Overwater bungalows with slides that take you right into the cerulean Indian Ocean. Floating breakfasts delivered to your private pool. Island-hopping via seaplane. These are just a few of the romantic visions people have when they think about the Maldives. I know I did. So, when I had the opportunity to travel to this collection of atolls off the coast of India, I jumped at the chance to check off the destination that had remained firmly perched at the top of my bucket list for quite some time.
Over the course of eight nights, I stayed at three of the six properties that are part of Sun Siyam Resorts, a hospitality group launched by Maldivian entrepreneur Ahmed Siyam Mohamed that operates five resorts in the Maldives and one in Sri Lanka. During my three stays, I discovered that each has its own appeal for different types of travelers. My advice when you’re traveling halfway around the world to the Maldives? Stay in at least two resorts, ideally ones that are located some distance from each other. Why? That way, if one resort isn’t what you expected, you have a backup.
Also, if the weather is less than cooperative at one, it can be drastically different at another that’s a seaplane ride away. That’s what happened to me. The weather was rainy when we left Sun Siyam Iru Fushi, with more rain expected over the next few days, but it was absolutely gorgeous when we flew to Sun Siyam Iru Veli—and it stayed that way the entire time.
Here’s a breakdown of the features, pros, cons, and takeaways of these three properties.
With a motto of “Bye bye boredom, hello endless escapades,” you know this isn’t going to be the typical “lazy beach vacation.” Siyam World, the group’s newest property, was built in 2021 and is located in Noonu Atoll, a 45-minute seaplane flight from Velana (Malé) International Airport. (I was tickled to fly in their branded seaplane, painted to look like Dhiveli Libaas, the Maldivian traditional long-sleeved, brightly-colored dress.)
For starters, Siyam World has an inflatable waterpark with slides, floats, and an obstacle course, which is included along with non-motorized water sports like (non-glass-bottomed) SUPs and kayaks are included. You can also rent some crazy motorized water equipment including underwater jetpacks, underwater scooters, and flyboards that can lift you 45 feet over the water using water jet propulsion technology, though the prices for these are shockingly high for the short amount of rental time.
Accommodations come in 18 categories, and all include private pools; overwater villas also feature slides on the deck that deliver you right into the ocean. Since my Instagram feed had been filled with influencers partaking in this seemingly amazing activity, I was excited to check into my overwater villa and do the same. In reality, though, it was a bit gimmicky and mainly something to tick off for the photo—I rarely saw other guests use the slides. I was more drawn to sitting in my pool in the late afternoon and watching the sun set or soaking in my freestanding slipper bathtub and peering out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the lapping water.
While villas are designed to be private, be prepared to be close to your neighbors, as the standard ones are cookie-cutter and stacked right next to one another. For more privacy, you can rent one of the sprawling villas, which have a bigger pool and higher slide.
More than a dozen restaurants and bars offer variety, as the dining options range from paella, pulpa, and patatas bravas at Andalucia, to olive and avocado chaat, prawn curry, and chicken biryani at Kurry Leaf. The tempura-battered crab roll and Wagyu beef and shiitake mushroom gyoza at Arigato are flavorful dishes for lunch, but this restaurant is only available to guests staying in The Beach House Collection, an enclave of 24 one- to six-bedroom residences.
Siyam World’s WOW! option includes 24-hour premium all-inclusive access to restaurants and bars. Since most resorts in the Maldives are located on their own island without other resorts or restaurants, an all-inclusive resort is generally the way to go. Not included but worth the splurge is dinner paired with wines at Barrique in an underground wine cellar. Options on the five- or seven-course tasting menu may include beetroot tartare topped with grilled seafood and lobster served in pastry with a bell pepper sabayon. I also appreciated the gin-themed menu at Orchid, adjacent to the adults-only pool, with botanical sips like the Southside, Tom Collins, and Gimlet.
The property is fairly spread out, so it’s not really feasible to walk to every place you need to be. There are cute shuttle stops around the island themed for different global locations like Time Square. Generally, one passes by every 10 minutes or so, but they may take longer—something to keep in mind if you have a spa appointment or dinner reservation.
Best for: Families with school-aged kids through teenagers, as there’s lots to do from water sports to horseback riding to lessons from the SSI-certified diving school.
Not for: Anyone looking for a resort with a smaller, more intimate vibe, or those who eschew resorts with kids.
Bottom line: Sun Siyam is similar to a Caribbean all-inclusive resort dropped into the Maldives, in terms of size, activities, diversions, and cuisine options. If this type of vacation appeals to you, with the backdrop of the azure Indian Ocean, then you’ll love it.
