At first glance, Gili Lankanfushi is the epitome of a picture-postcard Maldivian island, all turquoise waters and rustic style overwater villas, but delve a little deeper and this popular resort is so much more than just a pretty face.
Just 20 minutes away from Male by speedboat, as you approach the island of Gili Lankanfushi, life itself changes. Firstly, the water effortlessly transitions from a deep, inky navy blue to a shimmering, almost transparent turquoise stretching as far as the eye can see. Secondly, time not so much as stands still but it actually changes; Gili Lankanfushi boasts its own time zone, 1-hour ahead of the rest of the Maldives and is affectionately known on the island as ‘Gili time’.
Your barefoot luxury experience begins on the boat itself where your shoes are handed in to be given back to you at the end of your stay. Gili has a ‘no shoes, no news’ policy that is designed to create a true sense of ‘getting away from it all’. Whilst the no shoes (non-compulsory) requirement may take a little getting used to, we guarantee that by the second day you’ll be happily exploring the island feeling the sand under your toes, without a care in the world.
There are just 45 villas on Gili Lankanfushi, all overwater and each one extraordinary. From the Gili Lagoon Villas to the standalone Crusoe Residences – accessible only by boat – and finally The Private Reserve – the world’s largest overwater villa – which needs to be seen to be believed, Gili Lankanfushi offers some of the Maldives’ most luxurious accommodation.
Each villa is designed with the utmost attention to detail and plays perfectly on the island’s ‘castaway’ theme. Design is paired back and sustainable, built entirely of wood with only the odd splash of vivid yellow and terracotta textiles breaking the neutral colour palette. In-room information is accessible via hand-crafted paper books curated to resemble ancient treasure maps, handles are shaped like starfish in tribute to the island’s magnificent marine life and its luxury five-star rating and your outdoor shower is linked to the spacious living space via a semi-open-air walkway which makes you feel as if you’re walking the plank.
Gili’s theme is seamless throughout the entire resort and manages to remain playful rather than gimmicky. This ingenious design emphasizes the connection between the land and the sea and glass floor panels offering a fascinating glimpse into the corals and sea life below take pride of place in each villa; If you’re lucky you may just spot a shark. Your private sundeck is shielded from view and offers overwater hammocks and comfortable daybeds, perfect for snoozing away the afternoon. You can access the extensive lagoon from your villa itself, where you can marvel at the underwater life that swims right up alongside. We were even lucky enough to spot a giant guitarfish which we’re told by the resident marine biologists is an extremely rare sight.
For an unforgettable experience, spend the night sleeping under the stars on your private roof terrace of your multi-level villa, as your dedicated Mr. Friday makes up a luxury linen-clad bed outside for you. Each villa and residence is assigned a Mr. Friday host, who is on hand to cater to your every wish for the duration of your stay.
From a taste of unrivalled luxury, the aptly named Private Reserve is the only way to stay. Favoured by movie stars and royalty, the Private Reserve, at 1,700m2, is the largest overwater villa in the world, offering total seclusion with a location 500m from the island and 300m from the nearest residence.
Accessible only by boat, it spans five enormous adjoined villas, linked by open-air walkways offering uninterrupted 360-degree views out towards the azure lagoon. With four bedrooms, countless bathrooms, an air-conditioned gym, cinema, private spa with sauna and steam room, 21m infinity pool and even its very own waterslide directly into the lagoon – this is the Maldives at its very best.
However, Gili Lankanfushi isn’t all about extravagance, in fact, with its awe-inspiring natural surroundings, this is an island that pioneers ethical and sustainable luxury in the Maldives. At the heart of the island’s vision is preserving the natural environment and protecting the fragile marine ecosystem. Sustainability is easy to overlook for luxury travellers but Gili Lankanfushi emphasizes its importance and offers a plethora of ways that guests can get involved. From a tour around the island’s extensive organic herb garden which itself is nurtured by the resort’s advanced rocket composter processing up to 100% of the resort’s food waste, to a presentation on conservation by the regular visiting scientists and academics that study the island’s coral reef ecosystem, Gili ensures that the only thing you’ll want to leave behind is footprints.
