Simple pleasures, luxury touches, and ease of mind reign at the all-inclusive OBLU Select Sangeli.
They say that few sights can compete with aerial views of the Maldives, its 1192 coral islands arranged almost like a garland by the equator. In fact, it’s the first glimpse from the plane that most people vividly recall, one that builds an overwhelming sense of excitement over finally landing on this South Asian archipelago in the Indian Ocean. I, however, was not privy to that sight.
It’s a pitch-black night as flight 5W 7105 descends at Velana International Airport, made suitably dramatic by the turbulence that persists. Cyclone Biparjoy is slowly churning toward India and Pakistan, and North Malé Atoll isn’t entirely immune. A smooth arrival process later, I’m taken aboard a speedboat, where safety guidelines and choppy waters call for strapping on a life jacket. With my surroundings shrouded in darkness, the sheer immensity of the unknown – both below and around me – is almost intimidating. “I’m in the Maldives,” I remind myself, almost in need of a little assurance. “It will be a whole new world come daybreak.”
And it is indeed.
Waking up in the Maldives is the stuff of dreams, with blue skies, bluer waters, white sand, and towering palm trees making for the kind of beauty that stops you in your tracks. And considering on-arrival visas are issued to all tourists and the islands experience little variation in temperatures throughout the year, there’s no wrong time to visit. But it’s no secret that holidaying in this veritable paradise comes with a hefty price tag — overwater villas, for starters, are priced upwards of $700 per night. And then there’s everything else that adds up at a pay-as-you-go property: meals, transfers, water sports, spa treatments, and excursions.
Ordering a beverage alone can be a nasty surprise; a Diet Coke can set you back $8, while cocktails fall in the $17 to 23 range, depending on where you stay. It’s no wonder that the Maldives can feel like a destination reserved for the elite. Enter: OBLU Select Sangeli. My home for the next four days, this all-inclusive resort resides on Sangeli Island in the north-western tip of Malé Atoll and offers a hassle-free, all-encompassing experience by way of its Serenity Plan. Devoid of hidden charges, a stay here features everything you’d want on a five-star beach holiday, so your only job will be to relax, unwind, repeat. Here’s what to expect.
When it comes to accommodation at OBLU Select Sangeli, a choice of 137 standalone villas in six categories awaits — beach villas (with and without pool), water villas (with and without pool), and two-bedroom suites included. Not only does this property boast some of the largest entry-level beach family suites in the Maldives – further proving that it’s not just for honeymooners – but it’s also renowned for its affordable luxury offering. Rates for double occupancy currently start at $520. But whether you end up by the powdery soft shore or over the turquoise lagoon, contemporary furnishings and creature comforts are a given.
Opting for an overwater villa with pool, I’m instantly struck by just how spacious it is, 88 square metres to be exact. A well-equipped bedroom aside, this bungalow on stilts features an extensive bathroom, complete with double sinks, a shower, a sizable bathtub, and even a small seating area. Inside are all the usual suspects needed for a comfortable stay (a king-size bed, air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, and a minibar that’s replenished daily at no extra cost), but it’s the outdoor deck that reminds me why I’m here — staring aimlessly out at the ocean. Whether it’s from a lounger or a private infinity pool, uninterrupted views of idyllic waters never get old.
Able to accommodate three adults or two adults and a child, the villa also tends to practical matters. There’s a tote bag, life jackets, and plenty of hooks to hang up sopping wet swimwear. And it’s not just sightings of stingrays that create a sense of place. Tropical accents pervade the villas at Sangeli, only adding to their charm. A miniature seashell, for example, serves as a mode of communication for eco-minded guests who wish to reuse their towels. And over in the bathroom, amenities such as yoghurt sunscreen and insect-repellent cream are not only handy, but also all-natural. Elsewhere, a walnut ceiling fan painted teal blue continues to echo the all-round island vibes.
No property in the Maldives would be complete without extras for honeymooners and, here at Sangeli, that translates to six overwater honeymoon suites connected by walkway to the smaller One Banyan Island, which is reserved exclusively for adults during the day. The added perks here are ideally suited to newlyweds — think: mirrored ceilings, a circular bathtub, a retractable roof, and a private pool spanning 13 square metres.
It’s rare for luxury resorts in the Maldives to provide guests with true insights into local life, so OBLU Select Sangeli wins rave reviews for immersing its guests into a cultural experience — the island turns into a veritable playground with every session of Boduberu, a festive blend of drumming, dancing, and vocals. And the smiles on their faces as they sway, barefoot, alongside the performers says it all. Between DJ nights, karaoke nights, pool parties, and live music performances, entertainment carries on throughout the week, as do children’s games and edutainment activities at The Kids’ Club.
One look at the landscape (and the spiral water slide that beckons), though, and it’s clear that nothing beats simply hitting the water. While the calm lagoon is ideal for those spontaneous dips, the variety of non-motorised water sports on offer will take you further out into the Indian Ocean — both stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking equipment are free to use. You can also snorkel to your heart’s content; complimentary use of snorkelling equipment throughout one’s stay is part of the Serenity Plan. I’d be remiss not to mention the property’s reef conservation programme here.
