Who says paradise is only for lovers?
Las Vegas? Miami? The Maldives? The world’s Leading Honeymoon Destination certainly isn’t a top-of-mind location for a platonic friendship retreat, but the Maldives was just what the doctor ordered for my pal Layla and me late last year. After being quarantined on opposite sides of the globe, this trip was a much-needed reunion with rest, revelry, and an air of romance to fall back in love with the world.
Having been starved of in-person bonding time (like many friends the world over), we were thrilled to be able to experience our shared dream destination together. Before I set off, however, I was repeatedly asked why I chose a place that’s rife with honeymooners when traveling without a romantic partner. This caused me to ponder our tendency to evaluate destinations according to the types of travelers that frequent them and how we view places as seasonal or suitable based on our respective life stages.
It dawned on me that before this travel opportunity arose, I had never considered visiting the Maldives without a hunky romantic companion. In my mind, the archipelagic state had a symbolic “couples only” sign hanging over it, and I presumed it might be dull without someone’s eyes to gaze into adoringly at sunset. I was wrong.
One Water Bungalow for Two, Please
To make the most of our 24-hour trip to the Indian Ocean, we chose to island-hop between two resorts and mix and match our perfect vacation. Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa was a showstopping introduction to Maldivian hospitality, which began with a glass of celebrity-worthy champagne and an energetic Boduberu musical performance. The deluxe all-inclusive resort offered everything needed for a screensaver existence: an eye-watering infinity pool, delectable dining in four restaurants, an impressive spa complete with a hot tub smack in the center of a koi pond, dhoni boats for sunset cruises, and 120 dreamy villas. Our temporary home was a water bungalow cantilevered over the ocean with a timber ladder to step right into it (which we did often and gleefully). Our days were spent pinching ourselves and using our two complimentary bicycles to hop from one powder-white spot to another.
Top Picks for You
Recommended Fodor’s Video
Layla and I were living in swimwear and predominantly concerning ourselves with which cocktails to sip, which water sports tickled our fancy, and what to wear for our beach photo shoot with a pro photographer (also complimentary). Going anywhere with your best friend makes life fun, even in a sea of couples. Significant others might not always have the patience or desire to preen and pose for photos or understand that sometimes you really do need to bring seven “emergency” bikinis.
No matter where we go, Layla and I make great companions as we have shared interests and a similar level of excitability. During our first ever seaplane ride heading to Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa, we alternated between enthusiastic squeals and awestruck silences while looking out at the never-ending expanse of blue water and tiny islands. We were too busy being enthralled and entertained by dolphin cruises, and comedy-filled teppanyaki dinner shows to care about being the only platonic duo on the island.
We also made friends with some sprightly couples and lovely staff members that eventually felt like our island pals, too. Brian, a sommelier from South Africa, often regaled us with tales of Maldivian paradise living whenever he came to refill our glasses. Emblematic of the resort’s stellar service, he somehow always knew which delicious drink we would want to toast with next.
Friendship Is a Cause for Celebration
Snapchat’s 2020 Friendship Report, a study of over 30,000 people around the world, showed (unsurprisingly) that close friends are key to our happiness and nearly half of all surveyed participants (45%) felt more distant from friends because they couldn’t spend time together in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report pulls intel from various global friendship experts, including Big Friendship authors Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, who notes how lasting friendships genuinely need protection. “At a cultural level, there is a lot of lip service about friendship being wonderful and important, but not a lot of social support for protecting what’s precious about it,” they highlight. People often travel to commemorate and celebrate romantic relationships with bachelorettes, destination weddings, honeymoons, babymoons, and such, but how about trips that celebrate and honor adult friendships?
It was ever so precious that Layla and I got to spend time together in such a scenic setting and live out both of our wildest dreams. After a few blissful days at Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa, we happily boarded another seaplane flown by a barefoot pilot wearing shorts to get to resplendent resort number two, LUX* South Ari Atoll. Situated on the hard-to-pronounce-but-impossible-to-forget slender island of Dhidhdhoofinolhu, this resort had some of the most perfect beaches I have ever seen. All LUX* Resorts & Hotels have a fabulous set of experience packages called Collectable Experiences, meaning one is never hungry, bored, stressed, or uninspired. At LUX* South Ari Atoll, these include the Digital Detox package, Learn to Sail in The Maldives, and The Maldives Bucket List, which includes snorkeling with whale sharks in a protected marine area before canapés and drinks on a dhoni boat.
Eat, Sleep, Repeat was the Collectable Experience we opted for, and it filled our calendars with a personal training session, four sleep-enhancing spa treatments using organic oils from Dhigurah Island, a post-spa picnic at the lagoon next to a sleek sand bar that gently parted the Indian Ocean (the stuff of dreams) and a private three-course Maldivian meal in the resort’s herb garden where falling raindrops were simulated just for the two of us. Indeed.
It’s undeniable that such dreamboat resorts are uber-romantic. Which couple would not appreciate snuggling up to watch a movie at LUX* South Ari Atoll’s outdoor Cinema Paradiso, reading a good book facing the swaying ocean at the Wanderlust Library, out-of-this-world full-body couple’s massages in the over-the-water bungalow treatment rooms, or closing your eyes to make a wish together at the resort’s famed Tree of Wishes? Destinations like this might feel like couples-only zones, but everywhere can be enjoyable with an air of openness and the right attitude.
Goodbye To One-Size-Fits-all Travel
This Maldivian “froliday” showed me the importance of creating our own narratives for places regardless of how they are perceived and to whom they are marketed. Paris isn’t only a lover’s city. Bali won’t guarantee Eat, Pray, Love-style spiritual awakening. Bonaire isn’t just for diving, and paradisiacal destinations like the Maldives go beyond being the “the sunny side of life.”
There are already enough barriers to travel with PCR tests, visa requirements, and economic inequality. Our relationship status shouldn’t be another obstacle thrown in the way of where we choose to travel. Trips can be anything we want them to be, and we can take whoever we want along for the ride. A destination being “romantic” doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it alone or with a cherished pal because a great friendship is a gift worth celebrating in the Maldives, Miami, or anywhere else.