I've just returned from 4 nights at Kandholhu Island (roughly pronounced Candle-hoo). Kandholhu is said to be one of the best shore-snorkeling islands in the universally beautiful Maldive Islands and it lived up to its reputation. The house reef was great and was fairly close against the island which was convenient. The variety of coral and sea life was excellent.
It was a grueling 28 hours from the time I woke up at my departure location until I was comfortably asleep in my Kandholhu bed at around 22:00 on the first day. Then there were 3 full days of snorkeling, relaxing, and being pampered by the dining crew. Finally, there was a reverse long process to get home on the 5th day.
Despite the length of time it takes to get there, I think it was probably the best 4 nights that I could afford to spend anywhere on the planet. I envisioned a 7 night trip to other islands, but upon finding Kandholhu, I reduced it to 4 nights to fit inside of the budget and still get the island that I wanted. That was the compromise – quality over quantity.
Was it worth it? For me it turned out just right.
It was a great trip on the right island for what I wanted to do. All the other small conveniences on the island - and there were many - allowed me to concentrate on what I came for - the snorkeling. I was able to snorkel until I was almost snorkeled out.
Regarding the time spent traveling to get there, in fairness, if comfort during the travel phase is more important to you than money, then overnighting in Dubai or Singapore on the inbound or outbound leg (or both) is a good way to get a break in the travel. As it was, I had just enough energy to do this trip without any overnight stops and without losing any of my desired 2 snorkel sessions per day for 3 days. And, I still came away feeling refreshed and relaxed in the end.
I chose the island because of positive reports here at TripAdvisor and at MaldivesComplete, both of which indicated that the house reef is top-notch. I also wanted to be on an island that lay on the inside of a greater atoll so the maximum depths around the outside of the island’s reef would be about 50 to 100 feet. In many cases, this can significantly reduce dangerous currents and may also reduce the chance of encounters with extremely large and potentially dangerous pelagic species which are said to prefer the deeper waters off the atolls’ outer islands. I like my sea monsters to be reasonably small and well-mannered, and in that respect Kandholhu was perfect.
I also preferred to find a smallish 'eyeball' shaped island and outer reef rim combination, as seen on aerial views from above. Kandholhu fits that general profile. The reef is actually more of a four sided diamond shaped reef with rounded, but noticeably distinct corners. The ‘pupil’ of the ‘eyeball’ shape is formed by the island which in this case is a low, raised up, triangular shaped splotch of sand with softly rounded corners. It lies on the eastern side of the ‘table top’ of the reef and has a very shallow lagoon and even shallower coral reef surrounding it. Such a small island with an eyeball shaped configuration usually indicates that the outer perimeter of the reef can be reasonably circumnavigated with moderate effort. A complete circumnavigation of a Maldivian island while snorkeling is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and Kandholhu would give me a chance to give it a try.
I also wanted to be on as small and low-density of a resort island as I could afford. Kandholhu is very small and thankfully the owners have resisted the temptation to stuff it full of high-density lodging, preferring instead for visitors to see the island as they would prefer to see it – as a wonderfully relaxing escape.
I also wanted the luxuries of cold and hot freshwater, and air-conditioning. These are fairly standard in the Maldives now, but they weren’t always. So it’s still best to ask ahead of time, especially the first time you go to a new island.
Kandholhu Island also offered a few extra benefits that I wasn't expecting. The 30 - 45 minute boat transfer from the seaplane landing zone to the resort was free of charge in their large shuttle / dive boat. I was told that they prefer not have the impact of the seaplane landing too close to the island, and thus possibly disturbing the wildlife. It might also have something to do with the relatively low volume of passengers at the island. Kandholhu’s boat picks you up and drops you off as needed at the seaplane docks, which are located a short way offshore of the very-high density-resort at Halaveli Island. Your seaplane flight will be coded as being to ‘HAL’ and some of the seaplane approach patterns for the HAL landing zone fly directly over Halaveli. Presumably the exact approach chosen may depend on the wind direction, but the HAL seaplane dock is where you will arrive and where the Kandholhu boat queues to pick you up, along with the boats from other nearby resorts that enter the queue to pick up and drop off their passengers.
Kandholhu provides a complimentary Zodiac boat and crewman for certain occasions. This came in handy during my circumnavigation attempt. Also, during my short stay I missed the complimentary sailing sessions and I did not try to book any complimentary snorkeling excursions beyond the circumnavigation, although they are on offer.
The fitness center was small, but well equipped. There is also a nice sauna / spa pool / resting gardens complex, with dedicated sides of the building designated for males and females. The fitness center and this sauna facility each have their own dedicated buildings. I toured them once or twice, but did not use either of them. Their use is complimentary and they were empty on all occasions that I visited. Low-density means you will almost never queue for anything on this island and will not often see the other guests, except for perhaps at meals or on excursions. The most people I ever I saw was about 10 to 12 sets of patrons who showed up for evening meals.
Space was likewise impressive. You are unlikely to get bunched up or crowded together. The evening meal was served at about 20 tables set up on the beach. Capacity is even more impressive when you consider that there are also another dozen to twenty cocktail / breakfast tables on the adjacent deck which are perfectly suitable for a meal, if slightly low, and a similar number of full sized tables in the adjacent open air restaurant, and on top of that, there is bar seating and an adjacent open-sided thatched shelter that could be pressed into service for a bigger event, but never were during my stay.
