The ever-sunny Maldives is home to more than 20 natural atolls and around 290 inhabited islands with heavenly beaches and ultra-luxurious hotels. Now that travel restrictions for UK tourists have been lifted, there’s no better time to discover this celebrity-favourite destination.
From indulging in spa treatments by the Indian Ocean and dining in an underwater restaurant to fishing and kayaking, the Maldives is brimming with exciting things to see and do. Browse through our guide and find out how best to spend your time in this glittering archipelago, along with suggestions on places to stay.
Things to see and do
From swimming with sharks to marvelling at bioluminescent waters, here are the top things to see and do during your stay in the Maldives.
Sunbathe on exotic beaches and swim with sharks
Immerse yourself in Maldivian culture
Once acquainted with the natural beauty of the Maldives, it’s time to explore the rich culture of the country. Join the people dancing bodu beru, a popular folk dance, on a beach or board a traditional dhoni boat to tour the coral reefs as you feast on deck and learn about Maldivian traditions. Hop from island to island, but be sure to dress respectfully – in long shorts or skirts – as locals follow strict Muslim conventions. Don’t miss the Grand Friday Mosque in the Islamic Centre, Malé, which is the largest in the Maldives and one of the biggest in South Asia – its grand, golden dome and woodcarvings are impressive. The islands are also home to talented craftsfolk, so explore the various galleries and shops hosting art and jewellery made of natural materials such as palm leaves, coral, wood, shells and stones. Mat weaving and boat building are also renowned crafts here.
On another note, Halloween might not usually be a big event in the Maldives, but in 2021 things will be a little different. Cult Excape will see travel, music and culture combine for the first-ever festival in the region. The event will take place across two luxury resorts and promises to be a non-stop party.
Taste the local delicacies
You can’t say you’ve truly experienced the Maldives until you’ve tried the amazing food. Dishes such as Maldivian curry with tuna or garudiya (a fish soup with lime, chili, rice, curry leaves, onions and coconut) are among the delicious highlights. Order them at a restaurant by the sea – or even an underwater one – and you’ll understand why food is like a ritual here. For breakfast, try mas huni, which includes tuna, onion, coconut and chili (seafood is very much part of breakfast here), and for a quick bite, try a hedhikaa (snack), such as gulha (pastry balls stuffed with smoked fish) or keemia (deep-fried fish rolls).
Relax at a seaside or underwater spa
Spa treatments are a core element of the Maldivian holiday experience. There’s no better way to rejuvenate your body, mind and soul than by spending an entire day at one of the plush spas here. Opt for a soothing massage inside a waterside cabana and listen to the waves as your muscles relax one by one. If you’re looking for something even more mystical, visit Huvafen Fushi, a luxury resort on the North Malé Atoll that houses a spa that’s 8m (26ft) below the surface of the water. Sip on ginger tea and let the skilled masseurs bring you into a state of utter tranquillity as you gaze through your glass window at the brightly coloured marine life gliding past.
Discover a sea full of stars
Okay, so the Maldives isn’t actually home to a sea full of stars, but it is home to fascinating bioluminescent waters that glow as if they’re filled with stars. This Sea of Stars is a phenomenon that occurs towards the end of summer in the Maldivian reefs and it’s caused by phytoplankton called lingulodinium polyedrum. They thrive here and when the waves move, they emit light as a defence mechanism (similar to the one used by fireflies), thus creating this otherworldly effect. Vaadhoo island in the Raa Atoll is the best-known spot to see the Sea of Stars in action.
Explore Malé and learn how to fillet fish
While dreamy beaches and coral reefs are the essence of the Maldives, there’s no denying that the capital Malé is pretty. This small island, with a population just over 227,000, is in fact one of the most densely populated cities on earth. Apart from the aforementioned Grand Friday Mosque, Malé is also home to the quaint Old Friday Mosque (the oldest mosque in the archipelago, dating to 1656) plus the National Museum, which displays artefacts on Maldivian history. Take a stroll around the verdant Sultan Park and don’t forget to pass by the bustling fruit and fish market to shop for fresh produce, including dried fish, papaya, mango and coconut. If you come early in the morning, you might see local fishermen arriving with their catch and, if you ask nicely, some will even teach you how to fillet a fish.
Fly above the Maldives
Many of the glamorous resorts in the Maldives can only be accessed by a two-engine seaplane, a glorious flight that guarantees splendid views. Imagine taking in the different shades of blues and greens as you happily float above the beautiful archipelago. Of course, not all hotels are accessed exclusively by plane, but you can still book a flight to glide over the Indian Ocean and watch as the ocean crashes into coral reefs and sandbars, creating magical ring-shaped patterns.
Where to stay
Take your pick from luxury resorts floating in the water or artistic havens housing submerged sculptures. These are our top places to stay during a trip to the Maldives.
The resort where the first-ever music festival in the Maldives will be held, it’s hard to think of a cooler venue than the Hard Rock Hotel. This is one of the livelier retreats here, but you can still relax if you want. There are touches of Americana throughout, but the unique design also makes the most of the picturesque Emboodhoo Lagoon in which the hotel stands. If you’re looking to splash the cash – and let’s be honest, you’re going to do that here – then book the ultimate Rock Star package and go all out.
It doesn’t get more lavish than this massive resort comprising 122 deluxe beach, reef and overwater villas. Probably the most exotic of the Waldorf Astoria hotels, this one sits right on the water and comes with infinity pools, large hammocks above turquoise waters, and your very own private beach, complete with said turquoise waters and white sands. Apart from mind-blowing ocean views, there are 11 restaurants and bars, including Terra, which has tables enclosed in bamboo spheres in the treetops. For extra pampering, try the stylish glass-bottomed spa.
Endless bright-emerald waters and pure-white sands are not all that Baglioni has to offer, though they’re important selling points. Overwater villas create the ultimate chilled-out paradise, yet there’s much to do here if you’re feeling more active – from scuba diving, pasta-making classes and cruises on a Hobie Getaway catamaran to activities for the little ones, such as hunting for crabs and treasure. You can also catch a movie at the open-air beach cinema or try a hot-stone massage at the Baglioni Spa. And if you’re looking for the royal treatment, book the presidential water villa, which includes daily champagne, a 24-hour butler and your very own waiter.
Everything revolves around art in this boho-chic property in the Raa Atoll. JOALI is the only art-immersive resort in the Maldives, offering you the chance to marvel at the exquisite exhibits dispersed around the hotel, there’s even a map to help you find them. Check out the gallery and art studio, as well as the underwater sculptures – you will have to scuba dive about 12m (40ft) down to find the Coral Sculpture Garden that features six pieces lying among tropical fish and coral reef. High-life enthusiasts will appreciate the whiskey and cigar lounge, while children will drool over the chocolate and ice-cream shop. Make sure to order the homemade limoncello at Bellinis restaurant.
The infinity pool at this all-inclusive, laid-back resort feels like a natural continuation of the aquatic heaven all around Ozen Life Maadhoo. Swimming isn’t the only activity here, though – you could also kayak and cycle, play tennis or embark on a fishing adventure. Alternatively, unwind at the spa facing the water, or eat sushi by the pool. Champagne breakfasts and fine dining are also part of the experience; taste delectable Maldivian seafood at the M6m restaurant, which lies 6m (20ft) beneath the surface of the water.
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