What if I told you there was a place in the Indian Ocean that can make you feel like you’re stranded on a lonely island (with your loved one of course!) while still pampering you with all the treats of a luxury resort?

Well, welcome to Coco Palm Resort on Dhunikolhu Island.

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 When we arrived at Dhunikolhu the clouds were tinted in a dramatic grey, like I’ve only ever seen in the Maldives. Our seaplane transfer from Male was an entertaining and short 40-minute flight over the stunning lagoons and Atolls that are charismatic to the Maldives. It is no coincidence that a seaplane flight is often listed as one of the top things to do when visiting this beautiful country. Wonderful perk, when staying at Coco Palm – you have access to the gorgeous Coco Palm airport lounge, where free food, drink and wifi awaits to make your transition into holiday mode as pleasant as possible…

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We arrived at Coco Palm and all I saw was a long jetty, a big stretch of white sandy beach and behind it only trees. Lots and lots of them. What were they hiding? It didn’t take a minute that I had to think of Tom Hanks in Castaway and I got a little excited. Would I finally get an idea what it could feel like to be stranded on an island somewhere out in the ocean?

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Everything about Dhunikolhu feels 100% natural. All accommodation, the reception areas, the restaurants and bars are mostly made of stone and wood. We asked for a baby cot and even that was made of wood. You’ll search long and hard for plastic bottles on the island just to find there are none. All drinking water (all of which comes from distilled seawater!) is provided in elegant glass bottles, even the in room dining food is served on bask trays. All private villas feature a traditional thatch roof and stone tiling, there is a wonderfully romantic little stone pool outside each front porch that lights up at night and you get a truly private little beach access with 2 lounge chairs for only you.

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On the first 2 days of our stay here the weather didn’t change. It was mostly grey but it never really rained, only the occasional drizzle in the morning that never lasted more than a few minutes. When the sun came back out on day 3 we were almost nostalgic, somehow the warm and greyish haze gave the island a cozy feel that made you want to snuggle up in the pool and sip wine in the afternoon. This was a kind of romance I had not encountered beforehand and I was little surprised to find that the island was almost booked out with lovers and honeymooners.

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Coco Palm resort is not at all like the many swanky luxury resorts boasting infinitiy pools and fancy restaurants the Maldives are renowned for. It offers a truly unique experience and feels like the ultimate insider tip. It doesn’t hurt that it is also a lot more affordable than many of the above mentioned places. Prices can vary widely due to the season so have a look at your booking website of choice to compare prices for the period you are interested in.

6 things you should know about Coco Palm

1. The food is one of a kind

I am no friend of buffets but Coco Palm does them like no other. While guests can choose starters and desserts from a generous buffet, mains are cooked live and upon request with tasty options like fresh tuna steaks, grilled reef fish or succulent lamb kebabs. For breakfast I loved my custom-made banana pancakes with Nutella and for lunch I adored the homemade guava ice cream desserts.

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There are 3 places to eat at. The Cowrie restaurant opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner providing buffet style meals while the Cornus Restaurant dishes up delectable Thai cuisine in a wonderful, dimly lit beach view setting. Attention: these dishes can be spicey unless you specify otherwise. The Conch bar, a place so cozy I could have spent all day there, does sandwiches, burgers, pastas and a few mains all day long. The selection of wine, cocktails and coffees here is as good as they come.
If you love good food and drink as much as I do, consider booking the All Inclusive option, which is incredibly good value at Coco Palm.

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2. There is no wifi in the room.

Are sweat pearls streaming down your forehead as you read this? NO WIFI IN THE ROOM? That was my first reaction when I heard about this. “We really want our guests to switch off.”, the kind receptionist explained, as he showed us to our room. I was more than skeptical at first but just one day in I let myself enjoy this wifi-less freedom. I took naps, read a book, took a swim, all without the pressures of getting work done or spending much time worrying about social media or skype calls home. There is wifi at the bar and at reception of course, so you won’t entirely lose your connection to the real world if you don’t want to.

3. Welcome to the family.

I have found the Maldives to be one of the most hospitable countries in the world and each island I have visited was home to many very friendly faces. There is something about Coco Palm however, that made me feel like I was holidaying among family. It helped having a baby with me, who by the way found many happy babysitters at spa, reception and the restaurant. Atlas gladly let staff members show him around and I have a feeling he got a better inside perspective of the resort than I did! I also positively noted that the familiar vibe coming from staff was mirrored by guests who all greeted each other when passing one another and starting conversations over drinks or sunsets was always easy. I’d be willing to bet that many a friendships were newly formed at Coco Palm.

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4. Close to nature

It’s important for Coco Palm to give back to nature and to promote living in harmony with it. Since Day One Coco Palm has put great emphasis upon being sustainable. As I have mentioned above there are no plastic bottles and straws are only made available upon request. But not just any old plastic straw – Coco Palm has especially imported completely bio-degradable ones from a producer in Dubai – a novel concept, because the straws still look and feel just like plastic.

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There is a garden in the middle of the island where the resort aims to grow at least some of their own herbs and spices. In the evenings and at night, lighting is kept to a minimum to make the island a welcoming place for sea turtles looking for a spot to lay their eggs. When we arrived, a batch of sea turtles had just hatched and were taken into the special custody of local marine biologist Chiara Fumagelli. She helps these little guys to safely make their way out into the open water, optimizing their chance for survival.

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The Italian has put the endangered species on top of her agenda and through her work tries to stabilize the natural population of sea turtles in the Maldives. Nature has set up these lovely creatures for a true challenge as only one in 1000 sea turtles actually make it to adult age. As they are one of the most common species to accidentally get tangled up in fishing nets, Coco Palm and Chiara aim to save as many as possible from certain death. Guests of the Coco Palm are invited to learn all about her work and even have the possibility to “adopt” a new sea turtle that is identified in the reefs around the island, meaning they get to name it in exchange for a donation.

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5. It’s run by a woman

Most General Management positions in Maldives resorts are occupied by men, a bit like most airline pilots are male. The Maldives are a Muslim country and women are not nearly as emancipated as we are back in the western world. All the more remarkable that at Coco Palm a woman runs the show. Sandrine Kayser is of French-German descent and has put raising ecological awareness on top of her agendy, right along with maximizing the unique experience of the resort’s guests. Some regular guests have visited the island as much as 38 times and even those are meant to always experience something new and unexpected.

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6. Proximity to Thuladhoo

In the 12 magical days we spent in the Maldives one experience really stood out to us and it was the visit to Thuladhoo, a small local island only 10 minutes via speedboat away from Coco Palm. A trip here is only one of many great activities on offer but I’d be willing to bet it is also the most fascinating one (which is not to say that snorkeling with giant stingrays or diving with sharks isn’t over the top incredible). The Maldives are famous for its gorgeous landscape and its superb resorts but little is known about its small local community of just about 350.000.

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While most Maldivians live in Malé, the capital that also hosts the only international airport, there are various small local islands with never more than 4000 inhabitants. Thuladhoo is among the bigger populations with around 2800 people living here. It is fascinating to see how people who spend a lifetime on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian ocean live and now grow up with the possibilities of the internet which have started to expand here too. I was almost surprised to find people quite modern looking, with motorbikes and cell phones, just like their counterparts on the mainland of neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka or India. Everyone we met in Thuladhoo was extremely open and friendly and I was able to take a lot of great photos which I will soon share with you here in a seperate blogpost.

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Thanks for having us Coco Palm Resort, we will gladly return one day!