Let me say from the start that this is a pretty wonderful place and a being there is a wonderful experience to have. I have some negative things to say about it too, but as I do so towards the end of this long review, do not forget that I do think it is pretty amazing overall. Or at least that there are some amazing things you can experience here like in very few other places on earth. There are places I prefer in the Maldives and I would not chose to go back here before going back to some other places and seeing some places I have not yet seen, but have had some of my favourite Maldivian moments here… If you have never been to the Maldives you probably will be blown away but you will not experience a typical Maldivian holiday. If you have been elsewhere in the country, this will give you something different. A bit more of a “cool resort” feeling and less private island seclusion I guess than what you can get elsewhere at this price point, but with access to some very special things. Unfortunately, it has been, in my view, overbuilt.
See my profile for info on my Maldives experience over the years.
Here are the 8 things that are truly outstanding and special:
1/The rooms are some of the most “Maldives appropriate”, beautiful, large, mostly very well thought out, comfortable villas in the Maldives. (The only villas I can think of that I prefer are the Cocoa Island One Bedroom villas, which are way more expensive). Some are bigger, some are more obviously luxurious, but there are immensely comfortable and feel “right”. With that desert island Robinson Crusoe approach made out of wonderful materials, with huge windows on two sides to feel really open and enjoy the views through and a natural, not “high design” but well designed feel that really makes know you are in the Maldives and not in some other generic tropical place and lots of lovely details to enjoy . I am not sure the idea of having the sinks in the bedroom, separate from the shower and bath is a practical idea, but it looks nice…
Laamu Water villa 18 is especially amazing as it has an interrupted view on two sides (most villas have one side more or less blocked by the adjoining villa or the end of the jetty) and you can enjoy the reef edge, and swim to it right off your terrace, yet also see the lagoon and the sand bank in panoramic bliss from your bed or day bed…. The left side end villa on Jetty C would be the next best (I do not know the exact number High 60s…) with also the full two views and the lagoon and sand bank but you do see Jetty A in the distance , the lagoon is shallower under you and you are far from the reef to go snorkeling…
The beach villas are different in that it depends if you want to be totally privately nestled in vegetation, or have an open view to the water from your bed but still be mostly hidden or be right on the water edge with waves lapping under your terrace and only water visible from your bed. For the first case the villas on the south bend are best (high 80s), for the second, villas on the main stretch that the water sports center is on (90s) and for the last case, villas 81 82, 83… though they may not be open if erosion gets any worse than it was when I was there, but more about that later.
Water villas have the obvious attraction of the lagoon and are not totally stuck together like on some other islands (Anantara Kihavah, one of the greatest resorts and islands in eth country suffers from bunching for example) and so you feel quite alone and your view is wide, and neighbours are not really audible.. (music systems are cleverly thought out to avoid problems) but the little upstairs terrace is too small and badly designed for any real use other than an occasional look at the view or bit of naked sunbathing in privacy, and there is only one place to eat, the sunken table on eth terrace that is great during day time, but totally dark at night and unusable if windy. Beach villas have the advantage of a fantastic upper level dining and sitting area with great view and a dining area on the sand too.
2/The house reef is totally underrated. Probably because most people only see the bit right in front of the Chill bar, but the rest of it, about a kilometer of it in fact from the restaurants to the sand bank, an easy 1 hour slow snorkel, is pretty much one of the nicest ones I know. And around the sand bank it is truly spectacular. It is easily accessible at both high and low tide by swimming out to the drop off from the end of jetty A or from the Chill bar. It is varied, fishy and really thriving. No sharks (though I did see a leopard shark sleeping) really, but turtles, eagle rays etc etc… It is mostly hard corals and so is not the most colorful in the world but it is beautiful. The drop off is onto not very deep sand so it is not scary as steep drop off into infinite blue can be to some. And you get to rest on the sand bank (if no one has reserved it for private sunbathing) once you get there, which is very special indeed. And the other reefs you can access by joining the snorkeling excursions (with a marine biologist) available are also spectacular and decently priced at about 45 dollars, including two different sites. This is a very interesting Atoll for coral…. I have only seen better at Kandholudhu in Ari atoll and of course in the dazzling Gaafu Atoll…. (Park Hyatt Hadahaa and surroundings). Unfortunately Laamu is not a great Atoll for clear visibility as it is small and very closed in by lots of long islands on the periphery, many of which are joined by bridges or sand banks, which stops the water from washing in and out properly.
