Cora Cora Maldives


I can’t say leafing through a priceless copy of the Quran was on my list of things to do in the Maldives but neither was visiting a ‘ghost island’ or chasing a wild rabbit. But that’s Cora Cora for you. Paradise, but not as you know it.

The 15th-century Quran was just one of hundreds of priceless artefacts kept in storage at Cora Cora’s museum but you won’t see it unless you butter up Ibrahim, the museum’s director (and Maldives’ answer to Indiana Jones). As well as showing me an array of century-old items such as clay oil lamps, Qing dynasty china and contraptions for grating coconuts, Ibrahim guided me around the remnants of an ancient ruined village in the heart of the island.

Among the Country Almond and Banyan trees lay two communal bathing pools (vevu) made from sandstone boulders and coconut logs, mossy and vivid, alongside a crumbling mosque and graveyard. The entire site was unearthed in 2011 when Cora Cora’s hotel predecessor was built and, quite rightly, the decision was made to preserve it. I can’t remember the last time I learnt so much in such a short space of time.

So culturally invigorated was I by my time with Ibrahim, I forwent my plans for the following day (sunbathing and paddleboarding) in favour of an excursion to a local ‘ghost island’ destroyed in the 2004 tsunami. My confirmation slip arrived from the Dive Centre with the ominous instruction: “Bring mosquito repellent and wear closed-toe shoes.”

Our merry little group headed out early morning in a traditional wooden dhoni with a smiley tour guide called Guilia. We dropped anchor 15 minutes later at what I can only describe as an anti-paradise. From the deck of the boat, all we could make out was destruction, decay and devastation. All 3,000 inhabitants of the island were forced to relocate after the tsunami in 2004, such was the extent of the damage. Three people lost their lives. We learned that the wave came in fast and high before subsuming almost immediately. But the damage was done; irreversible.

About ten minutes into the tour, Ismil, the captain of the dhoni, caught up with us asking if he could tag along. Turned out he was born and raised on the island. He showed us around what was left of his school (a three-storey shell of a building reclaimed by nature – snaking roots, bat excrement and climbers from every crevice). We nosed around the island’s decrepit hospital (creepy) and a large mosque which, miraculously, remained largely unscathed. Not surprisingly, Ismil’s family home, reduced to nothing more than a few pillars and hunks of upturned concrete, proved most moving of all. Among the giant cobwebs and shattered glass, I spotted a lady’s wedge shoe. Gut-wrenching.

Back in the soft embrace of Cora Cora, it took some time to re-acclimatise; my surroundings all the more groomed and vibrant for my morning outing. Thankfully, the resort has plenty to distract. Food-wise, the choice is excellent. Highlights include the crispy calamari, reef fish ceviche and pomelo salad at their main restaurant, Tazäa, and the amazing sushi and sashimi spread at the Japanese offering, Teien.

I tried sound healing at the spa. I bobbed around in the ocean with a snorkel and mask ogling octopuses and sea cucumbers until coming face to face with a four-foot shark – harmless, apparently. I got my hands on a bike and cycled the perimeter of the island a few dozen times (it’s tiny). And worked my way through the spicy margarita menu.

But what of the wild rabbit, you ask? Ah, that was an escapee from the staff quarters. They keep them as pets alongside parrots and chickens which, I have to tell you, provide a wonderful exotic alarm call each day.

What more can I tell you? I loved Cora Cora Maldives. It’s colourful, quirky and laid-back in all the right ways. It gave me a brand-new perspective on this remote paradise destination. There are dozens of great all-inclusives to choose from in the Maldives, but if you want to take home more than Insta-perfect beach pics and a tan, Cora-Cora could be the one for you.

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