Aside from a small collection of people for the evening meal, the rest of the time it pretty much feels that you have the place to yourself.
There are a few separate buildings dedicated to the slightly more elaborate massage spa complex. The buildings are on the perimeter path, with one building being inland and the other toward the sea. The doors are typically open to let the breezes through and although I’m not a spa person, I was suitably impressed with the serenity of the place. They seemed not heavily used, but one evening as I passed by returning from a snorkeling session, I could briefly and distantly see through the open inland-side doors of the seaside building, the silhouettes of a pair of masseuses attending to a couple while the sun was setting through the open seaward-side of this oceanfront building. For the spa-set, I can’t think of a better way to have a massage than looking out over the sea while the sun sets.
The lodging rooms themselves were ideally equipped for snorkelers. They had front porch wash-down stations for quickly rinsing the sand off of feet, sandals, wetsuit booties and other gear.
Out in the back courtyard there was a fairly luxurious stone tiled outdoor shower with modern fixtures, and hot and cold fresh water. They had fitted a modern stainless steel, bell-shaped, waterfall style showerhead, which felt wonderful for showering and was very useful for quickly getting wetsuits rinsed. There were clothes lines, drying racks, and hanging pegs - all of which are handy for getting the gear rinsed and getting it put in the sun to dry. The privacy walls of the courtyard were 7 feet high and more than enough for complete privacy on this very flat, low sand island. Outside of the walls, the courtyard was further surrounded by jungle landscaping.
In fact everything on the island is surrounded by carefully groomed jungle landscaping. There are an assortment of birds, lizards, and geckos. Medium sized crabs (oversized ghost crabs, it would appear) wander the paths and beach at night, scavenging and digging burrows to hide in during the day. The resort sprays for mosquitoes and flies, and this seems effective for the intended targets. Still, it’s a jungle out there. I removed two or three insects from the room each day. Mostly ants that got in when I left a door open. Flashlights are provided so you can wander the paths at night without stepping on the wildlife.
There was no back gate to the courtyard (it’s fully enclosed for privacy), and the back door of the bungalow leads directly into the bathroom with toilet, wash basin, wall-mounted mirror and vanity lighting. The bathroom has 110 and 220 volt electrical outlets (2 pin flat American or 2-pin round European plugs, no accommodation for big British plugs in the bathroom) and a wall mounted medium-sized hair dryer. The hair dryer was fine for drying hair and small items, but a little anemic for drying wetsuits. I brought a 220v 1800W hair dryer with me, but never bothered to use it since the sun was shining the entire time I was there and that took care of fully drying the wetsuits out at least once a day.
The inner door to the bathroom leads into the main room which is equipped with an American king / UK superking sized bed. The bed is a somewhat elaborate four-poster job with sheer curtain panels that can be drawn closed around it – or strategically positioned to block the LED clock light on the small entertainment unit stack that sits on the large desk. A small flat-screen TV was mounted on the wall opposite the bed and near to the front door. I don’t know if the entertainment system worked, beyond displaying the time of day, or whether the TV worked, because I never cared to turn them on. I brought some plastic coated wire hangers and by turning the hooks at a 90 degree angle so that they were perpendicular to the bodies of the hangers, I found that I could hang a few shirts and dry wetsuits off the TV without damaging it, and thus kept the day’s clothes and gear ready to go. I pretty much used that end of the bed and area near the door as a quick dressing station. Not what the resort intended, no doubt, but handy nonetheless. There was also a large chair, large built-in wood closets, a mini-bar with fridge / freezer, and an espresso machine. An outlet there, and a few others around the room, provided 220 volts for big British plugs.
I don’t know if the espresso machine worked and I don’t know if it could simply make hot water if needed. The resort fed me well and I never used the espresso machine or the travel kettle I brought.
Out the front door is a covered porch and front deck with some comfortable sitting chairs and the mentioned wash down station. The wash down station is in the form of a few handy paver blocks and a wash down hose. The hose is terminated with a squeeze handled spray head. The hose is mounted to some pebbled big round concrete posts. Cleverly, one of these is set at a perfect height to sit on or steady yourself with while the other is at a perfect height for propping up a foot while you wash the sand off. Somebody put some thought into this place and these small touches are everywhere.
Although some of the food is costly, it is very high quality. Conversely some of the food is at no cost, so the math on this one is not as linear as it may seem. I received an awesome complimentary tropical fruit platter upon arrival and a free bottle or two of water on the way in and on the way home. Breakfast was included in the room rate and for such a small resort was of immense quantity and variety. Quality was excellent as well, and I’ve seen much worse in many 4 and 5 star business hotels. The only let down the entire time was the slight inconvenience of downgrading from fresh milk to long-life milk – there are no herds of milk cows on the reef.
I hauled in 4 bottles of my own water and some juice packs, along with about 2 pounds of snacks and some light quick meal stuff. I never needed the light meal stuff since they fed me so well. My snorkeling schedule was designed to minimize sun exposure, but it also worked extremely well for getting the most of the scheduled meal times even though I was on half-board (dinners included / lunch not).
In addition to water and juice, I hauled in noodles, flat bread, fruit preserves, canned tuna, dates, cookie bars, tangerines, crackers and assorted dried fruits and nuts. When I departed, I still had most of the food and juice remaining, although only a little water. The water, cookie bars, and dates would have been adequate for a short stay. The rest was redundant, but probably would have been consumed if the stay was 10 days.
