The quintessential beach escape, the Maldives islands conjure images of palm trees, white beaches, turquoise ocean and multi-coloured coral reefs beneath the waves. Coveted by honeymooners, most of the resorts that populate the atolls have luxury down to a tee. It’s the ideal place for romance, or simply for unwinding in perfect tranquillity.
If you can tear yourself away from your beach towel or sun lounger, this Indian Ocean nation also offers some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world, guaranteeing unrivalled visibility and bath-warm waters teeming with life.
Under the sea
You’ll be hard pressed to find accommodation in the Maldives that’s more than a short stroll from a watersports centre where you can rent equipment or get qualified. There are some truly wow-factor dive sites including Nilhandhoo Kandu, Ekefaru Kandu, Vadhoo Thila and Maarehaa Kandu, to where there is no shortage of day trips, or die-hard divers can opt for a live-aboard experience, which is the best way to get acquainted with the abundant sea life that surrounds.
There are lots to choose from, all varying in boat size, duration and itinerary, exploring the southern or northern islands, or even both. Try the MV Sea Queen and MV Sea Spirit, particularly if you’re eager (and brave enough) to swim with sharks.
Take to the waves
From June to September, the southwest monsoon brings with it large swells, adding surfing to the catalogue of watersports already offered in the Maldives. Expect waves ranging anywhere between three and eight feet in size, meaning there’s a break to suit both intermediate and advanced wave riders. The best breaks are found in the northern and central atolls, so dedicated surfers should opt for accommodation there. Another popular option – as with diving – are live-aboard trips that allow you to move around and follow the best waves.
See the capital
If you’re looking for an experience beyond palm trees and sundowners, head to the Maldives’ capital, Malé. Here is where all of the islands’ imports are received and bartered over, where the nation’s politics and reforms are debated and where its people go about their business far removed from the blissful existence of sun seekers and tourists. You’ll find a decent number of restaurants as well as attractions including the National Art Gallery, National Museum and picturesque Sultan’s Park, with its vast array of flora and fauna. Also worth a look is one of the oldest mosques in the Maldives, Hukuru Miskiiy, dating back to the 17th century. Made from coral stone with Qur’anic text carved into its façade and intricate woodcarvings gracing the interior, it’s a beautiful building – but you’ll need to get permission to enter.
Where to stay
While all the rooms at this island resort are beautiful, we recommend you check into one of the extra special Ocean Pool Bungalows. Perched on small cliffs, and all with ocean views, they have a bright, airy, open-plan feel and unlike most of the other accommodation options, they also have their own plunge pool and deck. Even the bathrooms have views from the large free-standing bathtubs that look out through floor-to-ceiling windows to the ocean.
Despite its location on a small island, this intimate hotel has some of the most luxurious villas in the Maldives. This is perhaps its defining quality: its intimate and secluded so that you get a true taste of paradise island life. Water villas come with infinity plunge pools, beach villas have their own terraces and indoor-outdoor bathrooms, while double-storey beach villas are perfect for larger groups and families, and offer just as much privacy and seclusion, despite their size.
One of the few independent boutique resorts in the Maldives, Hideaway is located on its own island and has a huge 2km stretch of pristine beach, making it easy to relax in complete privacy. The villas here are some of the biggest in the Maldives and perfect for families. The resort’s two Hideaway Palaces are perched on their own natural sand banks, while other villas come with rustic indoor-outdoor bathrooms, plus all rooms have personal butler service.
Set on its own tropical island, this resort will leave you feeling completely relaxed. Lounge about in hammocks on the beach, with the sea just a couple of footsteps away. There are seven restaurants serving food made with local ingredients, so you won’t
get bored when it comes to dining out. And there’s a luxurious spa to add another layer of relaxation to a stay at this peaceful hotel.
Emirates and Flydubai fly direct to Malé from Dubai in just over four hours. Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi in the same time, while Qatar Airways flies direct from Doha in a little under five hours.
Nowhere in the Maldives is more than a 90-minute flight from Malé, which makes seaplanes, or air taxis, the preferred mode of transport. Taxi boats are also common, especially if travelling to the North and South Malé Atolls.
If money’s tight, it’s a good idea to book an all-inclusive holiday package, as just the price of dining at many of the Maldives’ luxury resorts can easily double the total cost of your stay.
July 26 is Independence Day, marked by evening celebrations at Malé’s Republic Square in the form of traditional dances and drills performed by school kids in colourful costumes.