No wonder the Maldives often overwhelms potential visitors. Its 1,192 coral islands, located in 26 atolls and stretching across 35,000 square miles of the Indian Ocean, are enough to send most people into a pre-holiday craze.
At first glance of a silky brochure, the Maldivian islands appear to be mere copies of each other; consisting of soft sandy beaches, teeming house reefs and tall coconut palms. But if you look a little closer, looking for details beneath the shine, you’ll find that this island nation is more diverse, complex, and vibrant than first impressions often suggest.
Why the Maldives?
At no sandy point on its more than 1,000 islands, the world’s lowest country rises above two meters (of course). Compared to its Indian Ocean neighbors — the Seychelles and Mauritius — the Maldives resembles a pancake next to a pair of Victoria sponges. They don’t go here to contemplate (or hike about) topographical textures, but to marvel at ocean-filled horizons where sandbars emerge and submerge at the whim of the warm currents.
The Maldivian islands are tiny compared to most of the Caribbean, for example. You’ll be hard pressed to find a stretch of beach you can walk more than a few hundred feet, but an abundance of them translates into privacy and isolation rarely matched elsewhere in the world. It’s no wonder the Maldives has become so popular with honeymooners desperate for seclusion – this is more of a fly-and-flop destination as opposed to hiking and biking.
However, even the larger resorts are laid out to allow an outward view of the sea — rather than a central pool or restaurant. Additionally, tranquil and sheltered lagoons allow most islands to extend their footprint out to sea with boardwalks, much like you see in French Polynesia. Take the 120-room Amari Havodda as a prime example — beachfront and overwater villas offer sunrise or sunset views, depending on guest preference. Even on the busier islands you can enjoy completely private views.
After all, the Maldivians pride themselves on their world-renowned service and it’s not uncommon to hear a sneaky jibe about the (sometimes… more relaxed) Seychelles. JOALI in the Raa Atoll gets rave reviews for the attentiveness of the staff, but it’s almost certain you’ll find this wherever you stay.
Where to sleep?
It’s important to remember that unlike many of its Indian Ocean competitors, almost every Maldivian “hotel” occupies its own island. The government sells multi-decade leases to hotel developers, and the pristine sands become a resort. There are currently over 150 to choose from and a handful more opening each year – no wonder tourists are often surprised by the variety on offer.
But ultimately, one’s preference boils down to this; how much do you want to spend? And how far are you willing to travel after a long-haul flight? If the answer isn’t much, then you could be in your hotel room within an hour of landing – on a good day. For example, Jumeirah Vittaveli is a 20-minute speedboat ride from the international airport pier. Velassaru is only 25 minutes away and Kurumba is only 10 minutes away. The proximity to the runway, however, might detract from that feeling of utter island isolation when you can watch (and hear) your plane take off while you tuck into your first vacation cocktail. Check out our guide for more suggestions on the best hotels in the Maldives.
In general, the further away you are from the capital, the more expensive it gets. You’ll also need to plan for seaplane transfers (if it’s not already included in the price of your stay) and be prepared to hang out in a departure lounge in inclement weather. Also, seaplanes sometimes fly to a number of resorts between Malé and your island, so be ready for some impromptu island-hopping — which, if you’re not a jet-lagged mess, a unforgettable adventure in itself.
Only a meticulous botanist could identify the minute aesthetic differences between each atoll. But for the average holidaymaker – looking for that classic paradise scene – bounty island perfection can be discovered anywhere in the Maldives. But the most important thing is what is happening on this island (and when)? And how many people are you willing to share it with?
The Baa Atoll, for example, is home to the 26-villa Nautilus. Just 30 minutes by seaplane from Malé, this Unesco Biosphere Reserve boasts the largest concentration of manta rays in the world – and from June to November zooplankton are channeled into the atoll, attracting hundreds of these graceful giants.
South Ari Atoll, on the other hand, is widely considered to be the best place to snorkel with whale sharks. year-round residents of the Maldives. They tend to prefer the west side of the Indian Ocean between May and December before moving east in April. The couples-focused, 39-villa Mirihi Island Resort is one of the best spots for such encounters.
when to visit
In general, the best time to visit the Maldives is between November and April, when there is less chance of rain and the wind dies down. During the summer months in the northern hemisphere (the southwest monsoon), heat and humidity rise significantly, but keep in mind that this is a widely dispersed island nation, stretching a little over 500 miles north-south and over 500 miles east-west extends 80 miles. Each atoll in the Maldives can experience a slightly different weather system at any time, regardless of the month.
Sometimes it’s a stroke of luck – and it’s important to enjoy those rainy days in paradise when they come. However, September and October are often the wettest months — but these are the tropics, and meteorological anomalies can occur at any time of the year. Visiting off-season, however, could be a feat and save brave travelers big bucks. Hoteliers in the Maldives generally agree that their seasons are a lot less predictable these days, so maybe consider the off-season for a bargain.