Adding halfboard meals (dinner) was an upgrade that cost $40 per night. Dinner is a four course exquisite grand affair, but being served on the beach (or the deck if you prefer, as I did), can be as casual as you want.
That said, you would probably want to swap out the mustard-stained white undershirt and put on something slightly more formal. Solid and striped t-shirts, jerseys, and shorts were in evidence, in addition to the more common collared shirts and beachy, light long pants. I tried all of the mentioned non-stained options at one time or another and never felt out of place, but felt most comfortable with legs covered and arms in short sleeves. At dinner, I was most often dressed down a bit in light, quick-dry polo shirts. Sandals were common, and heels being impractical, many women went barefoot, as did some men. I preferred a pair of brown walker / hiker shoes. I was in the clear minority on that one though.
Breakfast and lunch are served in the open air restaurant which has sand covered floors, and both are extremely casual events. T-shirts, shorts, and bare feet prevailed, with a few brightly colored collared shirts and standard sandals thrown in. My collection of light quick dry polo shirts, and a pair of light-weight, but robust brown leather sandals kept me comfortable and in the beach mood. I found myself overdressed compared to some of the young honeymooners, and slightly underdressed compared to some of the more senior visitors.
For better or worse, this is the somewhat conservative Maldives, not Ibiza, and I can’t imagine that complete nudity, nor obscenity or pornographic images on clothing, would be appreciated very much here.
Nor is it Kandahar, either. All the usual beach and swimwear, including bikinis seemed the acceptable norm. If you wanted an all-over tan, your bungalow’s privacy-walled back courtyard would probably be a good place to get it.
Unfortunately, I was coming in without any base tan at all, so traveling with light, sensible clothing that provided plenty of coverage to prevent an untimely sunburn was my goal. The wide range of acceptable attire made it very easy to fit in at this laid-back resort, in-spite of its positioning towards the middle-high-end of the market.
I only had lunch in the restaurant once - fruit juice and a desent four cheese pizza, $25. As with everything on the island, it was very good and the mood was relaxing and enjoyable. Lunch can set you back as little as $15 per person with fruit juice or soda and grilled sandwiches; while a couple of drinks and the pizza (probably big enough for two) is about $35. There are also salads, soups, and starters. Lunch mains are Maldivian, Continental, Sri Lankan, Asian, as well as seafood choices. There is plenty of opportunity to easily double or triple your bill, especially if you splurge on the more elaborate choices. Or, if you knock back a few more drinks from the surprisingly varied selection. Your tab can grow very fast if you care to let go and have it all. Full-board (lunch and dinner) costs an extra $40 a day, for a total of $80 a day. If you plan on a heavy lunch and a full dinner every day, then full-board could be the way to keep the budget consistent, if not low. You will still pay for drinks on top of that.
Me, I couldn’t finish my pizza if I had any hope of snorkeling that afternoon. Two slices was enough, and as tempting as it was to go whole hog, I stopped when I finished 3 of the 4 quarters.
The phone directory lists 20 rooms of three standards on Kandholhu Island. 4 ‘Water Bungalows’ are the crème de la crème ($800 per night low season). The water bungalows are, as you might imagine, over the water. They sit on the west side, over the broadest section of the shallow lagoon that encircles the island. That area of the sandy lagoon is interspersed with shallow coral patches and coral heads, and is well protected by the even shallower, and more solid, ring reef. However, this section of the lagoon does not have immediate access to the outer perimeter of the reef. A few minute’s walk northeast will get outer reef access at the main jetty’s swim ladder. Or, a medium length swim inside the lagoon, or alternatively a few minutes walk, to the south side will get access via a reef exit that is near the secondary jetty.
The water bungalows are west facing and catch direct views of the sun setting over the open sea. There are no sea walls or rock barriers needed anywhere on the island to protect it from erosion, as is seen at many other resorts. The views are perfect sea views.
8 ‘Deluxe Rooms’ ($550 per night low season) are listed. There are at least 4 beach front bungalow buildings on the southwest of the island. I believe these beach front bungalows might be duplex construction. If so, that would account for all 8 of the ‘Deluxe Rooms,’ but I am not certain of this. At least 4 (probably 8) of these rooms are a short swim inside the lagoon to the southern reef exit.
My room was in the cheapo ‘Standard Room’ section - it still wasn't cheap, but neither was it low quality – the standard was very good. Which was a relief considering how little information is published regarding this almost ‘secret’ island.
I was told that 3 eco-tour agencies are the only way in, although I was able to book by emailing the larger Kuramathi Island resort. ‘The Dream Destination’ or TDD is apparently another way to book. TDD also has some quality photos of the island, although those photos only show the water bungalows and beach-front bungalows. I don’t care for that bait and switch tactic, so beware if you book a ‘Standard Room’ through TDD: based on the photos published at the time that I made this review, you likely haven’t seen the room that you will actually get.
There are 8 of the ‘Standard Rooms’ which are duplex bungalow rooms on the east side ($310 per night low season). They are all set back a little from the beach and are on the main perimeter path, with a strand of foliage between them and the beach. I could see the beach down a short radial path that cut through the foliage, straight out my front door. Some of the bungalows are slightly further from the beach by just enough to block any view of the ocean, but they are all very close to the beach. These east side rooms have easy access to the house reef via a reef exit. They are also near the restaurant. So what you lose by not having a direct view of the setting sun, you gain in convenient reef and restaurant access.
