Hotel Review: JA Manafaru, Maldives
JA Manafaru is located at the far northern tip of the Maldives, in fact, it’s the farthest north luxury hotel in the Maldives. We were extremely excited to experience this gem in the Maldives, which we were told, is reminiscent of the Maldives 30 years ago. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint.
Getting to JA Manafaru is an adventure. It is located 45 minutes by domestic flight to the northernmost tip of the country in Haa Alif atoll and it is spectacular. With absolutely nothing in sight but stunning sandbars, pristine islands and untouched paradise, JA Manafaru is a truly remote retreat.
The hotel is located on a private island that is completely natural, with towering banyan trees and palm trees that cast stunning shadows across the entire property. The white sand beaches are filled with fine sand and teal blue water as far as the eye can see. This remote luxury resort is perfect for travelers looking to get as far away from seaplane sounds, boat traffic and light pollution as possible.
Lobby & Check in experience: 4/5
In the Maldives, your lobby and check in experience actually begins in the Malé international airport when you arrive. You are greeted by a JA representative at the arrivals area and taken to the domestic terminal to check in for the flight. JA Manafaru is the furthest northern hotel in the Maldives and is not currently running seaplane transfers so a 45-minute domestic flight and a 45-minute boat ride is the only way to get to the resort.
Manafaru does offer guests access to the shared VIP lounge in the domestic terminal so while you wait for your flight, you will have the chance to relax in A/C with some food and beverages. The lounge also has wifi and televisions throughout. While it’s not the nicest lounge in the airport, we have been here a number of times throughout our trips to the Maldives and it’s better than waiting outside in the heat!
The JA representative picks you back up in the lounge and shows you to the security when it’s time to board the flight. The domestic flight takes you to a small local island where you are greeted by another JA Manafaru representative and taken to the boat dock (on the most beautiful beach). We arrived right at sunset and were offered cold towels and water for the somewhat bumpy journey.
Once we arrived at the resort, we were greeted by hotel management and our butler and taken straight to our room. While I’m certain in the daytime, they would have provided a thorough tour along the way, we were ready to order some room service and enjoy our room. Our butler did a great job explaining the features of the room, the amenities on property and walked us through the property map.
The journey to the resort was certainly long and the rough seas made for a real adventurous day, however, this is a truly remote resort and that’s just part of the fun ;). It is worth noting that the seas can be a bit rough and we do recommend if you have sea sickness to bring some anti-nausea medication for the ride. There is an airport a bit closer to the resort and we hope that in the future, they have access to fly into that airport to save 40 minutes on the arrival experience.
JA Manafaru has 84 villas split between beach villas, overwater villas and residences, each with their own private pool. We were booked into the Deluxe Beach Villa with Family Private Pool for 2 nights and upgraded to the Two Bedroom Ocean Residence with Family Infinity Pool for the last 2 nights. We also were able to tour a few room types so we will break down the different options so you can choose the best room for you.
All the villas do have a private pool, even the standard Beach Villa with Private Pool, meaning you can’t really go wrong with any room type. Every villa also features Elemis products with ample toiletries such as nail care tools, combs, loofahs and more.
The villas are all very private with the beach villas surrounded by huge towering foliage and direct lagoon access from your own stretch of sandy beach. From the rooms we toured, all the beach villas did have views of the lagoon from the rooms and the surrounding foliage allowed for total privacy between the villas.
The overwater villas are also situated in a way that you cannot see your neighbors villas unless you specifically peer around the privacy walls.
The Deluxe Beach Villa with Family Pool was an incredible villa. While “family” is in the name, don’t let this fool you – it is truly one of the most romantic villas we have stayed in. The villa sits at 4,300 square feet of luxury and privacy inclusive of the outdoor spaces.
The main living space has two chairs, an oversized lounger, television and minibar (complete with a wine fridge). With direct views to your private beach area and terrace as well as the lagoon beyond, it’s a wonderful place to relax in the air conditioning. The bedroom sits behind the living room and features a king bed with views out to the lagoon and direct access to the oversized bathroom, complete with a jacuzzi tub. Max and I typically aren’t big bath people, but it was so beautiful we had to take a bath. The bathroom features a double vanity, indoor shower and direct access to the private pool and outdoor living space behind the villa.
We have stayed in many beach villas over the years and we always find that our favorite configurations of beach villas have the pool in the back of the villa. It makes for an ultra-private experience since you can enjoy it knowing no one can walk by and see you in your pool (ahem with or without your swimwear). There is also an outdoor shower and relaxation pagoda in your “backyard”.
The front of the villa features an outdoor sitting area as well as a dining pagoda closer to the edge of the water. To say there are ample lounging areas in this villa would be an understatement. If you’re looking for the ultimate beachfront luxury, this villa fits the bill.