3/The lagoon is stunning and as it is quite deep compared to some other big famous Maldivian lagoons (Gili Lankanfushi, Lux, Kanuhura, Anantara Dighu, Rihiveli…) it is an especially intense turquoise colour that takes the breath away and you can always swim in it properly. You can actually dive off your villas on Jetty A and B. At jetty C is closer to a wide rocky shallow reef edge and so is much shallower (and less turquoise, more aqua… )
4/ The sand bank that is a really beautiful, large, soft sanded delight and is right there. You do not need a special excursion or such to get to it, it is visible from many of the water villas , form the restaurant and some of the beach villas, easy to Kayak to or swim to either within the safety of the lagoon or along the stunning reef drop-off, and provides quite a special focus for your holiday photos. You can only go when no guests have reserved if for private use of course. But it is easy to know when that is the case as you see a parasol open on the sand bank when people have reserved it. I can think of no other resort that has a sand bank that close and that pretty in its own lagoon (Rihiveli has two desert islands you can wade to, one of which has a gorgeous , seemingly endless sand bank extending from it that is constantly and famously photographed for “dream location” type images , as do Cocoa Island and some others , but that is not quite the same as an isolated sand bank. Soneva Fushi’s is too far to swim to and has seaplanes landing next to it. Maybe there are others I am not thinking of though…). Sitting on the end of jetty A or B or C or if you have one of the villas facing that way (any of the Laamu Water villas that are on the left side of the jetties as you walk out towards the tip) and seeing the sand bank floating in the sea of turquoise is very special…. You also see it from the terrace of Ocean beach villas 81, 81…
5/ Hanhushi. Hanhushi is a rather large “little” desert island on the opposite edge of the atoll (eastern edge) that the resort takes you to when you book the desert island pic nic experience. It is about 30 minutes by speed boat…. This is one of the prettiest islands you can think of. It is truly remote, has a stunning lagoon, a view onto some other pretty perfect desert islands not too close, a pretty, intact reef to snorkel along, a gorgeous soft sandy beach all around (one side with rocky outcrops) and the prettiest clump of tall coconut trees in the middle like in everyone’s fantasy. And on it only a couple of loungers, a discrete little shelter in case it rains and a toilet, all beautifully and naturally done of course and a table for you to have your gourmet picnic on. They leave you there alone with a cell phone for about 5 hours, with sublime food , alone and to me it has been one of the highlights of 20 years of Maldivian travels… Many Maldivian resorts offer this type of experience but this island is truly very special….. Shame they do not offer an overnight experience here….. See my photos. I am surprised the hotel does not use photos of this island to market themselves…
6/ The service is delightful. Everyone smiles, is truly helpful and capable… Very nice atmosphere. Relaxed, barefoot, and classy. Great at the water sports center and dive center too. Management and reservations answer emails fast and truly try to give you the best they can at the time (We were given a even better room than the one we requested, we were given a top level villa for day use after we checked out, free of charge etc, etc) . And the hotel is quite cosmopolitan. Nice to be on an island that is not predominantly just Italian, or German , or Chinese etc… in terms of its marketing and hence guest presence. Many of the staff come from the local islands, which makes for a better quality of life for them. And staff members told me they were well treated. In fact I surprisingly came across two I already knew from other major resorts on previous trips, as they had changed to benefit from the better conditions here. You do not get the feelng of discrimination you get in some places.. Apparently all levels of management and staff eat together …. But the staff quarters are really incredibly well hidden from the guests so it was hard to see what they were like. Certainly not like Rihiveli which basically has a Maldivian village at one end that you can wonder through and really interact with the staff.