All that said, no place on the island is more than 10 minutes walking distance from anything else, and most places of interest will be within a short few minutes of each other.
All prices mentioned are in USD$ and exclude 10% service charge and 3.5% GST. Tips are not required due to the included service charge, but, I tipped 5% to 10% - partially out of habit, and even more so for appreciation for the hard work of the staff. They truly make life very, very easy here.
The island is about 500 feet in diameter and has carefully planned white sand pathways about 5 to 10 feet wide that take you everywhere you need to go. Foliage is lush and overhanging leaves often reduce the width of the pathways somewhat. The beach was about 20 steps from my room, straight out the front door, down one of the mentioned many short radial pathways that spoke off of the setback main perimeter pathway.
The lagoon was 2 to 3 feet deep and no more than 5 to 10 kicks until I got to the inner edge of the reef 'table' made of built-up shallow corals which effectively form a barrier that generally would prevent people from getting to the outer reef. The reef has about a foot of water on the top that lets fish, rays, and small sharks transit back and forth from the lagoon to the sea. Luckily there were three ways for people to get out to the reef’s outer edge: two ‘reef exit’ channels and the beautiful wooden main jetty which has an excellent swim ladder.
Each day I would go straight out from my room's beach (east) to the inner edge of the reef, and then turn right (south). About 10 to 20 kicks later along the inner perimeter of the reef, there was a narrow channel opening on my left (east) that revealed a cut that winds only slightly as it goes more or less straight out (east) through the reef. It's about 2 to 3 feet deep and a maximum of about 4 feet wide and about 20 feet long. It's surrounded on both sides by dense coral and protruding coral heads and is just perfect for a snorkeler to squeeze through.
A few kicks later, and having managed each and every day to not bump any coral in the channel on the way out, and thus not kill it (woohoo!), I would pass over the threshold and was now on the rim of the reef. Depending on the day’s desire I would turn left (north) or right (south) and begin my patrol of the outer perimeter.
The water would be 2 feet deep to one side of me, and about 3 to 30 feet deep below, depending on how far out I swam along the slope-off. I usually kept about 3 to 10 feet of water under me – swimming pool deep. It was about 50 to 75 feet deep over the drop-off and I would occasionally go out and look down. But, the 20 or so feet of water closest to the top of the reef had the vast majority of the action, just as the travel guides describe.
And, that's pretty much how it goes the entire time you snorkel around the island. Although the angle, width, and coral composition of the slope changes as you travel along, providing some variety, the basic configuration holds true in most places – from the table edge, the shallows slope off at an angle for a while, then at some variable distance from the table-top, they drop-off in to the deeper water. When the sun is above you can often see all the way to the bottom.
I managed to keep up my snorkeling routine of twice a day for three days, without getting sunburned. It was a careful balancing act. On the first two days, I got up at 05:00, ate a small snack, mostly of the stuff I brought with me. As a backup there was also a fully stocked, refrigerated mini-bar. It had snacks and a wide variety of non and alcoholic beverages, but I did not partake in that luxury, having brought in enough for the morning wake-up snack and to later bridge me between the included full heavy breakfast and the half-board full heavy dinners.
Just in case you feel the urge to go there, here are some prices: 15-yr Whiskey $8, regular Scotch and other hard liquors $6, Cognac, white wine, and red wine $8, Beer $4.50, Red Bull $6.50, Soda, tonic, and soda water $3, Perrier $9.50, Evian 1L $9.50, Evian 0.5L $5.50, various candy bars, nuts, and other snacks $3 to $6.
Skipping the minibar, I suited up with a ScubaPro ‘Profile’ 0.5mm, steamer style (full length on the arms and legs) wetsuit, some Tusa light-weight booties with neoprene uppers and hard rubber-soles, and ScubaPro tropical gloves, all of which I brought with me - thus, saving me from knowing if there are any rental fees for snorkel gear and providing better sun protection as well. The gear I brought covered everything except my head.
It was a short trip with 5 days at least partially in the sun and 3 fairly busy days on the reef. But, even as short as the trip was, the sun exposure on my head was pushing the limits of what I could take without having a prior base tan. My mask was made of black silicone and plastic, and that offered some protection as compared to the more typical clear silicone masks, but not much. On the last day, I swam holding one gloved hand up to shield my face from a side-blasting setting sun. For a longer vacation, I would need to wear a hood. A few smart vacationers who were obviously avid snorkelers were doing just that.
Incidentally, above the water I used a painter's hat with long flaps to make sure that I didn't over-do the sun exposure on the noggin. Worked a charm, even if a bit goofy looking. Okay, a lot…
But, the protection I wore, along with some sunblock (Neutrogena DryTouch 45), was very effective. I managed to have my first tropical vacation where I did not get sunburned and did not have to confine myself to indoors-only activities for any of the days.
The ultra-thin full-coverage wetsuit turned out to be the real star of the trip: great sun exposure protection, not too hot, and just thick enough to keep some warmth in, especially during the occasional cold-water upwelling. I also had only one encounter with one of those invisible little stinging-cell creatures that invariably get you in tropical waters. I usually end up with more of those, so I’ll guess and give the credit to the wetsuit for that as well.
For those needing to rent some gear, I did see a lot of ScubaPro and Cressi gear in the rental pool that looked in decent shape. To ensure comfort, I would recommend bringing a well-fitting mask and high quality snorkel. The snorkel and dive center have limited hours. It was open twice a day for about half an hour to an hour, only when the divemasters return from scheduled dives. If you have a mask and snorkel, the shallow lagoon is perfectly safe from strong currents, so you can get by without fins for half a day while waiting to get a pair from the island’s stash of equipment at the snorkeling center.