The standard beach villas with pools are a great option if you are looking for a comfortable villa without breaking the bank. While the pools are smaller, you are still getting a true Maldives experience with the outdoor bathroom, outdoor lounging pagoda next to the pool and the spectacular views from your bed. This villa sits at 2,100 square feet inclusive of the outdoor spaces and is an excellent choice if you plan to spend most of your time exploring the island and indulging in the amenities of the hotel, while still seeking a comfortable, private villa to come back to. I mentioned this earlier, but there’s truly no bad view or bad villa on this property and that includes the beach villas.
The overwater villas come in 3 different room types and sit at 1,450 square feet. They are made up of the Sunrise side, Sunset side and the Ocean Residence. The Sunrise and Sunset villas are identical, but face the opposite direction of each other. The predominant winds will be blowing into the Sunset Villas so if you prefer less wind, go with the Sunrise side. The villas themselves are stunning. The villa is split into two sides – when you enter, there is a small desk area with a view directly out to the lagoon. On the left is the bedroom and living room and on the right is the bathroom.
The bedroom, much like the Deluxe Beach Villa, faces out to the lagoon with a living room in front of it. There is a window in the floor beneath the coffee table and the entire living room is made up of floor to ceiling windows. Sitting inside the villa, even in the pouring rain, is incredible because it feels like you are outside.
The bathroom is large and elegantly appointed with a tub, double vanity, “outdoor” toilet room as well as an “outdoor” shower. Both outdoor spaces are completely covered but you can see the lagoon below and there is a gap between the ceiling and top of the wall, allowing the sounds of the water lapping against the villa to surround you.
The Ocean Residence is stunning and sits at just over 4,000 square feet. This villa is at the very end of the jetty and is perfectly symmetrical. Two identical bedroom suites protrude from the central living area and there is nothing but stunning, untouched lagoon and sandbars in sight. The living room has a large sofa facing out towards the patio and lagoon. There is a half bath as well as a butler pantry that contains the minibar, wine fridge, full sized refrigerator and nespresso machine.
Each bedroom features a king bed with floor to ceiling doors on two sides as well as an oversized bathroom that is technically indoors but allows for fresh air and the sound of the lagoon via the open gap between the walls and ceiling. There is also a full sized door that opens up directly to the lagoon in front of the large tub. The shower is stunning with wood slats and a large rainshower as well as a separate toilet area. There are two vanities that face out to the lagoon as well as a vanity table with a large mirror.
The outdoor patio contains a comfortable lounge pagoda, massive half-circle shaped pool as well as two separate dining and seating areas on both sides. There is a swim platform as well on two sides and two separate lounge spaces that are uncovered for tanning and lounging.
We absolutely loved every room at the property that we were able to both stay in and tour and you truly cannot go wrong with any of the options. If you are debating between an ocean or beach villa, both choices are exceptional. The beach villa will have more space, considering the addition of the “front yard” along with the private pool and relaxation area behind the villa.
From the moment we stepped onto the property to the moment we said goodbye, we were treated like family by the staff and management at the hotel. Everyone we encountered wanted nothing more than to make us feel comfortable and at home. No request was too much and they go out of their way to ensure guests have a good time. The entire 4 days, it was pouring rain, and yet somehow we were constantly entertained throughout our stay. Management has thought of everything – even down to offering discounts to the spa on rainy days to help pass the time, or setting up movies in the cinema room.
Our butler even figured out a way for us to watch the Formula 1 race in the Seatopia room one night so we didn’t miss a single race!
Restaurant staff are passionate about guest service and the cuisine and are very quick to take care of every need. Each room has a butler that can be reached via whataspp for buggy rides, reservations and anything else you need. They can set up romantic dinners, movies in your suite and anything else you can think of.
Housekeeping comes twice per day and they do refill the minibars, coffee and water. We did have to request extra water a few times, but overall were very happy with the housekeeping service.
Overall, we had very positive experiences with all the staff and absolutely loved that so many of the employees had been at the hotel for over 10 years. It’s a great sign of quality service when staff are so passionate about the hotel and the company that they continue working at the hotel for as long as they have.
There are 6 restaurants and bars on property and each venue we dined at was excellent, including the addition of room service. Here’s the breakdown of each dining outlet we experienced:
Kakuni is an all-day restaurant and the main breakfast outlet. We had breakfast here the majority of our stay, as well as a private cooking class for lunch.
Breakfast offers great options via an a la carte menu, including traditional Maldivian cuisine, American favorites like pancakes and healthy options such as DIY yogurt bowls with delicious granola and fresh coconut shavings. One of my favorite breakfast options was the fresh croissants, which truly were better than some of the croissants we have had in Paris.
Breakfast is included in most meal plans and it does include champagne, which we saw many other guests indulging in as well. They have a selection of fresh juices, or you can request specific juices that they can make for you.
Ocean Grill Restaurant
Ocean Grill is one of their fine dining restaurants and features fresh catch of the day and a beautiful setting on the beach. The fresh seafood is fantastic and they focus primarily on local fish brought from fishermans daily. They do also offer steak and other dishes other than seafood. We particularly enjoyed their desserts at the Ocean Grill.
