PER AQUUM Niyama Maldives has spoilt the market for us. From the moment we touched down into the pristine turquoise lagoon surrounding Niyama, we felt we had arrived in paradise. We were warmly greeted by the resort GM and were introduced to our thakuru, a personal butler who whisked us to our room while giving us a tour of the resort on a buggy. For a place that states "your wish is our command" in their website when referring to their thakuru, our expectations of good service were high.
We love that there is no reception area at Niyama. How atypical and refreshing. Our thakuru handled our check-in from the comfort of our room. The same goes for anything we needed during our stay. No more calling a nameless, faceless receptionist who may or may not remember what your preferences are, or what you last requested. There is one button on your in-room phone that says "Thakuru" and that replaces all the usual "reception", "in-room dining" buttons. Our kids loved ringing our thakuru in the morning to pick us up from our room in the buggy to the breakfast restaurant.
Getting to Niyama Maldives
Niyama is situated in the south-western atoll of Dhaalu, and is one of the many Maldivian resorts that requires you to take a seaplane from Male International Airport. Our flight took around 45 minutes from the seaplane terminal not too far from the international terminal.
It was our first time flying in a seaplane and we didn't know what to expect. First of all, it was our first time seeing pilots dressed in shorts and wearing flip-flops! The journey turned out to be very smooth and scenic. Flying in a twin turboprop can be very noisy. Earplugs were provided and that helped 4-year-old Ramses really enjoy the flight. He spent the first 15 minutes watching the pilot flying the plane, looking out at beautiful coral atolls below and pretending to fly a fighter plane. After that he dozed off in a contented sleep till we arrived.
Unfortunately, 2-year-old Ranefer didn't want to put on ear plugs. He had never been on a seaplane before and thus spent most of the flight crying inconsolably. However, the minute he got off the plane, he couldn't stop talking about wanting to fly on a seaplane and the next time he got on one on the way back to Male, he was excited and happy throughout.
We flew on Maldivian Airways, which is partially owned by the owners of the PER AQUUM group, rather than the rival TMA (Trans Maldivian Airways). This has the advantage that the flights to Niyama are always direct. When flying to some other resorts serviced by TMA, you may be required to make several stops while they drop off passengers at other resorts.
We were told that an airport is being built in a nearby island which will make seaplane flights unnecessary as getting there would be via a domestic flight and a boat ride. We really hope they keep the seaplane flight as an option though. The whole flight across the atolls on a small seaplane really sets the tone for a remote island getaway in a way that a domestic flight never could.
The Room at Niyama Maldives
Since we were traveling with two toddlers, we had a lot of special requests such as asking them to provide a bottle sterilizer, stepping stools, and even diapers of a specific brand and size. Not only did they remember all our requests, they also went the extra mile to make one of the rooms a true playground for our boys with a little decorated tent and two lovely welcome cards with each of our boys' name on them.
We stayed in a 1 bedroom suite with pool on the "Play" island. There are 2 islands in Niyama - "Play" which is more for families with kids and "Chill" which is designed more for couples. Knowing we had 2 young kids, they thoughtfully gave us a villa very close to the kids club (Villa 118).
The suite comes with a separate living room which served as a bedroom for the kids and a master bedroom. It also came with both an indoor and outdoor bathroom. The outdoor bathroom is really beautiful; it's like a mini tropical garden, with lush greenery and a little pond.
The room was barely a year old and looked brand new. All of the furnishings and fittings were in great condition. The decor was modern and tasteful, and definitely one of the nicest ones we've seen in Maldives.
As any traveler will know, it's the details that make a place shine. And in this case, little things like the room key being a water-proof bracelet, having an in-room deli with cheese and ham (though you have to pay for that), a popcorn machine for the kids, electric curtains so you don't have to get up to enjoy the view, along with an easy-to-use entertainment system stocked with lots of movies to keep everyone entertained on a rainy day, added to the whole luxury experience. In place of a mini-bar, there's a full-sized fridge that was stocked with all the beverages that we had pre-selected online shortly after making the reservation.