Just don’t go stomping around stepping on things in there with bare feet – some of it might hurt.. badly. The sand is probably okay and as good as any other place… probably. But, anything that looks dark or rocky is suspect. If it doesn’t bite you or sting you, then it’s probably coral, in which case you’ve probably just killed it.
All in all, if you really want to snorkel a lot on your multi-thousand dollar vacation, bring in as much as of your gear as you can reasonably afford and leave the rental pool as a back-up plan. With your own purchases you might get a better fit and availability, less worn gear, and, if you need it, more sun protection. That said, I’ve had to go through a fair share of experiments over the years to get this far, and I would never hesitate to rent if something I brought wasn’t quite working out.
If you can catch an Emirates flight in to Male, the standard baggage allowance should be a generous 30 kgs (about 66 lbs) and I believe it can be split over multiple bags if you wish. The MAT seaplane transfer is an awesome experience, and at 30.8kgs of hand and checked baggage, I was overweight. 5.5kgs (12 lbs) of extra gear cost me $25 round-trip (you pay only once [up-front] on departure from Male Intl).
The seaplane ticket is arranged by the hotel and will be part of your hotel package anyway. It shows up as a line item of $320. Don’t bother checking for an independent airfare (I tried, but not for the reason you might think). The resort has an exclusive with one of the two seaplane operators: the red paint schemed MAT flights as opposed to the blue paint schemed TMA. The red paint-schemed MAT seems to be currently in favor with most of the high-end resorts and the experience was easy and picturesque - everything seemed to work just as it should (they were who I was looking for). You just show up at outside counter 4 (big red counter) upon arrival in Male and they will be ready for you with baggage handlers and an air-con bus to get you to the docks and plane.
So baggage handling and fees turned out to be less of a concern than I thought it might. If your airline allows it, packing two medium sized suitcases instead of one monstrous suitcase will work better when traveling by boat and seaplane. Boats and seaplanes rock up and down a little in the waves, and the smaller bags are easier for the crews to handle and stack.
At Kandholhu, aside from protecting the reef, the staff is very safety conscious and protective of the well-being of their guests, watching to make sure you are safe. They would prefer to know any time you are going snorkeling, and it's best to keep them informed, especially if you are snorkeling alone, as I was.
Once I was out of the room and under way in the lagoon each day, I would snorkel for about 2 hours starting from about 07:00 until about 09:00. Then it was shower time, clean the gear, and have a long, full breakfast from about 09:30 until 11:00. Serving stopped at around 10:00 or so, but you were free to linger in the open air beachfront restaurant as long as you liked to finish your meal, listen to the music and gentle waves, and enjoy the stunningly picture perfect views. It was a great time to get lazy.
For the rest of the mid-day I wandered the small island, pottered about in my room, and napped to avoid being outside through the hottest part of the day. Around 15:30 I awoke and repeated the earlier light-snacking and suiting up ritual, and then headed out for another snorkel from about 16:30 until 18:30.
I saw a million fish of a thousand varieties, or so it would seem, on every session. That may be an exaggeration, but sums up the feeling well enough. I can't imagine that there were any fewer than 100 varieties present on any of my outings.
Tiny, small, and medium fish were in abundance. There were also medium-large ones here and there, around 5 to 8lbs. The reef was excellent, varied, and the vast majority of it was live coral. There were relatively few signs of coral stress. There is some broken coral in a few areas, but generally those are minimal. There is more variety of coral types here than in any place I've had the good fortune to see, and the ratio of live coral to dead is the best I've seen. There are extensive table corals, and a variety of stag-horn type corals, mixed in with cabbage shaped corals, brain corals, and soft corals.
There were occasionally a few stripes of damage, up to a few inches wide and up to 2 feet long, of apparently heat-caused coral bleaching that is scattered here and there. It is rare enough and hopefully seems to be on the wane. Compared to my 1996 visit to another Maldivian resort, the corals do not seem as brightly colored. I suspect that this could be a heat-related Maldives-wide phenomenon (as was widely reported), but it would be hard to be sure.
The variety of small and medium jacks, trevally, grouper, snapper, sweetlips, wrass, puffer, porcupine, stone, needle, trigger, parrot, clown, pompano, damsel, ballyhoo, mullet, runner, 'minnow' and other fish-types was also the best I've seen. I didn't see every type of fish that could be seen, obviously, but this was by far the most variety in any one location. Just as a few examples, I saw more variety of groupers, snappers, and triggerfish than I've ever seen previously.
A memorable first was seeing tuna cruising along the perimeter of the reef. On another occasion, I had my first underwater experience of watching larger fish corner a school of bait fish and attack it, thanks to some eager neon-trimmed blue-fin jacks that were having a mid-morning meal.
There was an abundance of small sharks from 2 feet up to 4.5 feet in length. The most reliable performers and largest were the white-tip reef sharks who could be counted on to be going about their business in plain sight on every snorkeling session. Although they were the largest, they were hardly 'large.' Save for the unlikely possibility that someone might be foolish enough to grab one by the tail, there is next to no chance that one of these small sharks would care to bite anyone.
