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Gili Lankanfushi Maldives 5.0

Lankanfushi, North Male Atoll, Kaafu Atoll

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Review Summary

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  • Rustic sophistication and a laid-back, romantic atmosphere
  • Enormous overwater villas with spacious decks
  • Genuine and personalized service from personal butlers titled Mr. Friday
  • Free bottle of bubbly and canapés upon arrival
  • Villas have Bose sound systems, stocked iPods, and Nespresso machines
  • Higher-tier units (bigger and more private) are accessible only by boat
  • Outstanding restaurants and private dining areas
  • Huge breakfasts include wheatgrass shots, artisanal cheeses, and chocolate truffles
  • Underground wine cellar stocked with 400-plus labels 
  • Free yoga (daily), water sports, and use of bamboo bicycles
  • Excellent dive center and six-treatment-room spa with ocean views
  • Beachfront infinity pool, tennis court, and fitness center
  • Free Wi-Fi throughout


  • Expect to spend a small fortune for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!
  • The location is not quite as remote as other top resorts in the Maldives (pro for some)
  • Interiors are rustic-luxe rather than lavish (a pro for most)
  • Some units have slightly obstructed views
  • Meal plan options do not include alcohol
  • Villa Suites only have air-conditioning in the bedroom
  • No units with private pools

Bottom Line

Gili Lankanfushi is widely considered to be the top resort in the Maldives, and for good reason. This stunning, 46-villa, eco-friendly resort just 20 minutes from the airport succeeds in delivering truly unpretentious, relaxed luxury. Bare feet are encouraged (shoes are removed as soon as guests get on the boat from the airport), and each guest is taken care of by a personal butler with the title Mr. Friday. The spacious, charmingly simple overwater bungalows are made of several types of wood, and have outdoor (and rooftop!) decks with views that might induce tears of joy. On land, the beautiful island with 683 palm trees offers a range of activities and dining options. This special gem in the Maldives has more authenticity than other brand-name resorts of the same price point — just ask tennis pro Novak Djokovic, practically a regular here. 

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In a class of its own, this rare and approachable resort appeals to modern free-spirited types with cash to spend.

While other luxurious resorts in the Maldives whisk guests away from the airport in sleek yachts or sea planes, Gili’s boat is more understated, while still exuding good taste. Friendly crew members come around to offer a house-made lemongrass drink in cute glass bottles, and then request guests to remove their shoes (placed inside tote bags) to encourage the "No News, No Shoes" spirit of the Maldives. This trademark gesture is optional but sets the tone for the entire Gili experience. Many guests choose to experience their entire vacation barefoot, and everyone we encountered seemed totally free of worry and stress (just make sure to arrive with plenty of room on your credit card!). When the boat arrives at the jetty, guests are given the opportunity to take photos from the bow of the enormous villas spread over the gorgeous turquoise lagoon. The GM or manager on duty provides a warm greeting, along with a Mr. (or Ms.) Friday — the title for personal butlers here, named for the fictional character who served as Robinson Crusoe's personal assistant. 

All of the rooms here are enormous overwater villas, and most of these charming wood units (notice the authentic cottage-y smell) are located along one of three separate jetties connected to the island. Meanwhile, seven Crusoe Residences, unconnected, offer more privacy and are accessed with on-demand pontoon boat service. Guests get a tour of their unit from their Mr. Friday, during which he will demonstrate the button on the house phone that connects to his cell phone for immediate help, 24 hours a day. Surroundings are as dreamy as one could hope for, and guests may choose to celebrate by hitting play on the iPod, popping the bottle of sparkling wine, digging into the canapés, and heading out to the deck for an unbelievable sense of pinch-me-now paradise. 

This is a small resort attracting mostly couples, as well as a few families. It is Singapore-owned (it used to be a Six Senses), and many guests come from the U.K., Russia, and Asia, plus a few from the U.S. Even when at full occupancy it is impossible to see a crowd, though breakfast and dinner tend to witness the most action. Each night has a special theme; Tuesday starts with a manager’s reception featuring local drumming, followed by an Asian street food market set-up. Mr. Friday will often drop by during meals to see how things are going, though at times, butlers are stretched too thin, as they may be assigned to several units at the same time. On the day of departure, Mr. Friday facilitates check-out and payment, and is there to wave goodbye as the boat heads back to the airport, where shoes go back on and life must return to normal again. 


