Travel Maldives: Finding Exquisite Barefoot Island Luxury at Gili Lankanfushi
I’ve been fortunate to visit some of the world’s most amazing destinations. As a frequent traveler, I’m often asked, “What’s your favorite place in the world?” It’s always been a difficult question for me to answer because, frankly, it depends. Are we talking “off the beaten path” travel? A true vacation getaway where the laptop and cell phone never come out of my luggage? Pulse-pounding, thrill-seeking adventure travel?
Vagabondish is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read our disclosure.
Here, I watched stingrays and reef sharks from my roof deck at sunrise; dove with sea turtles and mantas in one of the world’s most stunning scuba destinations; enjoyed a massage in an overwater bungalow; dined on some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever tasted; watched spinner dolphins dancing across the sky at sundown; fallen asleep under the pristine sky above the Indian Ocean … and that was just the first 48 hours.
In their own words, Gili Lankanfushi is:
… an intimate coral island in a sparkling lagoon, with jetties threading across the water out to spacious villa accommodations. Everywhere you look, marine life abounds. And the gleaming waters beckon.
[S]et on the private island of Lankanfushi in the North Malé Atoll … one of the 19 atolls that stretch over 800 kilometres through the Indian Ocean. It is one of the 1190 islands that make up the Maldives.
Indeed. It’s barefoot island luxury at its finest – routinely ranked five stars on TripAdvisor among the best accommodations in Maldives. And with good reason …
Even on this tiny island, you won’t bore quickly as the list of possible excursions at Gili is quite lengthy. You could easily spend a month at the resort without doing the same thing twice.
Snorkeling is amazing anywhere around the resort. Simply jump in the water from the porch of your overwater bungalow and drift away. The water is teeming with endemic species including black tip reef sharks, manta and eagle rays, puffer fish, parrotfish, and myriad coral species.
Ask about their night snorkeling excursion as well! It’s a unique experience that I’ve never seen offered anywhere else in the world. You’ll don special CSI-style black light goggles before jumping into the water to explore the intense glow of the bio-luminescent coral that surrounds the island.
Tip: the best, most convenient snorkeling (that you can actually swim to) is the coral strip between 1 Palm Island and 3 Palm Island on the sunset side.
As Maldives offers some of the best diving in the world, it’s no surprise that Gili also offers guests an onsite dive shop. During my stay, I found the divemasters to be extremely courteous and knowledgeable about the waters around the island. They’ll happily change things up on each successive dive (should you choose to do more than one) so that you’re never visiting the same site twice. Of particular note is Manta Point – a regular “cleaning station” where manta frequently gather to feed and allow smaller fish to prune them of algae and other unwanted growths.
Staying Above the Water
If you’re keen to stay dry, Gili also offers countless on-land and above-the-water experiences as well:
Sunset dolphin cruise: Head out for a 90-minute cruise as the sun goes down to spot the Indian Ocean’s infamous spinner dolphins.
Watch a movie under the stars: The resort’s movie night provides guests with a unique, themed outdoor moving-viewing experience
Sip wine in an underground cave: The resort’s purpose-built wine cave affords guests the opportunity to taste world class chocolates, cheeses, and international wines or experience a multi-course wine dinner underground. The center piece is a giant driftwood log that reputedly washed ashore at Gili Lankanfushi after the 2004 tsunami.
Relax at the stunning overwater spa: The onsite Meera Spa offers a variety of massage treatments, as well as other features including a steam shower and sauna
Sleep under the stars: Simply phone the resort staff that you’re keen to sleep under the stars. They’ll setup your private roofdeck with a bed to fall asleep in one of the few remaining places on earth with near-zero light pollution.
Take a sushi-making lesson: It’s not as difficult as you might think!
Spend the night in your own private, overwater bungalow: This is an easy one as every guest at Gili sleeps in a private bungalow built, not on the water, but literally in the water.
Enjoy dinner on your own private island: The resort offers guests an exclusive and ultra-romantic opportunity – they’ll setup dinner for two on the resort’s own private island.
Resorts are notorious for offering “luxury” that’s only skin-deep. Beneath a thin veneer, it’s not hard to spot all the places where they chose to save a dollar. For most resorts, the food is among the first to go – it’s typically served buffet-style, barely warm and barely identifiable. Not so with Gili – every single meal that I tasted was excellent.
What’s more is that, while they offer plenty of American-ized dishes (burgers and fries, etc.), the extensive menu also includes local favorites, pan Asian dishes, Maldivian soups, curries, and entrees and of course: plenty of very fresh seafood.
During my short stay on the island, I found the American breakfast (French toast with real syrup) and fresh-squeezed orange juice was surprisingly delicious – just like back home in New England. As a Rhode Islander, I take my iced coffee very seriously (it’s like a religion here). Gili’s version – a unique take that includes vanilla ice cream and sugar syrup – held up to my stringent standards with flying colors. It wasn’t too sweet and quite refreshing when it’s nearly 90 degrees (F) out.
Other lunch/dinner dishes include Pizza Diavolo and a tuna burger as well – both quite good and entirely unexpected in this part of the world.
Most Americans will likely travel thru JFK and Dubai to Male via Emirates. From there, Gili Lankanfushi is just a 15-minute ride by boat from Male international airport. Far enough to feel comfortably secluded from the hustle of the country’s main city; but close enough that you’re not forced to take an additional 2-hour flight on top of the 20-30 hours required to get there from the States.
As with all island resorts in Maldives, once you’ve arrived at your accommodations, you won’t need to leave. Everything you could possibly need (food, drinks, medical attention, etc.) is on island.
Things to Consider
For those considering a trip to Gili Lankanfushi, a few minor things to consider …
The resort is divided into two distinct sides – sunset and sunrise. Depending on whether you’re a morning or evening person, this may dictate which side you prefer.
Guests should be aware that the food prices at Gili are stratospheric (example: $45 USD per person for continental breakfast!). Tip: budget travelers should research the resort’s available food-inclusive options before heading off as this could save you a bundle.
Who’s It For?
I would say Gili Lankanfushi is primarily for couples as it’s difficult to imagine a more romantic, “honeymoon-ish” destination. Most bungalows are designed for two people.
That said, the resort is more than happy to accommodate families and those traveling with children. The accommodations are smartly designed to allow for up to four people (2 adults + 2 children) per bungalow if needed.
Solo travelers (myself included) will enjoy it as well although I would highly recommend bringing your significant other. (If you’re not married before you arrive, you probably will be come checkout time)
The Bottom Line
Assuming price is no matter, Gili Lankanfushi Maldives offers exquisite, five-star, barefoot island luxury in one of the most remote, beautiful places in the world.