When you arrive on an island paradise, lit with golden sunlight, sprinkled with fine white sand and dripping with turquoise water at every edge, it’s safe to say your expectations have been exceeded before your stay has even begun. Wide eyed with a grin from ear to ear, that was true for me the moment I arrived at the Centara Grand Island beach resort in the Maldives. But I had no idea what surprises those crystalline waters had in store for me.
You find yourself seduced by the waters of the Maldives. Blues from every inch of the spectrum reach out from the shore, warm water kisses the sand and small tropical fish swim curiously around your feet as you wade in. The environment is made for snorkelling, diving, SUP and floating, blissfully on the surface. But there was something even more special waiting for us when we arrived at the Centara Grand. We were going to get the chance to swim with a whale shark.
Swimming with Whale Sharks in the Maldives
When you head out on the whale shark tour the guides make it very clear; an encounter with a whale shark doesn’t happen everyday, even in paradise. I’ve written about looking for turtles in the Gili Islands before, with no luck, so I was modestly excited and very hopeful we would have more luck when we went out in search of a whale shark.
Whale sharks are filter feeders so we were warned the biggest risks they present to humans is an over enthusiastic tail flip should or getting a nudge if you accidentally swim in front of them. Those risks should be negligible regardless. Our entire group was warned and reminded that we shouldn’t be close enough to be worried about either event as we were there to observe, not touch the shark. Knowing it’s safe to dive in doesn’t stop you from getting a little nervous about launching yourself into the water armed with only a pair of flippers and a snorkel. That said, the strangest thing happened when we were told the scout boat had spotted a shark. Like a big excitable child (The “Disneyland Effect” again), I literally ran to the front of the boat and hurled myself off with two of our guides, leaving the rest of the boat behind (those Maldivians can dive!). I put it down to a combination of adrenalin and the possibility that this once in a lifetime experience might slip through my fingers.
Diving deep, as soon as I dropped below the surface I saw him; a whale shark measuring about 5 metres, swimming just below my flippers. He was absolutely beautiful. Most of us are familiar with that funny feeling you get when you drop below the water’s surface. Silence passes over you and time seems to stand still. Watching the shark move so gracefully amid the silence was an almost indescribably calming experience for me. He was majestic and powerful and felt completely non-threatening. He knew we were there, but he didn’t seem to mind. We were like little children for the next 40 minutes or so, following him as he rose towards the surface and chased him again as he dived down effortlessly, almost flirting with the group of visitors eagerly trying to keep up with him.
After spending ample time with our new friend, we peeled off from the group to check out the reef below. We were treated to a show of coral, bright, tropical fish, a sea turtle and a stingray, making their way along the edge. The two of us spent our time between the surface for quick gasps and energetic dives down to the underwater garden. The entire experience was one I will never forget.
Another must-do while staying at Centara Grand is the sunset cruise. Boarding the boat at about 5pm, the group climbed to the upper deck – a flat 360 degree views of the islands and the horizon. Glasses of wine are handed out at about 5.45pm, so you can relax and watch the sky’s mood change from sunny to sombre. The cruise was a relaxing way to end a day of exploring and romantic pre-dinner start to the evening.
Staying Fit in the Maldives
When you’re staying in such an inspiring place you’ll find it hard to resist the urge to rise with the sun. We got up to watch the sunrise over the water each day and I would encourage you to set the alarm for at least one Maldivian sunrise. Most of the others guests are still sound asleep, the temperature is mild and you have the pick of any private, quiet corner to sit and welcome the day. We did yoga on the sea wall one morning, meditated on a day bed by the infinity pool another. On each day, we still had time to walk over to the gym to watch the sun continue its dance on the glassy surface, all before breakfast.
Whether you practice with the resident yoga instructor (classes are offered a couple of times per week), you have your own personal practice, you stop in to sweat out some of those cocktails in the over water studio, hit the tennis court for a game of tennis or run the soft sand outside your front door, the beauty and the mood of the island will no doubt encourage you to get moving during your stay.
Spa Cenvaree, Centara Grand Maldives
The Ultimate All Inclusive package includes a 30-minute spa session at the Spa Cenvaree each day during your stay. The staff book you in, you just need to turn up, choose the treatment (massage or mini-facial) you are in the mood for, or even add-on additional treatments, and leave the rest to their soothing hands. Treatments range from traditional Thai to healing Ayurveda.
The spa settles respectfully into the island’s natural environment with wooden furniture complimented by fabrics and decoration in earthy tones. Individual treatment bales are set among the gorgeous fig trees in, so you feel a world away from the other guests. Let the relaxation continue with a dip in the whirlpool in each change room or ease your way back into reality with an herbal tea in the lounge.
Centara Grand Island Resort, Maldives
The Fit Traveller was a guest of Centara Grand Hotels & Resorts for this stay. As always, the opinions, words and images are authentically our own.