The moment we arrived at Shangri-La Villingili we felt like James Cook or another explorer of his time. Located in the Addu Atoll in the Southern part of the Maldives it is the type of island you associate with a ‘bounty island’ – surrounded by beautiful white beaches lined with hundreds of palm trees.
Over five days we explored every side of the island in a slightly different, more luxurious way than James Cook might have done. One of the highlights of the resort is its very own 9-hole golf course and spectacular vistas across the Indian Ocean.
Shangri-La Villingili Resort is located in Addu Atoll, the most Southerly located atoll of the Maldives – a mere 400 kilometers away from capital Male. It is also a fairly small atoll with only a handful of inhabited islands and a few resorts. The capital island of Gan is home to a small domestic and international airport and located only 5 minutes by speedboat away from the Shangri-La. Despite its vicinity to the airport you rarely hear any airplanes on the island as the runway lies in a different direction. The island is one of only a few resorts of the Maldives located South of the Equator, therefore don’t be surprised if the sun appears in the North during Summer months.
Shangri-La opened its Villingili Resort in 2009 on an island that was previously occupied by the British army during the first and second world war. The RAF had a base at nearby Gan island until the 1970s and plays a key role why so many of the locals speak excellent English. Today only a few ruins of bunkers remain in the jungle on Villingili.
The island stretches almost 2 kilometers from East to West with the Indian Ocean directly bordering the beaches on the South side of the island. Due to the strong current on that side of the island guest cannot access the beach on that side. On the North side of the island you find a large lagoon with a picture perfect beach ideal for swimming, snorkelling and watersports. Here you also find three separate walkways with over water villas and the main arrival jetty and supply jetty.
The remote location far from Male International airport has pros and cons. The naturally beauty and quiet location really give the island a lot of charm and desirability. But you definitely have to go the extra mile to get there. From Male it is a 1 hour 20 minute domestic flight to Gan Airport and the stopover in Male is not that nice even with the lounge Shangri-La provides there. In the near future they hope to add direct flights from international destinations to Gan.
Private planes can land easily at Gan and Shangri-La guests regular use this opportunity.
The Shangri-La Villingili Resort features 132 villas spread over seven different types including two very unique villas. Most popular are the over water villas that are set in the lagoon on three different walkways. They all feature indoor- and outdoor showers, a large terrace overlooking the lagoon and direct access to the water. Other villa types include pool villas, deluxe pool villas, beach pool villas with direct beach access, ocean view villas and tree house villas (basically an ocean view villa with an additional yoga deck with stunning views over the Indian Ocean).
The two special villas are called Villa Muthee and Villa Laalu, Villa Laalu is the presidential villa of the resort and measures 570 square meters in size and has a spa room and large private pool. The Villa Muthee is an overwater paradise with a large infinity pool overlooking the lagoon, modern bedroom, large bathroom with a huge bathtub and also a dedicated spa room for treatments in the room. Most guests that stay here hardly leave there villa during their stay and we can see why.
Upon arrival on the island our villa host drove us to our Ocean View Villa (#316) with a buggy. The first thing we saw on arrival are two bicycles parked in front of a wall with double doors. Behind the doors a wooden stairs leads up to the deck. Here we find a large infinity pool, dining table for four, two sun loungers and a day bed. On the left side of the deck is a separate living room with large flatscreen tv, mini bar and sofa and lounge chairs. On the other side of the deck is the master bedroom with large double bed, dressing room and cupboard behind the bed, a desk and another flat screen tv. Directly adjacent to the bedroom is the toilet and indoor shower followed by the large bathroom with bath tub with enough space for two and his and hers sinks. Two sliding doors provide access to the outdoor rain shower and to the pool deck. Curtains and lights can be controlled from the touch of a button. We only missed the option to switch the bathroom lights on/off next to the bed.
There is free wifi in the room and in most public areas of the resort. Tech wise the only thing we missed was bluetooth connectivity to play music from our iPhone – hopefully that will be added in the next room update. Upon arrival our villa host gave us a good old Nokia where with which we could reach him 24/7 in case we needed anything. He assisted with restaurant reservations, spa bookings and arranging activities. He also offered to arrange a buggy for us in case we needed it but we actually preferred to ride our bikes our entire stay.