Five years since its inception, the initiative maintains a thriving coral nursery under the guidance of two in-house marine biologists. And because the lagoon bed now has a lush coral cover, you can spot the likes of parrotfish, snapper fish, eagle rays, and reef sharks — marine species frequently visit and inhabit the 150 coral frames in place. Personally, I prefer to navigate the underwater world further afield, with an expert in tow. And, luckily, a guided snorkelling trip is on the selection of excursions like dolphin watching and moonlight cruises, each of which infuses a little adventure into a stay. The best way to enjoy Maldivian waters is by boat, after all.
Guests are entitled to an excursion of their choice, an offering that’s further elevated by a complimentary sunset fishing session. The latter only immerses me further into the traditional way of life. Boarding a dhoni boat, complete with brightly painted lateen sails, feels like time travel. Pole-and-line fishing not only originated in the Maldives, but has also been practised in the archipelago for centuries. “It’s not easy, but we’ve done it this way for generations. It was our only livelihood until tourism came along,” says one of the fishermen, as we make our way towards the open ocean. “It’s still a part of our identity. And it’s better for the ocean this way.” In the absence of fishing nets, bycatch is practically nonexistent — much like my beginner’s luck with fishing. Still, isn’t this what travel is all about? I finally see paradise on earth through the lens of a local.
Also on the Serenity Plan: food. And lots of it. Eliminating the stress that comes with unreasonable prices in tourist spots, this package allows for indulgence that’s paid for upfront. The resort has one main restaurant (The Courtyard), two fine-dining restaurants (JustWok and Just Grill), and three bars (The Rock, The Sangs, and One Banyan Bar). The Courtyard is where all-day dining takes place, introducing guests to Maldivian mains alongside live cooking stations, a barbecue spread, and an extensive buffet that not only spans the globe, but also changes daily.
A word to the wise: work a Friday night at the hotel into your travel plans as the Indian Ocean Gala Dinner is quite simply unmissable. This weekly celebration, as its name suggests, brings the finest flavours of South Asia together, so you’ll dine on the aromatic likes of Tawa Fish, Dal Makhani, and Ceylon Curry that’s customised to your liking. But there’s more. The feast culminates with a Boduberu session at 10pm, at which point I see diners make a beeline for the sand-beneath-your-feet Sangs bar. A fine-dining experience is also part of the Serenity Plan’s appeal and, as someone with an impressive tolerance for spice, my stay takes me to JustWok.
While Just Grill is rooted in grilled seafood and meats (served with sides, sauces, and then some), JustWok serves contemporary Pan-Asian dishes in an indoor-outdoor setting. The à la carte menu instantly feels problematic; each option sounds as enticing as the last, so lean on the staff for suggestions. It’s not long after taking their advice that I’m feasting on braised wonton noodles and steamed fish fillet served with burnt chilli and scallions. As for the Asian take on crème brûlée? Perfection.
Across the property, guests are entitled to more beverages than they can consume (everything from iced coffee and soft drinks to beers and inspired cocktails such as Green Himalaya), an inclusion that frequently offers much-needed respite from the humidity. Three bars reside under the Serenity Plan, one of which illustrates why the sunsets of the Maldives are dubbed legendary: The Rock. Here, at this standalone bar built on stilts in a shallow lagoon, you can flop onto a beanbag – sundowner in hand – and take in a vista that you have to see to believe.
Elsewhere, you can fuel up at One Banyan Island Pool Bar or the resort’s main pool bar, The Sangs. While the former offers more privacy during the day (the pool at One Banyan Island is for adults only), the latter serves authentic Maldivian snacks every evening. “The Fehi Boakibaa is a favourite,” says one of the servers, gesturing towards a coconut milk cake with a distinctly green hue.
In a case of seeking complete escapism in the midst of a tropical escape, I venture over to ELE | NA — a 45-minute spa session is yet another perk under the Serenity Plan at OBLU Select Sangeli. Enveloped by lush greenery, it thoughtfully borrows its name from the elements of nature, finding inspiration in the energies – wood, fire, earth, metal, water – that flow within and around us. The holistic healing journeys here don’t discriminate, either; both local traditions and global treatments make an appearance on the menu. Ingredients such as betel leaves, coconut shells, and pouches filled with warm sand star in the signature Maldivian rituals, while the likes of Sun Soother Facial and Sunburn Treatment with Aloe Vera offer relief to those not used to the equatorial sun.
Truth be told, opting for the Balinese Massage after my consultation is a no-brainer. With overlapping deadlines now the norm, this “invigorating treatment” based on age-old Balinese healing rituals comes highly recommended for stimulating circulation, improving oxygen levels, and reducing tension. Admittedly, it doesn’t take long to see its merits. A few taps on a local drum signals the start of my treatment, the gentle sounds drawing my attention to just how shallow my breathing is.
A whiff or two of eucalyptus later, I’m slowly brought back to life thanks to a rhythmic series of stroking, stretching, tugging, and kneading carried out expertly by my therapist, who softly checks in to ensure the pressure is just perfect. And it’s only enhanced by the warmth of the extra-virgin coconut oil that my skin gratefully absorbs. At the end of the day, this is what makes OBLU Select Sangeli so special — you’ll spend every waking hour using your camera to capture this idyll, but it’s such intangible bliss that will truly stay with you.
GO: Visit www.coloursofoblu.com for reservations and more information.