Only in the Maldives

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Only in the Maldives
The Maldives combines timeless tradition and decadent luxury, and sprinkles both with island culture. Travelers are overwhelmed with fine dining, exotic excursions, and the type of comfort that's only found in fantasies.
Photo by Abdul Sami Haqqani/age fotostock
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    Drift Away on a Dhoni
    A vacation in the Maldives will most likely require setting foot on a boat—it's a nation of islands, after all. Adventurous travelers might swap the ultra-luxurious yachts for a jaunt in a small, whimsical dhoni, a traditional Maldivian watercraft that's been used by fishermen for centuries. These days, most are equipped with motors and the capacity to carry up to a dozen seafarers, eager for sunset sails or dolphin-watching cruises. Dhonis are such a fixture of the Maldives that Cocoa Island by COMO designed its overwater suites to resemble the beautiful boats, and the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa modelled its lobby after them.
    Photo by Abdul Sami Haqqani/age fotostock
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    Underwater Ingenuity
    Construction is tough on low-lying islands, so Maldivian engineers have gotten creative by building underwater instead. Resorts have capitalized on this architectural ingenuity, commissioning everything from underwater hotel rooms to belowdecks bars. Per Aquum Huvafen Fushi boasts an underwater spa, as well as an underwater wine cellar that holds 6,000 different wines. Guests looking for aquatic good times can head to the W Retreat & Spa’s 15 Below, a world-class nightclub where it's possible to sip a cocktail while watching fish swim by. The resort Per Aquum Niyama is home to Subsix, a dance club that's 500 meters offshore and can only be accessed by boat, while guests at Ithaa Undersea Restaurant enjoy European fare served five meters below the water's surface.
    Photo courtesy of Subsix at NIYAMA
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    Dancing to Bodu Beru
    Tourists will have to step off the resort for full immersion in Maldivian culture. But one night a week, most hotels feature a traditional performance called bodu beru. Translating as "big drums" in the Dhivehi language, a performance involves about a dozen sarong-clad men singing and swaying to the beat of drums under the moonlight. Dances begin slowly and quietly, with only one drummer keeping time, and grow to a frenetic pace. The performers—usually including members of the resort staff—sing tunes with universal themes of love and loss, and at some resorts, guests are encouraged to share the performance through a bodu beru class.
    Photo courtesy of Kurumba Maldives
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    Island-Hopping Like a Local
    Cruising picture-perfect islands on a private yacht is a standard way to see the Maldives, but setting aside the luxury bubble and visiting the Maldives' inhabited islands is often a trip highlight that surpasses even the most sumptuous resort experience. Most resorts arrange excursions to a handful of local islands, and there's a public ferry service linking Male to islands like Mahibadhoo and Maafushi. Both have guesthouses, so travellers can stay overnight. To get the most out of the visit, guests should abide by conservative Maldivian dress codes: Leave the bikini behind and opt for a shirt with sleeves and shorts that cover the knees.
    Photo courtesy of Sakis Papadopoulos/The Maldives Tourism Board
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    Distinctly Tropical Flavors
    The talented chefs at top resorts serve up food with distinctly tropical tastes, such as sizzling tandoori chicken or tiger prawns with mango and coconut. They use spices from India or Sri Lanka, and draw inspiration from Thailand's sweet curries. It helps that the restaurants have access to incredibly fresh seafood, which is integrated into nearly every meal. Guests staying at the Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru resort can work alongside masters during a culinary demonstration—the chef prepares local favorites like reef fish or tuna curry and the guests are taught to create delicious marinades.
    Photo courtesy of Park Hyatt Maldives
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    Game Fishing
    There aren’t many places on Earth where amateur fishers can throw a rod into the water and pull out an enormous grouper or red snapper. But that’s why big-game fishing is a popular pastime in the Maldives. Resorts like Anantara and the W Retreat & Spa offer half- or full-day trips, where tourists can kick back on deck and try their luck at reeling in a big one. At Cocoa Island by COMO, guests can stay closer to comfort by heading out for just a few hours at sunset for bottom fishing. And as if there wasn’t enough incentive to make a memorable catch, many resort chefs will also cook the proud prize and serve it for dinner.
    Photo by Richard Bowler/age fotostock
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    The Markets of Malé
    The markets of Malé, the capital of the Maldives, are a doorway into life beyond the overwater bungalows. The most popular is the pungent fish market, the first stop for fishermen after they return to dry land. While the structure that houses the market is rather small, it’s packed with fresh seafood arranged in rows for chefs to examine. The best time to visit is in the afternoon, when the fish cutters put their sharp knives to work—although visitors should watch their step and be warned that the smell can be rather overpowering. Luckily, fresh air is just a block away at the colorful local produce market. Here, Maldivian families stock up on bananas, papayas, and yams from the surrounding islands.
    Photo by Tamara Elliott
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    Malé's Mosques
    Visitors to the Maldives may well expect breathtaking ocean views and beaches, but they are often surprised by the external splendor of Malé's mosques. Among the most impressive is the Islamic Centre’s Grand Friday Mosque, which can hold about 5,000 worshipers. A sweeping white staircase beckons the faithful inside a building topped with a gleaming gold dome. Its predecessor, the Hukuru Miskiy (Friday Mosque), served as Malé's main place of prayer before the newer mosque was built and is a humble structure of coral walls and sturdy beams adorned with Arabic script.
    Photo by Dinodia/age fotostock
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    Dive beneath the Surface
    The Indian Ocean is the star of your vacation in the Maldives. To get below the surface without getting wet, step into a submarine. Boat sizes vary, but most can descend about 120 feet for unobstructed views of reefs and fish. From a comfortable seat, guests can take photographs without needing to fiddle with an underwater camera. Unlike with diving, the submarine's normal interior atmospheric pressure means that it’s safe to emerge and fly immediately afterward. Whale Submarine Maldives offers 45-minute tours in a vessel that holds 50 passengers.
    Photo by Zoonar/Khoroshunova/age fotostock
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