All I could think as my water taxi sped through the azure shallows was I had been preparing for this moment my entire life. I stepped off the boat and let my bare feet sink into the soft, white sand on Gulhifushi Island — one of the nearly 200 uninhabited islands of the Maldives — where I smirked at how I finally had an answer to the question that had been replaying in my head since childhood. With one look in my bag, I whispered to myself, “A good book, sunscreen and a bottle of water.”
As it turns out, two of my three “things I’d bring with me on a deserted island” weren’t even neces- sary since I had booked this experience through my resort’s concierge. The island was small, populated only by a smattering of palms and a thatched cabana that offered shade. Every detail had been thought of for me, and I glanced around the petite island to find a plate of fresh fruit, a pitcher of ice water and a carafe of hot coffee waiting on a makeshift table near a basket with plush towels and snorkel gear. I had the entire island to myself for the whole day, and unlike the S.O.S.-signal scenarios I had mentally rehearsed since childhood, I settled into my spot in the sand with my book and took in the peaceful quiet…with no desire to be rescued.
It’s easy to kick back in the Maldives, where staying connected or disconnecting entirely is a choice, not a requirement, thanks to 5G coverage that extends to nearly every corner of this archipelagic nation. Set in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, just southwest of Sri Lanka and India, the Maldives consists of upwards of 1,200 coral islands, ranging in size and degree of inhabitation, that are grouped into 26 atolls. In general, the northern atolls receive less annual rain than their southern counterparts, while the southern tend to get shielded better from strong winds, but it’s less of a conversation about which atoll or island is best as it is about which resort is right for you.
Among the more than 150 resorts — most occupying their own private islands — you’ll find everything from budget-friendly overwater villas (Kandima Maldives Resort) to subaquatic suites that allow you to drift to sleep in a private aquarium (Conrad Maldives Rangali Island). Regardless of which resort you choose, all international arrivals take place at Velana International Airport on Hulhulé Island in the North Malé Atoll, where it’s simply a boat, seaplane or helicopter ride to your chosen accommodations.
Everything revolves around water in the Maldives, where you can spend your days either gazing out on the crystal-clear water or getting immersed within it. Guided fishing trips are often run by locals who can explain the traditional Maldivian line-fishing technique or lead you into a reeling battle with sailfish, wahoo or even giant trevally. Most of the top resorts offer a full range of watersports, with jet skiing, parasailing, kayaking and wind surfing just a concierge call away, but East Wind Watersports keeps an inventory of aquatic gear if those options ever aren’t available.
Scuba diving in the Indian Ocean is a bucket-list experience for many people, but even just snorkeling in the Maldives could put you face to face with some of the ocean’s most remarkable creatures, including sea turtles, whale sharks, nurse sharks, dolphins and more. The nation is home to the largest recorded reef manta ray population in the world, which you can best observe at the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Hanifaru Bay in the Baa Atoll.
Wellness rightly also follows the swell of the ocean across the atolls, where beachside yoga sessions and breezy open-air massages are regular offerings at the nation’s top spas (i.e., Six Senses Spa at Six Senses Laamu, ESPA at One&Only Reethi Rah, the spa at Naladhu Private Island, among others), but it also harnesses the island’s greatest resource: the coconut. The local Dhivehi language has 12 words for coconut, and the entire life cycle of the fruit plays a role in daily life and health. Freshly made Maldivian coconut oil is a luxury carried in many gift shops throughout the atolls, and it’s worth leaving space for it in your checked luggage, as it’s often made during the coconut’s peak ripeness and sold in its purest form with no additives or preservatives.
As with any trip to paradise, departure dates often feel like unwanted rescues from your island oasis, but thankfully another atoll — or private island — always awaits to welcome you back for your next escape to the Maldives.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
This boundary-pushing resort features 151 luxury beach and overwater villas, includ- ing the world’s first undersea residence, where once-in- a-lifetime experiences occur both above and below the sea.
Rangali Island, Alifu Dhaalu Atoll
Breakfast is served 24 hours a day in the Living Room at this recently renovated resort. Each of the 20 houses comes with a private kuwaanu (butler) to personalize each guest’s stay.
Veligandu Huraa, South Malé Atoll
This all-villas resort blends local traditions and culture into the guest experience through its thoughtful programming and award-winning spa.
Reethi Rah, North Malé Atoll
Farm-to-table is a tricky concept in the Maldives, but Leaf does it effortlessly. Menus change with the tide and season, but always expect flawless execution.
Six Senses Laamu, Laamu Atoll
Sea Underwater Restaurant
Real sharks, turtles and fish provide the ambience for this below-the-surface dining room, where guests savor artfully plated dishes and world-class wines.
Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas, Kihavah Huravalhi Island, Baa Atoll
The architecture of this over- water lounge is as impressive as the delicious tapas, tasting menus and cocktails served beneath it.
The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, Vommuli Island, Dhaalu Atoll
INFO TO GO
Although most travelers arrive from Doha (DOH), Dubai (DXB) or London (LHR) at Velana International Airport on the manmade island of Hulhulé, roughly 40 international and domestic flights arrive each day from around the world. Hulhulé offers limited accommoda- tions, so visitors board sea planes, charter planes or water taxis (often speed- boats or private yachts) to reach their resorts. Most resorts outline this service at the time of booking, so pre-booking accommodations is imperative to ensure seamless transfers.
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