The complete guide to visiting the Maldives local islands

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I can’t tell you when the infatuation started. It may have been when I first learned about a hotel suite on steroids: the famous overwater bungalow. Or maybe it was when I saw the heavenly images of perfect white sand complemented by swaying palm trees in blissful solitude. Whenever it was, I quickly decided that I would be spending my honeymoon in the tiny nation of the Maldives, a group of islands surrounded by the vast Indian Ocean. Now, I just had to find a husband.

Flash forward a decade or so, and I was happily engaged and planning a wedding—during the time I didn’t spend Googling photos of the Maldives, checking weather forecasts and praying that some super sale would present itself and we’d get to stay in that overwater villa. The Maldives’ sky-high prices coupled with how far away it is from everything may be a deterrent for some people, but I was determined to go and managed to find some easy ways to cut our bill without compromising on luxury. So in November 2012, off we went—and it was absolutely everything I dreamed of and more.

Overwater villas in the MaldivesMaldives itinerary

When you touch down at the airport in the capital of Male, the first thing you notice is how incredibly turquoise the water is. Everywhere. Also, how crazy close to the water Male is. The city is less than three meters above sea level, meaning it’s threatened by rising water levels.

An army of representatives from resorts and tour companies are waiting just outside the arrival gates, ready to whisk you off to your piece of paradise. Many hotels are accessible by speedboat which is great news after a long flight, while everyone else heads to a departure area to board a Maldavian Air Taxi. These float planes fit 19 passengers, and will treat you to a stunning, aerial view of the islands en route to your destination, which can be up to an hour away. Once you touch down at your resort, prepare to be pampered and extremely relaxed for the duration of your stay.

Maldavian Air Taxi in the Maldives

Luxury Maldives resorts

There are over 100 islands in the Maldives dedicated to single resorts, which can be made up of a combination of beach bungalows, lagoon villas and the picturesque overwater villas. Depending on what you book, the services of a private butler may be included, who will pack and unpack for you, arrange excursions, bring you breakfast in bed and take you to the doctor if you fall and crack your tailbone on the pool deck (woops). Tourism is the main industry in the Maldives, which means everyone at the resort takes their job seriously! You can expect to see the same staff members every day of your trip, for bartenders to remember your drink and your room to be clean before you even come back from breakfast. You’re paying a premium to be in the Maldives, but it’s worth every cent.

An aerial view of a resort in the MaldivesMaldives excursions

Since the only way to get around the Maldives is by sea plane or boat, you will likely be sticking close to whichever resort you choose. Luckily, most resorts offer a number of excursions including snorkeling, diving, boat tours around the island and quick visits to nearby islands. 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, without seeing anything in the distance.

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.

A turtle in the Maldives

Ending your Maldives vacation

The worst part of your vacation is when it’s time to head back to the airport. I mean, who wants to leave paradise? You can make the best of this depending on the timing of your flight home, by spending some time in Male before checking in. Bags can be stored at the airport (which is currently undergoing a major renovation) for about $5 each, and you can hop on a ferry for the five minute trip across the water, which will set you back a whole dollar. Male is very small, hence easily walkable, and tourists usually tour the mosque, presidential palace and take in and the stinky fish market before heading back. Another option is to pay for a room in a hotel and enjoy one last afternoon soaking in the sun.


Avoid sticker shock: How to explore the Maldives on a budget

The Suite Life: A luxury stay in an overwater bungalow at the Sandals Grande St. Lucian



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18 Responses

  1. Laura Lynch says:

    I’ve been really wanting to go to the Maldives too, for a long time. I think my husband and I will go there next year for our 5-year anniversary. Great post! I’m off to read the one on saving money on the trip now!

    • Hooray, that’s the perfect place to go for an anniversary! I can’t recommend the Maldives enough, I hope you end up going 🙂 Let me know if you have any questions!

  2. David says:

    Love the Maidives, we only spent one week sailing and wished we booked two weeks! It’s worth checking out a liveaboard instead staying on a resort. A liveaboard goes from sandbar to remote islands. It’s pretty cool laying on a island were your the only person.

  3. Randi says:

    Where or how is the best place to book a Maldive’s trip? Seeing that it cost thousands of dollars, I’m very nervous to book something like that online in hopes that it’s legit.

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