Second up were the baby black-tip reef sharks. They could be seen in abundance, both above and below the water, at the secondary jetty, and less often in other areas of the reef. They were hardly bigger than hefty mullet, and topped out at about 2 feet, although they are known to grow up to be much bigger… eventually.
The quantity of sharks that I spotted at Kandholhu easily surpassed my previous experience at Kurumba where I saw less than a dozen (pity me) during 6 days of snorkeling in October 1996. On this year’s trip (Aug, 2011) to Kandholhu, I easily spotted a dozen or more sharks each day and the regularity of sightings was phenomenal. The longest dry-spell at Kandholhu was a half hour.
Also, the sharks seemed less skittish at Kandholhu. On many occasions sharks that might otherwise be wary just accepted me as part of the 'furniture' and did some wandering circuits as if I was just an overgrown turtle out for a lazy swim.
I learned to keep my arms tucked in to not scare them and I was lucky enough on several occasions to have them continue on their flight path unperturbed. They sometimes passed within arms-reach of me and a two foot distance was occasionally achieved. The secret seemed to be: do nothing and just enjoy!
Although I looked for them at Kandholhu, I didn’t see any of the 5 to 7 foot gray reef sharks that I had previously seen on my 1996 trip to Kurumba, and whose continued presence in 2011 is confirmed by MaldivesComplete. It seems the gray reef shark is only occasionally seen at Kandholhu.
At the evening meal on the first full day at the resort (my second night), the manager stopped by and we discussed my ambition to snorkel around the entire island starting at daybreak. For no additional charge, he had a Zodiac boat and crewman waiting at dawn. As I made the circuit around the island, the boat stood by offshore at a distance of about 25 to 75 feet from me.
The boat was there in case I got tired. This provides a good alternative to having a tired snorkeler panic and step up onto the very fragile reef. The island is a strict no take, no disturb, no touch zone for the protection of the wildlife and coral, and the boat helps keep it that way.
The most 'different' thing that occurred on this full circumnavigation, was that on two different, fairly well separated-by-distance sections of the reef, I looked down and slightly back and saw that a large brown moray eel of four or five feet in length was swimming with me. Because of the distance between the encounters, I think they were two separate individual eels, but it could have been one very clever one.
I'm not talking about the ones that sit passively in a cave or tucked under a table coral, but these were out in the open, down low. Occasionally doing a slow duck and weave amongst the coral heads below. But, for the most part out in the open, not where I expected them, and decidedly going in my general direction. Each encounter was brief enough – less than a minute – but very interesting.
Whether intentional or not, I'm not sure. Perhaps they were hoping that I would catch a fish and drop a piece. Or maybe they were being territorial. Or maybe it was pure luck and they were doing their own independent business when I came by. Hopefully nobody has been intentionally feeding them (I believe that it's prohibited nationwide, just as shark feeding is), although that could be a possibility.
Whatever the case, it was one of many firsts for me, and it felt rather special once I got over the initially unnerving surprise of a 'sea serpent' apparently 'following' me.
The circumnavigation was a success (woohoo!) with plenty of fish, sharks, turtles and other critters spotted. The only difficult part was a 20 minute stretch of swimming up-current into an annoying chop. That lasted until I could round one of the corners of the diamond shaped reef. After that things calmed down. Corners and coral out-croppings attract a lot of fish, small and large, and thus are very interesting places on the reef.
Speaking of turtles. I'd never seen a turtle in the wild. This trip would sort that out. I saw at least two turtles on each outing and a maximum of three, for an average of about 5 sightings a day. I managed to get the turtles identified by spots, splotches, splashes, and squiggles in their markings and colorings. I was able to identify that there were at least 4 individuals and possibly a few more.
I saw turtles swimming, surfacing to take air, and eating. Apparently anemones are their favorite food and they were often industriously seeking these out, using their extendable necks to get into crevices to find them. Then they cut them up into small bite sized pieces with their bills, before finally swallowing them. I guess that’s one way to make a living.
I think these are called Imbricated Turtles and they appeared to be similar in size and coloring to the Hawksbill Turtles that I saw in meat markets in the Bahamas before most turtles became protected species.
I also saw some rays on this trip. I was walking the main jetty and saw a medium sized Black Stingray in the lagoon, but never encountered one underwater.
I also saw a full-sized eagle ray twice while snorkeling. Both were good sightings and the second did a classic, serene, offshore fly-by.
The first sighting, however, was particularly special. The eagle ray approached from the front, only slightly below. It swam nearly head-on at me in a shallow angled ascent while flapping its wings. It continued until it was about five feet in front of me then initiated a slight banking adjustment turn to accommodate my position and narrowly miss me. It slowly flapped by me, barely two feet away, revealing its mouth, gills, and underside. Absolute magic.
On the last of the three days, I skipped the morning session. I slept in and then had a late lunch, the only time I paid for an unscheduled meal.
I bought some items in the gift shop. I was later able to confirm that the cost of the items was the same at Kandholhu as it was at the airport gift shops.
I then had an early afternoon snorkeling session followed by a rinse and rest break. At sundown I started a second session. This was a prearranged night snorkel with one of the resident dive masters. I paid USD $25 for the guided tour and $10 rental for the light I used.
I finally had a chance to try out a new Neosport 2mm shorty wetsuit (short legs and arms). I tend to run a little on the cold side and was worried that it wouldn't be enough. But, the water at night turned out to be about as warm as it was in the day, and the suit was just what I needed. I also wore the same boots and gloves as I did on the day snorkels. The extra 1.5 mm of neoprene and warmth in the center of the suit was noticeable and I was surprised that I didn't feel cold in the legs or arms. We didn't encounter any cold up-wellings, and the comfort level for my first night snorkel (ever) was perfect.
