In a time when new Maldivian resorts seem to be focused on artificiality and urban luxury, and even find it normal and desirable to terraform existing islands or create new ones on top of fragile reefs so as to open spectacular but nevertheless unnatural monsters like Reeti Rah , Cheval Blanc Randheli or Velaa as playgrounds for the ultra rich (who could find the same type of thing elsewhere in the world without needing to destroy this particular ecosystem) , and when the hotel facilities and their perceived bling-prestige are way more important to management and to guests than the island they are on and its natural environment, it is exciting, and wonderful to arrive at Hadahaa, the beautiful and as-close-to-natural as possible island the Park Hyatt resort is on.
Yes, I come to the Maldives for the beauty of these remote atolls with their extraordinary reefs and beautiful sand islands. I come to walk on that powdery white sand, snorkel among myriad fish and contemplate the ever-changing hues of blue and turquoise or walk under the coconut trees, far from the world and its hustle, seemingly alone and feeling privileged to have access to such immense beauty. The whole point of going to the Maldives is to have a sort of a Robinson Crusoe experience in a place of untouched and true beauty, but in most cases in absolute comfort (or on a liveabord boat if you are a fanatical diver) or even in extreme comfort. But comfort and bling are two different things. If I want golden faucets, golf courses and an air conditioned Parisian style chic restaurant where my female friends can wear their Louboutins, I can save a lot of time and money by going to Dubai, especially if I really want artificial terraforming and monumental marble bathrooms.
And so, I look for an island with a discreet but elegant and comfortable hotel on it, with a pristine beach all around the island to stroll on freely, a lovely interior to escape from the sun in, a good pristine reef and great dive sites to explore and of course that stunning turquoise ocean to stare at endlessly. But many of the islands currently being developed in the Maldives, where greed seems to be taking over common sense, are certainly less than beautiful and increasingly often have rocky shores instead of beaches, or airports across the way from them, not to mention way , way too many rooms, and increasingly often the artificiality and hubris mentioned above.
Well, there are still a few places in the Maldives you can go to experience the special natural beauty of this fragile country, in comfort but without tasteless excesses. Places like Rihiveli for simple comfort, or like Mirhi for somewhat plusher comfort, or Cocoa island for even more comfort yet still untouched nature before anything else and with a touch of Zen chic. And you can even indulge in extreme comfort at a place like Anantara Kihavah where everything is at hand in terms of 6 star splurge and yet the island is still the main focus and elegance is married to the experience of the wilderness, not at all abstracted from the island it is on. And then there is the Park Hyatt.
Yes, this place has managed an incredible feat. It may not have the novelty factor of the underwater restaurant or beautiful views from the raised restaurant at Kihavah, or the stunningly tasteful overwater spa Kihavah also offers, or even the overwater villas with huge plunge pools, but what it has instead is a truly ecologically sound concept and design that means that like at Kihavah the resort itself quasi vanishes into the vegetation of this truly perfect beauty of an island. And here we are in an atoll that for a few more short years will still be referred to as remote and quite untouched, with its unspeakably beautiful and unbleached coral, which is right there all around the island (something Kihavah does not quite offer) and overwhelmingly spectacular dive sites that beat all others I have seen in the world by combining huge amounts of sea life of all types (except mantas) and coral everywhere, even at 30 meters and in oceanic channels…
Hadahaa has a perfect reef around it, on all its 360 degrees of circumference. With no natural or artificial channel cut through it at all. So the island always keeps its sand, and that sand can shift naturally, unimpeded by walls or groynes, and it does not need to be supplemented with pumped sand because it stays within the closed reef. This house reef is a symphony of hard table corals. Maybe not as fishy as some others (especially the one sin Ari Atoll), or as varied, though certainly fishy and varied enough for anyone. And it is so monumentally spectacular that only one other reef has blown me away even more: that of a uninhabited island in this same atoll, near Hadahaa , called Kaashidhoo, which you might have the privilege to discover on one of the resort’s reef exploring excursions (highly recommended, especially if wonderfully knowledgeable and enthusiastic Hissan is your guide).
