It is no wonder that the Maldives often overwhelm potential visitors. Its 1,192 coral islands, situated on 26 atolls, spread across 35,000 square miles of the Indian Ocean, are enough to send most people into a pre-hols rotation.
At first glance from a silk paperback, the islands of the Maldives appear to be just carbon copies of each other; composed of soft sand beaches, reefs full of houses and tall coconut trees. But when you look a little closer and look for details under the glow, you’ll notice that this island nation is more varied, complex and vibrant than first impressions often suggest.
Why the Maldives?
At no sandy spot on its more than 1,000 islands does the world’s lowest country rise (naturally) above six feet. Against its Indian Ocean neighbors – Seychelles and Mauritius – the Maldives resemble a pancake next to a pair of Victoria sponges. You don’t come here to reflect (or walk on) the topographic texture, but to admire horizons full of oceans where sandbars emerge and submerge at the mercy of warm currents.
The islands of the Maldives are, compared to most of the Caribbean, for example – tiny. You’ll be hard pressed to find a stretch of beach to run for more than a few hundred meters, but their abundance results in privacy and seclusion rarely achieved in other parts of the planet. No wonder the Maldives has become so popular with honeymooners desperate for seclusion – this is primarily a fly-and-fail destination, as opposed to walking and biking.
That said, even the larger resorts are arranged in such a way that they allow for exterior views facing the ocean — not a central pool or restaurant. Plus, calm, sheltered lagoons allow most islands to extend their footprint with boardwalks out to sea, much like you see in French Polynesia. Take the 120-room Amari Havodda as a prime example — the beach and overwater villas have sunrise or sunset views, depending on guests’ preference. Even on the busiest islands, you can enjoy totally private views.
Finally, the Maldives pride themselves on their world-renowned service and it’s not uncommon to hear malicious sneer at the (sometimes more… relaxed) Seychellois. JOALI at Raa Atoll gets rave reviews for the standard of attention from the staff, but you’re almost certain to find it everywhere you stay.
Where to stay?
It is important to remember that, unlike many of its Indian Ocean rivals, almost every ‘hotel’ in the Maldives occupies its own island. The government sells rentals to hotel developers for several decades and a resort emerges from the virgin sand. There are currently over 150 to choose from, with a handful more open each year – no wonder tourists are often stunned by the variety on offer.
But ultimately, one’s preference comes down to; How much are you willing to spend? And how far are you willing to travel after a long-haul flight? If the answer isn’t much, then you can be in your hotel room within an hour of landing – on a good day. Jumeirah Vittaveli, for example, is a 20-minute speedboat ride from the international airport pier. Velassaru is just 25 minutes away, and Kurumba is a mere 10. The proximity to the runway, however, can lessen the island’s sense of total isolation, if you can watch (and hear) your plane depart as you enter that first one. cocktail holiday. For more suggestions on the best hotels in the Maldives, check out our guide.
Generally speaking, the further you get from the capital, the more expensive things get. You’ll also have to factor in seaplane transfers (if they’re not already included in the price of your stay) and be prepared to stay in a departure lounge if the weather is bad. Plus, seaplanes sometimes visit several resorts between Male and your island, so be ready for some impromptu hopscotch — which, if you’re not a jetlag mess, is an unforgettable adventure in its own right.
Only a pedantic botanist could identify the minute aesthetic differences between each atoll. But for the average tourist – looking to find that classic paradise scene – bounty island perfection can be discovered all over the Maldives. The main thing to consider though is what is happening around that island (and when)? And how many people are you prepared to share it with?
Baa Atoll, for example, is home to the Nautilus, with 26 villages. Just 30 minutes from Malé by seaplane, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve has the largest aggregation of manta rays in the world – and from June to November, zooplankton are funneled into the atoll, attracting hundreds of these graceful giants.
South Ari Atoll, meanwhile, is generally considered the best place to dive with whale sharks; year-round residents in the Maldives. They tend to favor the west side of the Indian Ocean between May and December, before heading east around April. Mirihi Island Resort, with 39 villas and focused on couples, is one of the best places to base yourself for these get-togethers.
When to visit?
Generally speaking, the best time to visit the Maldives is between November and April, when there is less chance of rain and the wind lessens. Heat and humidity increase significantly during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer months (the Southwest Monsoon), but don’t forget that this is a very dispersed island nation – stretching just over 500 miles from north to south and 80 miles from east to west. Each atoll in the Maldives can experience a slightly different weather system at any given time, regardless of the month.
Sometimes it’s a case of potluck – and it’s important to savor those rainy days in paradise when they arrive. September and October are, however, often the wettest months – but these are the tropics, and you can get weather anomalies any time of year. Visiting off-season can be a masterstroke, however, and save brave travelers a lot of money. Hoteliers in the Maldives are generally united in the fact that their seasons are much less predictable these days, so perhaps consider shoulder seasons for a bargain.