By the time we started this 1-hour session, I already had 5 sessions on the island. Most of the previous sessions were over at least some of the quarter-section of the island's reef that we would cover that night. It wasn't necessary, but I knew the main features of the outer reef fairly well already.
The night snorkel was easier than I thought it would be. We each carried one handheld light, attached by a looped lanyard strap over the wrist to prevent dropping and losing it. I'm right handed and I looped the lanyard over my left wrist to keep my right hand free for other more complex tasks, if needed.
I quickly found out that it worked best for weight & balance and streamlining purposes to hold the light directly under me with my left hand. I controlled the low beam / high beam switch with my right hand. I also used my right hand to steady the light and help control the direction of the beam. I looked over and the dive master was using a similar grip on his light while holding it under him, except that he was using his free-hand to steady the wrist of the hand that he was using for holding the light.
We gently swept the lights back and forth and upon finding something interesting, would use the light to quickly circle the item. Then, if the creature was eyed and sizable (and might be spooked or blinded), we would quickly move the bright light away and let the softer light from the edges of the beam illuminate the object of interest.
As easy as it was for me to pick up the knack of night snorkeling, the divemaster did earn his keep straight away. He knew the way out from the southern secondary jetty, which is a short jetty that ends inside the lagoon, and I didn’t. As we were leaving shore, I felt a bit lost because I had only been to the secondary jetty twice and had not ever started a snorkel session from that jetty and couldn’t quite remember how to get out. Being a first night snorkel didn’t help either. But, that’s what the divemaster is for, right?!
I was also surprised by the absence of the baby black-tip reef sharks that were usually at the secondary jetty. Apparently at night, they have better things to do than hang out there. Or maybe we spooked them. Imagine that… sharks being spooked by people at night.
We got pottering around in the inner lagoon, found the inner reef edge, and soon enough we were in the southern reef exit channel, which is the wider of the two reef cuts. As soon as we were in the wide shallow channel of the reef exit, I got oriented and knew where we were. As the shallow bottom of the wide channel faded away under us and opened up to deeper water, we turned left (east) and snorkeled along the reef perimeter.
The dive master had offered that since we were snorkeling we could just speak on the surface to communicate what we saw. He initiated communications on a few occasions, but was quick to perceive my general lack of interest in verbal communication. If I understood and had nothing to add, I gave the ‘okay’ sign of a circle formed by the thumb and forefinger with the remaining fingers extended. Otherwise, it was snorkel tube in mouth and eyes open for me!
There were, however, a few notable exceptions. He once advised me of the presence of a lobster whose antennae gave it away. I had previously spotted the antennae of an apparently very small lobster on a day session, but could not see inside it's lair to confirm it. This one was a lot bigger and more out in the open. But, it was so well camouflaged that I never would have seen it unprompted. But, once prompted I spotted half of it before it withdrew under a table coral.
White-tips were appearing with about the same frequency as the day. In fact when he advised me of the lobster spotting, I asked "Didja see the white-tip go under you?" I got the expected surprised, but un-rattled "No!"
Soon enough, I was dawdling at ease and enjoying the scenery. The current very gently pushed us along. The dive-master stayed ahead, scanning for critters while I did the same. Apparently satisfied that I was going to be low maintenance, or at least low-communication, he got into the swim and enjoyed himself while still managing to keep an eye on me. I occasionally needed to do a quick scoot to catch up, but only occasionally. He never bothered me about it if I fell a little behind. For my part, I tried to never be more than 20 feet behind, and the brightness of the lights was sufficient to ensure that we were always visually contactable.
The night snorkel covered most of the same scenery as the day sessions with some notable differences. Some of the coral polyps and tube feathers that were not visible in the day came out at night. I spotted a sleeping turtle. It had securely wedged itself in a crevice and only a small portion of its side was exposed. Clever design that - having only a sharp edged shell poking out.
Many fish were sleeping. An occasional medium-large grouper seemed to have risen in the water column along the reef sides below and quickly retreated to the deep at the sight of the lights.
The divemaster spotted and illuminated a squid or cuttlefish. And, luckily enough another lobster that stayed put long enough for a good gawking at.
We both spotted and illuminated an occasional white-tip. Just as in the day, we sometimes spotted them in pairs. Careful as we were to try to keep the lights out of their eyes, if they were coming from the front or back when they were illuminated, they had a tendency to do a graceful, but decisive u-turn.
We continued around the perimeter of the reef, now northbound. We went past the east reef exit and then moved on along toward the main jetty at the northeast side of the island. Upon arriving in the area of the main jetty, we explored the underwater support poles and concrete bases. A small blacktip entertained us as it wandered about the reef slope and table top. The divemaster spotted two massive stonefish lying still and mottled on… you guessed it… stones - or at least on coral heads. I certainly wouldn’t have seen those without help.
I had previously spotted a sizable round-sectioned eel with a grayish color hiding under a rock at the main jetty on my first day. But, on all subsequent attempts, I failed to find it again. Unfortunately, that night would be no different. I know it's there somewhere! Really.
The jetty’s walkway completely bridges over the reef. The exit via the swim ladder ensures protection for the reef. The divemaster's wife, a fellow divemaster herself, awaited us at the jetty with stories of all the sharks and rays she had been spotting.
