A guide to the Maldives

The Maldives is a destination for nature lovers, with its clear water and spectacular marine life

A bungalow on the beach.
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

Time seems to stand still in the Maldives. With its turquoise waters, white sand beaches and stunning sunsets, it's a destination that puts travelers at ease, where the only items on the agenda are to rest, relax and have a good time.

How to get there

The Maldives is a country in the Indian Ocean that's made up of 1,192 islands. It's 500 miles southwest of Sri Lanka, and while it's a destination itself, many visitors add in a stop here while coming or going from the Middle East or South Asia.

An aerial view of an archipelago of islands in the Maldives

To get from island to island, you can take a speedboat or seaplane

(Image credit: AFP via Getty Images)

The main airport in the Maldives is Velana International Airport, near the capital island, Malé. Most of the resorts in the Maldives are on their own islands, and travelers need to arrange for a seaplane or speedboat from the airport to their accommodations. Sarah Lee, an independent affiliate of Departure Lounge, told The Week it's important to "make sure you have enough time if you're going to a resort that needs a seaplane transfer. I've met people grumbling at the seaplane lounge when they're waiting three to four hours for a seaplane when they're only in the Maldives for three nights."

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What to see and do

If you've always wanted to completely unplug, the Maldives is a good place to do it; you can make it so the hardest decision you'll make is choosing what outfit to wear to dinner. For many people, though, the main attraction of the Maldives is the Indian Ocean and all the activities it affords.

Colorful fish in a coral reef in the Maldives

Scuba diving to see fish and reefs is one of the most popular activities in the Maldives

(Image credit: Alexis Rosenfield / Getty Images)

Surfing is huge; the season runs from February through November, when waves are most consistent. Snorkeling, swimming and scuba diving in the clear water are popular pastimes, with wildlife watchers particularly interested in spotting manta rays, turtles, dolphins and whale sharks. Liveaboard diving excursions can last for several days to more than a week, taking divers out to different atolls to see reefs and marine life.

Warmer water temperatures due to climate change caused a massive coral bleaching event in 2016, and efforts are underway to restore the reefs. Eco-conscious visitors can adopt a coral reef or participate in a beach cleanup

When planning a trip to the Maldives, decide if you want to see multiple islands or just stick to one. You can go from resort island to resort island, or check out a "local" island like Maafushi or Huraa.

Where to stay

The Maldives is known for its pricey luxury accommodations — overwater bungalows are often a draw for honeymooning couples. But travelers on a budget can also enjoy a trip to the islands. It's less expensive to visit during the low season (May through November), stay in a guesthouse rather than a resort, and take the ferry instead of a seaplane or speedboat. 

Lee recommends that all visitors ask properties "about the house reef. If you don't have the budget for a private boat daily to snorkel or dive, you want to make sure you can get somewhere with your own fins to hang out with sea life." Because resorts are often on their own islands, there aren't many standalone restaurants, so it's important to look at the dining options and menus before booking your stay.

A bedroom in a thatched-roof villa at Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives

The ocean is right outside your door at Gili Lankanfushi

(Image credit: Gili Lankanfushi)

The Gili Lankanfushi resort offers guests a chance to design their perfect escape, and that starts with the accommodations. You can choose to stay in a thatched-roof villa with an infinity pool that's closer to the action, a more secluded residence that's a short boat ride away, or the 18,000-square-foot Private Reserve, the world's largest standalone overwater villa, with a cinema and two-story water slide into the lagoon. 

Activities include surfing lessons, paddling, kayaking, canoeing, diving, snorkeling with in-house marine biologists, catamaran sailing and tubing, but not all the adventures are aquatic. Guests can also learn more about the Maldives and its culture with Maldivan drum lessons and crafts using thoshali (untreated coconut leaves). A centerpiece of Gili Lankanfushi is its organic garden, with greens and herbs that are used in the restaurants. Guests can take guided tours with the executive chef, who in the last two years has developed 600 new plant-based menu items for the resort. 

An overwater villa at Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives

Overwater villas are a big draw at resorts in the Maldives

(Image credit: Gili Lankanfushi )

Other top hotels include Patina Maldives, where guests have their own personal "experientialist" to ensure their stay goes just as planned, and Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, a picturesque resort with private swimming pools at every villa.

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