A stunning lagoon setting near the airport where guests are asked to take off shoes

Gili Lankanfushi is located on a private island in North Malé Atoll, part of the Kaafu Atoll, next to a less luxurious (and sometimes slightly rowdier) resort called Paradise Island, which is sometimes audible and visible from some villas. After passing through customs at Malé International Airport, guests are met by a friendly representative at a numbered kiosk who will take luggage and lead the way to a speedboat towards the property. This process is friendly and efficient, and the journey takes under a half hour. Guests are offer bottled water or a lemongrass drink, and are also asked to hand over shoes — the tourism slogan of the Maldives is "No News, No Shoes." The next time guests see their luggage is in the villa, making the process easy and worry-free.

The Maldives is a distinct nation in the Indian Ocean consisting of 26 Atolls and over 1,190 islands. Each resort (there are over 100 of them) is situated on an individual private island and most guests come to enjoy the incredible marine life through snorkeling and scuba diving. One of the best surf breaks in the country is nearby, and white-sand beaches encircle the entire island for those who just want to relax. While many areas of the resort feel incredibly peaceful, this is a central location so boat and airplane noise will be experienced (views might also be obstructed from certain areas of the villas).

Though the state religion of the Maldives is Sunni Islam, private islands like these are allowed to serve alcohol.


Rustic-luxe wooden villas have direct water access, upscale amenities, and tons of character.

This private island resort has only 46 overwater villas in different areas of the resort: either along one of three jetties, or scattered across the turquoise lagoon. All are spacious — as big as houses! — and are constructed mostly of teak, cedar, pine, bamboo, eucalyptus, and acacia trees. The design incorporates skylights and natural venting systems, so there is less need for electricity and air conditioning (in addition, guests are asked if they want to donate money to neutralize their carbon impact). Furnishings are upscale, but not ostentatious — they have a beachy feel, clean lines, and colorful fabric accents (often in sunset colors such as yellow, orange, and red, or in turquoise blue to match the water). 

Most beds are king-size with romantic white canopies, but there are twin options as well. Minibar areas are equipped with wine, beer, and snacks, coffeemakers, and drinking water. Living areas have CD and DVD players, Bose stereo systems, and iPods with a wide selection of music. Huge bathrooms have two sinks, a jetted tub next to a window, large closets, and a glass-cube shower reached via an open-air walking path. There are generous toiletries, including SPF and bug spray (all with no charge). The living room leads to the outdoor sun deck with two loungers, two hammocks, and two daybeds. Each villa has a separate deck on the rooftop with another dining table and daybed under a shaded palapa. There is space up here for doing yoga poses and two yoga mats are provided (in addition, classes are offered each morning on the island). Each villa comes with a bottle of bubbly and snacks on arrival.

Most of the units are Villa Suites along one of three jetties surrounding the island. These are the smallest units and the most economically priced, though hardly cheap. The living room area is open-air and leads straight to the sun deck. The only room in that is air-conditioned in these units is the bedroom. Residences, however, are bigger in size and are situated at the end of the jetties to allow for more privacy. These feature a spacious and enclosed living and dining room that is air-conditioned, along with a kitchenette and mini wine cellar. 

Crusoe Residences — there are seven of these — are similar to the Residences but accessed only by boat. They include transportation from the mainland via pontoon boat, which makes frequent trips to pick guests up at the back door. Each one of these units also comes with free use of a private boat (if the guests prefers) with whimsical names like "Cruise Wherever." They are secluded, but views of neighbors in the distance are possible, especially on the sundecks. Bathrooms also include another exit and ladder for direct water access next to the shower. These units also come with a standalone hammock in the water a few feet from the sundeck — truly a standout feature that will surely wow and delight. Between the hammock and the added space and the seclusion, these units are quite a step up from the Villa Suites and may be worth the splurge. 

