With hundreds of islands at its disposal, it’s hard to dispute the sheer paradisiacal pulling power of the Maldives. Sure, this coral-clad archipelago may have made a name for itself as the ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime, beach holiday setting but, venture beyond the sands, and there’s plenty more to see and do.
Not least is the underwater safari that each isle boasts: there aren’t many places where you can dangle your feet off the edge of your water villa and gaze across turquoise waters as eagle rays and sea turtles make ripples on the surface. It’s unforgettable experiences like this that make the Maldives a must on any travel tick-list – and a thoroughly magical holiday at that.
Knowing where to begin your Maldives holiday can be daunting – for starters there are 26 coral atolls to choose from and it’s near impossible to pick a favourite. You can, however, hop from one to the other, experiencing unrivalled luxury at every stop. The most intrepid travellers opt for some city buzz first in the energetic capital Malé – home to Hukuru Miskiiy, the oldest mosque in the country.
From here, say no to the seaplane and take the public ferry instead, interacting with the locals and (hopefully) spotting dolphins as you explore the different isles. You can even cruise the more remote atolls aboard a dhoni (traditional wooden sailing boat) with nothing but you, blue skies, turquoise waters and silica sands as far as the eye can see. For those who prefer to stay in one place, head for the Baa Atoll to the north.
Visit at the right time of year and you can spot whale sharks and manta rays en masse in Hanifaru Lagoon by day, then watch the sea glow with blue bioluminescence after dark. It’s a great spot for indulging in island living too – get a massage at the spa or ask your hotel to organise a Castaway-style island experience.
Eat and Drink
When it comes to food, Maldivians adore three things: fish, coconut and starch. Outside of Malé most of the restaurants are those in-resort, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still experience some of the best dishes at your hotel. Opt for local favourites like skipjack and yellowfish tuna, best served with a starch accompaniment of your choice: rice, taro, sweet potato or cassava.
If seafood isn’t your thing, Maldives is also renowned for its delectable vegetable curries – spicy, redolent and packed with a fresh selection of aubergine, pumpkin, potato and carrot. And then there’s roshi. This floury flat bread is a nationwide staple – oft eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
From the heart-shaped Addu Atoll to the south, to the northern Raa and Baa Atolls, you can always guarantee one thing in the Maldives: unparalleled holiday bliss. Mudhdhoo Island, part of the Baa Atoll, is home to the 5-star Dusit Thani hotel, just 35 minutes from Malé. This family resort boasts its own private beach, a complimentary kids club and a full-service spa. Not only that, but it offers fantastic opportunities underwater – so much so that you can even grab your mask and snorkel and hit the shallows straight from your villa.
The Maldives is one of the world’s top destinations for snorkelling and scuba diving, so it’s no surprise visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to dive sites. Less experienced divers or those who prefer to snorkel will be more at home on one of the southern atolls, where the waters are calmer and shallower.
The north on the other hand – in particular the North Male Atoll – is peppered with excellent dive sites, as well as one of the biggest dive centres in the country: Kurudu Resort. Boasting warm waters, great visibility and healthy reefs, opt for spots like Manta Point, Back Faru, Banana Reef, Rainbow Reef and the world-renowned Lion’s Head.
Wreck divers will find plenty to keep them occupied here too, particularly the Maldives Victory Wreck – a Singaporean cargo ship that sank in 1981. Dive year-round, but the best conditions are November to April.
Maldives Like a Local
Scratch beneath the surface of this multi-island paradise and you’ll find a collective of warm, friendly people, so be sure to take a day off from beach living to explore the real Maldives and its inhabitants. It’s easy to do: start by visiting a traditional Maldivian village, join local fisherman on a deep-sea fishing trip or pair your luxury holiday with a night or two in a local guesthouse – that way you’ll really get a taste for the authentic lifestyle.