Bottled water, home-made ice-cream, popcorn and tapioca chips (emptied into a glass jar from a packet that's made in Sri Lanka) are replenished free of charge daily. Our kids loved the ice-cream, but not so much the popcorn as there was only the salted variety.
The pool in the villa was small, but it was great to soak in after a long day and perfect for the little ones to practice their swimming. In fact, our older one taught himself to swim without floats in that pool since he felt comfortable enough to try swimming across it.
The Food at Niyama Maldives
While Niyama feels like a boutique resort with very personalized service, it has a lot of choice when it comes to dining. Here are the restaurants available: Blu, Epicure, Edge, Nest, Subsix, Tribal, Dune and The Deli. Dune is more of an outdoor beach bar and The Deli is a sandwich and cake shop.
In Maldives, the food is expensive when compared to most other places in the world. The main reason for this is the remoteness of Maldives, and the more remote the resort, the more the food tends to cost.
Some resorts save money by using nearly all frozen food, but Niyama boasts that almost all their food is fresh. Naturally, that and the remoteness affects the cost. This is due to the cost of having to import a lot of the food and then transport it in custom-made refrigerated boats to the islands. There is also a lot of food wastage as the resort must stock a wide variety of fresh food, and not all is eaten so a lot has to be composted.
To avoid choosing dishes based on the cost, we opted for full-board which costs US$180 per adult per day and that includes almost all the dishes in all the restaurants except for sub-six, the underwater restaurant. Children eat free in Niyama, so that's a real saving there for those with kids. Some dishes require a top-up and drinks aren't included - even water has a cost, although sometimes staff would make us a complimentary mocktail.
Tip: Ask for house water which will cost a fraction of the Evian the staff will normally offer when you ask for water.
Blu is the only real restaurant that is open at lunch and it is where we ate most days. The style of food is Mediterranean with both Arabic and European dishes. The menu is varied enough that even after being there for 10 days, we still found something to eat every day and it didn't get too boring or repetitive.
The reason we could eat here every day for lunch is that the food quality is truly excellent. All of the fish is fresh, and really, that is the only way you want fish, especially in an island in the middle of the sea. Surprisingly though, even foods like beef and lamb which have to be imported are fresh and cooked to perfection.
All the staff were very helpful and happy to accommodate our requests and would customize dishes to our liking. This was especially good for our kids as they could eat more healthy and varied options than might be available on the kids menu.
Not only were the staff helpful and flexible with the food, but they went the extra mile to make us and our children as comfortable as possible. When our younger one fell asleep during lunch, they brought over a dry bean bag from the pool area, covered it with towels and made a comfortable day bed for him next to our table. After that it became a ritual and he would fall asleep every day at lunch time and the staff would come make the bed for him.
Epicure is where we had breakfast each day and where we had several dinners.
The first thing you'll notice when you get there in the morning is the stunning view outside.
What makes Niyama resort really sparkle is the friendliness and attentiveness of the staff. They remembered how we like our coffee, which table we liked to be seated at, how we liked our eggs and crepes cooked (both delicious by the way), and would literally go out of their way to make us feel welcome.
The breakfast buffet selection was quite good as well, with some local Maldivian dishes, cooking stations for Mexican-inspired huevos rancheros (eggs on crispy tortilla with guacamole, pico de gallo and chili), waffles, crepes, and eggs. They even served true Spanish chorizo - yum. The only thing that they could perhaps improve on in their breakfast spread are the baked pastries. Here, the croissants and danish weren't as crisp as those in Jumeirah Vittaveli, but they were still better than those found in most cafes around the world.
Apart from breakfast, Epicure also serves a-la-carte dinner as well as the occasional dinner buffet depending on their occupancy.