The rooms are very well equipped and comfortable although we would have liked to have a few more places to relax on the deck and enjoy the views of the ocean. Also the minibar is only in the living room – it would be nice to have one in the bedroom too. The ocean view and pool villas are set in lush tropical forest and thanks to the size of the island are not so close together to offer maximum privacy. This along with the natural beauty of the island are two things we really enjoyed.
The design blends in with the island really nicely. The villas have a traditional and tropical exterior mixed with a warm interior design. The wooden floors and curtains in the villa add to this warm feeling. In the public areas of the resort Shangri-La has tried to utilize the natural beauty of the island as much as possible and leave palm trees that have been on the island untouched.
Facilities & Activities
There is a lot to say about the facilities on an island this size. We won’t discuss all facilities in depth but here is a quick overview of what you can expect. To begin there are a few kilometers of bicycle and walking trails on the island mostly surrounded by tropical plants and trees. We enjoyed just cycling around the island a lot already. There are several freshwater lakes as well where you can watch fishes and birds do their thing.
On the Southern tip of the island is the hotel’s 9 hole golf course, a unique feature you won’t find anywhere else on the Maldives. Most of the holes are par 3 but there are a few tricky par 4 holes too. Especially hole 5, 6 and 9 are worth a trip to this end of the island. At the golf course you also find the highest mountain in the Maldives – measured at 510cm above sea level. Yes, that’s correct – 5,10 meters is the highest point in the Maldives.
Near the reception you can find a kids club, several shops, dive center and the M lounge bar. A few steps further you find Javvu, the all-day dining restaurant, the main pool and the watersports center. The main pool has sun loungers on the beach side, along the pool and a few cabanas in the garden directly behind the pool. A great place to spend the day although the poolside service could be a bit better.
The watersport center offers activties like sailing, jetskiing, wakeboarding, kayaking and more. The dive center offers snorkelling and diving excursions and has a deep training pool for people who want to get their PADI and want to learn the basics of diving. We opted for a snorkelling expedition to check out the outer reef of the resort and weren’t disappointed. We saw six different sea turtles, two reef sharks, hundreds of tropical fish. The staff are very professional and gave us both assurance as guidance to enjoy the underwater world to the maximum.
Additionally you can find a chef’s garden with herbs, fruit and vegetables on the island and several sport facilities including a gym, tennis courts and badminton court on the island. Summing it up like this it really sounds like an island paradise.
There are several private and group activities too from cooking classes to yoga and pool aerobics to fishing. The activities roster changes regularly so the hotel will tell you what is scheduled on arrival. You can book fishing trips and private cruises at the dive center. We did a dolphin cruise and watched as over 100 dolphins set out to hunt in the deep ocean!
The Shangri-La Chi Spa
On the Southeast side of the island is the Chi Spa which has several treatment villas set in a tropical garden. We had the signature massage straight after arrival from our long haul flight which is something I can recommend to everybody. The massage with hot oil and use of ocean shells was really good and after our massage we were invited outside in the garden of the spa villa where we received jasmine tea and a cold towel. Sitting there soaking in the waves as they hit the beach on the ocean side in the light of dawn was one of the most memorable moments of our stay.
The spa menu offers a selection of Asian massages and Indian Ayurvedic treatments, alongside locally inspired treatments and specific well-being programmes. Some of the spa villas include steam rooms for guests to enjoy before or after their treatments.
Restaurant & Bars
There are three restaurants and two bars on the island. The pool bar is only open during the day and offers drinks and an extensive food menu. M Lounge is the main bar with live DJ on some evenings, once a week there is also a management cocktail here. The service and drinks menu is great but the outdoor seating arrangement is quite far apart which is good if you like a drink for two but lacks a bit of the typical bar feeling.
Javvu restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It offers dishes from Middle Eastern, European and Asian cuisine. The number of choices and breakfast was great but the lunch and dinner food could be better. Fashala is the seafood restaurant located on the edge of the island with a panoramic view over the lagoon and ocean. The setting and food is really good here and worth a visit. Finally there is Dr Ali’s restaurant, it combines cuisine from three different regions: India, Middle East and Vietnam/China. Each region has a dedicated chef and also in the inside there are three different rooms to chose finished in the style of the region. We chose to sit outside however and enjoy the ocean breeze. The food was amazing and so was the setting – definitely our favourite restaurant at the Shangri-La Villingili Resort.
