There are no walls to the reception. You sit amid antique South Asian furniture and look out to patterns of light and shade, a dappled green canopy above white coral sand, raked clean like a Zen garden. There is only a back wall to the restaurant and bar. Between the wooden pillars the view is all shades of blue, across the infinity pool to the lagoon and the channel beyond.
The rooms are not open-sided but seem that way. The 2 Como Villas, 4 1-bedroom Villas, 10 Loft Villas and 9 Dhoni Loft Suites have full-length windows on 3 sides. Light pervades the rooms, with embroidered white on white cotton drapes, white timber walls and upholstery and wheat coloured carpets. Modern, minimal wooden furniture, with decorative South Asian pieces, ground and balance the space.
The differences between the Dhoni Loft Suites and the final category, the 8 Dhoni Suites, are a high ceiling, a mezzanine for the bedroom and a floor area almost half as big again. The Dhoni suites also don’t have the full-length windows. They may have king-size or twin beds whereas the loft suites only have king-size beds. Strung along a curving walkway both types of rooms have good privacy. Immediate neighbours are hidden but rooms further down the line are visible.
The 1-bedroom villas have screens in the water ensuring complete privacy and the 2-bedroom Como villas are positioned at the very tips of the walkway, looking out to an uninterrupted horizon (one facing the sunrise, the other the sunset). These 1 and 2 bed villas are the premium rooms and really stand out as much finer than the other rooms. When people come back to Cocoa it is to these rooms they come if they possibly can.
One can swim to the lagoon drop-off from all but 2 of the rooms. The fish life is fairly good, with parrot fish, eagle rays and Napoleon wrasse among varied schools of smaller fare. Coral re-growth is disappointing though, as it is in South Male Atoll in general. Low tide is very low, prohibiting direct access to the reef and it pretty much prohibits swimming for a few hours. At this time, reef access is from either end of the suites’ jetty or it could be time to snorkel on the other side of the island. Here the drop-off is steeper and the fish life is still good, with occasional sharks, turtles and pelagics passing through.
As there are no rooms on the island itself (all are over-water), there has been no need to buildgroynes to hold the shifting sand. The result is an island closer to its original state, with long tapering beaches at each end. With no dredging ever performed, the beach is absolutely first class.
The island is neatly split into 3 parts. The middle part has the reception, the dive and watersports centres and the service area. This leaves the sunrise end and its beach to the Como Shambhala Retreat and the sunset end and its beach to the restaurant, bar and swimming pool.
Around the pool, bar and restaurant, there is an easy flow between external and internal spaces. The restaurant cuisine follows the philosophy of less is more. The plates are as attractive to look at as to eat. Then menus mix the imaginative with classics, always including and identifying healthy options. The breakfast layout is not an overflowing, look-at-all-this buffet but a perfect, fresh selection. Hot food is cooked to order.
The Como Shambhala on Cocoa Island is one of the few destination spas in the Maldives and is at the heart of the resort. Many a Maldives spa has been squeezed in as one more facility on offer. Here it is clearly at the centre of things, in terms of its location, its treatments, its invited gurus and its setting of wider goals for the resort. The company has a sister spa, the Como Shambhala on Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands, which was once voted ‘best spa in the world’.
Set around an open courtyard of fine white sand, shaded by trees, the treatment rooms can be air conditioned or opened out to the breezes and sounds of lapping water. Exceptional therapists offer Ayurvedic therapy and massage therapy to calm the mind and rejuvenate the body. A resident yoga teacher and invited yoga masters are an integral part of the Retreat. Breathing exercises at sunrise may be just the beginning of a new or renewed set of ‘good habits’ that Cocoa Island leaves with you.