This Is Us' Jon Huertas: a Kind Traveler in the Maldives


Hurawalhi Ocean Cabana

If you go to paradise, leave it paradise.

For several years now, my wife and I have dedicated a big part of every year to seeing a new part of the world, and we love going tropical. This past June we decided on the magically picturesque, Maldives. But right before we booked, on May 6th, 2019, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services summarized that species of all mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, plants, marine life, terrestrial life — are disappearing at a rate “tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10 million years” due to human activity. As many as 1 million species are at risk of extinction if we don’t act to save them. Well then let's hop to it!

As a PADI certified Scuba diver, I friggin’ love the ocean and the diverse creatures that call it their home. The Maldives, a diver's dream, has the most pristine waters on the planet, but also some of the most vulnerable species and coral systems that need our protection. There are 26 natural atolls consisting of 1,190 small islands of varying sizes, smack dab in the middle of the Indian Ocean between Indonesia and Africa. I knew I wanted to use my vacation and love of scuba diving to do some good in the world and at the same time, minimize or eliminate my footprint while visiting paradise. My motto? “If you go to paradise, leave it paradise.”

Chapter One:

Book with Kind Traveler.

When we travel, a lot of us have a desire to do some good while abroad. Maybe even help out the communities we are visiting, but many of us aren’t really sure where to begin. That’s where Kind Traveler comes in. It’s the world’s first socially conscious ‘Give + Get’ hotel booking platform that allows your hotel booking process to make a positive impact with just a $10 nightly donation. When you use Kind Traveler you can rest easy knowing you may have done something good for the community, the environment, and/or animals by supporting a locally vetted charity that's in the destination you're visiting, or your favorite charity on the platform. As reward for your donation, you’ll unlock exclusive hotel rates, allowing you to book directly with a curated hotel or unique property. And the best part? You’ll know that 100% of donations go directly to the charity.

Chapter Two: 

Which Hotel?

I wanted to stay in a hotel that was not only ‘grown & sexy’ but one that shares in the responsibility of protecting and preserving the unique environment and community they call home. Visiting paradise is a once in a lifetime experience, and as a conscious traveler, I always consider how my actions and the practices of the hotel may negatively impact or positively impact the welfare of the local community and environment.

I made the brilliant decision to split my trip between two earth-conscious resorts, Hurawalhi Island Resort and Kudadoo Maldives Private Island. I booked both through Kind Traveler, choosing to make a local positive impact in the Maldives with Manta Trust. With Kind Traveler's Give + Get hotel booking model, a $10 donation to Manta Trust will take one Maldivian child on a snorkelling excursion with manta rays inspiring local conservation efforts - and provide exclusive rates and perks with its curated Kind Hotels.

Manta Trust is so cool because they have a ton of initiatives implemented throughout the Maldives to protect the majestic Manta Rays, as well as a marine education outreach project that’s so vital to building conservation awareness among the Maldivian youth.

Chapter Three:

How the heck do I get to the Maldives?

Flying to a tiny island that’s part of a bunch of little islands that make up a small country is quite a task, but Turkish Airlines proved to us that an 8-hour layover in Istanbul is totally worth it. And to minimize the impact of flying across the planet, we made a $40 donation to plant trees with Arbor Day Foundation on Kind Traveler. $40 is equal to planting 40 trees with Arbor Day Foundation and one mature tree alone can absorb 48 pounds of CO2 in one year. 

After the long leg from Los Angeles to Istanbul Airport (the best I’ve ever been in), we got ourselves a couple of tourist visas, which takes 10 minutes on a smartphone, caught a taxi into the city and gazed longingly at the diverse architecture, the diverse people and the historic majesty of the former, Constantinople…now at the top of our bucket list. 



My wife received an amazing recommendation for dinner at Ulus 29, a swank spot with a view overlooking the Bosporus Strait. After, we headed back to the airport and boarded our next flight to Mali, the capital city/island of The Maldives. From there I would be flying on my first seaplane. To say I was excited would be the grossest of understatements – I was ecstatic! And, it was amazing. Taking off from water and landing in water is an experience you should have at least once in your life. We landed in the middle of the ocean between two islands and pulled up next to a floating wood platform where we were greeted by a boat and three giant smiles attached to a boat crew. They helped us and our luggage aboard and we sped off to our first stay.

Chapter Four:

The Resort.

The Hurawalhi team and General Manager, Bradley Calder, greeted us on a thoughtfully designed dock, with sounds of traditional drumming and a welcome mocktail. As we made our way towards a waiting golf cart, I noticed that the roof of the dock was entirely made of solar panels. 

