Quick Takeaway: Barefoot Eco-Luxury in Tropical Island Paradise
First Interaction: At Malé, we were taken on their beautiful speedboat, shoes removed, and given a pineapple mint drink. As soon as we landed on the island, we were greeted by our personal “Mr. Friday” butler and taken for a quick tour of the island and our villa.
Hotel Amenities: 45 Rooms, 2 Restaurants, 1 Bar, Ice Cream Shop, Pool, Wellness Center & Spa, Tennis Court, Outdoor Movie Theater, Watersports & Dive Center.
Rooms: Huge Overwater Bungalow Suites, starting at $1,650/night during high season and $1,050/night during low season.
Room Amenities: WiFi, Surround Sound Speakers, Minibar, Large Indoor/Outdoor Living Space, Large Overwater Deck, Rooftop Terrace, Rooftop Terrace Bed, Plush Mattress & Bedding, TV, 2 Personal Bicycles, Outdoor Bathroom Shower, Private Plunge Space, Double Sink, Bathroom With A View.
We were lucky to split our time in the Maldives between two incredible resorts. Normally, for a trip this far away, we would have opted to stay in one hotel to settle in as much as possible; however, this two-island approach proved to be the right move. Our second destination at Gili Lankanfushi blew us away in every single aspect of the experience, surpassing our already high expectations.
As soon as we were greeted at the airport and transferred onto Gili’s private speedboat, the level of service and sense of luxurious island escape set in. Gili has a “no news, no shoes” policy which began on the boat when our flip flops were confiscated and bagged up—never to be seen again until we left the resort days later. We were welcomed at the island’s main jetty by our personal Mr. Friday (Gili’s brand of butlers) named Shaan who gave us a quick tour of the island before settling down for check-in at our villa. We were absolutely blown away (and could not stop smiling) from the moment we entered our massive overwater suite.
Sustainability is at the heart of Gili Lankanfushi, and their villas are a perfect representation of what they stand for—understated beach luxury mixed with an openness to the natural beauty of the island that reminds you exactly where you are in the world whenever you look around. Our Gili home was the ideal blend of indoor and outdoor living, with the highlight being a large terrace deck complete with lounge chairs, comfy catamaran nets, and direct access to the crystal clear marine life-filled lagoon. With 275 on-island hotel staff to service just 45 guest rooms, the level of service and attention to detail was felt in every way. It was as if there was always someone around when you needed them, but at the same time, no one when you didn’t.
The sheer beauty of the island, ultimate disconnected sense of relaxation, and exotic escape puts Gili at the very top of our list of best hotels we’ve ever stayed at in the world.
HOW DID YOU GET THERE?
Since this was our second stop on our Maldives vacation, we were easily connected via speedboat transfer through the capital island of Malé. Gili Lankanfushi has the unique benefit of being only a 20-minute boat ride from the airport, which is a huge advantage after the long trek to this beautiful island-nation.
HOW WERE THE ROOMS?
The 45 thatched-roof overwater villas are sprawled out around all sides of the island. While the majority are connected by 3 main jetties—there are a handful of freestanding Crusoe Residences and the Private Reserve, that are only accessible by boat. The villas are designed with sustainable luxury and open-air living at its core. We stayed in the standard villa suite category which was expansive and very impressive in every way. When you enter through the front door, you look directly through the open air living area and large overwater deck to the picturesque blue lagoon. The massive bathroom is also open to the outside, with a perfectly situated bathtub view and separate outdoor shower area. The bedroom is the only fully contained and air-conditioned space and has one of the comfiest vacations beds we’ve ever slept in. While the villas exude a rustic treehouse vibe, the sheer size, amazing blue water backdrop from every room, and little details like personal bamboo bikes, make this a truly special and luxurious hotel experience.
- Villa Suite: This standard category of room is huge and far from ordinary – and make up the majority of rooms across the three main jetties. We thought Villa 40 on Jetty 3 was ideal for its prime lagoon location, surrounding waters, privacy, and sunset views.
- Residences: At the end of each jetty, there are several Residences which are similar to the Villa Suites but contain an air-conditioned living room which can be converted into a second bedroom. Residence 32 and 17 were in the ideal location, with the most privacy, best open water views, and ever-present waves-crashing-on-the reef background sound.
- Crusoe Residences: These 7 residences are not connected by the dock to the main island, making them only accessible by boat. Not ideal for us as we like to explore the island a bit more, but these residences would be perfect for someone who never wants to leave the room!
- The Private Reserve: We were lucky enough to get a tour of the largest overwater villa in the world - Gili’s Private Reserve. Starting at $17,000/night, this massive overwater compound has 4 bedrooms, its own gym, spa, movie theater, infinity pool, water slide, chef’s kitchen, several dining areas, two on-call butlers, and utmost privacy.
WHO WAS STAYING AT THE HOTEL?
- European, Australian, and American Couples
- Groups of Adult Friends
- No Kids in Sight
WHAT DID YOU DO THERE?
