The world’s lowest-lying nation rises barely four-feet above sea level (at its highest point, a mere eight-feet), and fans over the Indian Ocean in wide, flat circles of blindingly white sand. The Maldives are nestled halfway between Indonesia and Africa, and attract travelers seriously committed to communing with the sparkling turquoise tides.
Made up of 26 atolls spanning 1,190 different islands (of these, less than a third are inhabited) the Maldives are like one giant jigsaw puzzle of sandbars and lagoons. An impressive number of marine species have made their homes in the surrounding reefs and, as a result, the Maldives are particularly popular among scuba divers.
The Maldives are where people come to experience island life at its most relaxed — and most beautiful. Whether you’re criss-crossing coral reefs in a glass-bottomed boat, or dozing off in your private overwater bungalow, the chances of returning home disappointed are slim to none. As noted author Adrian Neville writes, “It’s hard to have a bad holiday in the Maldives.”
Getting around the Maldives
Within each of the island chain’s ring-shaped atolls — North Ari Atoll, South Ari Atoll, Laamu Atoll, and so on — is a group of different islands typically anchored by a small airport. In the case of Kaafu Atoll, it’s home to Velana International Airport, which is the main entry point for all travelers. From here, you’ll need to arrange a separate flight or speedboat transfer to get to your individual hotel.
Vacation during the dry season
December through April is the dry season, and the most popular time to visit the Maldives. This can make hotels slightly more expensive, but it’s also when you can enjoy a guaranteed streak of gorgeous, storm-free days. Moreover, dry season makes for better visibility (think: crystal-clear snorkeling and underwater diving). No matter what time of year, travelers can expect balmy temperatures in the mid-80s.
Visit multiple islands
The Maldives are full of dreamy, relatively untouched islands, and one of the joys of vacationing here is venturing beyond your hotel. A typical excursion might include fishing at sunset in a 60-foot dhoni (a traditional Maldivian wooden boat). Another favorite is island hopping, when resort guests are taken to a handful of nearby islands and properties to snorkel and explore on land (a packed or barbecue lunch is almost always included). Some hotels even offer intimate escapes for couples. Just imagine being taken out to a deserted beach in a dinghy, where you’re left to enjoy the company of your significant other for the entire afternoon, equipped with only a fully stocked picnic basket and a mobile phone in case of emergencies.
See a whale shark
Scuba diving in the Maldives is second to none — the nutrient-rich waters here, fed by currents from the Indian Ocean, are like a Whole Foods for marine life. Brightly colored tropical fish, manta rays, reef sharks, whale sharks, eels, sea turtles, and more are attracted to the waters of the Maldives. Start at the South Ari Atoll, where you’ll find popular dive sites like Broken Rock (split in half by a deep canyon) and Kudarah Thila.
Check into one of the new hotels
With four crisp new properties just added to the docket in 2016, the Maldives’ reputation for over-the-top accommodations is as strong as ever. At the Shangri-La Villingili, for example, guests can practice their swing at a dazzling 9-hole golf course. The new Soneva Jani, on the other hand, has waterslides that loop down into a private lagoon. (Another highlight: retractable ceilings in the master bedroom, which slide back at the touch of a button.) Way down on the archipelago’s southern tip, the all-suite Jumeirah Dhevanafushi requires a 55-minute flight from the capital, followed by a 20-minute speedboat ride — but the private villas (with infinity pools) and 24-hour butler service are well worth the trek.
In 2005, Ithaa became the world’s first all-glass, undersea restaurant. Though the trend has spread, travelers can still enjoy a seafood feast at the intimate, 14-seat restaurant. Everything on the menu is sustainably caught. To eat here, however, you must be a guest of the Conrad Rangali hotel, and reservations are required well in advance.