Two Spa Suites come with two bedrooms each, a couples treatment spa room, private gymnasium, and outdoor jetted bath on the rooftop terrace. One of these units has private access to Three Palm Island, and has hosted many high-profile guests; tennis pro Novak Djokovic has stayed here twice. The Private Reserve in a massive five-section overwater villa (it is said to be the largest in the world!) with three bedrooms, a private cinema on the second floor, fully equipped kitchen, a private spa with indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, and large central living area for entertaining. 

Turndown service for all villas will be facilitated by Mr. Friday while guests are away at dinner. Shades are pulled down, beds are prepared for sleep, and the AC is turned on.


Free activities like yoga, bamboo bicycles, water sports, and tennis 

Service is a standout at the resort (there are 290 staff that live on the island!) and each villa is paired with a Mr. (or Ms.) Friday, who is the point of contact for everything including excursions, spa appointments, sunset cruises, and restaurant reservations. For the seven Crusoe Residences, they are also the point of contact for transportation back and forth to the island.

The resort is surrounded by a lagoon and each villa has direct access to the water from its private sundeck. The island is surrounded by beautiful white-sand beaches, as well as 683 palm trees (they counted!) for shade. Next to the main restaurant is an outdoor infinity-edge pool with ocean views. There are shallow areas for swimming so the few families that are at the resort tend to congregate here. This area of the beach is also the only area that is regularly set up with lounge chairs. 

The Meera Spa is another overwater wooden structure with six treatment rooms and holistic treatments. One section has a yoga and meditation area, and another has steam and sauna rooms. On the second floor is a relaxation area overlooking the water. There are 90-minute packages for facials, massages, foot reflexology, scrubs, and nail care. On the island is a large fitness center in a bright space with water views and an iPod and speaker system for music. There is one tennis court (Novak Djokovic has played here!), a beach volleyball court, and table tennis. Sustainable modern bamboo bikes from Singapore — 150 of them — are available at no charge. 

Non-motorized water sports are free and include use of catamarans, kayaks, windsurfing gear, canoes, and Hobie Cat sailboats. The Ocean Paradise Dive Center has multilingual PADI instructors and offers trips to the best dive sites in the area. A number of other excursions, like deep sea fishing and snorkeling, can be arranged. Outdoor movies can be watched at the Jungle Cinema, which offers comfortable outdoor lounge chairs, popcorn, and refreshments. There is a library for book sharing, with one desktop computer and printer.

There is also a gift shop for souvenirs, clothes and accessories; arriving guests will likely receive an offer for a discount. Wi-Fi is free throughout. 


Extraordinary cuisine, from the extensive breakfast buffet to the themed dinners

The four restaurants are run by a Canadian head chef, and there are also a number of private dining locations for cocktails and dinners. The Main Restaurant on the west side of the island offers daily menus using ingredients from the island’s vegetable and herb garden. Dinners are themed nightly, and include the Mediterranean Spice Souk on Fridays, Asian Street Market on Tuesdays, and the chef’s set menu on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Breakfast, served along the beach, is a a major event here. It starts with herbal medicines from Sri Lanka, wheatgrass shots, and an extraordinary fresh juice station, as well as Barton & Geustier champagne. Past the drink station is the fresh fruit station, and there are also a range of Asian dishes, house-made cereals and granolas, 12 types of honey, and freshly baked pastries such as whole wheat chocolate croissants. In the Underground Wine Cellar and Chocolate Cave guests can load up on artisanal cheeses and chocolates (for breakfast!). At the table, the server will bring an a la carte menu with spa juices, smoothies, and 13 made-to-order egg dishes which can be enjoyed with French press coffee.

For lunch, the attractive Over Water Bar offers healthy salads, sushi, fish specials, and live cooking stations, as well as a number of seating areas looking over the lagoon. At dinner, in addition to the main restaurant and the themed night, guests can make a reservation at By the Sea for Japanese fusion and saké. This restaurant is above ground with small dining area for only 26 guests at a time. The Underground Wine Cellar and Chocolate Cave has a private dining table and cellar with 400-plus wine labels, and guests can make a reservation for special dinners and tastings from the sommelier. In addition, guests can arrange dinner in the villas, or eat in the one of more than seven private dining spots around the resort, such as One Palm Island, which faces sunset.

Half- and full-board meal plans are available, but do not include alcohol. 

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