Scattered through the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are the stuff that castaway island fantasies are made of. The 26 ring-shaped atolls are comprised of over 1,000 coral islands, yet only 200 or so are inhabited, creating a real-life, far-flung paradise.
Many a honeymooner has ventured here to while away a week or two on the white sands of a dreamy island resort, but there’s much more to the Maldives than idle relaxation and staring into sunsets (though let’s be honest, they’re both great). There’s no need to worry about cabin fever or dare we say it – boredom – as even the most adventure-seeking of travellers will find plenty to keep them entertained.
Before we lure you with a list of great things to do, it’s worth noting that the best time to visit is over the summer season (December – April) as, whilst the winter months are still hot, they’re predictably soggy due to the monsoons.
Spas and wellness
The Maldives are synonymous with their uninterrupted tranquillity; a place to truly switch off and relax. It’s no surprise, then, that many resorts extend this opportunity into fully fledged spas and wonderful wellness facilities. When it comes to treatments, you can expect to pay around 50p per minute at three-star resorts, whilst treatments at higher-end resorts come in at around a pound a minute. You’ll often encounter exotic ingredients within the balms, creams and exfoliating scrubs, such as papaya, coconut, orange blossom and sea salt. And, many resorts offer treatments that are tailored to suit your situation, for example, jet lag-easing massages and soothing after-sun applications. The wellness experience can be enhanced even further, with lagoon-side yoga lessons and sunset mediation sessions, affording an effortlessly immersive retreat from the everyday.
Swimming with sharks
In 2010 the Maldives boldly banned all shark fishing and transitioned into a shark sanctuary. For the brave, the best way to witness the shark population here is to meet them at their level, by scuba diving at one of the many dive sites that pepper the island’s surrounding Indian Ocean. Whale sharks (the world’s largest fish), hammerheads and grey reef sharks can all be spotted here year-round – often coaxed into making an appearance by a tempting bait ball. If that all sounds a little too nerve-wracking, you can spot plenty of young sharks through the clear waters of the Maldives’ lagoons, which act as shark nurseries to baby grey tips and lemon sharks.
Fine, fresh dining
As you might imagine, the Maldives’ unique location affords it some innovative ingredients when it comes to dining, let alone unforgettable settings (think the world’s first underwater restaurant and idyllic over-water eateries set on scenic wooden jetties). The menus here often display influences from India, Malaysia and Europe, whilst making excellent use of the Indian Ocean’s native fish species. Maldivian tuna, skipjack, mahi-mahi and little tunny (or latti, as it’s known locally) are all residents of the surrounding open waters, and you won’t find them fresher than on a Maldivian table. Look out for mas huni over breakfast – fish that’s shredded and smoked, then served with grated coconut and onion – and fihunu mas over dinner – barbecued fish that’s basted with chili. Watch out for the appearance of Singapore’s SAVOUR festival here too; in past years, it has planted Michelin-starred chefs from all over the world within a Maldivian resort for two weeks of tantalising tasting menus.
Seriously scenic scuba diving
With a tropical climate, great underwater visibility and an annual year-round water temperature that spans a tempting 26-30°C, the Maldives offers some stunning scuba diving opportunities. Certified divers can extend their training to include underwater photography, drift diving or wreck diving, whilst novices can make use of the islands’ many accredited diving schools to get a taste of the sport. There are various dive sites peppered throughout the waters, which all hold their own unique draws. Caves, overhangs and coral-filled swim throughs can all be found here, alongside the chance to sight manta rays, tuna and barracudas. When the current’s calm, the Victory Wreck is a popular diving excursion; this now coral-clad ship ran aground on Friday 13 February 1981 before sinking the next day. Since then, its slowly been blanketed in captivating marine life.
Get up close to coral reefs
Much of the Maldives’ beauty lies under the water, in the form of colourful coral reefs and their rainbow of inhabitants. As the area’s a transit zone for marine species, there’s an abundance of eye-catching varieties of fish to watch out for, including zebra-striped lionfish, long-snouted unicorn fish, neon-bright parrotfish and iconic clownfish. A casual snorkelling session gives you a glimpse of this particularly pleasing picture, whilst the Whale Submarine (which operates from Malé) offers a look into life on a reef – a particular draw for those who aren’t into scuba diving. For something a little more luxurious, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island has a brilliantly atmospheric underwater restaurant, whilst Per Aquum Huvafen Fushi boasts a fantastic underwater spa.
The Maldives’ island resorts are well aware of their remote situations and, as such, make sure they offer plenty of on-site activities to appeal to the less idle-intent of guests. So much so, that you could even leave your island paradise with a new skill up your beach kimono’s generous sleeve. In addition to the yoga and meditation sessions that often come wrapped up in a resort’s wellness agenda, you can find a wealth of alternative activities to keep boredom at bay.
In-resort scuba diving centres are common place, so water babies can work towards (or add to) a PADI qualification within this particularly glorious setting. Cooking classes are often offered too, which can cover Maldivian specialities, such as fresh reef fish. W Maldives goes even further with painting lessons and Finolhu offers professional photography sessions, whilst Soneva Fushi Resort has an observatory, as well as a beach cinema. Resorts’ entertainment schedules are worth checking too, as they extend from world-class DJs to performance acts, live bands and, in Maafushivaru’s case, laser light shows.
Life above the water in the Maldives is just as action-packed as that below. Dhoni sailing boats originate from some of the oldest vessels on the water and, as well as being used for dedicated cruises, act as water taxis between the atolls. Fishing excursions are a reel (ahem) draw, with big game fishing and night fishing trips amongst the offering. Line-and-pole fishing, using local techniques (net fishing is illegal here), makes for a lovely afternoon-to-evening out, and can wind up with a barbecue on an uninhabited island – the perfect place to savour your catch. Whale and dolphin watching offers a further opportunity to get out onto the water, as well as a bevy of watersports, including canoeing, water skiing, catamaran sailing, jet skiing and surfing (the Maldives once hosted the Asian Surfing Championships). Resorts will usually be able to organise these activities for you.
Mosques, museums and markets
Malé is one of the smallest capital cities in the world, making it instantly interesting for the curious. It’s here you’ll find the Maldives’ oldest mosque, Old Friday Mosque (a coral-stone structure with intricate carvings, dating back to 1656) whilst the Grand Friday Mosque and Islamic Centre is an impressive modern structure in white marble, crowned in a gleaming gold dome that sits proudly within the city’s skyline. The National Museum offers a glimpse into the islands’ unusual history, and the National Art Gallery hosts regular exhibitions of Maldivian art. Malé’s fish and produce markets gives an authentic insight into Maldivian life, making them well worth a visit whether you want to buy or browse. For souvenirs, head to Orchid Magu or Chaandhanee Magu, which are both lined with souvenir shops.
Take a look at our ever-changing collection of Indian Ocean hotels and holidays.
Click here to join Secret Escapes and save up to 70% on luxury hotels and holidays.