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How to Plan a Trip to the Maldives

Mention a trip to the Maldives, and you’re immediately met with wistful sighs. There’s a reason this long string of low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean is at the top of many travelers’ lists. Perhaps it’s the sugary-white sands, the thatched-roof overwater bungalows, the swaying palm trees, or the waters so electric blue that its shade deserves a new classification.

“The colors just pop in the Maldives. Absolutely no filter is required!” says Sarah Harvey, Maldives expert and travel journalist. “The sea is so intensely turquoise that it almost glows, and the water is clearer than anywhere I’ve yet seen in the Caribbean. I once lost half an hour standing waist-deep in a lagoon just marveling at the hundreds of tiny rainbows refracted by the sun across the sandy sea floor.”

It’s no wonder it was also crowned the favorite island destination in Asia in Travel + Leisure‘s 2024 World’s Best Awards. Whatever these islands’ magic touch is, it has loved-up honeymooners and wealthy families flocking to its 174 private island resorts. Made up of 1,192 tiny islands spread throughout 26 atolls, only around 200 of its islands are “local islands,” and 174 are resort islands, with more opening up every year.

“It’s a truly exceptional escape from the every day, full of diversity and exploration that is more surprising than many give credit for,” says Venetia Cox, travel advisor at Cazenove+Loyd. “It’s not just a passive destination for relaxation. It has incredible marine biodiversity, which can be experienced via snorkeling or diving, and has some of the best beaches in the world.”

Read on to start planning your dream trip to the Maldives.

Top 5 Can’t Miss

  • Arrive early in the morning to minimize time for your resort transfer and get to the island as quickly as possible.
  • Spend time snorkeling your resort’s house reef or book a diving excursion.
  • Book a stay at Soneva Fushi for an ultra-relaxing, over-the-top resort experience unlike any other.
  • Biking around your island resort is the best — and most fun — way to cross the island.
  • Visit during the low season from May to November to see the manta rays feeding in the famous Hanifaru Bay.

Best Hotels and Resorts

Courtesy of Four Seasons Resorts

Soneva Fushi

A castaway island dream, this sustainable luxury resort is known as one of the most family-friendly resorts in the Maldives. It’s been wowing guests for almost 30 years with the country’s largest kids club and rooms dedicated to ice cream, chocolates, and meat and cheese — all complimentary. “Every time I go to Soneva Fushi, I get giddy; the island makes me feel like a big kid! The water villas have water slides. You can skip between restaurants via a wooden walkway in the jungle canopy,” says Harvey. “There’s so much fun baked into this resort’s DNA.”

Joali Maldives

It’s all about the glitz and glam at this Raa Atoll resort. Each of Joali’s 73 villas is a design dream dotted with touches like rose gold finishings, emerald marble showers, and pops of coral pink. “The food here is also amazing, and the Japanese restaurant is outstanding,” says Cox.

Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi

This resort was voted the best resort in Asia in 2022 by T+L readers and one of our readers’ 100 favorite hotels in the world for 2024. One of the largest human-made islands in the country, Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi has 119 palatial villas and a can’t-miss spa. Its 11 dining options, including an Australian-style grill helmed by a Michelin-starred chef, are also a major draw.

Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru

The Four Seasons at Landaa Giravaaru’s sprawling 103 villas offer a more sophisticated and sleek take on an island paradise. It’s “Manta on Call” phones for when manta rays appear nearby and stellar service are a few highlights. “One of the best things about it is the ‘psychic butlers’ who seem to know exactly what you want before you do,” says Harvey.

Gili Lankanfushi

A short boat ride from the airport takes you to this thatched-roof paradise which Cox calls, “the original Robinson Crusoe escape” — but five-star. Gili Lankanfushi’s 45 open-air overwater villas are rustic and eco-friendly, enforcing a no-plastic policy and a “no news, no shoes ethos.” Reserve one of its standalone Crusoe Residences for an incredibly private stay — they’re only reachable by boat.