In fact, the vibrancy of the island’s underwater world was particularly poignant during our stay. For keen snorkelers or divers, the surrounding waters of Gili Lankanfushi and neighbouring One Palm Island – so named because of its one lone palm – are rich in the diversity of marine life; Manta Rays, Sea Turtles, Reef Sharks, Porcupine and Angel Fish call these tropical waters home.
The island’s dedicated marine biology team constantly monitor the health and biodiversity of the surrounding coral reef ecosystems, measuring light intensity and sea surface temperature and tracking the populations. Gili Lankanfushi’s unique Coral Lines project is even something you can see on a guided snorkel or dive. This revolutionary project provides a nursery environment for new corals to grow, bolstering the house reef and monitoring health and survival types across coral genotypes. This is one of the reasons the waters are so clear around the island and that the marine life is plentiful.
In addition to projects at sea, all the buildings are themselves constructed using sustainably-sourced plantation teak, palm wood and bamboo and the fragrant organic toiletries that you will find in your bathrooms are provided in refillable earthenware containers to minimize plastics use.
One of the best ways to truly discover this tropical paradise is through gastronomy. The Gili Tasting Journey is a laid-back group experience that works its way around Gili’s most notable dining locations, under the guidance of the resort’s Head Sommelier. Discover the Chef’s Table perched high above the organic garden and the resort’s intimate, sunken wine cellar – built around a huge piece of driftwood swept ashore from the 2004 Tsunami, followed by the enormous circular Overwater Bar which comes alive at sunset and is the perfect spot for a fruity sundowner.
Dining at Gili Lankanfushi is a real treat and even the restaurants stay true to the island’s barefoot philosophy.
The Main Restaurant is centrally located on the sands of the beach itself and is an idyllic spot for your eggs in the morning or to indulge at the weekly themed nights that see traditional flavours mixed with a modern twist – The Asian Street Market is a must try with a sensory journey around the best of Asian cuisine through theatrical live cooking stations.
By the Sea is the resort’s signature Japanese restaurant and with its quirky elevated position resembles a modern-day treehouse. Here, authentic Japanese cuisine is washed down with an extensive sake collection and the unique interior serves as a backdrop to fresh, locally-sourced seafood.
Of course, destination dining is something that the Maldives lends itself to perfectly thanks to its unrivalled romance and at Gili, you are invited to celebrate a special occasion or simply just life itself, with a unique lantern-lit feast on your own private patch of powdery sand. Enjoy good company as the highly skilled chefs cook an exclusive menu on the BBQ accompanied by champagne on ice.
Gili offers a full range of unique experiences that is sent to you by your very own Mr. Friday ahead of your stay so you can plan your trip in advance should you wish. Enjoy a unique perspective of the island with a private scenic sunset cruise on the sailing Dhoni or retreat to the Jungle Cinema for a movie night under the twinkle of a sky full of stars, from dolphin watching to wine tasting, Gili Lankanfushi possesses a culture of endless possibility.
From doing everything to the beauty of doing nothing, a sense of balance in both body and soul is central to Gili’s ethos. The Meera Spa – one of the most beautiful spas in the world – offers the opportunity for holistic healing in an incomparable overwater setting. Meaning ‘Ocean’ in Sanskrit language, the ‘Meera’ Spa boasts six over-water treatment rooms alongside an Ayurvedic and Yoga/meditation Champa as well as a rooftop relaxation area offering panoramic views of the ocean.
Treatments here draw inspiration from age old cultures and use a combination of organic Voya and Meera products that have been created on the island itself from the finest oceanic and plant extracts. You’ll compete with blissful slumber at the expert hands of your masseuse as you watch the array of tropical fish flitting against the coral through the glass floor strategically that is situated under your bed – a magical sight!
For longer stays immerse yourself in a wellness journey, which ranges from one to five days in length and includes a range of bespoke and curated restorative experiences for benefits that last long after you’ve left the island. Some active programs even combine surfing or scuba diving with tailored spa treatments that allow guests to reach their full sporting potential, whether under the sea or riding the Maldivian surf.
Even for a writer it’s hard to accurately encapsulate Gili Lankanfushi in words, it’s a place that needs to be experienced. There’s something about Gili that gets into your soul, to travel here is one of life’s extraordinary luxuries and you’re quite sure that when you depart you won’t leave the same person who arrived.
Sometimes you need to lose yourself to find your way in the world.