For a Beach Vacation, Should I Go All the Way to Bali or the Maldives When Hawaii Would Do?
Ask Rolf: Vagabonding traveler Rolf Potts answers your questions about travel
02.15.08 | 11:13 AM ET
A few years ago I visited a couple Four Seasons properties in Bali. I loved the hotels, but frankly, the ocean didn’t look that different from Hawaii. Recently I’ve been looking at a nice property in the Maldives, but I’m afraid the beach experience won’t be much different from Bali or Hawaii. Is the long journey worth it? Any ideas?
Your query brings up an interesting issue when it comes to beach travel: If you are just looking for some sun, sand and surf, does it matter where in the world you travel?
How you answer that question depends on how you approach your travels.
If the impetus for your travels is luxury comfort—be it in the Four Seasons or any nice hotel—geography is less of an issue than the hotel itself. And, considering that the amenities of five-star hotels don’t differ that much around the world, it might not be worth it to travel all the way to the Maldives if beachfront luxury is all you’re after. This in mind, it would be much cheaper to just journey to the Dominican Republic, say—or Mexico, or Belize, or Grenada or any number of beautiful beach-destinations that are closer to the United States.
Of course, I condone a completely different approach to beach travel—one that will make it worth your while to travel all the way to places like Bali and the Maldives.
If your experience in Bali didn’t seem all that much different than your experience in Hawaii, that probably means you were spending too much time in the hotel and not enough time in the local culture. After all, Bali is home to a fascinating syncretistic Hindu tradition, whereas Hawaii boasts a proud, globalized Polynesian culture. An engaged experience of either society is far more rewarding to your journey than any creature comforts a hotel might offer.
So if beautiful beaches are what inspire you to travel to faraway places, I would give the five-star comfort a miss and stay in a boutique “mom-‘n’-pop” resort or an inexpensive beach hut. This can be difficult, though not impossible, in the Maldives (which has developed its tourist industry with upscale visitors in mind)—but it’s worth the effort. That way, in a less insulating (and slightly less luxurious) environment, you can enjoy beaches while soaking in the culture. In the Maldives, you’re likely to find a gentle, laid-back Islamic society—which will be fun to compare with the Muslim societies of coastal Tanzania (where great beaches abound), should you choose to travel there the following year. Likewise, the Hindu culture you experience along the stunning beaches of Bali might make an interesting contrast should you one day meet local Hindus along the stunning beaches of Trinidad.
My point, I guess, is that beautiful beaches are in no short supply around the world—but unless you travel into the societies that are connected to those beaches, you’re going to be selling your travel experience short.
If you’re used to resort hotels and find the notion of independent travel daunting, don’t worry. These days, even mom-‘n’-pop resorts and inexpensive beach accommodations can be researched in advance. A good place to start is in an indie travel guidebook (such as Lonely Planet, Rough Guides or Moon) to the destination that interests you. Just cross-reference the cheaper and mid-range accommodation listings with some Internet research, and odds are you’ll be able to find dependable, comfortable lodging that doesn’t isolate you from the country in the process.