7/ The food is delicious. Especially at the gourmet but unpretentious organic Leaf restaurant, but also at the main restaurant , bar and at the buffets. Breakfast is one of the best buffet breakfasts I have seen. Very healthy, varied, international and elegantly done. Only the Japanese restaurant and the chocolate shop are under par. Ice cream shop is great on the other hand. Sitting at the overwater tables at the main restaurant (Deck-a-dence, they call them) is very nice indeed and you can do that at breakfast or on buffet dinner nights. On other nights you have to book it and it has a special menu of meals prepared only with resort-grown ingredients…
8/ The island is part of a clump of uninhabited and inhabited islands on the atoll south rim. This means that from the main beach you have a feeling of being in the middle of a little archipelago and nearly of being in a closed bay. This a feeling I have never had before in the Maldives. You see the local islands (in a good way, nothing ugly or industrial or hectic) , and the desert islands right there , at swimming distance a sit were, and feel you are in the Maldives as in a country with real people in it and not just isolated on one Maldive where no one actually lives. I am not sure it is my favourite feeling (I like feeling shipwrecked on a remote sand speck with a few coconut trees and seeing other deserted islands on eth horizon……) but it is special and unusual. And being the only resort in the atoll (there are a few diving-oriented guest houses though) , it is nice not to see lots of tourist traffic on the water or seaplanes landing constantly…
Other nice things include the lovely nest shaped spa treatment rooms (though not the incredibly long and complicated spa menu with prices on a separate sheet from the descriptions which means you need a whole morning to understand what is on offer LOL LOL …and in the end they di dnot have the compbination I wanted – a simple full body exfoliation and massage combo) and the spa’s beautiful beach-side juice bar, and the lovely yoga and gym pavilion. There is a kid’s club too, right on the beach, and a nearby surf break, though , be warned, not all year round. Also the supposed Jungle Cinema is not much to write home about and is just a screen in what feels like a bicycle parking area next to the kid’s club. Not impressed. Another great thing is they do give you all the free water you want, in nice ecological glass bottles. In the restaurants you pay for water but the money actually goes to a local water charity, which is great. There is a resident doctor, which is good this far from Male.
Now for the not so good things….
The worst thing to me is that usually going to the Maldives is about the beauty of the island you are going to and its reefs, lagoon, etc. And then about the hotel if it is a luxury hotel. You are paying to have the right to e on a stunning private island, far from the rest of the universe, and basically alone… in super comfort. But here they have really concentrated on the beauty of the hotel more than on the beauty of the island. I will explain this better below.
And yet this is quite a beautiful narrowish island big enough to have a real interior with a few tall coconut trees among a relatively dense though not tall bush land (go to Park Hayatt Hadahaa or to Kihavah if you want a real jungle interior) and a lovely beach around most of it with great quality soft white sand . There seems to be nothing imported, so no flowers etc. Which is a good thing. You do not want imported fertilizers drifting into the lagoon and encouraging sea weed…. And there is that amazing intense lagoon and the sand bank. But there is also a weird thing: the reef on the south side is close to the island and is is a surfacing rocky type reef. So it makes a type of wall around the south end of the island. In fact the type of wall many islands sadly have to build artificially to protect their beaches. Here it is there naturally. But nevertheless, in my view it gives you a slight feeling of containment, and apparently m it is not proptectig the beach at all which makes me doubt the artificial ones help on those other islands) . On that end of the island you feel if you were in a harbor rather than on a desert island in the middle of the ocean. And it means there are waves breaking on it which makes a different sound from the gentle lapping more common on most islands. This is not mush of a criticism. It is natural after all. And does not look bad at all. Some people love the totally still waters it creates by the beach…. Unfortunately the stillness also means flotsam lingers…. Just not what I like best. And combined with the closeness of the other islands on the same side of the island as this reef edge and the three jetties on the other, it means you actually do not have a truly open feeling of the ocean from anywhere on the island except some of the water villas. In the evening, the main beach being the one that is most protected (by the near islands and the reef “wall”) the hotel parks all its speed boats along it. This is a shame, as it further blocks the views and makes you feel you are in a Mediterranean harbor rather than on a desert island….