Andiamo is a poolside casual dining restaurant that we tried for lunch. Their appetizers and pizza were fantastic and it’s set between the tropical, towering palm trees and beautiful tropical pool. We highly recommend the carpaccio and the pepperoni pizza.
White Orchid Lounge
The overwater White Orchid Lounge is the casual bar that also serves afternoon tea and happy hours. We loved sitting on the oversized couches and watching the sunsets with some appetizers and delicious cocktails. They have live music in the bar as well and is a great place for a light bite if you choose to forgo a full dinner one night.
As part of the Dining by Design program, we had the chance to experience the incredible 7-course meal in the first and deepest wine cave in the Maldives. This is one of the most popular Destination Dining options and it’s for a good reason! Guests are brought into the cave for an appetizer and glass of champagne with beautiful jazz music playing as you sit and enjoy the incredible wine cave. After an appetizer and champagne, you are brought to the larger wine room for the rest of the dinner. The wine pairing and cuisine was exceptional.
You do have a choice of dishes and we ended up going with “chef’s choice” to be surprised. They can also accommodate dietary restrictions. They made it very clear during our dinner that the cellar was ours for the evening and we could stay as long as we wanted.
They offer blankets if needed and warm stones for your feet as an extra treat in the chilly cellar.
We enjoyed every bite as much as we enjoyed the service. We cannot recommend this experience enough, particularly if you enjoy wine.
Room service is a great option on property and is delicious. They have a sizable menu that offers anything from pastas to pizzas to Maldivian cuisine and everything in between. We had multiple meals through room service, including our first dinner, lunch and a breakfast. With villas like these, it’s hard to convince yourself to leave the room so having great room service is worth it.
The property has everything and more and really feels like they developed a lot of their facilities to ensure even on the rainiest days, guests have a lot of opportunities to explore the island and not be bored.
There is, of course, a spa and we did have the chance to experience a wonderful massage. They have a women’s and men’s pool area as well that has a sauna and steam room. We also were able to partake in a meditation pre-massage with their in-house yoga instructor (wear bug spray).
The water sports center has all the standard favorites, like snorkel gear (complimentary), sailing, paddle boards, kayaks, scuba diving and more. They also have an eco-golf driving “range” activity where guests can hit biodegradable fish-food-based golf balls off an overwater deck near the gym.
The gym is excellent and faces the lagoon with ample equipment such as cardio equipment, weights and yoga classes every morning. They also have tennis and badminton courts.
In the center of the island, there is a collection of buildings built solely for guest entertainment. There is a cinema room that guests can pop into and watch movies or reserve to watch a movie privately. There is also a room called “Seatopia” that features informative graphics and art where guests can learn about the ocean and surroundings. There is even a Maldivian museum with artifacts and explanations so guests can learn about the Maldivian culture and history.
There is also a kids club in this complex as well and outside of COVID times, guests can check their kids into the kids club for daytime activities and adventures.
There are also a number of private experiences guests can take advantage of on property, including private movies in their villas or the cinema rooms. On our last night, our butler set up a movie in our second bedroom of the villa since we could not do it outside due to the rain. It was so romantic and fun and we highly recommend it.
Across the whole property there are small areas to explore and discover, filled with outdoor gym equipment made of coconuts, secret banyan tree sanctuaries designed by some of the garden staff, an actual garden and secret beaches like the Crusoe beach that feels like you truly are in the middle of nowhere.
Manafaru is a wonderful island to explore and discover because everything is so incredibly lush. Be sure to spend a day hunting for one of the few messages in a bottle tucked beneath the banyan trees or between bushes – they contain free gifts like bottles of wine, discounts to the spa and more ;).
We loved the style of the hotel across the public and private areas of the hotel. Being a natural island, JA Manafaru has the advantage of decades of tropical growth and beauty just organically. They’ve done an excellent job incorporating the natural elements of the island into the design of the villas.
JA used to be the Waldorf Astoria and they are slowly working through rejuvenating the property and removing all the dark features like the dark bathrooms and dark columns throughout and in its stead putting in natural wood tones, white and a very Maldivian feel. The renovated rooms have these really natural and organic elements and we can’t wait to see this throughout every room and public space on property.
Overall, JA Manafaru won our hearts. Even in pouring rain for 4 straight days, it is one of the most beautiful and remote islands we have been to in our lives. We left the hotel knowing that we would 100% be back and feel very confident in our assessment that this hotel deserves a spot in our top 3 in the Maldives at this point in time. We cannot speak highly enough about the villas, service and dining on property.
Disclaimer: We were hosted by JA Manafaru on a media stay. Please know the opinions expressed are all our own and may not reflect the hotel’s own views.
Wow this is absolutely stunning ! Thanks for sharing such a special place !
Thank you so much, Diana!! It is truly one of a kind
This makes me excited to go!
we have a trip planned in November 2022
We chose the over the water Villa for our bucket list that we’ve been wanting to do for years
Hi Kim! thanks so much for your comment- that sounds amazing!! The water villas are really spectacular- you will love it 🙂 Safe travels!