They may have filmed The Beach on Ko Phi Phi, but it can’t be a fantasy island getaway if you have to share it with a crowd – Ihuru is the real desert-island deal
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Ihuru lies in the Kaafu Atoll, in the northern Maldives, 8 miles (13 km) from the capital, Malé
SIZE Ihuru is only 490 ft (150 m) in diameter
DAYTIME TEMPERATURES Jan: 86°F (30°C); Apr: 88°F (31°C); Jul: 88°F (31°C); Oct: 86°F (30°C)
When you close your eyes and picture the perfect island paradise, do you imagine an ocean of beach towels and the thumpety-thump of outboard motors? Almost certainly not. There are four essential ingredients for an island retreat – sand, sea, peace, and seclusion – and Ihuru has them all.
This is a proper desert island: the only noise comes from surf breaking over the distant reefs and the rustle of palm fronds, and the only reason to stir is the incoming tide. Thailand’s Ko Phi Phi has the surf and the palm fronds, of course, but the constant flow of tour boats is the nautical equivalent of rush hour in downtown Bangkok.
Formed from the tip of a submerged volcano, Ihuru is not so much an island as a beach with shade. Set in its own mini-atoll, the island is a single copse of palm trees, ringed by icing-sugar sand. Ihuru does not have beaches (plural) – the whole island is a beach, fringed by a turquoise lagoon of warm water and encircled by a sheltering curtain wall of reefs. You may well want to explore its breathtaking undersea world, or you might just prefer to doze beneath a palm tree or stroll along the sand. There’s no pressure – which is rather the point of coming here.
Under the Maldives’ unique model for tourism, every developed island is home to a single, self- contained resort. Compare that to Ko Phi Phi, where poorly-planned resorts are springing up like mushrooms after April showers. On Ihuru, the accommodations are as private and secluded as you can get. Basking beneath the palm trees, the swish villas of the Angsana Maldives Ihuru Resort & Spa are a favorite of the fashion set, who come here to be pampered by expert practitioners in the spa, or left alone to rock gently on a Maldivian swing in front of an empty stretch of sand.
There is an interesting parallel between the two islands. Both saw visitor numbers dive after the 2004 tsunami but, while Ko Phi Phi responded to the disaster with yet more resort developments, Ihuru stayed true to its desert island roots. It is luxurious, certainly, but the resort buildings and villas are scattered like fallen coconuts between the palms, and the first footprints on the beach every morning will probably be your own. The whole purpose of an island getaway is being able to get away from it all – who wants to get away from it all with everybody else?
FORGET KO PHI PHI?
THE BUILD-UP When travelers first started combing the Thai islands for the perfect beach, Ko Phi Phi ticked all the right boxes. Hidden by a curtain of cliffs, Maya Bay was the perfect place to escape from prying eyes and indulge in some island escapism.
THE LETDOWN The Beach was the fantasy – Maya Bay is the reality. These days, its enclosed lagoon is a magnet for sea-borne litter and tour boats whizz across the short stretch of water between Ko Phi Phi and Phi Phi Leh all day, undermining the castaway vibe.
GOING ANYWAY? Ko Phi Phi has bounced back impressively from the Christmas 2004 tsunami. Reconstruction and new building has focused on smaller, more intimate bays, rather than the heavily-developed beaches along the sandy central isthmus of the island. Among the best of the new developments are secluded resorts on Hat Laem Thong and Ao Lo Bakao.
4 MORE ISLAND GETAWAYS TO RIVAL KO PHI PHI
RADHANAGAR BEACH, HAVELOCK ISLAND, ANDAMAN ISLANDS, INDIA Brigands and British governors used to walk the sands of this tiny dot in the Bay of Bengal. You just might encounter a swimming elephant as you snorkel round the reefs.
GOLDEN BEACH, NORTH CYPRUS Little has changed in North Cyprus since the island was divided in 1974. More turtle tracks than footprints mark the sands on this 10-mile (17-km) stretch of beach on the remote Karpas peninsula.
SANDAY, ORKNEY, SCOTLAND Imagine an island 1 mile (2 km) wide by 12 miles (20 km) long, encircled by white sand and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. . . in Scotland. Remote Sanday comes into its own in summer – think of it as Hawaii with haggis.
KO TARUTAO, THAILAND Preserved as an island prison, and now a national park, wonderful Ko Tarutao has seen none of the development that has marred other Thai islands. Apart from national park bungalows, all you’ll find here is jungle and beach.
Getting There and Around
Fly to Malé International Airport on Hulhule Island. From here it’s a 20-minute speedboat ride to the island.
Where to Eat
The chefs here prepare delicious dishes using local fish and seafood combined with sauces from the Maldives, Asia, and the Mediterranean. The Riveli restaurant is spread out under the stars, but you can go one step further with your own private table beside the surf.
Where to Stay
Guests at the Angsana Maldives Ihuru Resort & Spa stay in elegant but understated thatched villas that spill out onto the beach beneath a canopy of palm trees. Of the 45 villas, 20 have open-air jet pools.
When to Go
The seasons in the Maldives are dictated by the southwest monsoon, which soaks the islands with rain from May to October. December to March is the most popular time to visit, but those in the know choose the “shoulder” season (Apr and Nov) when the weather is balmy and the water as clear as Evian.
Budget per Day for Two
Assume on paying around US$550, including accommodations and three gourmet meals. Alcoholic drinks, pampering in the spa, and dive trips around the atolls are extra.
For example, a 2-hour aromatherapy massage is US$85.