This leads to what I mean about not really concentrating on the beauty of the island. There has been what I would call a case of hubris and a little greed when designing this resort. I guess they wanted to have both Soneva Gili and Soneva Fushi on the same island, and as many rooms as possible. But they have neither (except for the typical Six Senses/Soneva green, orange and yellow pillows and the exact replica of Soneva Fushi’s Fresh restaurant and organic garden, here called Leaf…. Severe lack of imagination I say, then again most people will not go to both islands in one lifetime, so not that bad a problem really. I am not really into corporate replication of a brand image on a desert island. Even if it is this elegant. In a Apple Mac store it is already irritating, and it can be accepted in a MacDonald’s or a Starbuck’s, but not when it comes to remote paradises and luxury boutique hotels….. ) Soneva have sold their part of Six Senses, keeping only Soneva Fushi and Soneva Kiri in Thailand . I guess they realized the Six Senses were not really as special….
A small island can stand a certain amount of building on its land and in its lagoon but too much of that means affecting the natural seasonal shifts of the sand around the island, the ecology of the lagoon, and of course the numbers of people actually on the island at any given moment. Not to mention the views. On most Maldivian resort islands you have the feeling of being alone on the beach. People are in their room, or snorkeling, diving, at the bar or spa and so you rarely see more than 6 people at a time on a beach. I have actually tested this over the years. Of course some cheaper resorts have higher room density, but expensive ones usually do not over build and rooms are so nice that few people leave them. You pay to be alone on these specks of sand in the ocean… This is one of the main reasons Maldives holidays are so special and so honeymoon friendly. You feel alone on a romantic desert island, but in the full comfort of a bit (or a lot) of luxury. The really desirable resorts have as few as 4 or 6 rooms on the whole island and no main building (restaurant etc). Most have around 60 and large ones have more. Again, cheaper resorts have more but are often on larger islands so that can often compensate. But here we have a medium island with nearly 100 rooms. And the saddest thing is that most of them are built on three jetties on the same side of the island. So the beautiful lagoon is totally overbuilt with villas. And this is just greedy. It means there are too many people on the island and it also means that one whole side of the island and most of the lagoon view from the island and from most water vilals and many beach villas have been sabotaged. Add to that a rather spectacular and beautiful but also slightly absurd over water complex of shops , reception, restaurants, bar, dive center etc that looks like Waterworld where everybody ends up congregating at meal times (except the few who chose to go to Leaf) and you really have the feeling of being in Bora Bora in a huge American style resort rather than in an eco friendly desert island with a Robinson Crusoe feel as the marketing leads you to believe. Eco friendly? I am not so sure. How can that massive complex stuck off one side of the island and three jetties , one on the same end, one in the middle of the same side and another on the other end not have an ecological impact?? So they dim the lights at night to not disturb the wild life, give you lots of save the plant blurb to read, grow their own food etc, charge you a lot for carbon print free meals , use ecological materials, but then they go and totally affect the normal movement and beauty of one whole side of the island and build a whole village on the reef itself. The resort took longer to build than the normally allowed 2 years (to reduce impact). They payed their fine, but that does not make the coral grow back as it were.
This has two majorly negative effects: one is for the island itself: the lagoon no longer gets washed properly by the currents and tides so gets a bit murky and flotsam between the jetties, and sand no longer is washed naturally onto the beaches on that side so basically the beach between jetties B and C, which already was fragile and has some natural rocky outcrops, is all but gone and the villas built there are unusable as they are about to end up in the lagoon. See my photos. Also the area between what I call Waterworld and jetty A has the same problem and soon the administration building will be in the water! The worst thing is the horrid mass of sand bags and metal bars they have had to put up as a stop gap is the very first thing you see when you get off the boat on arrival. And what you see every time you go from your Jetty C villa to the island…. They seem to not even be trying to camouflage it in some elegant way. It looks terrible. And it collects flotsam and jetsam they do not seem to be in a hurry to clean these barriers though they do have armies of Maldivian ladies cleaning the beaches every day, leaving them spotless. The sand bag and metal bar areas though just collect rubbish and look rubbish.
