Like many girls, back in my college days I basically had a Pinterest board of far-away exotic destinations that I would love to have my dream honeymoon at, and the image I’d mentally re-pin the most was of course, the over-water villas in the Maldives. Well, I ended up choosing traveling the world over settling down in a relationship, but fast-forward six years later and this little globetrotter still found herself diving off of the back deck of her own private over-water villa, at the Shangri La Villingili Resort and Spa in the Maldives.
To be completely honest, I typically don’t try to go to expensive luxury resorts, because I prefer to try and learn and write about ways for everyone to travel in general, which usually involves somewhat of a budget. But, since staying in an over-water villa in the Maldives was at the top of my life bucket list, I seriously just couldn’t resist. I had to experience it for at least one or two nights, which I think is totally worth it if this is your dream vacation too, or even honeymoon!
Just thinking about my short but sweet stay at the Shangri La Villingili makes me want to type a thousand heart-shaped eyeball emojis, but since it’s already obvious how I feel about it, I’ll describe the experience I had instead.
The short flight to the Shangri La Villingili made forget that I was ever sad about my new drone mysteriously going missing from my luggage somewhere in India. My face was glued to the plane’s window as we got an aerial view of the passing atolls, and approached the shallow turquoise waters of our destination. Shangri La arranges transfers for guests from Malé to Gan on Addu Atoll, the southernmost atoll in the Maldives, and closest airport to Villingili, and doesn’t let them lift even a finger in the entire process.
Instead you’re free to sit back and relax, if you can, on the small Trans-Maldivian plane, as you cruise over island after gorgeous island, each rimmed with bright white shores, and shallow reefs around them. It’s the picture perfect image you see in every magazine and online “Top 10” article, and it only gets better as you start to land.
Once you’ve de-boarded with only a handful of other guests, each with a certificate that you’ll get when you cross the equator, you’ll be guided onto your very own speedboat, and whisked away to the Shangri La Villingili’s private island.
“You can sit at the front of the boat if you want.” The boat co-captain said after catching me trying to Snapchat the approaching over-water villas. I had been trying to contain my childish excitement, but you definitely don’t have to tell me twice to go sit at the bow of a speeding boat.
It was like the opening scene to a sexy James Bond movie or something. Gliding across the bright blue water as the view of a palm tree lined beach grew closer and closer, all the while flanked by the iconic over-water villas on either side of the main arrival point.
After taking at least twenty photos, Snapchats, and Instagram story shots, we filed into the entry point with the rest of the guests, and were greeted with a tropical coconut-shell welcome drink along with our very own helper-guy (AKA butler, but that seems like too stuffy of a name for such a cool island guy).
Our bags had already been loaded onto a buggy (golf cart) and before we knew it, we were being whisked away from the paradise beach-front, through a cool, quiet jungle pathway, and straight into a postcard with a token shot of a wooden dock leading to several symmetrical over-water villas. OH WAIT. That was real life.
Out of all of the incredible places I’ve stayed in, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a massive smile plastered across my face as I did when I entered my over-water villa at the Shangri La Villingili. I actually didn’t even know which way to turn first; to the right, where I immediately saw an oversized oval stone bath in front of a glass wall with outdoor shower behind it, or to the left where a low, free-standing wall concealed a massive king-sized bed yet offered a glimpse of the bright blue ocean outside.
As in, outside of my over-water villa. As in, I had my very own deck, with my very own steps, that led straight down into warm turquoise ocean water. In the Maldives. Or was it heaven? I’m gunna go with heaven.
The helper guy was explaining some important stuff, and I think he asked me to sign a paper saying that if I get hurt on the villa’s included bicycles that it was my fault, but everything just seemed fuzzy as I floated out the back doors, and onto the wooden deck that was complete with a daybed, breakfast table, two lounge chairs, and my very own built-in hammock over the water. Yep. Definitely heaven.
Villingili is a relatively long island compared to most of the others in the Maldives, but still small enough to get around on by bicycle or buggy. The over-water villas are spaced a decent amount away from the main resort area in order to ensure privacy, as are the beach villas which include their own private pools and beach access.
