Updated: Feb 4
I don't think I've ever experienced a place like Joali before. It took a total of three planes (two commercial flights, one seaplane) to get to this gorgeous island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. A true wonder of nature - the result of millions of years of volcanoes sinking below the ocean surface to form the archipelago of islands and atolls that we know today as the Maldives. Joali is located in Raa Atoll, one of the 26 atolls that make up this island nation and a 45-minute sea plane journey from the capital city of Male.
As mentioned in my previous post, our main objectives on this holiday were to relax and to see as much wildlife as we possibly could - and we certainly got to do both (but the latter goal was fulfilled more at our next hotel). Joali calls itself an "art-immersive luxury hotel", with breathtaking views at every twist and turn of the suspended wooden walkway leading from the water villas into the main island. Joali was built around three years ago, and the brand newness of the resort facilities was one of the many attractive qualities of our stay. The rooms felt like they had never been slept in. Not a single detail of the hotel grounds was left unkempt.
On the island, there are plenty of excellent dining options including Mura Bar (which offers all-day dining and a sunset bar), Bellini's (high quality Italian dining), Saoke (Japanese restaurant and teppanyaki), Tuh'u (relaxed Mediterranean cuisine), and Vandhoo (relaxed international cuisine, and daily breakfast buffet venue). There's even a candy shop where you can build your own ice cream sundae with toppings of your choice. We got the half-board, which means daily breakfast and 3-course dinner is included in the rate, but at Bellini and Vandhoo only.
Our water villa was an architectural marvel raised on stilts over the cerulean ocean - a view that we vowed never to take for granted throughout our trip. Each villa is equipped with a large deck that we spent most of our time on - reading on the sofa, eating in-room snacks at the outdoor dining table, swimming in the infinity pool, napping in the hammock or tanning on the sun deck. The deck is even connected to a set of stairs that leads directly into the ocean, should you wish to go for a snorkel around the surrounding reef.
Our Jadugar (Jinan) took it upon himself to create an itinerary for our entire stay, even booking restaurants in advance to secure our seats and give us the most comprehensive experience of the resort. We were given a programme of all the activities happening over the next week, and he helped us book everything. There's a dive centre on the island that you can also visit to make your bookings directly, and to even custom-craft new experiences with the equipment that they have. For example, there's a jet ski safari option that takes you around the reefs to snorkel via jet skis, but we altered the program to make it about finding dolphins instead. These activities don't come cheap though, as the four-hour jet ski dolphin excursion for two of us cost approximately US$900, with tip and taxes included.
To avoid this post from becoming overly long, I'm going to highlight with bullets the best things about our experience staying at Joali, as well as (very) few disadvantage points so you can make an informed decision about staying here!
The staff & the six-star hospitality. You really cannot get better than the service at Joali. We never heard a single "no" for our requests from our Jadugar, which ranged from a tub of uncooked rice for my soaked camera and driving us to the restaurants every night via buggy if we felt too tired to take the bicycles, to driving said bicycles back to us from somewhere we'd left them on the island. Even though he was tending to around six other villas at a home, our Jadugar would respond to our WhatsApp's within 30 seconds.
It's new, and probably one of the most beautiful resorts in the Maldives! As mentioned, the resort was built only 3 years ago, and all the facilities look and feel brand new.
Plenty of activities. The activities range from yoga and pilates to cooking classes, pottery, art jamming, tennis lessons, and HIIT, to the excursion-y type activities like sea turtle quest, dolphin quest, snorkelling extravaganza, discover scuba diving, night snorkelling, and more.
Foodie heaven. There are so many international cuisines on offer here, but obviously what they excel at is the local cuisine. Maldivian food is influenced by neighbouring India and Sri Lanka, as well as eastern Mediterranean countries such as Lebanon, Israel and Syria. I loved trying all the local dishes, which were completely new to me.
Not much (daily) wildlife. At Joali, we did see sea turtles, loads of reef fish, dolphins, and some sharks that gather near the Japanese restaurant. Beyond wildlife-targeted dives and tours, everyday sightings were few and far between, and a lot of the reefs around the resort looked bleached and destroyed, due to a global bleaching incident from rising temperatures a few years ago. They're still on the mend - with a very cool in-house marine biologist helping to restore the coral reefs.
Only one side of the water villas can see the sunset (aka sunset villas). We started in villa 42, which had an incredible breeze every day with a sunrise view. The ocean would be deeper on this side, but we didn't see much wildlife (maybe cause this is also the side where seaplanes land?). We then requested a sunset villa, which cost extra to upgrade to. We were lucky to get villa 63, which had an amazing view of the sunset and a virgin sand bank in front that we could swim up to and snorkel around. The only downside is - the air is much more stagnant on this side. No breeze, very hot.
No shops. At this point I'm just nit-picking, so just bring some snacks with you. With the half-board option, you definitely get peckish midday and want to eat at the different restaurants or order room service, and the cost adds up because food in the Maldives is generally expensive.
Joali verdict: Highly, highly recommend. The disadvantages are only there for fairness, but they honestly don't matter if you just want a blissful, luxurious, and COVID-free holiday away from the mad ruckus of the rest of the world.