It's only so often that the opportunity for a dream vacation comes along—a secluded tropical island with gay-friendly luxury resorts; a guilt-free, month-long, romantic and idyllic getaway—at half the price it would normally cost.
That's what going on in the Maldives—a nation of 26 atolls and almost 2,000 islands in the Indian Ocean—at two gorgeous resorts, Soneva Fushi and Soneva Gili. The two "Sonevas" are managed by the Six Senses, a luxury resort company committed to sustainability, organic culture and green living. While they are by no means inexpensive, Six Senses is a responsible and committed to giving back the communities they work with—which is why they're offering 14 complimentary nights for guests who book a two-week vacation (that's 28 nights at half the regular price, for those of us without calculators).
The "catch," if you can call it that, is they ask guests to volunteer four days of their month-long vacation to a variety of community activities—the kind of "voluntourism" Out Traveler seeks out. Choose between four consecutive days, once a week, or any other combination. The volunteer options include (but are not limited to) teaching English and other subjects at local schools, working on nearby farms, beach cleaning, tree planting, or learning to make traditional tools like cadjan (roof coverings) or fihigan'du (brooms). Those in the medical professions can volunteer their time at hospitals. Connecting travelers with local culture and gives visitors a chance to experience the whole community, both inside and outside of resorts.
The properties themselves are a breathtaking tropical dream—Soneva Gili's rooms are on Condé Nast Traveler 2009's Gold list— and have all of extensive amenities including the Soneva Spa, great restaurants and broadband wireless internet. "Fushi" is full service resort with private guest houses (some of which are more like mini-mansions), while Gili is exactly the same—except they are "over-water villas," meaning that they stand above the lagoon water on wooden legs. Each of the properties a reachable by speedboats (even room service and in-villa dining!), a service provided by the resort as needed.
Bookings must be made with a minimum three-month advance notice to allow ample time to create the custom volunteer program. The offer is available from June 1 through December 22 2009, and they can be booked by the guest or a travel agent. Fahung baadaluvang! (See you later!)