The Maldives Edition – Timeless Luxury at Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru – A Full Review
In this special Maldives Edition, The Sybarite whisks you away to paradise whilst offering you an insightful look into what you can expect during your stay at these hand-picked resorts in the various atoll’s of the Maldives. Depending on your travel preferences, these resorts that we’ve hand-picked offer you the best there is in comfort, hospitality and luxury appeal whilst being absolutely stringent on health and safety measures during these strange times.
You’ll be surprised to know that Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru was the first international resort that opened in the Maldives in 1995. This gem of a paradise is unique in its own right and is the ideal resort if what you’re looking for is originality, preservation of lush flora and fauna and of course in keeping with the Banyan Tree spirit which is a focus on the senses, body and mind.
From Male Airport, Banyan Tree offers its own private transfer by speedboat to its island on the North Malé Atoll, which takes about 20 minutes to reach. Upon arrival at the jetty one is mesmerized by the long boardwalk and absolutely beautiful tropical trees that line the resort welcoming its guests. You’re escorted by the resort host who will lead you to the reception area with a refreshingly delicious cup of iced lemon and ginger tea before being asked to sign a few forms and prepare for a PCR Covid-test. Depending on how many other guests there are, you might be told to relax in your room and wait to be called before you can take the test. This of course is to ensure that the safety and health of everyone at the resort is taken seriously and is applied to all guests arriving from other resorts. After taking our tests we headed back to our room where we were to quarantine for 24-hours until we received the results back which meant we had to dine in our rooms during dinner time.
There are about 45 villas to choose from at Vabbinfaru each villa containing its own pool and whirlpool with three different room categories to choose from. We took up accommodation in their Ocean-view Pool Villa, measuring 110 square meters which can accommodate up to two adults and one child. The room itself reminds one of jungle hut vibes adorned with real bamboo, solid wood accents throughout, teak-wood bed and french floor to ceiling windows that you can open for direct access to the beach. It’s literally like having your own private paradise with sun loungers and a hammock sitting underneath abundant coconut trees and other tropical trees found at Vabbinfaru, right at your doorstep. This is luxury but not for those seeking contemporary luxury, the rooms are about originality and so might feel slightly dated for those expecting something more modern. Given the resort has been operating for more than 20 years, one has to appreciate the timelessness here at Vabbinfaru and this can be felt in the rooms as well as the wider resort. Little things for example like the air-conditioning, instead of a built-in remote, the room still uses a remote control to adjust the room’s temperature. There is no coffee machine but there is a kettle for boiling water with instant coffee and teas available. Due to Covid, Vabbinfaru has removed items in the mini bar. Glass bottled waters are available and provided throughout one’s stay. In terms of layout, the king-sized bed faces the sandy beach which is forward-facing whilst behind is the outdoor washroom with double-sinks, a separate shower, toilet and sliding wardrobe containing floral patterned slippers and robes. Then you’ve got your own private mini pool and Jacuzzi with an additional outdoor shower. All in all a self-contained villa offering tranquility, a time gone by and the ability to appreciate the island and its natural beauty and surroundings right at your doorstep.
Perhaps what really attracted us to Vabbinfaru is the nature and nurture aspect of the resort. Though it is a small island, one feels just how closely the design aspect of the resort immediately ties in with its natural surroundings. Expect to hear different species of birds chirping at the break of dawn, spot lizards running past the sand and needle-fish swimming near the shore. What is also quite lovely is that the resort schedules a daily feeding session for the stingray’s near the jetty at about 4:45 in the afternoon which guests can take part in.
Although there are a lot of young families that come here with children, there isn’t much to do in terms of activities. There doesn’t exist any children’s club or children-led activities and so if bringing a toddler here, they might spend most of their time at the beach. We advise bringing a sand bucket and shovel should you consider a family getaway at Vabbinfaru. We also recommend renting out their free snorkeling equipment that you can return before your departure as well as booking out their Catamaran for an absolutely stunning excursion where if you’re lucky enough, you may even spot dolphins. Otherwise this also makes for the ideal place if you’re coming as a couple, with friends or even alone – the resort gives you that much-needed privacy and downtime where no one can bother you, where less is more and luxury is considered laid-back. Vabbinfaru is a choice for those who prefer something smaller but something that gives you value of your time.
Breakfast is served buffet style daily at the resorts Ilaafathi Restaurant between 7am to 10 am and consists of an egg, pancake and waffle station, a fruit, cereal and yogurt station as well as your breads and pastries and of course a hot plate station with a few different types of Asian selections such as Dhal’s, Chinese dumplings, congee as well as non-Asian such as hash browns, bacon and sausages. There is also a very detailed in-room dining menu with several dining experiences one can book, a great idea if you’re celebrating a particular occasion. Dinner is served at the same restaurant between 7pm to 10pm and is usually served a la carte except for Friday’s where they serve dinner buffet style.
While there are a host of resorts to choose from in the Maldives, what would make Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru a consideration is really for those looking for something with a heritage, something timeless, affordable luxury, a strong connection with the senses and rooms that make you feel like you’re truly on a tropical island with direct access to crystal blue waters. There is something to be said about a small island that lets you take a leisurely jog each morning without being interrupted. Though villas are somewhat close together, you still get that sense of privacy. It’s a family friendly resort but also a resort that caters to anyone coming from anywhere who relies less on contemporary luxury and leans more towards originality whilst still expecting a high level of hospitality.
Vabbinfaru is really about that connection with nature and trying to educate its guests (and even students coming from Male) on sustainability and the culture of Maldives to provide a genuine island-feeling. There’s certainly an admiration and overall respect for a resort with such a long history that is still able to protect its product and culture whilst still listening to its guests. With its own marine biology lab dedicated to protecting and conserving the island and its coral reefs, this makes for a great resort for families where children are also able to take part in these educational activities. Ultimately Vabbinfaru as an island has tried its hardest to retain its natural aspect and protect its reef, manually balancing the biodiversity, which to this day continues to be an important initiative for the resort and its management team. Behind the scenes, Vabbinfaru conducts coral spawning and is also the first resort to show how turtles lay eggs and hatch. Hence the marine life on Vabbinfaru and its sister resort, Angsana which is just a boat ride across, is absolutely stunning. We highly recommend visiting Angsana, a small island that is completely surrounded by the reef and extremely close to the shore making for the best snorkeling experience in the Maldives – do add this to your list of activities, you won’t regret it.
There’s no pressure to dress up here, it’s a resort that prides itself on barefoot luxury and inclusiveness. Even its staff are loved and cared for, most of them working at Vabbinfaru for the last 8 to 10 years.
In terms of what is next for Vabbinfaru, small changes can be expected to elevate the experiential aspect for its guests, particularly within well-being. Things like the ‘Banyan Tree Well-being’ project which is already implemented across its other resorts, will be implemented at Vabbinfaru introducing practitioners to offer yoga sessions for example. Soft refurbishment is already in place but its main goal is to still maintain Vabbinfaru’s natural look of the island, retain the culture and of course the nature part of the resort.