5.8 Undersea Restaurant

It’s as if the resort wanted you to know from the moment of arrival that sustainability is fundamental. Of course, there are no gas-powered vehicles on the island, so we mounted a chauffeured, electric golf cart and headed to our villa, driving past a manicured soccer field, a tennis court and some pristine horticulture all along the back side of the gym, restaurant and bar. There are several restaurants to choose from that include an undersea restaurant, an over-water Asian street-food-inspired restaurant, a buffet-style restaurant that doesn’t seem “buffet” and a bar that houses J.F.K., the Junk Food Kitchen – all with a view over (or under) the crystal clear Maldivian water.

Hurawalhi is an adults-only luxury resort and was kind enough to place us in a Beach Sunset Pool Villa. What an incredible room – a private plunge pool, exquisite amenities, ocean views, surrounded by nature, luxury and sustainability. First thing we did was order room service so we could really soak in the accommodations. The culinary delights at this resort is absolutely phenomenal, even the in-room dining. We ate most meals at Canneli, the main restaurant which offers a buffet for all three meals of the day. And I have to say that the buffet is intense, with fresh-squeezed juices, specialty food bars, fresh sushi, and stunningly creative desserts. But the most fun was when we dined underwater at 5.8 Restaurant, which is the largest undersea restaurant in the Maldives. 

Lynn Kessler, Paige Bennett and Jon Huertas

Hurawalhi Marine Biology Center

As mentioned, each hotel on the Kind Traveler platform is aligned with a locally vetted charity in its destination so to allow travelers to make a positive local impact when they book hotels through its Give + Get booking model. But most hotels don't have the charity or any affilated operations of the charity housed on site - except for Hurawalhi! Manta Trust, while headquarted in the UK, has an on-site marine biology center located directly on the sand, right in the action. Manta Trust is the world’s leading manta ray research and conservation organization and if you were to ask me what I’d do if I couldn’t be an actor or director, I’d tell you, "a marine biologist." So you can imagine how excited I was to find out that there were resident marine biologists right on the island at the Hurawalhi Marine Biology Center.

What?! So, I dove right in…pun intended. Marine biologist, Lynn Kessler of Manta Trust, not only conducts research on the Lhaviyani Atoll manta ray population but also performs studies on reef ecology. So, after planning a week full of dives with Prodivers Maldives (expertly curated by Paige Bennet, Dive Center Manager), the first dive consisted of helping Lynn tend to the Hurawalhi coral nursery.

Jon Huertas underwater selfie

Hurawalhi + Manta Trust marine biologist Lynn Kessler

The nursery was created to help improve Hurawalhi’s coral reef after an unfortunate episode of coral bleaching. Fragments were collected and numbered then suspended on nylon rope. Lynn and her colleague Tiffany, coral baby-mamas, clean the baby corals and document their growth as part of their coral reforestation initiative.

Hurawalhi Coral Garden

Traveling Consciously 

During our stay, I promised myself I’d not only have a blast at Hurawalhi but that I’d try to do something with a nod to conservation every day. For example, wearing Outerknown’s Woolaroo Shorts made from natural wool fibers so I wouldn’t leave any microplastic fibers from wearing polyester shorts.

I used soaps, shampoos and cleansers made in bar form and wrapped in biodegradable paper so I wasn’t using plastic. I have to mention that Hurawalhi doesn’t use plastic bottles either. They’ve partnered with Healing Earth, a leader in biodegradable lifestyle amenities that contain bio-identical active ingredients, organic essential oils and fair-trade botanicals. There were so many things I discovered about Hurawalhi’s efforts to protect the health of the precious natural environment: from the solar energy and heat recovery system for hot water, to desalination, water bottling and food sustainability. They offer organic and biodynamic food that’s thoughtfully sourced, and they also grow a variety of produce in their own hydroponic greenhouse and open areas which we got to tour with the island’s resident horticulturist, Bandera.


Chapter Five:

Moving Across the Channel - Kudadoo Private Island Resort 

Once we wrapped up our few days at Hurawalhi, it was time to catch a boat ride to its sister resort, Kudadoo Maldives Private Island. Our stay at Hurawalhi was a busy one: scuba, walking the island, taking in the fauna, finding fruit bats for the best pictures, hitting the gym and waking up early to enjoy coffee and tea while watching the sunrise. Kudadoo was gonna be about spending five days lazing around in the private pool, hitting the spa daily and taking advantage of its slogan, “Anything, Anytime, Anywhere." All meals, drinks, spa, massages, motorized water sports, excursions, activities and anything else you can think of are all included. One of our favorite things was the Cheese & Wine room where we had a private tasting with the Maldives first-ever certified sommelier.

Kudadoo Private Island Resort

As our boat careened around to Kudadoo’s dock, my first impression of the resort was awe-inspired appreciation for how breathtakingly serene it looked on approach. Designed by the well-known architect Yuji Yamasaki, his use of natural materials and open plans harnessed the natural breezes and shade which kept every structure cool in the Maldivian sun.

