Pristine beaches fringed with swaying palm trees, a tropical climate and luxurious overwater villas perched over the turquoise sea make the Maldives the ultimate getaway. Located in the Indian Ocean near India and Sri Lanka, the country is made up of nearly 1,200 islands—though only 200 are inhabited while another hundred have been taken over by resorts.
Seamlessly blending the best of east and west, this tiny nation wows visitors with timeless Asian traditions like bustling local markets, grand mosques and creative cuisine, alongside fantasy-like experiences including private yachts and seaplane rides, underwater restaurants and personal butlers.
The Maldives is absolute paradise in every sense of the word, and primed for romance thanks to its infinity pools, secluded sandbars and picture-perfect sunsets, which makes it a popular pick for couples celebrating honeymoons and anniversaries. The far flung chain of islands also offers the type of privacy coveted by celebrities, and stars like the Beckhams, Tom Cruise, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen love vacationing here.
From the best beaches and resorts to unforgettable excursions, here’s a complete guide to visiting the Maldives local islands.
Getting to the Maldives
When you touch down at the airport in the capital of Male, the first thing you’ll notice is how incredibly clear the water is…and how close the waves lapping at the shore are. The low-lying city is less than three metres above sea level, and with water levels rising there is serious concern the idyllic islands could someday be gone for good.
An army of representatives from resorts and tour companies wait outside the arrival gates, ready to whisk you off to your piece of paradise. Many hotels are accessible by speedboat which is convenient after a long flight, while everyone else heads to a departure area to board a sea plane operated by Maldavian Air Taxi or Trans Maldavian. Their float planes fit up to 19 passengers, and guests enjoy stunning, aerials view of the sparkling ocean dotted with white-sand atolls en route to their destination. It’s well-worth booking a seaplane experience at some point during your stay in the Maldives, as it’s the only way to see the incredible islands from above.
Those planning to explore the Maldives on a budget will want to stick to hopping around the Maldives local islands, which means getting there by public ferry or speedboat. The ferry is inexpensive (about $2-$20 per person depending on distance) but they are slow, can be cancelled due to weather, and may not run daily. Speedboats cost an average of $10-$80 per person, and are much faster and reliable.
Planning your Maldives itinerary
The biggest factor when planning your trip is budget, since there are drastic differences between spending thousands of dollars on the Maldives vacation packages that whisk you off to a five-star resort, or exploring independently by hopping around the Maldives local islands like Maafushi, Guraidhoo and Fulhadhoo which will only set you back as little as $50 per day. It’s virtually impossible to pick the best island to visit in Maldives; instead, choose to explore a few local ones which will give you more variety (here’s a great guide), or simply pick a destination based on the resort.
Best beaches in the Maldives
The options are endless when it comes to the best beaches in the Maldives, and as long as you’re booked in at a mid-range or higher-end resort you can expect to enjoy pristine, white sand beaches surrounded by vibrant coral reefs. Make the most of it with a sunrise yoga session, a romantic candlelit dinner, or booking a private getaway to a secluded sandbar.
The Maldives beaches cater to different types of groups, with some focused more on conservation and activities while others are a better fit for family-fun or quiet couple time.
- For families- The Kurumba resorts have plenty of activities and kids clubs, so mom and dad can get some much-needed R&R. Kanuhura Maldives has its own ‘Treasure Island’ featuring pirate-themed games, and there’s a marine biologist on staff at Kuramanthi Island Resort to teach young ones about the fish and coral surrounding the island.
- For couples- VIPs love escaping the spotlight at the swanky One & Only Reethi Rah, which has been frequented by the likes of Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, singer Danni Minougue and the whole Beckham clan. The Anantara Kihavah Villas are also a popular pick for the rich and famous, and have hosted tennis star Roger Federer. Soneva Fushi cleverly built its villas so they’re completely private, meaning guests can enjoy the luxury resort without feeling like they’re sharing their holiday with everyone else.
- For active types- Since most of the Maldives islands are tiny, it doesn’t take long to get around them. Those who enjoy long walks on the beach should consider LUX Maldives, which has one of the largest land masses in the country with four kilometers of beaches. The Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru hosts a staggering 44 acres of wilderness, has been designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and the stunning coral reef surrounding the property is the site of numerous conservation projects.
Luxury Maldives resorts
There are hundreds of places to stay in the islands, ranging from homestays and affordable Maldives resorts to gorgeous beach bungalows, lagoon villas and those picturesque overwater villas. Depending where you book, the services of a private butler may be included, who will do things like pack and unpack for you, arrange excursions, and bring you breakfast in bed or a cocktail at happy hour.