We tried both the dinner a-la-carte as well as the buffet, and while the buffet gave us the chance to try some dishes, the food from the a-la-carte menu was generally better as is usually the case with most restaurants.
They did tell us that the buffet was one of the first ones they'd put together in the season as the occupancy hadn't justified setting up a buffet till then, so it's possible that the buffet would get even better as they get back into the rhythm of setting up buffets.
Edge is a restaurant sitting on a raised platform in the middle of the lagoon, underneath is Subsix, an underwater restaurant, which as the name implies, is roughly 6 meters below the water.
To get to either restaurant, we had to take a 10-15 minute boat ride from the main jetty at Niyama. Edge only opens for dinner and the boat we went on left at 6:30pm.
Both our little ones dozed off on the boat and were none too happy to be woken up upon reaching the restaurant. The staff however, did a wonderful job of helping to cheer them up, giving them glow sticks used in the Subsix glow parties, and making sure their food arrived fast.
When we booked the Edge, we thought it would mainly be for the experience rather than the food, after all, it's hard to expect too much from a restaurant that's sitting literally in the middle of the ocean and whose main draw is the location and experience. However, we were very pleasantly surprised that the food exceeded our expectations and was some of the tastiest we had in our stay at Niyama.
Subsix is the only restaurant we didn't eat at. We wanted to visit it several times but due to the kids either falling asleep before it opened or the weather making the boat ride difficult with children, we didn't get around to it.
Tribal is an African-themed restaurant where most of the staff are from different parts of Africa. The seating is under a giant tent-like canopy which inspires feelings of being on a safari.
As is to be expected in a restaurant with this name and theme, the food is quite gamey. For those like me who enjoy strong flavors, it was delicious, but it may not be to everyone's taste. If you have the time to try it while at Niyama, it is definitely an experience, although there are so many dining choices available in the resort that one can really choose what and where they want to eat.
It may also be less suitable for younger children as the dining starts late (as it does everywhere in Niyama), and the torch-light setting might be a bit too dark for some children. Our boys were happy there at first, but the dim lighting made them feel quite sleepy before all the food had arrived and we had to rush through some of the courses.
Nest is another unique concept restaurant where you can dine in a raised platform among the treetops. Unfortunately on the day we had booked Nest, the weather was not good and we had to dine in the sheltered dining area below the trees so we were unable to enjoy the unique treetop dining experience.
The food at Nest is an Asian blend and we were looking forward to it as we all love Asian food. However, perhaps our expectations were high as we had come to Maldives from Singapore which has fabulous Asian food, and this was one of the very few times we were disappointed with the food in Niyama. The food was just nowhere near the quality and flavors found in Asia, or the quality level we experienced in the other restaurants in Niyama.
The Deli is a great place to grab a snack in-between meals, or for those on half-board to grab a sandwich for lunch. Like everywhere in Niyama, the food isn't cheap, but the pastries are fresh and we would go there for a slice of cake or a muffin if we or the kids were hungry.
Private dining under the stars is another fabulous option where they will set up a table in the sand outside your villa and either cook you a BBQ seafood dinner right at the beach or serve you something from one of the restaurant kitchens. We had the chance to try both options and while both were good, we preferred having our food straight off the BBQ. Our local waiter was very accommodating, friendly and helpful throughout the dinner service on both occasions.
Even the kids, who would normally be tired at that time enjoyed the experience of sitting right outside the villa near fire lanterns and enjoying a candlelight dinner under the stars.
For couples this is an incredibly romantic option, and with kids it has the convenience of being right outside your villa and you are able to pop in to take them to the bathroom or wash their hands if they decide to play in the sand.
The Explorers Kids Club at Niyama Maldives
One of the reasons we chose Niyama was because of the Kids Club which had been set up and managed by Scott Dunn. Our kids loved the Explorers Kids Club so much that they kept asking to go back there.
It has two main huts - one for younger children up till 5 years old (Globetrotters are those aged 1-2, and Adventurers are aged 3-4) and one for children 5-12 years old.