From the water - with deviously false certainty – I told her that her husband was no good at spotting sharks, whilst I admitted I had no talent for spotting lobsters. The divemaster himself expressed mock surprise and fired back a good-natured rebuttal. We soon had a short comical debate going on about the comparable merits of the two skills (lobster spotting quickly won out over shark spotting, I’m afraid).
Shortly afterward, the chuckles returned to us. Our plans to exit were being foiled by the presence of a foot long fish stubbornly sleeping on the swim ladder. With the divemaster strictly bound to follow the no touch policy and the fish ignoring several minutes of attempts to softly shoo it away, we finally decided to just carefully step around it on our way up the ladder.
Good for a smile, and as much as anything exemplifies how comfortable the wildlife is in the presence of people at this low impact resort. The island staff's careful stewardship of the environment paid off once again with yet another surreal moment. You really feel like a part of nature at this resort, and nature rewards you by… well… by pretty much ignoring you. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
You won’t find the staff tormenting the wildlife for the entertainment of tourists here. I’ve cringed when I’ve seen it at lesser places (Oahu for example). Kandholhu’s strict following of no take, no touch pays off. I wish more places around the world would adopt the same stance.
By the time we finished, I'm quite sure that we had exceeded the one hour. But, I wouldn't know.
As soon as I arrived at Kandholhu my watch got locked away in the closet safe - more for keeping me from the rat-race, than to keep it from theft. And there it stayed, along with a classic cell phone, blue-tooth headset, and personal music player. I left the laptop and smartphone at home, and likewise, took nothing else to distract me from the mission at hand. Ohhh, they’ve got free Wi-Fi even in the Maldives now – even in this splotch of sand on the ocean. But, that would be missing the point, wouldn’t it?
After the night snorkel session, I got cleaned up and just as I was about to leave the room, the restaurant staff called to make sure I was safe and to remind me that closing time for the dinner meal service would be within half an hour. I made it in time to catch the meal.
Then, at around 22:00, I paid my bill at reception and chatted with the manager, discussing possible future visits and activities in the Maldives.
My hotel package for 4 nights was booked for a total of $1900 and with carefully restrained consumption was kept to a total of $2150 upon check out. This included the accommodation, scheduled (half-board) meals and unscheduled meals, drinks, night snorkel excursion, snorkel light rental, gifts bought on the island, all boat travel and use, seaplane transfers, service charges, and taxes for one person.
It did not include cash tips, over-weight baggage fees paid for the seaplane, gifts bought at the airport, and international airfare to and from Male.
With those included, all up total cost: Under $3500.
The morning wake-up call was at 05:00. I was already awake and doing my final packing. At 05:15 luggage was collected and I was off to breakfast. Breakfast was a full-on made to order affair with the staff kindly suggesting a mixture of my favorite items and a few lighter ones. They deftly knew what I wanted even before I did. There was the Kandholhu magic again.
At 05:45 it was time for goodbyes. Ten minutes later, into the boat I went for the cruise to the seaplane dock and the transfer flight to Male International. All went smoothly. I had plenty of time to shop at both the seaplane terminal and at the main terminal at Male International before my 09:55 departure flight.
As it turns out, it was not only the best snorkeling I could afford to get to, it was the best short vacation I've ever had! Awesome place.
The island is staffed by a small army of kind, helpful, industrious, and friendly people. Some notables who made my vacation brighter are:
Saeed - Manager - Maldivian
Faiiz - Boatman - Maldivian
Connie - Server - Phillipina
Shinaz - Server - Maldivian
Lea - Server - Phillipina
Raghu - Server - Indian
Suja - Reception - Indian
Vayana - Reception - Indonesian
Ian - Divemaster - Netherlands
Yvonne - Divemaster - Germany
And many who deserve to be mentioned are no doubt missed. Thank you to all. It was a wonderful experience.
I have no affiliation with Kandholhu. No one at the resort knew me before I arrived. No one knew that I would come home and write a review.
I did not write a review on the Maldives resort that I visited previously, Kurumba. As good as Kurumba is, I can assure you that if I had written a review on that experience, it would not have been as kind. That trip entailed suffering numerous resort caused cog-ups and inconveniences, and the third-party agent used bait and switch photos. Plus, that was 1996… a long, long time ago.
Notably, Kandholhu and Kurumba are apparently both owned by Universal, Maldives.
- Also Known As:
- Kandholhu Island Hotel
- Kandholhu Island Hotel North Ari Atoll
- Kandholhu Island Resort And Spa
- Kandolhu Island Maldives/North Ari Atoll
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Even in the Maldives, an island so perfectly formed as Kandolhu is rare. Measuring just 200 metres by 150 metres, the island is lush, with wide sandy beaches surrounding the emerald green. The island is also home to one of the most pristine, colourful and lively house reef in the Maldives. Easily accessible from all around the island, you will ﬁnd large table corals as well as many clown ﬁsh living in sea anemones. Located 70 kilometres south west of Male’ in North Ari Atoll, the island is reached in 25 minutes by seaplane. Offering just 30 villas in 5 different styles, both over the water and on the beach, the island is perfect for couples wanting some alone time in paradise. The distinctive natural elements of the Maldives are perfectly combined with modern architecture and creature-comforts in creating an experience so memorable that it will stay with you forever. Kandolhu is currently closed for refurbishment and will re-open in January 2014. ... more less