Made up of 1192 coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are world-famous for their heart-stoppingly beautiful beaches. While all have the white sand, bath-warm sea and towering palm trees of holiday fantasies, less than 300 islands are occupied – many with elegant resorts catering to honeymooners, families and sports enthusiasts. With underwater restaurants, glass-bottomed nightclubs, treetop spas and ice cream parlours, these hotels really are the stuff of dreams.
Don’t fret about being stuck on one tiny island all holiday. The COMO Maalifushi, in the Thaa Atoll, is one of the few Maldivian resorts where restless guests can choose to island hop, spending half their holiday on sister property COMO Cocoa Island. You may be too blissed out to move, though, thanks to the restful minimalist decor, open-air yoga pavilion, waterfront spa and exquisite dining options including one of the best Japanese restaurants in the Maldives.
This Maldivian-owned and managed five-star resort likes to do things a little differently. With 59 villas spread across a 1.5km-long island, thick with tropical jungle in the Unesco-protected Baa Atoll, there’s plenty of room for quirky experiences not usually offered in the Maldives. Think martial arts training, cooking classes, wine tasting, a complimentary professional photography session or overnight glamping in an extraordinary transparent pod on the beach. Stay somewhere equally unusual by booking a treetop villa, high above the canopy of coconut trees with its own floating glass-walled pool, wine cellar and spa treatment room.
Known for its hip urban hotels, The Standard’s first ever island resort opened in 2019 in Raa Atoll and is just as vibrant as its city sisters. Swapping the Maldives’ sleepy tranquillity for a fun, lively feel, guests can swim to poolside DJs, tuck into fried chicken sandwiches in a board game cafe, sample the communal DIY hammam or hit the glass-bottom overwater nightclub. Rooms have a cheeky edge, too, with splashes of hot pink, Bluetooth speakers, over-stuffed mini bars and – naturally – a disco ball above the deep-soaking bath.
Want serious bragging rights? This plush resort spread over two islands in the South Ari Atoll has plenty to get you started, with the Maldives’ only cheese and wine bar, the country’s first underground wine cellar (with 950 labels) and the world’s first underwater restaurant, where you can feast five metres below the ocean’s surface. Up the wow factor by staying in the world’s first undersea residence, where the master bedroom is also nearly five metres below sea level and you’ll be pampered with private jet skis, an on-call fitness trainer, 24-hour butler and private chef.
One of the first luxury resorts to open in the Maldives in 1995, the magnificent Soneva Fushi in Baa Atoll is still setting the standard. There are 65 huge suites (including the largest with nine bedrooms) hidden in the jungle and guests are pampered with a star-gazing observatory, open-air cinema, treetop dining pods and mind-blowing rooms dedicated to cheese, chocolate and ice cream. The hotel has impressive eco-credentials too, with its own solar power planet, vegetable garden and even a glass-blowing studio that turns waste into art.
Relax completely at this resort in the South Ari Atoll, knowing you won’t be landed with a holiday-spoiling bill at the end. This laid-back hotel offers a generous all-inclusive package including house champagne, mini bar drinks, homemade ice cream, guided snorkelling, afternoon tea and even boat excursions. Don’t miss the chance to see the real Maldives on neighbouring island Himandoo too, with its mosque, open-air primary school, boat yard and shopping street.
An hour-long domestic flight and speedboat ride from capital Malé, the Six Senses is further afield than most Maldives’ resorts – but worth the travel time for end-of-the-earth indulgence, kaleidoscopic coral reefs and magical star-gazing. Sweet-toothed travellers will be especially spoilt; an ice cream parlour offers more than 40 flavours while this is one of only three hotels in the world that makes its own artisan chocolate, with 13 different flavours in every mini bar.
Families are welcome in paradise at this Four Seasons resort, just a speedboat ride from the capital’s airport. Kids will get a taste for the high life with bubble making workshops, fish feeding sessions, dolphin-spotting cruises and a coral building project to captivate even the smallest guest. Use the babysitting service to escape to the glorious spa – accessible only by dhoni (traditional Maldivian boat) – featuring a treetop night spa with crystal-singing bowl, circular bath and double massage tables.
If the idea of a fortnight on a sunlounger fills you with dread, this resort in the Noonu Atoll should keep you entertained. Alongside the usual diving and snorkelling, restless guests can sign up to craft classes, join a nature walk or try everything from kiteboarding to jet skis on the water. Feeling hungry? There are 15 restaurants and bars to choose from including sizzling teppanyaki, a champagne and canape lounge and Maldivian seafood barbeques on the beach.
While most tourists only pass through Malé on their way to the hotel, Coco Body Hithi, in the North Malé Atoll, offers guests a unique opportunity to explore this charming island city. Tear yourself away from the resort’s powder-soft beaches and fine dining restaurants to wander the colourful capital with its busy markets, souvenir shops and 17th-century mosques. Afterwards, sign up for a fishing excursion where the expert crew will teach you to catch your own dinner, prepared to your liking by the hotel chef afterwards.
There’s no such thing as a bad room at the Amari Havodda, 400km south of capital Malé in the Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. All villas on this private island have oversized day-beds, ocean views, covered open-air bathrooms, palm-thatched roofs and private terraces for secluded luxury. If you can face leaving, there’s plenty of water-based fun to be had including banana boat rides, stand up paddle boarding and windsurfing.
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