I’ve been duped in my previous travels: images of popular tourist destinations often conjure perfection but in reality, are products of much photoshop and filters. That’s why, as my Qatar Airways flight descended into Malé, the capital of the Maldives, my jaw dropped. It was like descending into a pristine screensaver background, unfiltered: the mysterious dark blues of the Indian Ocean melted into the turquoise sandbanks surrounding the 1,192 islands that comprise the country. With the concept of “one resort, one island,” travelers must do their diligence in picking a resort that fits their needs, but that shouldn’t be hard. After all, a country celebrated as a top romantic honeymoon destination is also heralded as an adventure sports paradise, a safe, family-friendly holiday spot, and a health and wellness recluse. I was fortunate to spend three weeks exploring the flattest country on the planet: here are my takeaways.
Qatar Airways is one of the most direct flights to Male from North America. I suggest pairing the trip with a layover in Doha, Qatar’s vibrant and metropolitan capital, where old and new worlds meld, as Malé is a mere five-hour flight away.
Robinson Club Noonu
Part of the Robinson Club Vacation chain, the brand’s Maldives Noonu property, on the Noonu Atoll is an optimal choice for activity lovers. An hour’s seaplane from Mali brings you to this remote pinpoint of paradise and isn’t your standard Maldives resort. Reminiscent to a Club Med in their array of activities—from yoga to bodybuilding to a weekly “Olympics” that raises money for local charities—you won’t simply be working on a tan here. Water enthusiasts will enjoy scuba diving, snorkeling trips, dolphin encounters, jet skiing, and even glass kayaking adventures. The resort serves buffet-style meals, but guests can opt for elegant seaside dinners or a teppanyaki experience for an extra cost.
Lux* North Male Atoll
Lux* North Mali Atoll is a Maldivian resort just an hour’s boat ride from Mali that deserves to be on all five-star bucket lists as it exudes elegance. Known as a “penthouse paradise,” the resort boasts two-story overwater and beach villas, pristine and reminiscent of the architecture of the Greek isles. Plus, their expansive roofs overlooking the sea are optimal for sunset champagne toasts (not to mention for watching outdoor movies or stargazing!) Butler service is another luxurious component of the resort. Must-do’s at Lux* include tasting innovative dishes at the Peruvian-Japanese restaurant, catching the sunset on the resort’s catamaran, and a ceviche workshop with the head chef.
Kuramathi Resort has retained an incredible amount of repeat customers for a good reason: the resort not only has a diverse array of villas, from beachside to pool villas and sunset-facing ocean villas it also boasts all the amenities one may desire on holiday. Between its buffets, nine a la carte restaurants ranging from authentic Indian cuisine and Thai food, and nightlife offerings including champagne and cigar bars with live music, you’ll never start feeling “island fever” here because, heck, it’s a mini-city!
Little will feel more serene than staying in one of the 30 villas at Kandolhu; a five-star resort consistently rated the fourth-best resort globally on TripAdvisor—for a good reason. This secluded retreat would be optimal for couples on a honeymoon who want dual privacy and variety. For an island so tiny and dominated by lush nature, Kandolhu still impresses with many gastronomic options, including four restaurants, ranging from the Mediterranean to Japanese to even an oceanside pop-up taco bar. The boardwalks leading to the property’s overwater bungalows are always brimming with ocean life. In fact, I had a family of reef sharks as neighbors during my visit!
You’ve likely already seen pictures of 5.8, Hurawalhi Resort’s viral all-glass undersea restaurant, which serves an array of fine dining options 5.8 meters below the sea, surrounded by curious sea creatures. But the remote resort, a seaplane’s ride from, offers just more than fishy dining companions. For the perfect Instagram shot with undisrupted ocean views, spend time at Dream island, swimming in the clear water, snorkeling amongst fish, strolling hand in hand around the beautiful shoreline, and relaxing in the sun – all safe in the knowledge that, unlike ‘real’ castaways, there will be no need to create an SOS in the sand in the hope of rescue – you will be collected by boat and returned to luxury all too soon. You won’t need to catch a fish or hope for a coconut to wash up on the beach either – Hurawalhi’s culinary team will prepare a selection of delicious light eats for you to enjoy during your time on the sandbank.
Cinnamon Hakuraa Huraa Maldives
One of Sri Lanka’s leading luxury resort chains, it’s no wonder their presence in the Maldives is defined by world-class services, five-star facilities, and opulent surroundings. And the best part for couples who dually desire seclusion along with the amenities and fun of a family resort? Cinnamon Hakuraa Huraa is a seaplane ride away from Mali and on an island where nature reigns. Watersports, operated by the local Maldivian company Sail and Dive, include jetskiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and copious non-motorized options as well. Hakuraa Huraa Maldives has a dedicated “adults-only” private area of the resort, connected to the main by a bridge. This area is optimal for couples who desire seclusion, yet still, want access to all the amenities a larger resort would offer. The rooms with glass floors optimal for fishy encounters at all hours of the night are an added bonus!
Cinnamon Velifushi Resort
The five-star Cinnamon choice in the Maldives, Velifushi is the optimal escape for true bliss. Adrenaline junkies will enjoy the unique experience of scuba diving or snorkeling with a colony of friendly nurse sharks only ten minutes by boat from the resort. Harmless to humans, these unhurried creatures can grow up to 10 feet long and form an impressive sight as they glide leisurely along the reef. Romantics will love booking a private and indulgent multi-course dinner on the beach, under the stars, or enjoying a blissful couple’s massage at the resort’s overwater spa. Inside, the open and airy Italian-styled interior instantly transported me to a quaint European mountain village, in the midst of island paradise. One of my personal favorite parts of the day was watching the kaleidoscopic sea from my cozy seaside hammock.