Heavy rains have been known to cause leaky roofs and power outages
Insects and critters may find their way into villas
No communal loungers or umbrellas on beaches (available on request)
Jungle pathways can be tricky to navigate
No Jet Skis or parasailing
No cable TV (pro for some)
No 24-hour room service
No all-inclusive packages with alcohol
Not-so-picturesque views of a local island to the west
Soneva Fushi is one of the top luxury resorts in the
Maldives, and the lush jungle interior and charming Robinson Crusoe-style decor make
the private island feel like a camp for wealthy castaways. Highlights include
personal butlers, 65 spacious beachfront villas (most with private pools), top-notch
food, an observatory, outdoor theater, and plenty of free perks. Rooms and food
are among the priciest in the Maldives (for good reason), but guests should be
prepared to bicycle barefoot through the wilderness and get a little dirty. It's very comparable to Gili Lankanfushi in its vibe, level of luxury, and celebrity cachet, but lacks Gili's communal swimming pool and overwater villas.
Jungle island with
Robinson Crusoe-inspired architecture and upscale service
A trip to Soneva Fushi begins with a 30-minute seaplane flight to a floating pontoon in Baa Atoll. From there a boat ferries guests to the resort’s private island, Kunfunadhoo. On the five-minute boat ride, guests are invited to remove their shoes (the whole island is a “barefoot zone,” though you can put your shoes back on if you prefer).
At just under a mile long, Soneva Fushi is one of the larger resort islands in the Maldives. A network of winding jungle pathways connects the many restaurants, bars, spa, tennis court, gym, outdoor theater, and other amenities. Guests are given bicycles to get around the island (outfitted with peddle cushions so your bare feet don’t get sore). Chickens, lizards, and rabbits are a common sighting on the dirt roads.
Virtually all the structures and interiors on the island were designed by former Swedish supermodel Eva Malmström Shivdasani. (Eva co-founded the resort with her husband, Sonu Shivdasani -- “Soneva” is a blend of both their names). The unique, Robinson Crusoe-inspired architecture features raw wooden beams, high palm-thatched ceilings, and white stucco walls. One of the restaurants, Fresh in the Garden, even has a rope bridge suspended over the treetops.
Soneva Fushi has a luxury resort meets eco-camp vibe. Attentive personal butlers, romantic gourmet restaurants, and large beachfront villas feel distinctly upscale -- but we also trudged barefoot through ankle-deep mud puddles, had a leak in the roof of our villa, and found a field mouse on our living room sofa. Still, it's one of the top options in the Maldives and is similar in many ways to Gili Lankanfushi, down to the titles of the butlers (referred to on the island as Mr. or Ms. Fridays, after the fictional character who served as Robinson Crusoe's assistant). This is no accident, as the Gili also used to be part of the Soneva brand. But while both resorts have some of the Maldives highest prices, there is one major difference: All of the rooms are Gili Lankanfushi are overwater, while all the rooms here are on the beach. This is also part of the reason Soneva Fushi is kid-friendlier than Gili, as overwater villas can pose safety issues for wee ones; Soneva Fushi also offers a kids' club and paid babysitting service. And while both are rustic-luxe, there's a touch more emphasis on the "rustic" aspect here, as this is one of the Maldives' eco-friendliest resorts. Soneva Fushi is also more remote than Gili.
On its own private island in Baa Atoll, a 30-minute
flight from Male
Soneva Fushi is located on its own private island, locally
known as Kunfunadhoo, about 115 kilometers northwest of Male in Baa Atoll. A
pricey, 30-minute seaplane flight from Male International Airport is required
to reach the resort. At 1,400 meters long by 400 meters wide, Kunfunadhoo is
one of the larger resort islands in the Maldives. It takes about 10 minutes to
ride a bicycle across the island, from tip to tip. Time on the island is one
hour ahead of Male -- an artificial time difference many resorts use to make
the days feel longer. Recognized as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, Baa Atoll
has some of the richest marine life in the Maldives. Hanifaru Bay, one of the
world’s best places to swim with whale sharks and giant manta rays, is about 15
minutes away by speedboat.
Large eco-chic villas with minibars, direct
beach access, and free Wi-Fi
The Robinson Crusoe-style villas at Soneva Fushi feel a bit
like luxurious tree houses. From raw wooden construction elements to messages
encouraging guests to switch off their Wi-Fi for health reasons, there’s a
strong all-natural theme in the rooms. (But Wi-Fi is free, for those who don't want to fully unplug.) Whale calls were even playing over a
speaker when we checked into our unit.
