Photo Diary - Bandos, Maldives

When I was growing up, I was lucky enough to get exposure to a handful of exotic destinations around the world from a young age. Some of my earliest holiday memories were made in the Maldives - a nation of atolls, reefs and lagoons where my personal idea of perfection always felt within reach. The country sits around five hundred miles south-west of Sri Lanka in the tropical expanse of the Indian Ocean, where its landmass is spread across a chain of over a thousand tiny islands.

The Maldives are a place where you can float just a few metres offshore to share the clear waters with turtles, rays, and more varieties of tropical fish than I could ever learn the names of. There are white, sun-bathed beaches bordered by tall canopies of palm trees, which provide a shady hideaway during the hottest parts of the day. It's a country which hosts a wide selection of island resorts to cater for visitors looking for anything from a week in the Sun, to an indulgent, once-in-a-lifetime getaway packed with SCUBA diving, ocean excursions and meals under the stars.

My early memories of this place were still very vivid in 2016, when I was finally able to arrange another trip. Having not been back in over ten years, I was very keen to see whether this haven on the other side of the world would still be as evocative as it was all that time ago.

I chose to travel to Bandos Island Resort; one of the more accessible and widely appealing islands, which sits a short speedboat ride from the capital city and airport. I'd been there before on a family holiday, so I knew roughly what amenities to expect, as well as the layout and location of the island in the North Malé Atoll. I timed my departure towards the end of July to avoid the peak of the monsoon season, while also staying outside the times of highest visitor demand.

My journey took me from London, through Istanbul, and finally to the usual entry point at the capital city of Malé, where the airport sits on its own artificial island. I was greeted by a warm wall of tropical air as I stepped from the confines of the plane and down to ground level. After a half-hour navigating the tiny airport terminal, I left solid ground once again - this time for a quick journey by sea. A further twenty minutes, and I was dropped at the end of a wooden jetty leading through to the spacious reception area at Bandos.

Most Maldives resorts offer a lot of choice when deciding exactly where you want to stay on the island, and Bandos is no exception. The scale goes from standard rooms (cosy bungalows with thatched ceilings, scattered around the island in groups of four) up to water villas (decadent private residences suspended over the shallow sea, which feature as the 'elite' option at many resorts). I had chosen to stay in a deluxe room - one rung up from standard. This offered a great deal more floor space, a small living area, and a bathtub alongside the wet-room shower.

During my two-week stay, I was able to re-visit many of the experiences which made me so drawn to the Maldives to begin with. I wandered around the island in the evenings, watching the equatorial Sun get dimmer and dimmer as it slipped below the sea. The spectacular sunsets were often followed by an evening meal where I could fill up on local seafood, curry dishes from neighbouring India and Sri Lanka, and a range of tropical fruit desserts. Of course, most aspects of the country's natural beauty were hidden once the Sun had set, but there were others which would only show themselves after dark on a cloudless, moonless night.

Being so close to the Equator reveals spectacular sights in the night sky which are not visible from the northern latitudes of the UK. The core of our Milky Way galaxy is on full display; the bright central bulge and its dark lanes of interstellar dust are easily seen with the naked eye, thanks to the total lack of light pollution.

If you're lucky, you'll also be treated to a light show much closer to home. Walking along a stretch of beach isolated from any nearby lights, you might see what look like tiny blue-green stars flaring up where the water meets the shore.  These glowing specks of luminous plankton are most common during the Summer, but can be spotted all year round and make for some very dreamy scenes when combined with the stars above.


If you just want to lay back and soak up the Sun, you're well catered for on any Maldives island. However Bandos, like most resorts, offers a great deal more to do for those who want a little variation. There's a dive school offering PADI certification and at least two boat dives each day, along with a watersports centre, and a weekly round of organised trips.

I'd recommend going 'night fishing' at least once; this evening excursion takes you out to sea on a traditional Dhoni boat with a reel of fishing line, a hook, and enough chunks of bait to last an hour or three. You can then watch the Sun go down as you feel your way around the depths of the local reef, hoping for a twitch on your line which says 'dinner is served'. Once the haul for the evening is sufficient, you'll head back to shore where the catch is barbecued on the beach and served to you on a table by the sea, regardless of whether you were able to contribute!

Many people come just for the diving, and Bandos is in prime location for some of the most popular sites in the country. Victory Wreck, an Asian cargo vessel which sunk near Malé in 1981, lies 35m deep, just south-west of the airport. Perhaps a more accessible (and equally popular) site is Manta Point - a feeding station which attracts massive manta rays at times when the local waters are rich in plankton. I remember visiting Manta Point at least three times when I first came to Bandos. After a couple of minutes' descent to the sandy lagoon floor, all you have to do is stay still and watch as the huge rays circle overhead, flying silently around you in groups of three or more.

Time passes quickly in a place as carefree, accommodating and naturally stunning as the Maldives, and my two weeks at Bandos felt barely like one. I was soon packing up my diving gear, putting away my camera and getting ready to jump back on the speedboat for the short hop back to Malé. Did it live up to my expectations? Absolutely. In fact, I found I could appreciate it even more as I knew what to look for and what I wanted to experience from the outset. Many things were just as I remembered, from the excitement of a day spent floating between different dive sites, to the photogenic vistas visible both day and night. At least this time I was able to capture some of these memories to take home with me and share.