With a lifelong desire to learn to dive, I was faced with the choice of evening classes at my local swimming pool, or a course on a tropical coral reef in the Maldives, the decision was simple
And so to Bandos Island Resort on the North Male Atoll of the Maldives, just 15 minutes by speedboat from the airport in the capital of Male. I must admit, I couldn’t help but smile to myself as we hopped across the waves in the speedboat – in every direction I looked there was a small island paradise. Some islands completely deserted, others developed into 5-star resorts. Regardless, all the islands had their own beauty – certainly helped by the Maldivian law which restricts any development to build above the level of the palm trees on that particular island.
Top marks to Bandos from the start, as soon as my feet hit solid ground I was handed a tropical cocktail and cold towel, this was getting better by the minute. The room was ready, so off we went. I’d opted (for a relatively small price) to upgrade to a Jacuzzi Beach Villa, and I think it was the best decision I made. Our room, or should I say villa, was vast. A living room on the ground floor, the bedroom upstairs with a balcony overlooking the beach. However, the best bit was through the backdoor to our semi-outdoor bathroom. With an indoor shower, outdoor shower and full size jacuzzi, this was absolute bliss.
Bandos certainly doesn’t feel like a big resort, there are 225 guest rooms scattered around the island and you can walk around the whole island in 15 minutes. I was a little worried about being stranded on an island for a week, but once you get into the island life pace, it’s easy to fill your days. If you’ve had your fill of sunbathing, snorkelling and diving, then I’d recommend a visit to the Anggerik Spa. Serene and calm, with a big relaxation area in the centre. Or, if you’re more active, head to the watersports centre or Paradise Club – for tennis, badminton, volleyball and gym. If you need to get off the island for a few hours, then take a trip to see dolphins at sunset, a day in the capital city of Male or head off for a spot of sport fishing.
I have one recommendation when you book this resort – book B&B only. There are three restaurants, but only the buffet restaurant is included in the half-board price. I personally found it a little souless, preferring to eat instead at Sea Breezes or Sun Downers, both of which have tables overlooking the water, and good food at very reasonable prices.
Bandos has one of the best house reefs in North Malé Atoll, which is accessible from the beach, through a channel. Whether snorkelling or diving you will feel like you’ve stepped into Finding Nemo, with grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, eagle rays, manta rays, parrot fish, moray eels, puffer fish, turtles, triggerfish, napoleon wrasse and barracudas all lurking.
The dive centre on the island certainly seemed to be professionally run. Of course I have little to compare it to, but I felt that all the safety precautions were adhered to and was reassured to see that any qualified divers who wanted to dive independently had to first go out into the lagoon with an instructor to prove their skills weren’t rusty. Failure to prove your skills meant you were not allowed to dive without supervision. It certainly seemed a fair policy in my eyes.
I took the PADI Openwater Diver course, which is the first step up the PADI ladder. For someone like me, who plans to dive on holiday with my partner - this is enough to allow us to do that. The course is split into three sections...
Knowledge development is classroom-based. In my case, this meant spending some of the daytime in the diving centre learning theory, safety and diving principles. Luckily my instructor was more than aware that I was on holiday, so allowed me to take their laptop away with me, so I could watch the short DVDs at night – making sure I got every possible hour in the water/sunshine.
The second phase is confined water dives. Usually this would be conducted in a swimming pool, but with the lagoon at our disposal, we used the shallows instead. Expect to spend a lot of time sat on the sea bed while you do various practical exercises. It’s hardly onerous and there are plenty of nosey fish who want to come to investigate what is going on.
The final phase is without question the highlight of the course – open water dives. To qualify you must complete four open water dives, this is by no means a hardship when you’ve got the Maldives to explore. Some dives were done on the house reef, while for others we took a boat out to other reefs.
I completed and qualified in four days, which meant that I had the last few days of my holiday to explore further afield. I joined the dive boat and went off to Lankan Reef, Maagiri East and The Aquarium, all of which were within a 30-minute boat ride from Bandos. Without doubt the highlight was the manta ray cleaning station at Lankan Reef – this dive alone made the whole trip worthwhile. I stepped off the boat and began my descent into the depths, as I reached the bottom a six foot manta ray came flying over my head. Breathtaking is an understatement. At this dive site it’s an unwritten rule that you descend, then cling to a rock and observe the manta rays, too much movement from divers and it will scare these incredible creatures away. Interestingly, it’s said that they love to swim over divers, as the feeling of the bubbles gives them a good tickle. Whether that’s true or not, these majestic creatures certainly put a good show on for us.
Completing the PADI Openwater diver qualification means I can now dive anywhere in the world with a buddy (qualified friend/partner). PADI is a globally recognised qualification, so once you’ve got this far, the (underwater) world truly is your oyster.
Expect to pay c.£800 for a week B&B pp. PADI Openwater course and qualification c.$550.
Bandos Island Resort www.bandosmaldives.com