All villas include free bottled water, nuts, coffee, dried
fruit, tea, yoga mats, French presses, espresso makers, and minibars. Villa TVs
don’t have cable, but they do have iPods that are pre-loaded with music and
movies. Villas come in all shapes and sizes, but all have direct beach access,
two beach loungers, and large bathrooms with soaking tubs. Most villas also have
small private pools. A handful of special villas, such as “Villa 11,” are
essentially mini-resorts with nine-plus bedrooms, servants’ quarters, huge
pools with waterslides and lazy rivers, multiple hot tubs, and personal fitness
centers. Decor-wise, villas feature white stucco and wooden walls, vaulted thatched roofs, bright
cushioned sofas, white bedspreads with gauzy mosquito netting, and earthy-looking light fixtures.
center, spa, outdoor theater, and an observatory
Soneva Fushi has a number of unique features, including an
observatory for stargazing and an outdoor movie theater that shows classic
films two nights a week (popcorn and drinks are available from a concession
stand). The resort is also home to an impressive wine cellar, a fitness center,
and a spa that offers a full range of massage and beauty services (except for
hair). Snooker and chess are available in the main bar, and a small pavilion
houses a ping-pong table. Shopping is available at a gift shop and jewelry
Personal butlers, island
excursions, free Wi-Fi, and babysitting
The resort owns two deserted “picnic islands” (one 20
minutes away and one about 35 minutes away by boat), which are available for
private outings and picnics. Guests can also camp overnight on a nearby
sandbank or arrange a stargazing cruise with a five-course dinner. Babysitting
is available for an hourly fee, and kids can also go on picnics, watch movies,
or compete in swimming competitions at a free kids' club (for children four and up). On rainy days the
resort hosts free afternoon teas, wine tastings, and movies at the main bar. Loaner
bicycles and Wi-Fi come free with each villa. Room service is available, but
it’s not 24-hour. Villas also include 24-hour, on-call butlers (called Mr.
Fridays). The Mr. Fridays essentially act as personal assistants and will
arrange excursions, unpack luggage, run a hot bath -- you name it.
beaches with no communal loungers
Unlike most resorts in the Maldives, Soneva Fushi doesn’t
leave lounge chairs and umbrellas on the public beaches. Instead, each villa
comes with its own patch of beach and at least two chairs. For those who want to sunbathe elsewhere on
the island, loungers and umbrellas can be arranged. Most sections of beach are
filled with soft white sand, but there are a few rocky areas and bits of washed
up coral, so those with sensitive feet may want to wear flip-flops. The water
is crystal clear and the temperature was perfect during our November visit.
With the exception of one tiny plastic wrapper, we couldn’t find a speck of trash
plus free buffet breakfasts, chocolate, and ice cream
Soneva Fushi has three excellent a la carte restaurants: Fresh
in the Garden (located in the treetops above the resort’s vegetable garden), By
the Beach (located on the beach), and Nine (located in the main resort
area). A free gourmet breakfast buffet
featuring cooked-to-order omelets, pancakes, and fresh fruit is served outside
at Mihiree Mitha restaurant, and Nine also serves an Asian and Middle Eastern
buffet two nights a week.
Most guests opt to pay for the (very pricey) food as they
go, but half- and full-board dining packages are available. A great perk at
Soneva Fushi are the free tasting rooms next to the main bar, which serve unlimited
artisanal chocolates, gourmet ice creams, cheeses, and charcuterie all day.
Two bars with pricey,
upscale drinks and fresh-squeezed juices
The resort has a spacious main bar, “By the Bar,” and an
overwater bar at the end of a jetty, called “Bar(a) Bara.” Both offer a good
variety of high-end wines, champagnes, liquors, beers, and fresh juices. Drinks
don’t come cheap, and all-inclusive alcohol packages aren’t available -- so be
prepared to pay. Every Tuesday the resort hosts a cocktail party on a deserted
sandbank, a two-minute boat ride from the main island. Still and sparkling
water (desalinated and bottled on the island), espresso, and tea are free in guest villas.
snorkeling, tennis, water sports rentals, and yoga classes
There are plenty of great water activities at (and around)
Soneva Fushi. A dive center offers lessons and organizes excursions to more
than 30 nearby dive sites. A water sports center also rents snorkeling
equipment, windsurfing gear, kayaks, and catamarans for free (motorized
water sports such as waterskiing, wakeboarding, and fun-tubing are available for a
fee). Guests can snorkel at a great on-site reef or sign up for an excursion to
Hanifaru Bay -- a protected whale shark and manta ray hot spot. One free yoga class is offered each week, and
daily classes are available for a fee. The island has one tennis court.
McCartney, and Kate Winslet have all vacationed here.
With a remote island location, plenty of privacy, and castaway-style luxury,
it’s no surprise that celebrities are drawn to Soneva Fushi. Repeat guests have
included Madonna and Paul McCartney. In more recent years, Kate Winslet and Guy
Ritchie are also rumored to have visited the island.