Grand Centara

Whale shark and manta ray sightings are almost guaranteed ... South Ari Atoll is a spectacular destination for divers and snorkelers. Boasting sun-swept island beaches and sandbars surrounded by tropical blue waters it truly is a tropical paradise ...

Planning for this trip first commenced in 2019 to celebrate Paul’s 50th in June 2020. Covid of course intervened and we postponed to 2021 and then Covid intervened again so the trip finally materialised in 2022 but not for the entire week as we had initially anticipated but 4 nights are better than no nights! We had also shifted from originally planned Vakkaru as we were very keen to swim with and dive with whale sharks and manta rays and they only reach these waters by June. Paul was tremendously relieved as Grand Centara was significantly cheaper and many of the activities are also included. Our last visit had been in 2001 and we had stayed at Kuramathi which had been outstanding! Arrival was the exciting sea plane giving a bird’s eye view of the glorious turquoise waters and atolls…

DAY 1: On arrival we were greeted with cocktails (the BEST Pina Coladas!) and shown to our luxurious ‘Premium Deluxe Sunset Overwater Villa with Pool’ – what a mouthful!

The girls and I had booked a massage prior to dinner – DIVINE! Truly one of the best massages I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing!

Dinner was Japanese Teppanyaki which comes included in the cost if you are staying a week. We had opted to pay extra for this which we regretted. It was perfectly good but not exceptional and certainly not worth what we had paid. There were no theatrics from the chef and (understandably) we were behind a plastic screen. The seafood was frozen and not fresh. Paul was unfortunately unwell with a bad tummy and did not have a good night.

DAY 2:

Caitlyn and I were up before dawn for our morning Yoga session. Sunrise was spectacular. We greeted all the baby sharks swimming in the shallows on the way to our beach hut for our morning practise.

We enjoyed a good breakfast – there was so many choices! Sri Lankan, European, American, English – Delicious! We then headed off to find whale sharks in a huge boat just for us …we had the whole boat to ourselves and headed to the outer edge of the atoll. We cruised up and down along with many other boats and finally just as we were thinking of heading back we spotted a whale shark. It was a race for all the boats to get there and a free for all – there must have been a hundred people following the poor creature – not really what I had expected. In the Baa Atoll where Vakkurru is located boats and numbers of people are regulated as it is a protected reserve…. never the less we did manage to get a few photos without people in them. I much prefer my previous experience of diving with a whale shark unexpectedly in South Africa at Aliwal Shoal when heading out on a dive…very calm and special experience with only four us and the majestic giant.

We got back to enjoy a varied and delicious lunch and a pina colada watching the little sharks circling the waters next to us. We enjoyed a snorkel on the house reef where we swam with a friendly turtle.

In order for us to dive they require refresher on the shipwreck on the house reef so we kitted up and went through the motions – all good for the manta dive the following day!

The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling, sipping cocktails and watching the sharks being fed … blissful…

Dinner was in the Italian restaurant – delicious seafood – very good indeed. Paul was unfortunately too ill to join us.

DAY 3:

We were up early for breakfast (sadly without Paul who was still in bed) and headed off on our manta diving excursion. FANTASTIC – we found a manta at a cleaning station and we enjoyed just sitting there watching him being cleaned by the wrasse – superb.

We headed back and enjoyed lunch and spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool, snorkelling and general chilling.

In the evening Paul was fortunately feeling better we headed off for our night dive. The girls had been fairly nervous but ended absolutely loving the experience. As we entered the water there was a huge nurse shark which you will hopefully see captured by Caitlyn’s go-pro. We saw huge morays and plenty of sleeping fish. At one point we all switched off our torches and enjoyed the magic of the bioluminescent plankton lighting up the water all around us which was amazing! Very special.

We were very excited for the beach seafood BBQ – but as luck would have it, it was rained off. We felt so sorry fr all the staff who had worked so hard to create a magical ambiance and then had to run to take it all back inside. We got a pic though before the heavens opened!

The staff had very kindly provided a treat for Paul as they knew that this trip had been deferred for his birthday.

DAY 4:

Early breakfast and off we headed back in our big Maldivian boat just for us in search of a snorkel with manata rays – Paul was very keen having missed the previous day’s excitement. But as nature would have it, no mantas graced our presence BUT we had another BIG surprise! Another whale shark who swam slowly beneath us oblivious to our presence – magnificent creatures!

We were back for yet another huge and delicious lunch followed by more cocktails, swimming, laughter, relaxing, snorkelling and general chilling.

We felt a little sad as it was our last evening. We opted for the Thai which was OUTSTANDING – the most authentic Thai we have had for a long time…delicious.

Every evening there was a sweet decoration on the beds…

Our final sunrise was spectacular…

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