Here's everything you need to know to plan the perfect Maldives vacation.

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Dock, Maldives
Credit: WIN-Initiative/Getty Images

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, a Maldives vacation is 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. Here's everything you need to know to plan the perfect Maldives vacation.

How to Get Around on Your Maldives Vacation

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. The Kaafu Atoll is home to Velana International Airport, which is the main entry point for all travelers. This main airport, near the capital island of Malé, is where you'll likely start your Maldives vacation. From here, you'll need to arrange a separate flight or speedboat transfer to get to your individual hotel — and if you're resort hopping, you may need to take more than one seaplane or boat to get around the Maldives. Often the luxury hotels can help you organize a seaplane or boat transport to your final destination. You can also hire your own speedboat transfer through companies like Atoll Transfer or take a public ferry between islands.

When to Plan Your Maldives Vacation

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.

Aerial view of atolls, Maldives, Indian Ocean
Credit: Sakis Papadopoulos/robertharding/Getty Images

How to Visit Multiple Islands in the Maldives

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.

Whale Shark, Maldives
Credit: Justin Lewis/Getty Images

New Hotels in the Maldives

Patina Maldives, Fari Islands is perhaps the biggest news coming out of the Maldives in 2021. This icon-in-the-making hotel debuted in May 2021, and it's the inaugural Patina Hotels & Resorts property (a new brand by Capella Hotel Group). The 90 one- to three-bedroom beach and pool villas feature exquisite architectural elements. Guests will love spending time at the Fari Marina Village and Fari Beach Club, all of which are part of the Patina experience.

Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi launched a new private island at the beginning of 2021 that's available only for exclusive rental. Not only that, but the iconic luxury property debuted new villas and the country's first Aqua Wellness Center for travelers who want to maintain their healthy lifestyle while enjoying the natural beauty of the Maldives.

Kuda Villingili Resort Maldives just debuted in June 2021 in the North Malé Atoll. Located near Chickens Break, a must-visit surfing spot, it's the perfect hotel for travelers looking to take advantage of the water sports on their Maldives vacation. The new property also boasts a spa overlooking the beach and a Singaporean-style street food market.

Also newly opened in the Maldives is Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa — a luxe experience by Marriott. In the Lhaviyani Atoll, this resort is all about beachfront cafes, lagoon-access overwater villas, and an embrace of midcentury Maldivian design.

Ithaa Underwater Dining, Conrad Hotel, Maldives
Credit: Courtesy of Conrad Hotels & Resorts

Must-try Activities in the Maldives

Scuba diving in the Maldives is second to none — the nutrient-rich waters, 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.

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.

Dolphin watching in the Maldives is also fairly popular, though it of course requires patience. One of the best spots to see the gorgeous creatures is Muli Channel. Work with your hotel or a local dive center to snorkel these waters on a clear day, when you'll have the best chance of seeing a dolphin.