hydrotherapy pool before a treatment (and for a cool dip after a hot day in the sun).

If you’re considering a trip to The Maldives, I highly recommend putting Cocoa Island on your list. Heavenly.  I can’t wait to go back!

Ithaa Undersa Restaurant: The Maldives

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On my most recent trip to the Dubai I had some extra time for a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of travel life and headed straight south to experience the magic that is the Maldives. I had the distinct pleasure of staying at couple resorts – one of which was the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island where I successfully checked off one of my life long dreams: Dining underwater. Yes, as close to that as I could get without drowning.

I had actually written about Ithaa, The Worlds First Undersea Restaurant in 2005, more than five years prior to the visit I made.

To say the restaurant itself is unique would be an understatement of the century, and surely it is the crown jewel of the New Zealand based MJ Murphy Design Group’s portfolio.

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Their deep understanding of aquarium design and construction made them a very qualified partner for the job– but as you can see from their own journal, balancing a 175 ton acrylic restaurant 16 feat below the oceans surface was no small task. The story of construction alone is amazing.

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The entrance is set above sea (disappointingly you didn’t have to swim in).  A door is setup on a small nondescript thatched pavilion above the ocean with an overwater path to the beach. If it weren’t for the buoys lined up around the waters surface in the distance you would hardly know what you were getting yourself into.

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After a spiral staircase you’re welcomed into what is best described in picture. It is indeed just like you’re sitting at the bottom of the ocean as schools of fish fly by and inspect the 14 people dining just on the other side of the clear acrylic encasing.  It’s a little bit like sitting inside a clear bullet laying in the sand.

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Being down there it took a few minutes to get used to how bright it was. I went for lunch at high noon and they actually had a tray of sunglasses to choose from if you forgot your own. The water acts as a magnifying glass and the intensity of the light is almost unbearable without shades on.

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Food wise, it was a set lunch menu paired with a refreshing bottle of wine.  The AC was pumping down there, but the sun was still very hot.  As you can imagine, food wise the seafood was as fresh as it could get, likely caught only earlier that morning.  My date and I enjoyed a piece of seared line-caught barrier reef fish, palm heart and fresh coconut. But while the eating was good, it was hard to pay attention to the meal– the view you’re sharing with only a few other lucky souls under the ocean was just too incredible.  We spent most of the time pointing and laughing as fish and undersea life passed right before our eyes every minute.

Ironically, eating here turned our to be my early inspiration to go ahead and get my scuba diving certification the next week, as it was a taste of the serenity and beauty the undersea provides.

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As we were leaving the restaurant our host reminded us that for a mere $11,000 a night we could spend the night. Too rich for my blood, but wow– what an offer.  The space has also been rented out for weddings.

Reservations for Ithaa are required far in advance of your visit to the island, and if you’re even considering a trip to the Maldives, it’s a must see, a great meal and worth the visit.

*Some of these photos were obviously pulled from around the web to illustrate the construction process.  Others were taken by me.  It was surprisingly hard to photograph under there!

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