The closed house reef has the disadvantage of not allowing for water sports as there is no easy way to get beyond the reef except at high tide, and the lagoon, which is truly beautiful is not quite big enough and is rich with coral boulders. But this slight disadvantage (which also means there are no noisy outboards or jet skis to spoil the perfect blissful peace of the place) is apparently being corrected. The resort is making a deal with a local entrepreneur to provide watersports services on a nearby uninhabited island, that you could be taken to for a day or half a day and there do everything you want sports wise, in even more natural Crusoe surroundings than on the main island, in a beautiful large shallow lagoon to boot, through which you will even be able to wade to another totally deserted island. If this really happens this resort will have the best of both worlds and will provide you with the possibility of seeing three islands of different typology without having to book hugely expensive excursions.
This is in fact a “bad” thing about Park Hyatt currently. It is far from other islands so a local island visit, or a day alone on a picnic island or renting a boat for island and sand bank experiences is simply way too expensive. I always find it sad so many people come to the Maldives and are stuck on the resort island with no possibility to experience other islands, lagoons and reefs without paying more than a whole hotel night just to get aglimpse of other islands and reefs. Rihiveli and some other places are incredible in this respect as they do provide a multiple island experience in an affordable (or even free) way. Well again, Park Hyatt Hadahaa is (fingers crossed) about to have solved that problem as described.
The resort was built carefully, expensively and over several more years than is usual so that no coral would be damaged, and so that the island would be preserved. It was a success. Also, recycling, banning plastic bottles and other similar practices (including a weekly earth hour with reduced electricity use) seem paramount in the resort’s initial concept and this thought has been kept alive by the Park Hyatt management, thank God. And they do it discretely, not trumpeting it all the time like the annoying Soneva group does, I suspect rather hypocritically. Management at Hadahaa does not seem as short sighted as many other big hotel chains who simply do not get the point of this environment. They seem to be willing to preserve what they have inherited when they took over this beautifully conceived resort.
The dive centre, currently very successfully led by Vlado Matinovich, has a wonderful atmosphere and local instructors such as Inah or Rilwan who have a true passion for their job and their country’s nature. This is like diving with highly skilled friends. And the eastern rim sites they easily get to with their traditional Dhoni are, as I have said, the best dive sights in the world, bar none. In one single drift dive in a channel (or kandu) I saw several types of sharks close up and in large numbers, eagle rays in formation, several turtles as large as me, Napoleon wrasse, Morray eels, a white bull sting ray (or similar, not sure) , and then a pod of dolphins, a large sail fish and when we came out onto the boat, two Whale sharks that we briefly were able to snorkel next to!!! How amazing is that? You can also easily access one of the most beautiful coral thilas in the country (and possibly one of the greatest coral gardens in the world) a place of sublime beauty I cannot even describe.
And what about the resort itself, you might ask. The hotel? The rooms are beautiful in a very appropriate modern style that still understands the fact this is an exotic island and not a city. Nespresso, ipads, cable TV, invisible air conditioning yes, but also beautiful wooden structures, huge floor to ceiling windows joining into an all glass corner so that inside you feel you are totally in touch with nature outside… …. What else can you wish for? The white outdoor /indoor bathrooms are as beautiful and functional as one can hope….. On-island rooms are really hidden so that the impression of the island is mostly that it is uninhabited, and you can find yourself in rooms that are built far into the vegetation with the mystery of a winding path to the stunning beach or in rooms that are right on the water’s edge with incredible views to the ocean (less privacy though, but that is relative since you hardly ever see people walk by). Some have delightful plunge pools , some do not (not quite sure what the point of that was when designing the resort. The ones without pools just look like the pool is missing rather than being designed differently with a larger deck and chill out pergola or something different like that). The water villas are amazing because they follow the inner edge of the reef without affecting it and are on a single beautifully shaped jetty rather than on the absurd wide, oval or triangular structures that fill up many a lagoon on other islands. And like is the case for the island rooms, there are just the right number of them, sufficiently spaced and not overpowering the island. Anantara Kihava’s big let down is the too large number of water villas way too close to each other. When you come so far and pay so much money, you do not want to be all stuck to your neighbours like in a three star hotel, however nice your villa is. And you want a view of the water all around you, like in the loft and one bedroom villas on Cocoa island (the masterpieces of water villa design in the Maldives to my taste), not separating walls and tunnel vision. Well, this is not an issue here. Room density is perfect for this island. May future management never kill the hen that lays the golden eggs and start to get greedy adding rooms! Please never do that! I wait in fear to see the result of such greed on beautiful Kandholu in Ari atoll. Legendary 6 room Dhoni island, always though of as the most beautiful Maldive even by locals, has now been lost to one such building tragedy, becoming Safari Island with over 100 rooms.