Besides the restaurants there is a range of in villa dining options including a chef prepared bbq and several private dining options around the island. We ordered in for lunch twice and both times it was there exactly in the time they told us on the phone (35 min) and especially the pizza tasted great!
The Shangri-La Villingili Resort has 600 employees that are there to keep the island in perfect condition and provide you with the necessary service and assistance. Our villa host was there when we needed him and checked-in on us on a regular basis. The staff is very friendly and greeted us with cold towels and small refreshments everywhere. It is hard not to get a true holiday feeling at this resort. However at a few moments there could be a bit more service – at the pool per example there was nobody to help find the best spot and sometimes used towels, empty glasses and dishes where laying around for a long time.
Before we wrap up this review a few words on our travel and general experience. We arrived at Male International Airport at 9am and we were outside in 20 minutes. A Shangri-La representative escorted us to the Domestic terminal only a few minutes away from the International arrivals. She took us straight to Moonima lounge at +1 in Male Domestic terminal- suffering a bit from heavy usage but better than the terminal. You can take luggage directly to the lounge and a hotel representative will handle the airline check-in from there.
The lounge offers refreshments and several sorts of cold and hot food. There is also one shower to refresh after a long inbound flight. The lounge can get busy at times but it is still way better than the domestic departures area which lacks any kind of facilities whatsoever. So if you plan on going to the Shangri-La try to plan your transfer window to be as short as possible. Boarding closes 10 min before departure and someone from the lounge will escort you to the gate downstairs. Our Maldivian flight and those departing at the same time were all at least 10-20 minutes behind schedule so don’t be surprised when boarding and departure doesn’t go exactly according to schedule.
Another tip for flying Maldivian airlines: Ask for seat of your liking. We had two seats in the first row with two empty seats facing us just because we asked if its possible to sit in the front of the plane.
I would avoid an overnight stay in Male as the experience is far from luxurious so when you plan your international flights timing is everything. Evening international arrivals or early morning international departures might mean you are forced to stay overnight in Male as most of the connecting transfers don’t run during night hours.
The flight from Male to Gan is about 1 hour 20 minutes, although some (return) flights include a short stopover on one of the other islands. The flight itself is quite scenic as the propeller planes (in our case a Dash-8 300) fly at a relatively low altitude so you have a great view of the various atolls and islands. Gan Airport is officially an international airport which soon hopes to receive direct flights from Sri Lanka and India. But regardless of the ongoing runway extension it is still a very small airport.
We were greeted by a hotel representative on arrival and directly taken to the boat jetty just a minute away from the terminal. From there it is a 5 minute speed boat transfer to Vilingili island where we were greeted by a team of the hotel. In the beautiful arrival building we received a cold towel and fresh coconut.
The entire stay was very relaxing and we particularly enjoyed cycling around, relaxing at the beach, snorkelling at the house reef and all the activities including golf.
The day before departure we received our departure information with ideal luggage collection time, check-out time and transfer time to the airport. Checkout was done at the reception and we were waved off by part of the hotel staff. A Shangri-La employee escorted us all the way to the security check at the airport and checked our luggage in. The entire transfer from the moment we got off the plane to the villa and back was flawless.
Now you might wonder for what kind of people this island is suitable. Thanks to the size and range of facilities and activities it appeals to a lot of people – from honeymooners seeking privacy to divers and active couples.
The Shangri-La Villingili Maldives Resort is truly one of a kind. The naturally beauty of the island is second to none with the beautiful palm tree lined white beach and tropical forest. The villas are all spacious and offer all amenities for a comfortable holiday. It is hard to recommend a certain type of villa as it depends entirely on personal preference. We really enjoyed the Ocean View Villa for its incredible view across the Indian Ocean, the great private pool and its privacy, although the waves can get a bit loud especially during high tide. If you stay more than a couple of days you can always chose to stay a few days in an overwater villa and the rest of your stay in a beach, ocean view or pool villa.
Two of the three restaurants are on par with what we expect of a Shangri-La resort, the Javvu restaurant has a few flaws food wise but still provides a nice setting directly on the main beach. The staff is very friendly and in general provide great service, just at the pool some service we would like to see more service and awareness. That aside the facilities and activities really impressed us throughout – if James Cook would have stumbled upon this resort he would have probably never discovered Hawaii.
Website: Shangri-La Maldives Official Website
Telephone: +960 689 7888