The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort

Architecture lovers will swoon over the St. Regis’ 77 artfully designed villas made to look like manta rays and Maldivian fishing huts. A points-friendly hotel, it’s a favorite for American travelers in search of a far-flung tropical escape. While the villas are hard to leave, don’t miss out on its crustacean-shaped spa, home to one of the Maldives’ largest hydrotherapy pools.

Velaa Private Island Maldives

With a reputation as one of the country’s most exclusive and expensive resorts, anything is possible at Velaa. From Wagyu teppanyaki dinners in its rooftop restaurant to nine holes at one of the country’s only golf courses to a wellness retreat at its new Wellbeing Village; there are endless options at this ultra-luxury, expertly crafted 47-villa island getaway.

Best Things to Do

Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation/Visit Maldives

Snorkel with marine life.

Ocean enthusiasts say the best part of the Maldives exists underwater. So snorkel or dive amongst a kaleidoscope of colors and marine life, including turtles, sharks, fish, manta rays, and whale shakes. “Diving and snorkeling with whale sharks is one of the most incredible things you can do in the Maldives,” says Harvey.

Treat yourself at the spa.

Many island resorts in the Maldives have a dedicated spa. Some are overwater with glass bottoms, and some are in the jungle canopy, but they’re all worth booking a treatment. Depending on the spa, guests can find just about any therapy, from cryotherapy to 24k gold facials.

Bike around the island.

The majority of the resorts listed above give guests bikes for personal use during their stay. Spend mornings biking to the breakfast buffet and evenings riding along the jetty, spotting eagle rays and sharks below. The mix of freedom and fun is one of the most unique parts of a Maldivian resort stay.

Get out on the ocean.

Life and fun in the Maldives revolve around the water. Resorts offer a seemingly never-ending laundry list of water activities, including surfing, fishing, dolphin cruises, paddleboarding, jet skiing, parasailing, sea bobs, flyboarding, catamarans, and even submersibles. The ocean is your oyster.

Visit a local island.

While 99 percent of visitors come for total rest and relaxation on the private islands, spend an afternoon on a local one instead. Most resorts offer tours and experiences to visit the “real Maldives.” “You might get befriended, you might be lucky enough to see women playing a game of bashi on the sports field, you might even get invited into someone’s home for a cup of tea,” says Harvey.

Best Time to Visit

Evgeniya Vlasova/Travel + Leisure

While there’s no wrong time to visit the Maldives, the country’s peak season is from November to April, a time synonymous with blue skies and scorching sun. However, due to the effects of climate change, the seasons are becoming more and more uncertain. “Every Maldivian I’ve spoken to about the weather says the timing of monsoon season has been harder to predict in the past couple of decades,” says Harvey. A visit during the off-season from May to October puts you squarely in the monsoon season, but that doesn’t mean it will be a definite downpour. Planning your trip during this time will also save you a few bucks due to more affordable “low season” villa rates. If you base yourself at a resort in or around the Baa Atoll during this time, you can snorkel with hundreds of massive manta rays feeding at the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Hanifaru Bay.

How to Get There

Evgeniya Vlasova/Travel + Leisure

Travelers arrive in the Maldives via Velana International Airport, which is set to unveil an expansion at the end of the year. Upon entering the arrivals terminal, guests will see dozens and dozens of resort representatives holding a plaque with the resort name. Once you’ve found yours, they’ll escort you to one of three places: the domestic terminal for a plane transfer, a speedboat for a transfer directly to your resort, or the new seaplane terminal for a seaplane transfer. Don’t worry; it may sound overwhelming, but a resort rep will take care of everything for you; all you have to do is follow them.

How to Get Around

Transport to the resorts is typically arranged through your resort. Once you’ve arrived at your private island resort, there’s not far to go. Guests typically use the bicycles provided to get from one place to the other, call their butler for a buggy ride, or walk the island barefoot.

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