The second bad effect is that the beautiful, soft, wide, stunning beach between Jetties A and B, which is home to the Gym, yoga pavilion, the spa and the juice bar, instead of having a stunning , open lagoon and sunrise view has a tunnel vision view blocked on two sides by the long sequence of bathroom walls of the water villas an lots of flotsam. This at the design stage is how to totally shoot yourself in the foot. You have a stunning beach and you condemn it to death. For the sake of just 14 rooms. But I guess they are getting their comeuppance by having virtually lost 8 rooms already…. And having an ugly problem . Without Jetty B the spa beach would be amazing(the best beach on the island) and people would use it. Instead no one ever comes to it and everybody ends up on the sunset beach, which has the leaf restaurant and the watersports center on it and since there are nearly 100 rooms on the island but only one of the two beaches is really useable, that beach has more people on it and you no longer get the Maldives “I am alone in the world” effect so cherished by Maldives lovers…. No Jetty B would also mean fewer erosion and wash issues, better views for a lot of the rooms on Jetty A and Jetty C (which could be of a higher category) …. The rewards would be huge, in exchange for the greed of squeezing in 14 rooms more.
I actually would even say they should have made Waterwold smaller, which would also have helped the sand shifts and lagoon clarity . And I would have had only one restaurant there, while I would have built another restaurant on the rocky stretch of beach that currently has the dying beach villas. Building the restaurant half on land and half along the non beach, on the rocks, along the shore would control the erosion and in fact annul the problem and not block the view from the rest of that beach . It would be a way to use that non beach area usefully, while reducing the extent of Waterworld on the other end. They could have the spa there too, so they could have more beach villas on the good beach and recover some of the room lost . Also, all food outlets but the rather small Leaf being all jumbled together in Waterworld means that even if you are eating different types of food, you feel you are always in the same huge restaurant, and you see every one on the island together at meal times, again, giving you that “crowded” resort feel I personally do not look for in this particular country…. (All is relative…we are talking 20 people on the beach rather than 6 max…) . Actually this repetitiousness of always ending up in that same overwater complex for nearly everything is the main thing Idislike about this resort. Two small restaurants on opposite ends of the island with Leaf in between (and maybe putting the ice cream and chocolate shops with the spa juice bar so as to add a fun reason to go to that beach) would have provided more variety and more intimacy… So with Jetty B gone (ie minus 14 rooms ) and the 8 unused beach villas gone too, replaced by a shore hugging restaurant/spa, and “Waterworld” reduced in size and just an ice cream/chocolate/ juice bar and a few villas on the good sunrise beach you would end up with an ideal 75 ish villas on the island, and with three food destinations, two wonderful beaches with great views instead of one “crowded” one and far fewer erosion problems to worry about and ugly sandbags to disappoint guests with…. But money rules and ecology is a nice selling point but not when you forget it to earn more and destroy the views and beach in the process. Most guests are not very difficult it seems as most of them cycle past the sand bag areas without even noticing them . But then again most people will accept anything as long as it is expensive.…..
I have to say that with all their super modern design rather than the Six Senses Robinson Crusoe natural wood safari look, and more discreet ecology speeches, Anantara Kihavah and Park Hyatt Hadahaa are way more convincingly eco friendly islands that are top notch luxury comfort done in a way you totally concentrate on the beauty of the seemingly untouched remote islands they are on….