From the moment we arrived on the island, we were thrilled with the seamless blend of privacy and relaxation with options for activities. Gili is the perfect-size island for us, and since most people choose not to leave their villas most of the day, it almost felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. We were blown away by the dining experience at Gili Lankanfushi, and as detailed below, many of our “experiences” revolved around these special meals. We also spent much of our time enjoying the privacy of our villa – lounging in the sun, reading, listening to music, and taste-testing as many cocktails as possible on the deck. Other than that, we really enjoyed the following experiences and amenities:
- Bikes: Each villa comes with your own personal bamboo bikes, the preferred means of transportation on the island. Biking around the various jetties, and under the jungle palms through “Gili Highway” was one of our favorite experiences that kept reminding us how far away from reality we really were.
- Snorkeling: Right off of our deck, there was some great sting rays, eagle rays, all types of fish, and many black and white tip reef shark sightings. It took us a few minutes to get comfortable with the 4 foot “vegetarian sharks” swimming right under our deck, but after a few hours you get totally used to them.
- Tennis: Hidden among the palm trees is a beautiful turf tennis court that’s available for use all day. We enjoyed a couple late morning games—they even have an on-site tennis pro if you’d like a lesson.
- Meera Spa: We were lucky to experience one of the best couples’ massages we’ve ever had in Gili’s spectacular overwater Meera Spa. In addition to the treatment rooms, in which you can watch the fish swimming on the reef below during the massage, they have steam rooms, saunas, and a rooftop post-treatment relaxation area with lounge chairs to take in the open-water view and enjoy the breeze.
- Wellness Center: Given the endless supply of delicious food and drinks, we felt the need to start our mornings in the beautiful gym. It’s not hard to work out on vacation when you have a view of the stunning palm-lined beach outside the window.
- Jungle Cinema: Catching a post-dinner movie under the stars in the outdoor jungle cinema is an experience not to be missed!
- Kayaks: On our last day, we grabbed a couple of kayaks from the dive center and explored the surrounding island. We spent most of our time at the overwater hammock and floating dock in the middle of the lagoon – jumping off and really soaking it all in during our last few hours before vacation came to an end.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD MORE TIME TO DO?
- Cheese and Wine Tasting at Wine Cellar
- Sunset Sail on the Traditional Dhoni
- Japanese Restaurant Dinner
HOW WERE THE FOOD AND DRINKS?
The quality, variety, and freshness of the food at Gili Lankanfushi rivaled the best of the best restaurants in the world. When you consider the fact you’re located on a tiny remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the food and drink experience becomes even more impressive. Everything from the outrageous breakfast spread, fresh caught seafood, and homemade ice cream at the poolside bar, was perfection. While most everything has to be imported, Gili also has an expansive garden where the chefs grow herbs and produce used in their menu’s daily. We could talk all day about the fresh tuna lunches, grilled lobster tail dinners, and endless bottles of champagne all day; however, the culinary experience at Gili was best showcased through several truly unique food moments.
- Breakfast Buffet: Included in the normal room rate, but this could not have been further from your average continental breakfast spread. “Breakfast” doesn’t even begin to describe what was hands-down the best morning meal we’ve ever had. First up was the menu of delicious breakfast items, traditional Maldivian and Indian dishes, pages of fresh juice and smoothie combinations, and any kind of coffee or tea beverage you could think of—and that was just round one. Getting up from the table on day one, we discovered the extraordinary buffet options available - fresh fruit bar cut to order, baked goods with 25 different jams and honeys, wellness shots and elixirs, and delicious free-flowing champagne. Next up came things that we don’t normally consider breakfast at all – Asian stir fry, dumplings, noodle soup, 16 variations of granola, sushi, tuna sashimi, cheeses from all over the world paired with top quality charcuterie served up in the wine cellar, and so much more. This may sound odd and over-the-top, and it totally was, in the best way possible. Needless to say, it took us a couple days to develop a strategy for how to approach “breakfast,” leaving on day three with the perfect fullness and champagne breakfast buzz.
- Destination Dining: Our first night at Gili was Lucas’ 30th birthday, and we were treated to the most amazing private meal on palm beach under the stars. We selected a menu of grilled steak and seafood which was prepared tableside just for us. With no one around other than the chef and waiter, this private dining experience was really special!
- Gili Tasting Journey: A unique experiential introduction to Gili’s Wine & Dine offerings in five different locations around the island – from sushi and sake at the Japanese restaurant, wine and cheese pairing in the wine cellar, and pate and champagne at the poolside bar. Not only were the food and drink delicious, but it was a great way to learn about the island and history behind what we were consuming. Huge thank you to Gili’s incredibly intelligent and personable sommelier, Fabrice Blazquez.
- Mediterranean Dinner Buffet: Our last night on the island was Mediterranean night, which delivered an equally impressive dinner version of what we experienced every morning at breakfast. With multiple stations, all equally delicious, it was hard to prioritize your next plate; however, our favorites were the risotto station prepared in a parmesan cheese wheel and the fresh grilled seafood station.
- Wine: Glasses started at $14 and bottles at $60. Bottles from all over the world.
- Cocktail: Drinks ranged from $14-16. Good martinis.