Sun Siyam Iru Fushi
Just a short speedboat ride away from Siyam World (or a 45-minute seaplane ride from Malé), Sun Siyam Iru Fushi is a 221-villa resort with a vibe that’s miles away from its sister property. For one thing, you can walk around the entire island in 30 minutes. (I literally did this during a blissful early morning stroll, following the beach the entire way.) Accommodations include shared butler service, so if you do need a ride, your butler can arrange it. But I never did, as helpful signs not only point you in the right direction but display how many minutes it’ll take you to get there. The resort is dotted with plenty of Instagrammable spots, like a hashtag resort sign, hammock, and swings in the water.
There are no slides in the overwater villas, but they do have private pools, indoor bathtubs, and something that fans of South Pacific overwater bungalows will appreciate: glass floors to watch the fish swimming below. If you want to spread out, though, you might want to book a deluxe beach villa with a pool. Though I am #teamoverwater, I was honestly bowled over when I checked into my pool villa. Off to one side of my huge bedroom was an outdoor bathroom and terrace, with a round bathtub with jets, separate water closet, traditional and outdoor showers, and cushioned swing under a thatched palapa.
On the other side was a large rectangular black slated pool, a daybed under a palapa and a path leading to the beach set back enough to be sufficiently private for swimming or sunbathing au naturel. One rare rainy afternoon, I cranked up a disco Spotify playlist, popped some bubbly and took a bath while watching the rain fall; it was incredibly relaxing. The only downsides to this accommodation were the lack of natural light in my bedroom, and the intense mosquito fogging done twice daily. The first day in my bedroom I heard what sounded like leaf blowers; suddenly my private pool area and outside bathroom were filled with smoke, the smell of which also permeated the closed-up interior. There is written notice about this practice, but I didn’t see it; I thought about others who might have missed the message and been ambushed.
Even more relaxing than a seaside soak in my bathtub is Iru Fushi’s spa, one of the largest in the Maldives. Twenty treatment rooms are connected by a reflexology stone path, on which guests are encouraged to walk in their bare feet for the most therapeutic effect, and a hydrotherapy circuit that combines steam, sauna, and hot and cold-water pools. Bowls of floating petals and leaves in carefully designed patterns are placed throughout the spa’s spaces, and rooms are adorned with embroidered silk and jacquard fabrics, with hanging string curtains with shells, gems, and sea glass catching the light. My Balinese massage, which blended acupressure, percussion, essential oils, and strokes with varying degrees of pressure, left me in a puddle, barely able to get ready for dinner.
Speaking of food, Sun Siyam Iru Fushi has seven restaurants and four bars, plus several snack bars and destination dining. Options include the sand-floored buffet-focused Iru Restaurant, classic French cuisine by the water at Flavours, or som tum, mee goreng, and massaman curry at the pan-Asian Bamboo. Since the resort offers a half-board, full-board, all-inclusive, and à la carte option for guests, it can get a little confusing to know what’s included and what’s an upcharge, but the helpful staff will assist.
There are two immersive dining experiences not included in any package that are memorable, though. One day during a Maldivian cooking class, the chef helped us make Maldivian chicken curry, fragrant vegetable curry, and gulha, fried balls of canned tuna, shredded coconut, ginger, garlic, and curry leaf. Not only did we get to eat our creations (with chilled glasses of rosé), but we were also given a booklet of recipes to take home.
During the Thanburudhoo Island Picnic and Snorkeling Safari, we spent the morning snorkeling by a coral reef teeming with tropical fish, followed by lunch on a tiny, deserted island. Our low table was set with white linens and cobalt blue glasses and pillows; after noshing on salads, finger sandwiches and tropical fruit from metal bento boxes, washed down with bubbly and sauvignon blanc, we swam and sunbathed on our own private tropical playground before boating back—it was pretty magical.
Best for: Spa-lovers and wellness seekers who plan on booking one or several treatments during their stay; those who like a mix of activities and nothing to do.
Not for: Epicureans who favor elevated dining and view it as a main reason to book a resort.
Bottom line: Sun Siyam Iru Fushi is an interesting mélange of the rustic and the luxurious, all set in the backdrop of a small, manageable resort. If you like the flexibility of deciding how many of your meals and drinks are included and are fine if not all of them are memorable since the property has other draws including the spa and fun activities and excursions, this resort is for you.
