Don Riddle, Courtesy Four Seasons MLG
Ken Seet, Courtesy Four Seasons MLG
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Liquid luxury lovers are always looking for new ways to peel back the ocean’s mysterious layers. Trouble is, they all seem to involve getting soaked, fighting your way into a wetsuit or butting against the limits of human speed, lung capacity and temperature sensitivity.

Until now.

The Four Seasons Maldives Landaa Giraavaru is the first resort in the world to launch DeepFlight Adventures, a submarine excursion for up to two guests (plus a pilot) to explore the Maldives’ only UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Baa Atoll. The DeepFlight Super Falcon 3S features individual viewing domes so passengers can enjoy 360-degree views of this incredible underwater world, reaching depths up to 37 meters (120 feet). The battery-powered vessel produces minimized electric and acoustic emissions, so the sub glides unobtrusively through the turquoise blue waters, over reefs and alongside teeming schools of fish or marine mammals. The hour-long DeepFlight Adventures excursion is the latest, most enviable way to immerse yourself in the breathtaking majesty of the Indian Ocean – no bathing suit required.

DeepFlight, Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru; Photographer Don Riddle

World renowned for its pristine beaches and breathtaking array of blue hues, the Maldives is home to some of the richest coral reefs in the world; a safe haven for many threatened species, including the world’s largest population of reef manta rays. Manta and devil rays, known collectively as mobulids, are some of the most beautiful, fascinating and enigmatic creatures in our oceans. Landaa Giraavaru is just 20 minutes from one of the world’s most renowned manta ray hotspots – Hanifaru Bay. Every year between June and October, the lunar tides and monsoon currents trap high concentrations of plankton in the bay’s steep side, attracting manta rays and whale sharks from all over the Maldives. 

Mantas are some of the largest and most intelligent animals in the sea, reaching up to seven meters in width and weighing up to two tons. Their complex behaviors set them apart from other fish, but much of their lives remain a mystery.

Reef Manta Rays chain feeding, Hanifaru Bay, Maldives. Photo: Guy Stevens; Manta Trust

Formed in 2011, the Manta Trust is a UK- and US-registered charity that coordinates global mobulid research and conservation efforts. The Trust’s expert team is comprised of a diverse group of researchers, scientists, conservationists, educators and media experts. The mission? Working together to conserve mobulid rays, their relatives and their habitats, through a combination of research, education and collaboration.

The Manta Trust’s conservation efforts now extend across the globe, but the Maldives is where it all started. Founded by Senior Marine Biologist Dr. Guy Stevens, the Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) is the charity’s flagship research project. After more than a decade of research across this island nation, together with the support of Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru and Save Our Seas, the MMRP has amassed the largest number of identified manta rays on record anywhere in the world, combining new discoveries with active conservation and education.

Freediving with Manta Ray. Photo: Willyam 

Despite their colossal presence, mantas are gentle creatures. They have the largest brain of all fish, and their intelligence and curiosity make encounters with manta rays a truly magical experience. Four Seasons Maldives aims to excite, educate and spark action through a greater understanding of these legendary marine wonders.

When you sign up for the Manta-on-Call service, you’ll be contacted immediately when manta rays are sighted near the resort. Once you get the call, you can hop on a speedboat to embark on an unforgettable adventure with experts from The Manta Trust. If you love to get wet, take a swim with these gentle sea giants or free-dive into the Indian Ocean to observe them in their natural underwater habitat.

Determined to stay dry? You can still see it all from the luxurious comfort of the DeepFlight Super Falcon’s personal pressurized – and air-conditioned! – cockpit. Passengers also enjoy real-time ray educational commentary from the knowledgeable pilot throughout the tour. (Unconfirmed whether or not The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” features in the journey.)

Sources: The Manta Trust; Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

Photo: Water Villa with Pool: Ken Skeet; Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru

Photo: Two-Bedroom Water Suite, Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru; Photographer Ken Seet

Photo: DeepFlight Super Falcon 3S, Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru; Photographer Don Riddle

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“Conscious travel is a catalyst for social change.” So declares the website for Sweet Bocas, a luxury eco-retreat in Panama that puts serving its surrounding community on par with serving its well-heeled guests.

Set off the shore of its own private island in the pristine Bocas Del Toro archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean coast, Sweet Bocas offers a 15-acre all-inclusive retreat that pays homage to nature, sustainability, relaxation and style. The 20,000-square-foot, 7-bedroom, 3-story handcrafted overwater villa is the vision of former Montreal restaurateur Annick Belanger, who blended first-class amenities with unbeatable seclusion. The villa houses seven suites, a fully-equipped kitchen with culinary team, an espresso bar, entertainment-driven den, living and lounging areas, state-of-the-art gym, infinity pool and yoga studio. Additionally, two lakeside bamboo accommodations provide a tropical “glamping” experience under the stars. 

An exclusive-use property available for one party at a time, it is ideal for those seeking a place to unwind with a group of family or friends. With virtually no neighbors in sight, guests of all ages can experience this private paradise independently or with assistance by the house concierge. That includes getting acquainted with the surrounding marine environment with full use of the 30-foot motor yacht and boats, as well as premium experiences like surfing with world-renowned pro Terry Simms. Of course, there’s plenty to do away from the water as well, including bat cave explorations, indigenous tribe encounters, shaman healing, and more. Speaking of the fruits of the land, the island’s own sustainable gardens, orchards and farms provide the bulk of the ingredients for meals prepared by a world-class in-house chef.[

Photo: Sweet Bocas

Born in Canada and raised in Africa, Annick Belanger created this eco-paradise in order to provide a space for socially conscious travelers to truly engage. Sweet Bocas is a self-sustaining natural ecosystem, known as a permaculture, where sustainability is not just a buzzword. Commitment to guests is matched only by the commitment to the natural environment that envelops every aspect of guests’ stay, from the crystalline water, to the handcrafted teak house, to the farm’s handpicked produce and pure rainwater that guests consume.

That includes opportunities to visit local communities, participate in culturally immersive activities and leave a positive imprint on those that have called these sacred lands home since the beginning of time. Following the footsteps of her father, a pioneer and founder of trade schools and educational vocational programs that impacted many lives, Belanger believes education to be at the core of the mission at Sweet Bocas. 

Under Belanger’s direction, Sweet Bocas operates its own Dreamcatcher Foundation, which works in partnership with local nonprofit Give & Surf to support education and sustainable empowerment for the indigenous community in Bocas del Toro. Prior to 2011, there was just one small primary school offering inadequate education in unsatisfactory facilities in the Bahia Honda region of Bocas del Toro.

Photo: Give & Surf

Today, Give & Surf serves over 1,000 students per week in five indigenous and two local communities. The organization builds schools, staffs teachers, provides transportation to school (especially helpful as kids live in remote mangroves) and funds secondary education and university. More than 40 community development projects have been completed to benefit the communities of Bocas del Toro, with upgrades that include enhanced school buildings and a new community center.

In addition to letting guests shadow Give & Surf professionals during their stay, a stay at Sweet Bocas automatically includes a donation to the Dreamcatcher Foundation. Through the Foundation, the property is able to donate a percentage of every booking directly to Give & Surf. 

All told, Sweet Bocas offers an out-of-this-world escape that packs a punch when it comes to positive social and environmental impact. Heaven? You bet!

Sources: Sweet Bocas; Give & Surf  
Photos: Many thanks to: Sweet Bocas; Give & Surf; Nicholas Giombi For Photographers Without Borders 2015

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