On the dock we were greeted by the resort manager, Bahauddeen and our butler, Ahmed. Yes, you read that right! 

You see, Kudadoo is a true luxury resort with only 15 exclusive residences that all come with a private butler, ours was Ahmed and he was an absolute gentleman. He designed an itinerary for us before we even arrived and adjusted it as we needed. We were absolutely pampered, and once again, surrounded by nature often spotting dolphins while receiving spa treatments and frequent visits from resident schools of fish visiting our dock, day and night, on our private overwater bungalow. The design of our room made us feel like we were totally alone on the island - the only thing visible was the crystal clear ocean and the only sound was the lull of tiny waves hitting our deck.

With tropical and rustic, yet modern finishes throughout, comfort was beyond perfect. With smart automation, the view of the ocean was framed perfectly through 12-foot sliding doors which kept us surrounded by nature and high-tech amenities all at once. The mini bar, wait…there’s nothing mini about a fully stocked wine fridge and plenty of healthy (and a couple of sinful) snacks. 

Every room comes with a private infinity pool with a gorgeous view of the sunset during your post spa swim. And if you prefer the ocean for dipping, just climb down the ladder to be greeted by schools of exotic fish. Not only is this place impeccably designed and relaxing, but it too, is fully solar-powered. So even with the pampering, we’re still living sustainably. Win, Win!

Most Memorable Moment

My most memorable moment was an unexpected one. Our butler had secretly arranged for a private dinner for two in a carved groove of trees, lit with candles and small lights suspended from the trees, with a view of the beach and moonlit ocean. The food was perfect, the wine was well curated, and the music from the wireless speaker they provided was sexy. As we chatted and savored our meal, a troop of the cutest hermit crabs emerged from the treeline providing entertainment from right under our feet. Dinner and a show!

Jon Huertas and Wife, Nicole

Kudadoo’s natural beauty is wonderful, but even more important is its commitment to caring for the environment. Sustainability of natural resources and social responsibility are at the forefront of everything they do. As a sister resort to Hurawalhi, they utilize the same sustainable practices, as well as utilizing green architecture and sustainably sourced wood so as to not damage wildlife and woodlands.

Similar to the resort's partnership with Manta Trust, they also work with the Olive Ridley Project, dedicated to turtle conservation and rehabilitation of injuries sustained from ghost nets. Kristina Loosen, Marine Biologist for the Oliver Ridley Project, explained that the waters around Kudadoo + Hurawalhi are sea turtle breeding grounds, so it’s especially important that the resorts minimize their impact. We had the pleasure of witnessing several turtles, of all ages, on our snorkel excursion with Kristina. The resorts enthusiastically ensure that their visitors can witness sea turtles nesting and mantas gracefully swimming so that they may learn from the researchers who study and protect these peaceful animals.

Chapter Six:

The wrap up.

As I prepared to leave paradise, I pondered what my impact might’ve been. I did what I could to reduce my waste, I conserved water, I chased a floating water bottle offshore, but…I think participating in coral restoration and shark conservation with my friends from PADI and Prodivers Maldives. Kind Traveler and Manta Trust allowed me to actually make a tangible difference in our oceans while on a luxury vacation. Working with Paige Bennet, Lynn Kessler and Dive Master Mosti Ruffian was the most gratifying thing to take away, not to mention becoming a certified Master Diver and Project Aware Specialist.

I now can look forward to Chapter Seven, the future, where I invite you to join me and personally change how we impact the environment and local communities in our daily lives, and especially when we travel. We need to personally reduce plastic pollution that’s taking a toll on our oceans. Nations rich in biodiversity need to set aside protected regions for nature, like the Maldives has.

We need to seriously address climate change and one way to do so is by protecting indigenous communities already living a more sustainable lifestyle - and learn and gain inspiration from such communities. Lastly, what I’ve learned, the Maldives and specifically Hurawalhi and Kudadoo have an excellent jump-start on embracing sustainability and making it easy for guests to enjoy the benefits, too. Luxury and sustainability can actually coexist and thrive – take it from them.

Jon under Hurawalhi's solar generating dock



An actor of the stage and screen, writer, producer, director, musician and member of the Academy of Motion Pictures, Jon Huertas is best known for his portrayal of Miguel Rivas on the SAG Award-winning NBC TV series This is Us, as well as his eight-season run on Castle and in HBO's Emmy Award-winning miniseries Generation Kill.  In 2012, Huertas won the NCLR ALMA Award for Favorite TV Actor Supporting Role in a Drama, as well as a Prism Award for Performance in a Drama Episode. Jon is also proud to be a celebrity ambassador for Kind Traveler.