The Best Things to Do in the Maldives

Dhoni boat rides through the shimmering Indian Ocean, discovering secluded islands, and wandering around Male’s markets: Here are some of the top attractions in the Maldives.

Maafushi, Maldives
Most visitors to the Maldives head straight to a secluded resort to enjoy some R & R, but there’s another option for those looking for a more happening spot: Maafushi. Found in South Male Atoll, the island is 90 minutes from the capital by ferry, and has a couple of public beaches and snorkeling areas. Formerly a sleepy island that was badly damaged during the 2004 tsunami, Maafushi has since developed into a tourist area brimming with guesthouses, hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants. This is not the place for refined relaxation, but a good option for anyone craving a livelier atmosphere than at most resorts.
Jet-setters typically hop on a speedboat or yacht to explore the tranquil tropical islands here, but more-adventurous types think there’s something special about effortlessly gliding through the sea aboard a traditional dhoni. These watercraft have been used by fishermen for centuries, and most resorts can arrange dhoni outings for guests who want to enjoy a sunset sail or a dolphin-watching excursion—or who want to be dropped off on a private sandbar for the day with nothing more than swimsuits and a picnic basket. You don’t have to get out on the water for a glimpse of the dhoni’s curved features: Numerous resorts in the Maldives are designed around the boats, which have served as the inspiration for entrance lobbies and even overwater suites.
The Maldives is home to an underwater nightclub, underwater restaurants, and an underwater wine cellar, so it only makes sense that it would be home to the world’s first underwater spa too. Guests at Per Aquum’s Huvafen Fushi resort can unwind at its signature Lime spa, which offers both overwater pavilions and underwater treatment rooms for a new take on the ultimate relaxation experience. Treatments include shiatsu massages, facials, hydrating wraps, and body scrubs made with a mixture of Maldivian coral sand and coconut oil. Once guests have been pampered into a state of bliss, they can lounge in the steam room or sauna area, enjoy an outdoor shower, or simply put their feet up and drink in the view of the surrounding sea.
Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Resort, Baa Atoll, Maldives
Conservation efforts are critical to protect the low-lying islands that make up the Maldives, and efforts are under way to ensure their fragile natural environment is maintained. Ghost nets that have been abandoned by fishermen in the sea pose a major threat to species like turtles, which is why rescue centers have been set up at resorts such as the Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu to combat the problem. A staff team, including a veterinary surgeon and a resident marine biologist, work to protect sea turtles (and their habitats) by educating visitors and schoolchildren from neighboring islands like Thulhaadhoo and Hithaadhoo. They rehabilitate injured turtles and demonstrate how to remove the nets; they once even woke up some grateful guests in the middle of the night so they could watch as a giant turtle nested right on the beach. Teaching topics include marine ecology and medicine, and a similar initiative is set up at Sun Aqua Vilu Reef, where the resort team works with nearby communities to protect nesting sites and fight against human poachers.
Faashanaa Kilege Magu
The capital city of Male is often just a jumping-off point for travelers touching down at the airport before being whisked away to a five-star resort, but a walk through the low-lying city is a worthwhile way to get a taste of what everyday life is like for locals. At the center of it all is the lively fish market, and those who can get past the pungent smell will find themselves fascinated by the huge catch pulled straight out of the sea. Respite is found just a couple blocks away, where vendors set up colorful displays overflowing with bushels of bananas and other Maldivian staples, including papayas and yams sourced from nearby islands.
Medhuziyaarai Magu, Malé, Maldives
Few people think of history or architecture when it comes to the Maldives, what with the pristine beaches and luxurious overwater bungalows typically getting all the glory. So it might come as a surprise that Male’s crown jewel is the Islamic Centre’s Grand Friday Mosque, an impressive whitewashed building marked with a sweeping staircase and a gleaming golden dome. This place of worship can host about 5,000 people, though it’s worth noting that non-Muslim tourists can only explore the interior outside of prayer times, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. A dress code is also strictly enforced, with men required to wear long pants and women a long skirt or dress. It’s worth stopping by the nearby Hukuru Miskiy (Friday Mosque), the city’s main place of prayer prior to the construction of the Grand Friday Mosque.
The dive sites scattered around the Maldives are some of the best in the world, teeming with underwater life and vibrant coral—and boasting excellent visibility. Banana Reef, a North Male Atoll spot that owes its name to its curved shape, was one of the first places to put the Maldives on the map for divers. The protected marine area is marked by cliffs and overhangs, sheltering the barracudas, snappers, and groupers below. The reef is also set up for snorkeling, and even those swimming near the surface will be able to see schools of fish, sharks, and manta rays.
Laamu Atoll 15090, Maldives
The Six Senses Laamu has long attracted yogis, thanks to wellness options including yogic detox, meditation practices, nutritional guidance, and retreats set against the unforgettable backdrop of the Indian Ocean. This luxurious resort found in the southern Maldives also offers aerial yoga, where participants mindfully move through poses while suspended from silk parachute-like hammocks, inhaling and exhaling to the rhythm of the waves lapping at the nearby shoreline. Combining gymnastics, aerial arts, and relaxation, the practice is said to align the mind-body connection while providing additional benefits like muscle strengthening, conditioning, increased mobility, and even the release of happy hormones. Namaste, indeed.
Most people head to the Maldives to relax on the white-sand beaches and frolic in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, but a true highlight of any trip here is taking it all in from above. The country is made up of more than a thousand tiny islands, and specks of dazzling palm-fringed land burst out of the turquoise sea as far as the eye can see. The mesmerizing scene is best viewed from a seaplane, like those operated by Trans Maldivian Airways. As many resorts are only accessible via air, many visitors conveniently have a flight included with their stay. For those who don’t, booking a 15-minute flyover to capture photos or a private excursion that drops you off on an uninhabited, deserted isle is worth every penny.
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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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