At Park Hyatt there is a plan to join some of the pool-less villas into two-bedroom villas, which will be nice for families who currently have to split into two separate villas. They might logically add a two-bedroom water villa at the end of the jetty which currently has an empty platform waiting. I think it was originally meant to be an overwater bar that never got built.
The Water villas only failings are that the decks are really too narrow (but the sun beds overhanging the coral and backed by lovely bushes are amazing), and that the beds inside do not have a direct view because they face the wall rather than the window. I totally do not understand that. I wanted to move my bed to face the view! ;-). The lack of shade on the deck is about to be addressed by adding lovely canopies like the one that has been very successfully added to the arrival jetty.
The public areas are beautifully designed in a simple modern design style reminiscent of Mies van de Rohe, with still water pools and beautiful landscaping. Maybe the main building could have a slanted wooden roof on it like the villas do, or a thatched roof like the second restaurant has, to soften its slightly austere blocky modernity a little unwelcome in this island context, but that is a matter of taste I guess. It is a handsome building.
There are two large swimming pools. A nearly 50 meter one in front of the restaurant with stunning views of the beach and lagoon. And another, very beautifully landscaped secluded one in the spa area, 25 meters long, ideal for getting away from it all or training. The sufficiently equipped gym is there too.
The main restaurant is perhaps too far from the water’s edge but is by the pool at least and I miss the sand floors it could have had instead of the elegant concrete…. But it is beautiful and comfortable and cool. But the second restaurant, beautifully exotic and right on the sand compensates for that and provides variety. Food is all a la carte and is really excellent in both restaurants. On some nights there are beach buffets that also provide the opportunity to dine with the water nearby and your feet dug into the warm sand. I whish the lovely, more beach-friendly second venue were more used, and not open just at night. I feel it should be the hub of daytime activity, a bar and light-lunch venue, maybe slightly opening up the view to the beach a little by removing a bush or two, while the current very handsome bar could simply be an extension of the main restaurant it is contiguous to. After all that is how most guests use it as it has an even better view and more comfortable furnishings than the restaurant itself. Previous management of the resort made better use of the second restaurant during the day, serving delightful afternoon teas there for example.
I have the same frustration with some other lovely features of this resort: the inverted Dhoni structure that used to be the reception (which made sense to me) and is now a lovely but useless and unused lounge that should be made into something more useable. I suggest some kind of marine biology centre. It could be just as beautifully designed as the lounge now is by just adding a few exhibits on interactive screens for example and it could help educate and enrich the experience of many of the guests who seem to have total disregard for the environment. Education as a soft form of entertainment could be linked to the excursions which could all start there with a little introduction etc etc. Documentaries could be screened in the evenings, finishing the lovely ecological feel and intent of this resort and giving one more option to truly round off the wonderful experience of the real Maldives this resort is so good at . There is an unused telescope in the current reception. Why not use it as part of this?
