Few parts of the earth are as synonymous with luxury as the Maldives, though it hasn’t always been thus: the archipelago in the Indian Ocean only began courting tourists in the 1970s, and many of the most extravagant island retreats came later.
The archipelago has 26 natural atolls and around 1190 islands, and while in some cases it’s possible to island hop by speedboat and ferry, you might need to jump on a seaplane to access some of the most exclusive hideaways. While some local islands are uninhabited, most accessible ones live up to the ‘paradise’ reputation: golden beaches, palm trees, glistening turquoise waters, and those iconic villas on stilts where you can watch the colourful fish swim below. This is really is one of the most relaxing, luxurious destinations you could wish for and it’s a holiday you’ll never forget. Here’s what you need to know.
Most resorts take up an entire island and offer a range of accommodation, from smart beach villas to capacious water villas with private plunge pools and jacuzzis overlooking sparkling blue waters. If you’re on a remote island, it’s worth looking into their half board and full board deals (usually meal-only). If you’re up for trying a variety of local cuisine outside the hotel, pick one that’s near other inhabited, non-resort islands and easily accessible by speedboat (check with your hotel about boat prices and frequency). Of course, the bigger the resort, the more eating options there tend to be. And you can usually order room service for your accommodation.
By contrast to the dry local islands, the luxury resorts of the Maldives are positively rolling in liquor, with most offering all-inclusive packages where drinks are topped up by attentive staff. Some resorts nearer Malé offer a ‘Day Package’ for non-residents; Brits and Germans on a budget treat this is as something of a booze cruise. Local staff are not allowed to serve alcohol but you will find that many of the waiters (nearly always men) are from India and Sri Lanka. There’s generally a happy hour serving cocktails around 5 pm.
Diving and snorkelling are popular pursuits in an archipelago, with over 2,000 species of fish, and sea turtles a common sight. You don’t have to don a mask to witness sea life: just stroll along a resort walkway and you’ll spot tuna, jackfish, eels and even small sharks in the water below. Dolphins are another big draw: you might spot them in the distance from your hotel room, and most places offer boat trips out to dolphin spotting locations, where staff cautiously – or perhaps tactically – offer 50/50 odds of seeing the creatures. Other trips include visits to local islands, sunset cruises and submarine excursions.
Home to the international airport and the capital city of the Maldives, Malé is the only really urban island and it’s jam-packed full of houses, offices, mosques and shops. If you’re after truly local cuisine, head here but bear in mind that everywhere outside of the resorts and the ‘booze boats’ is a dry area – you can’t buy alcohol and should not have it on your possession. The Maldives is an Islamic nation and while beachwear is fine in the resorts, to avoid offence you should cover up to when visiting local islands like this. Most tourists blithely ignore this rule at the airports, but given the number of domestic passengers milling around it seems polite to err on the side of caution. Malé also has guest houses and hotels aplenty.
Flora And Fauna
You won’t find street cats and dogs here: the only mammals you’re likely to spot are the giant fruit bats swooping overhead (warning: they pee liberally mid-flight). Birdlife usually comprises of Eurasian migratory birds, such as the grey heron, and gulls that make a pleasant racket while swooping into the sea to catch fish. Basically, the most exciting creatures tend to hang out near or in the sea, so pack insect repellant and a waterproof camera.
When you head to The Maldives, you’ll probably find a few friends hollowly joking, ‘you’d better go now before they sink.’ Sadly, rising sea levels due to global warming do mean that the archipelago is at risk over the coming years. Thus, hotels tend to be especially eco-aware – supporting this, and their tourist industry in general, seems like a particularly important goal.
British Airways flies direct from London Gatwick to the Maldives in around 10 hours, while other airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Sri Lankan Airlines and Emirates fly there with one stop. If you’re staying in a resort, they have efficient systems of meeting you and transporting you – they should also be happy to coordinate with any other resorts you are going on to after your stay.