Where to Stay in the Maldives for a Local Experience

Its the turquoise waters in the Maldives that make this place so special
It's the turquoise waters in the Maldives that make this place so special | © Hoodh Ahmed / Unsplash
Siobhan Grogan

It can be hard to get a sense of the real Maldives from the resorts that pepper the country’s nearly 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean. As well as pearly-white sand and satin-smooth lagoons, some hotels offer cooking classes, Maldivian theme nights and day trips to inhabited islands such as Guraidhoo and Maafushi. Or enjoy a guesthouse in a village, where you can mingle with Maldivians and discover a side to paradise most tourists never see with these hotels in the Maldives.

1. Gili Lankanfushi Maldives


Light and airy room at Gili Lankanfushi Maldives with white linen sheets on wooden bed, a bamboo roof and large windows overlooking water
Courtesy of Gili Lankanfushi Maldives / Expedia.com

Guests at this tranquil eco-friendly resort, with just 45 over-water villas, have the rare chance to learn more about the magnificent ocean that surrounds them. The award-winning property employs its own marine biologist and invites visitors to its research facility to discover more about the wondrous reef; join guided educational snorkelling trips and hear presentations about manta rays and turtles. You’ll head back to your secluded thatched villa with a whole new appreciation for this water-based paradise.

2. OZEN by Atmosphere at Maadhoo

Resort, Luxury

Turquoise waters surround the beach and the huts at OZEN by Atmosphere at Maadhoo
Courtesy of OZEN by Atmosphere at Maadhoo / Expedia.com

With its generous all-inclusive package, including non-motorised water sports, Champagne breakfasts and a sunset fishing excursion, it’s tempting to stay put in this idyllic resort in South Male Atoll. But try to take advantage of its handy and unique location near inhabited islands to sign up for day trips to nearby Guraidhoo or Maafushi. Visit boat yards, mosques, restaurants and shops or stroll through the streets, where local children run to welcome visitors.

3. Hulhangu Lodge


Two single beds in simple room at Hulhangu Lodge with blue bedding, wooden furniture and a large window
Courtesy of Hulhangu Lodge / Booking.com

Dream of owning a bolthole in the Maldives? Rent this six-bedroom guesthouse on Himmafushi in its entirety and you can at least pretend for a few days. Just 20 minutes’ speedboat ride from capital Malé, the simple hotel is moments from top surf spots JailBreak and Sultans, making it ideal for groups looking to hit the waves. Breakfast is included but all meals can be provided for larger groups.

4. Sabba Summer Suite Maldives


Beach outside the huts at Sabba Summer Suite Maldives with white sun loungers and trees
Courtesy of Sabba Summer Suite Maldives / Expedia.com

The friendly owners of Sabba Summer Suite encourage guests to feel at home when staying at this five-room guesthouse on the island of Fodhdhoo. They will help with grocery deliveries if you want to make use of the property’s barbeque facilities, but the hotel’s on-site restaurant is a great, affordable way to sample local dishes without the hassle of cooking them yourself.

5. Holiday Cottage


White hut-like building with wooden doors and large windows with chairs outside overlooking garden at Holiday Cottage
Courtesy of Holiday Cottage / Booking.com

Experience Maldivian life beyond a hotel at the Holiday Cottage. This local guesthouse is a short stroll from the main tourist beach on Thoddoo Island, but guests can also explore the local area beyond the brilliant white sands. Sample spicy curries at nearby restaurants or ask the Holiday Cottage owners to arrange a tour of Thoddoo’s fragrant fruit fields or a trip to the neighbouring island of Rasdhoo with its cafes, small shops and mosque.

6. Mirihi Island Resort


Turquoise sea surrounding a beach with huts and pontoon leadings leading to other huts at Mirihi Island Resort
Courtesy of Mirihi Island Resort / Hotels.com

Soak up some local flavour at this tiny resort in South Ari Atoll. With just 39 villas, it is one of the smallest island resorts in the Maldives, though it still encourages guests to get a feel for colourful Maldivian culture. Sign up for daily Maldivian cooking classes to learn to whip up local specialities and take a coconut class to find out all there is to know about the country’s most important fruit and its tree, used almost entirely, from root to tip, by locals.

7. Paguro Villa


Small courtyard in between buildings at Paguro Villa with lots of plants and some tables and chairs
Courtesy of Paguro Villa / Expedia.com

Enjoy a more intimate Maldives experience – but with the convenience of a hotel at this single-storey seven-room guesthouse on Ukulhas island, first opened in January 2019. Though modern rooms have all you need including beach towels, tea and coffee facilities, and complimentary drinking water, guests are also welcome to use the all-day restaurant at sister property Paguro Beach Hotel, just two minutes’ walk away.

8. Veligandu Island Resort & Spa


Turquoise sea surrounding strip of sand with huts, parasols and a plane landing at Veligandu Island Resort & Spa

It’s not just about getting away from it all at Veligandu. Guests at this romantic hotel in North Ari Atoll can also gain a glimpse of local life without even leaving the resort, with considered Maldivian touches everyone can enjoy. The main buffet restaurant hosts a weekly Maldivian night with tasty specialities and waiters in local dress, while those hungry for more can sign up to Maldivian cooking lessons. Guests can also opt for a fishing excursion on board a traditional Dhoni boat, plus the spa offers treatments using the country’s native coconut oil.

9. Sky Inn Thoddoo


Small double bedroom at Sky Inn Thoddoo with flower petals arranged delicately on the bed
Courtesy of Sky Inn Thoddoo / Booking.com

Get out and explore Thoddoo island on the free bikes available to borrow from Sky Inn. Tour the tiny village and fruit plantations, then bring groceries back to the Sky Inn. Although breakfast is included, there’s a handy shared kitchen and barbeque facilities to make quick meals to enjoy in the guest house’s tropical garden or prepare picnics to take to the private beach area.

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