Then there is the yoga studio. What is the point of a yoga studio when you can do yoga facing the sea on the beautiful jetties which both have covered areas? I can do a youga in a view less yoga studio in London or Berlin. And by the way, a resort of this category should be offering more than two free yoga classes a week. (and beware, the sunset yoga class takes place one hour before sunset for some inexplicable reason) . Most other resorts have daily or twice daily yoga available. The usually locked and empty studio could be turned into a place where younger guests could play pingpong, read comics, jump around on large cushions and other things like for example, under supervision of a child career, freeing up some time for their parent’s romantic island time and keeping them away from the shallow swimming pool in front of the otherwise very zen bar area… ;-
Finally there is the beautiful roof top terrace and its wonderful sunken sofa chill out area which is totally not used. What a great place to turn into an alternative evening drinks venue or where an outdoor cinema could be set up on some nights….. There are views from up there that few Maldivian resorts can offer. A view from a height is a rare thing on these low islands…. Most guests never even find out that area exists.
None of my suggestions would in any way alter the quiet peace of this resort but would enable guests to truly take advantage of every part of it.
Service is delightful and efficient throughout the resort. Much better than under the previous management. High level management is present and has a lovely knack for making you feel like a private house guest in an amazing home. Current director of operations Jean-Pierre Joncas is especially skillful at this task, which can in other resorts come across as overdone and false. The individual butlers, the restaurant and bar staff, the garden and maintenance staff all are always smiling and making sure the guests have what they need. A special mention to Sangheeta at the bar and Bojana at the main restaurant in this respect. I always wish this kind of resort did not feel obliged to segregate staff from the guests so muc. How could allowing staff access to the beach more than a couple of hours a night harm anyone. It can only improve moral. And in many resorts (not this one) there is even a racial segregation, with European staff having more liberties than Maldivian staff for example.
The reservation process was flawless with emails immediately and properly answered (which is rare in the Maldives... and very annoying when it is not the case) and I was lucky my room request was possible to satisfy and that on the last day I was able to be given another villa for day use, which is always a plus! Thanks for that!
As the sand shifts, and monsoons change, I recommend rooms on the north side in summer and on the south side in winter to always be away from the prevailing wind and possibly have the largest possible beach in front of the villa. Hard to predict though. Especially now that the weather patterns in the Maldives are changing. March seems to increasingly be the new February (the traditional time for crystal clear water, cooler days, less humidity, only the lightest breezes and cloudless skies).
Villas 37, 36, 25, 26 and 6 are especially great if you want an open view.
So to end this sprawling review (I am sorry for that), if you want to experience the real beauty and seclusion of Maldives in total luxury but ecologically and elegantly, and cannot afford the ultra secluded private island likes of Coco privé or Banyan Tree Madivaru, Rania etc , this is currently clearly the best of what I (see my profile for a list of all the resorts I know) thank are the three main options in the country at this price point (all the crazy and pretentious terraformed places being disqualified in my mind) . The other two are Anantara Kihavah and Cocoa Island. I have not yet been to the very promising Maalifuchi in Thaa atoll, which could be a contender. There are also beautiful and very natural places like Rihiveli, Mirihi and others at a slightly lower price point and level of luxury of course. But they are increasingly harder to find.
Chose Kihavah for a very sybaritic, visually impressive and varied approach (including and a bit of everything the Maldives have to offer from reef to lagoon to overwater pools, restaurants and spas and intact beach, lovely neighbouring islands and even a sea plane transfer which is the best way to get a sense of the reefs and islands), or go to Cocoa for a totally Zen, quiet, secluded and organic approach to vacationing on an intact tiny island with just a short boat transfer and your focus on a huge spectacular shimmering dreamy lagoon and endless soft white sand spit like no other .
But elect Park Hyatt for the combination of intact nature, perfect comfort, good taste and a focus on the island itself and on the most superlative diving and overwhelming reef snorkeling to be had anywhere in the world
When you walk to the island over the Dawn jetty and see the beautiful water villas on your left, the deserted intact beach on your right, the lush green vegetation in front of you and the incredibly rich reef enclosing the blindingly turquoise lagoon below you…. you will know you have reached paradise!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.