I mentioned guests cycling…. Yes, you get bicycles to travel around on, which is lots of fun. And necessary considering Jetty A is 520 meters long for example, and there are about 750 meters from jetty C to the main restaurant…. Much nicer than all the golf carts you get on some islands. If you are in a Laamu Water Villa (the expensive ones) they put your initials on them instead of just the room number (who cares about THAT?) . Other perks of the expensive rooms is you get pillows on the hammocks. I mean, who are they kidding????? You also get an iPod preloaded with music (most people probably bring their own anyway) , and the room service delivery fee gets waived and you get an insufficient cash credit to pay for your breakfast if you order it in villa (remember it is included if you have it in the restaurant) . Now these are really slightly insulting perks when you consider the expensive rooms are identical to the less expensive ones. The only real difference in the case of the water villas is the type of view (whether you see man made structures or not). But the only rooms that are actually worth paying the top category price for are the ones at the very end of each jetty because of the double aspect view I mentioned before. And they are REALLY worth the difference because of that (not because of your initials on your bike or 4 more cushions) . Other rooms in the most expensive of the three categories still have the view of the adjacent villa out of one side…. So go for an Ocean water villa, the middle category, rather than go for a Laamu water villa unless you insist on getting an end of jetty one somehow . They of course promise nothing at booking time. Lagoon water villas are lowest of the three categories and are the ones with interrupted views because they face other jetties or the restaurant. Not so good. As for the beach villas, there really are none of the supposed cheaper Lagoon beach villas because they are not really being used due to the beach erosion I have explained. So only Ocean beach villas are actually available at this time. And they are all great with the differences already explained.
By the way the most expensive villa of all, the two bedroom Lagoon beach villa with pool is between Jetty A and B and so only has the tunnel vision described above. Not a good deal.
Following the Soneva Fushi and Kiri Residential project, the resort is being “sold” to individuals, villa by villa. Once they buy a beach villa it gets transformed into a multiple bedroom residence, like on Soneva Fushi. I was actually considering this with a couple of partners but now that I have been there I do not understand why one would do it on SS Laamu as it is more like buying a room in a resort than buying a private home on a remote desert island, which is the whole point it seems to me , Better to buy on Soneva Fushi. Also, without knowing how they are planning to solve the erosion issues why would one risk it? There is also the plan to build multi room residences overwater at the end of jetty A and C which will make the issues worse and totally spoil the fantastic view from most places on that side of the island.
Finally, I am sure lots of Maldivian islands have rats, but this is the first resort where I have actually seen a few running around.
It is not fair to end on that note of course as this is a really top notch hotel and a beautiful island with all the wonderful things I have mentioned. And it is certainly in the top 10 of the Maldives….., especially if you are in villa 18 with its sublime views or in a Beach villa with open views. There are other 5 star places places that go against the grain in the way I am describing to a much more negative extent than here(Centara Grand!!). But still, I have to say it is the first Maldivian island I have been to that did not take my breath away when I arrived, because the first thing I saw was a (spectacular and handsome, but incongruous) huge two story restaurant complex rather than a beautiful island and the second thing I saw was a bunch of of sand bags, metal bars and some jetsam. Only after that did I see the stunning lagoon and and sand bank and settled in my wonderful villa. I of course did not want to leave after the seven days had gone by!
It is easy to find stunning photos of this island, so I am also putting up some photos that show the negatives instead….. They are harder to come by. But I must say they do not erase the beautiful images you mostly collect during a stay here. Do book and enjoy but know that you are not going to be alone on a desert island, and that you will mostly use only one side….. unless you pay extra for the incredible experience of Hanhushi or manage to get to the sand bank often……
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Dolphins spin all along the shores of Six Senses Laamu, located in the pristine Laamu Atoll. From Male’ Airport, it is just a forty minute flight along the beautiful Maldivian coastline followed by a short speed boat trip. Offering 97 villas, both overwater and on the beach, and an abundance of dining options, water sports, spa and other great activities. Service is second to none with your butler overseeing every need from arrival to departure. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- 6 Senses Laamu
- Six Senses Laamu Hotel Olhuveli Island
- Six Senses Laamu Laamu Atoll, Maldives