Around the main area where we first arrived is where the breakfast restaurant is, and next to that is an outdoor bar next to a glorious infinity pool. I’ve seen a lot of cool pools in my life, but this one was so inviting that we actually put our phones away for a full 30 minutes to relax in it and enjoy the scenery. On the other side of the entry point is a chic lounge area with white couches and dark blue over-sized beanbags. They had a 2-4-1 happy hour (thank God) which was offered in perfect timing during sunset. And my God what a freaking fantastic sunset that was.
In the same main area is also where the Dive Center, souvenir shop, and entire kids playroom is, all in their own tiki-style structures with palm trees and other jungle fauna growing around them.
At the far East end of the island is where you’ll find the entry point for snorkeling through Shangri La’s house reef, and also its signature fancy restaurant, which is a mix of French and local cuisine.
When I saw Shangri La Villingili’s entire circular hut-building that was solely for the breakfast buffet, I knew I really was in heaven. Like any normal person, I loaded my plate up like I was never going to eat food again, with everything from fresh starfruit and lychee nuts, a medley of Chinese dishes, a scoop of traditional Maldivian breakfast (which is like spicy tuna salad that you eat with a tortilla), and of course, a bowl of chocolate coco puffs. The colorful food plate amidst the stunningly vibrant beach background was so Instagram-worthy that I just had to make a photoshoot session of my food.
For dinner there are two fantastic restaurant options; Dr. Ali’s and Fashala. Dr. Ali’s was very interesting to me, because they divide the menu into three sections to serve three different types of food. We started with a phenomenal mezze platter, then moved on to an incredible fish curry which the Maldives is famous for.
The second night we dined al fresco at Fashala, which has a menu that’s a mix between French and Western. Naturally, since we were on an island, we opted for all of the fresh fish options, my favorite being a some sort of crab cake, sans the batter and deep frying.
As I already mentioned, and am more than happy to mention again, there is also a pretty bomb happy hour that goes on, and it includes some small bar bites as well. You can also always order lunch by the pool or breakfast area, OR, you can order room service and in five steps have your own ocean-front dining!
Let’s be serious, who can really just lay around and do nothing all day in paradise when there’s so many fun activities to do?! Ok…that was over-ambitious Alyssa talking…Stop-and-smell-the-roses Alyssa would definitely say that spending the day pool/beach-side (get it, because the pool is ON the beach?) with a few cocktails is definitely a fun activity as well.
Fun Fact: Since the Maldives is a Muslim country, you can only purchase and drink alcohol at the big resorts!
BUT! I’m just going to throw it out there that the Maldives are pretty much made up entirely of coral reefs, which means both the underwater and overwater views are freaking amazing. I purposely got PADI scuba certified before my trip, just so I could dive in the famed Maldivian coral reefs. I only got to dive twice, but both times the visibility was incredible, and I’m pretty sure that I made friends with a few fish.
If you’re not scuba certified, the Shangri La Villingili offers a certification course if you’re willing to pay the price (AKA get certified before you go). Or you can always use the complimentary snorkeling equipment to check out the house reef and the shallow, crystal clear waters around it.
If you’re not keen on going under the water, you have several options for observing it from above, and I’m not just talking about from the hammock of your over-water villa. Paddleboards are also available free of charge, which is not only a cool way to look down into the water, but a great work-out as well (abs abs abs). For the adrenaline and adventure seekers, there’s also jetski’s, windsurfing, and parasailing available at an extra cost.
Hanging out on a private secluded island in your own over-water villa in the Maldives obviously ain’t cheap. A night in one of them runs around $700 during low season and includes breakfast, some water sports, wifi, and the time of your life.
But, I can honestly say that if you’re thinking about fulfilling your dream Maldives vacation, it’s totally worth it to stay at least two nights at the Shangri La Villingili (although I considered chaining myself to a palm tree or marrying a Maldivian to stay there), and then perhaps opting for a guest house on a local island in order to extend your stay in the Maldives!