Sun Siyam Iru Veli
Sun Siyam Iru Veli is a 125-villa all-inclusive property set in a lagoon in the South Nilandhe Atoll, a 40-minute ride from Malé. We stayed here after Iru Fushi but had to return to Malé by seaplane and then catch another seaplane here, which took up half of the day—something to keep in mind if you want to island hop. (The dock where you deplane has a sign stating “Iru Veli International Airport”—grab your phone for this cheeky photo op.) The sister resort is a 10-minute speedboat ride from Sun Siyam Vilu Reef. That property is truly designed as a romantic escape, so this duo is a perfect option if you wish to stay at two resorts and your demographic fits the bill.
The layout of Iru Veli is so user-friendly—nothing is ever more than a few minutes’ walk away. But when your surroundings are the turquoise- and cobalt-hued Indian Ocean, white sand beach and overwater villas, does a few minutes more even matter? My visit was timed with the low season, so it felt blissfully uncrowded; there were times when I had the beach practically to myself.
My overwater villa was exactly what I pictured when I thought of a getaway to the Maldives, and yes, reminiscent of those in which I stayed in Bora Bora, complete with thatched roofs. Granted, they weren’t as large as my beach villa at Iru Fushi or my overwater villa at Siyam World, but for me, they had more charm. Maybe it was because the gold tile-adorned bathroom had windows placed low in the shower and toilet area that let me see the sparkling lagoon; or the freestanding bathtub overlooked the ocean, which along with champagne and fruit made for a perfect soak one day.
Outside, the infinity pool on my deck was decorated with tiles that matched the hue of the ocean, and there was ample patio furniture on which to luxuriate. Beach villas also have their own private pool, and while they are situated relatively close to the water, strategically planted foliage keeps them private.
The spa is also overwater, on the same walkway as the ocean suites with pools, so every minute of a therapeutic experience is marked by water views. The treatment rooms are in freestanding villas with ample windows overlooking the ocean; even cooler, windows on the floor underneath head cradles on treatment tables meant that I could spend my 60-minute massage watching fish, rays, and turtles swim by. After, I could hear the gentle lapping of the waves in the open-air relaxation room.
The resort’s smaller size equates to fewer dining options; however, what Iru Veli lacks in choice it makes up for in quality. The Mediterranean fare at Roma was a standout, like grilled skewered shrimp in a Romesco sauce and a seared scallop with pureed cauliflower and barley; Maldivian lobster was perfectly cooked, still moist and succulent rather than dried out, which was unfortunately my experience ordering it at the other two resorts. I was excited to find Maldivian and Indian specialties at the breakfast buffet at Aqua Orange, like curried chickpeas and masi huni, which is finely shredded tuna mixed with grated coconut, lemon, and chili.
But my favorite breakfast was the one that was delivered to me in my infinity pool at 9:00 a.m. one wonderful morning. Next to sliding into the ocean directly from your villa, floating breakfasts are the other Maldivian experience always captured on social media. I selected the Indian option; there were also Western and Asian. I waited in my pool, cell phone nearby, until room service rang my bell and delivered a tray of food that could have fed ten, with a spicy omelet, sauteed vegetables, spiced lentils with pappadam, tropical fruit, yogurt, paneer with tomatoes, peppers, and paratha, and masala tea. It’s an upcharge, but a reasonable one at that, and one of those can’t-miss, unique activities. You’ve come this far around the world: you need a floating breakfast.
This resort is definitely laidback and chill, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. You can book an excursion or a catamaran, challenge someone to a game of tennis court, or work off all the delicious epicurean delights at the fitness center. There are also sunset happy hours, weekly pool parties, and cinemas under the stars. But arguably the best activity (and one that’s free, to boot) is snorkeling in the house reef that’s adjacent to the Dolphin overwater villas. Guests can take their equipment or borrow some from the water sports pavilion and explore the reef on their own or book a guide to accompany them.
One morning, a staff member and I started at the beach before swimming out and then parallel to the villas, where we saw a staggering amount of gorgeous tropical fish, not that far offshore. And it didn’t require getting on a boat or taking up half the day for an off-property excursion. It was pretty incredible.
Best for: Guests who are seeking a carefree getaway to relax, reconnect, and reconnect; those who consider well-executed cuisine to be an important part of any vacation.
Not for: Vacationers who have to stay really busy and crave lots of daytime and evening activities.
Bottom line: The property makes amazing use of water views, both inside and out, and offers local cuisine, house snorkeling, and a feeling of laid-back luxury and romance that’s geared mainly for couples and honeymooners. Sun Siyam Iru Veli seems to encapsulate what many people imagine when they think of a vacation in the Maldives.
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