The Maldives are the ultimate definition of island hopping. Over a million people jet over to the island nation in the Indian Ocean each year to bask on one of the 1,192 islands’ practically untouched beaches. Stretching over 510 miles across the equator, the Maldives are just as picture-perfect below sea as above it. From the seat of your seaplane (the main mode of getting around here), you can glimpse rings of coral rimming around the islands like halos. And since the Maldives are home to 5 percent of the planet’s reefs (and a thousand species of fish), you’re guaranteed to see some of the most magnificent marine life swimming right beneath the glass-bottom floor of your overwater bungalow.
Where are the Maldives?
The independent island nation (whose rule has shifted from the Portuguese to the Dutch and British) is comprised of a double chain of islands grouped into 26 ring-shaped atolls located southwest of India (capital city Malé sits about 400 miles southwest of Sri Lanka). Rising about four feet above sea level, the Maldives are considered the world’s lowest-lying nation.
Where to Even Begin
Malé. The capital city (nicknamed “the King’s Island”) is the jumping-off point for seaplanes or ferry rides to the various atolls. Most flights into Malé’s Velana International Airport connect through India, Colombo (Sri Lanka’s capital city), Dubai, and a handful of European capitals like London. Once you arrive (30-day visas are granted upon entry), you can transfer to a domestic flight to one of 12 airports scattered across the atolls. Since the majority of the islands lack airstrips, seaplane is a more common way of getting around, and you’ll notice a whole fleet of planes docked into boat slips at the port next to the airport. Trans Maldivian Airways’ (TMA) twin-otter seaplanes jet to over 80 resorts across the Maldives on flights that range between 20 and 60 minutes (fares hover around $200 per person, roundtrip). If you don’t mind a longer ride, speedboat transfers with Atoll Transfer are a fraction of the price, with one-way trips to the island of Huraa (home to Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Kuraa) starting at $40 for the 40-minute journey.
Snorkeling and Diving and Spa in the Maldives
Only 1 percent of the Maldives is made up of actual land, so the allure here is really the water. Snorkeling and scuba diving cruises are the best way to see some of the more secluded stretches of sand (and there’s nearly 1,000 uninhabited islands up for grabs). Whale sharks can be spotted year-round (however, the best months are May to December) in the South Ari Atoll, where you’ll also find some of the more popular dive sites, like Broken Rock, named after the canyon cutting through the reef. Shallow shores make it easier for snorkelers to swim right off the coast (or from their bungalow’s ladder) of the resort, but if getting scuba certified has been on your bucket list for some time, you’re in luck – most resorts feature an onsite dive center. The Maldives are also a spa favorite, with spots like Heritance Aarah sporting overwater medi-spas where you can indulge in celeb-worthy treatments like LED facial therapy and non-surgical facelifts that’ll have you looking years younger in time for dinner that same evening.
The Beaches in the Maldives
The atolls are divided into northern, central, and southern, and not all beaches are created equal. While private beaches are practically a given at most resorts, this isn’t the Caribbean, so don’t expect wide swaths of sand. Most beaches form a narrow, sloping ring around the outer edge of the tiny islets. In the Northern Atolls, you’ll find white sandy shores and killer swells, making it a surf favorite. Some of the country’s widest beaches are at One&Only Reethi Rah, located on one of the Northern Atoll’s largest islands. The Central Atolls are some of the lesser visited, so beaches aren’t as packed, while the Southern Atolls are dotted with dive sites, so they’re more popular for scuba diving and snorkeling.
How to Choose a Hotel in the Maldives
Nearly 20 properties open a year in the Maldives, and the total number of hotels now hovers around 150 (many of which claim their own private island). Your choice of hotel will help narrow down which of the thousand-plus islands to visit. Most big brands have a foothold here, so you can cash in points for a stay at the newly opened Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, the Mercure Maldives Kooddoo Resort (a great four-star pick with all-inclusive dining), or the underwater Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, where a villa is submerged 16 feet under the sea. Families will love resorts like Soneva Fushi, which features an ice cream parlor and jungle zip-line, while adults-only Hurawalhi is a haven for honeymooners – and what could be more romantic than dining Little Mermaid-style with a five-course lunch at the world’s largest all-glass undersea restaurant, 5.8? A good portion of hotels are all-inclusive (not a lot of options for off-site dining when you’re on a private island), making the average nightly fee (anywhere from $300 to $3,000) seem more reasonable. But for something on the budget-savvy side, try a locally run guesthouse (similar to a bed & breakfast), which can go for around $90 per night.
How to Score a Deal in the Maldives
While the year-round tropical temperature – averaging in the mid-80s – is pretty pleasant, summer (June through September) heralds in the rainy season. This is when some of the most exclusive resorts significantly drop their rates. If you’re willing to brave a sudden storm, you can snag an ocean residence at super luxe Kudadoo (which goes for a cool $6,500 per night in high season) at half-price.
Read more: Maldives on a Budget