It also has an outdoor kitchen where kids can make cookies, brownies or pizzas, a water play area, and an outdoor playground with even a trampoline embedded in the ground.
The water play area was good fun on a hot day, but since we went in the rainy season, there were lots of mosquitoes and we ended up staying indoors most of the time when at the kids club.
Making brownies, cookies and pizzas were some of the few really interesting activities available to those under 5. There were also activities like drawing, painting and mask making, but it was nothing compared to the way those 5 and above were pampered.
On some days, kids aged 5 and above were taken out by boat for dolphin watching, or over to see Subsix (the underwater restaurant which charges US$250/person for lunch). When we went to the spa, we saw all the 5+ kids going for a massage. And all for free! They even take the children for lunch at Blu so their parents can have time away from the kids.
From what we saw, kids aged 5 and above have the most varied activities to do; we can't wait to bring our boys there when they are old enough to enjoy all those activities. Children below 5 still have a lot to do, but it is mainly at the kids club itself. It is also important to note that you'll have to pay $20/hour at the kids club if your kids aged 2 and below are unaccompanied.
Amenities at the kids club were well-stocked. Unlike the kids clubs in other resorts we had been to, this one provides wet wipes, potties, child toilet cubicles, a water dispenser. There's also a nap room. The staff working at the kids club were enthusiastic and engaging with the kids.
The Beach at Niyama Maldives
If your ideal Maldives vacation is about feeling the white powdery sand crunch softly under your feet as you stroll along, looking out into the emptiness of the vast Indian Ocean and watching the sun set on the horizon, then Niyama ticks all the boxes.
The sand around the island is soft and powdery, well-maintained and a pleasure to walk on.
Niyama is also unique in that it is made up of 2 very long islands (at least when compared to others in Maldives). The shape of the islands, the careful grooming of the villa gardens and the long and nearly empty white sandy beaches create a feeling of seclusion and having a very big beach almost to yourself.
However, if you are looking to snorkel in a pristine house reef, rub shoulders with black-tip reef sharks, rays and turtles, and spend the day in the water with a mask and fins, then you would be better off in a resort like Banyan Tree, Angsana Ihuru or Angsana Velavaru.
The house reef at Niyama is very small and quite damaged by sedimentation. Additionally, for the size of the islands, there is only a very small area to snorkel where you can really see anything, and it takes a bit of walking and swimming to get there.
In fact, one of my only gripes with what would otherwise make Niyama my perfect holiday destination, is the lack of a beautiful house reef where one can enjoy the underwater life that has made Maldives so famous.
LIME Spa at Niyama Maldives
The over-the-water spa treatment room faces the beautiful turquoise lagoon. The massage was superb and we left feeling relaxed and refreshed.
Niyama Maldives - Bottom Line
We couldn't get enough of Niyama Maldives even after staying here for 10 nights. On days when it rained, we either cocooned ourselves in our luxury suite, or chilled at their games room or library lounge. We played table tennis and X-box in their spacious games room which is situated near Epicure. The library lounge was another relaxing place to be. We watched movies there, browsed through the latest magazines and made ourselves a cuppa. There are also two Mac computers in the lounge. Niyama Maldives is heaven for both kids and adults alike. There is so much to do.
We appreciate little considerate touches from staff in various departments. Housekeeping would place extra mosquito repellent spray bottles and citronella tealights in our bathroom and would sometimes leave a sweet message for us on the big mirror in the bedroom. Every night, they would also leave a sheet of resort activities for the following day on the bed. Sometimes, staff from Lime spa would set up a small massage station right outside the restaurants so that guests can get a free head and neck massage after a meal!
Niyama Maldives is one of these places where we felt we could just live here and work out of one of the restaurants or in a sun lounger by the pool while soaking in the beauty of the place. What really makes Niyama glow isn't the glow party, it's all the staff who made us feel at home. Thanks Niyama Maldives, we will be back soon.