To really up the experience, book into one of these unique spots:
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island: This hideaway is home to one of the world’s most unique hotel rooms, thanks to the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant which which converts into a luxury suite that can be rented out each night by one lucky couple. Built 16 feet below the surface and completely surrounded by glass, guests enjoy views of the coral gardens and underwater life swimming past. Its high price tag includes a private champagne dinner and breakfast in bed. Click for prices
Huvafen Fushi: Since it’s hard to build on low-lying islands, this resort chose to build underwater instead. The ingenuity resulted in both a spa and wine cellar located 26 feet below called Vinum, which holds 6,000 bottles of wine. Click for prices
Since the only way to get around the Maldives is by sea plane or boat, you’ll likely stick close to whichever island you choose. Most resorts offer a number of excursions including beach hopping and boat tours, sun-soaked days spent on a yacht or submerged in a submarine and sunset cruises. The Maldives diving sites are also incredible.
A popular option for couples celebrating a special occasion (which is basically everyone) is to book a day on a secluded private island. A dhoni (Maldavian boat) picks the lovers up in the morning, drops them off at a private island with a picnic basket, umbrella and chairs, then leaves them be for a few hours. There’s nothing quite like walking on an untouched sandbank in the warm, blue waters, which makes it easy to see why these are the top Maldives attractions.
Many resorts also boast fantastic reefs, which are phenomenal for snorkeling. You can expect to see more tropical fish than you could ever name, turtles, sting rays, water snakes, manta rays and even sharks! The reef and nurse sharks are harmless—though the faint of heart still probably wouldn’t want to come face-to-face with one. A bonus for anyone who goes on a boat tour is the opportunity to see a pod of dolphins in their natural habitat—a truly special moment for anyone lucky enough to come across them.
Other fun things to do in the Maldives include:
- Island hopping Maldives- Visiting the Maldives local islands is a best way to get a true taste of what life is like here, away from the five-star resorts. Most resorts offer boat tours that zip guests over to neighbouring islands, where the can see things like how the traditional handicrafts are made, and watch fishermen bring in the daily catch.
- Bodu Beru- Meaning ‘big drums’ in Dhivehi, this traditional Maldavian dance sees about a dozen men clad in sarongs sing and move to the beat of loud drums under the moonlight. Starting slowly with just one drummer keeping time and eventually ramping up to a frenetic pace that vibrates around the island, it’s an experience not to be missed. Most resorts bring in performers once a week, and occasionally offer bodu beru classes for guests.
- Fishing- The abundant underwater world surrounding the Maldives means the big game fishing here is incredible, with the likes of Grouper and Red Snapper easy to snag. Head out on a half or full day fishing trip, or stick close to shore by heading out around sunset for a few hours of bottom fishing.
End a Maldives vacation in Male
To make the most of every minute of your Maldives vacation, head into the capital Male if you have a bit of extra time before your flight home. Luggage storage is available at the airport, and there’s a five-minute ferry that whisks visitors over to Male for some sightseeing. The city is very small and easily walkable, with the main highlight being the Grand Friday Mosque. Featuring whitewashed walls, a sweeping staircase and glittering golden dome, the mosque is able to accommodate about 5,000 worshipers. The nearby Friday Mosque (Hukuru Miskiyy) was Male’s main place of prayer before the new one was built, and has coral walls and large beams covered with Arabic writing. Muslims are the only people allowed inside the mosques.
Another one of the best things to see in Male is the markets, specifically the rather-pungent fish market which is packed full of fresh seafood just-plucked from the ocean. Head there in the afternoon to see the fish cutters go to work with their sharp knives, as chefs wander through examining the catch for the night’s menu.
Globe Guide tip: It only takes an hour or two to see Male, so if you’ve got more time that that to kill before your flight it may be worth booking a hotel in town, which will be much more comfortable than hanging around the airport. The Hotel Jen Male by Shangri-La is incredibly luxurious, and has a beautiful rooftop pool.
Quick tips for a trip to the Maldives
- Currency: The country uses the rufiyaa, though US dollars and euros are commonly accepted.
- Best time to travel to Maldives: The temperate, tropical weather is what makes these islands a great place to visit year round, though most people book their Maldives trip for the dry season which runs from December to March.
- Language: The native language is Dhivehi, and most locals also speak English.
- Do you need a visa to go to the Maldives: No pre-approval is required for a Maldives visa, which is granted to all nationalities upon arrival.
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