The Perfect Trip to the Maldives
The Maldives brings together timeless tradition and decadent luxury, and sprinkles both with island culture. Travelers will enjoy fine dining, exceptional excursions, and the type of comfort that’s only found in fantasies. Choose a resort (or a few!) and work your way through our list of the essential must-sees of this enchanted island nation.
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.
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.
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.
Makunufushi, South Malé Atoll 20109, Maldives
There aren’t many places on Earth where amateur anglers 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 the W Retreat & Spa offer half- or full-day trips during which tourists can kick back on deck and try their luck at reeling in a big one. At Como Cocoa Island, guests can stay closer to their comfort zones by heading out for just a few hours at sunset for bottom-fishing. And as if there wasn’t already enough incentive to make a memorable catch, many resort chefs will also cook up your prize and serve it for dinner.
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.
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.
Aptly named Subsix sits six meters (almost 20 feet) below the water’s surface at Per Aquum’s Niyama resort, reached by speedboat (and then a three-tier staircase that descends into the sea). The ocean-inspired decor complements the underwater surroundings, where guests sip gin-infused cocktails like the Swing ’n’ Swim while admiring coral reefs and keeping an eye out for the likes of parrot fish, eels, and turtles. Lunch is a four-course set menu, featuring chef creations like lobster medallions with heirloom tomatoes and blackberry essence, or swimmer crab accompanied by couscous pomelo and ocean foam. You can also arrange for a private dinner or champagne breakfast, and for those with energy to burn, Subsix hosts twice-weekly “glow party” club nights.
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.