A mere four-hour flight away, the Maldives is always calling for UAE residents, and if you’re planning your next trip right now, we’ve rounded up our pick of the best hotels.
From above, the Maldives looks more like a work of abstract art than points on a map — its 1,192 islands, stretching from the southern tip of Sri Lanka to a smidge below the equator, are nothing but pinpricks of gold and green against endless sea.
There simply isn’t anywhere else like it on Earth at ground level (which incidentally rises a maximum of 2.4 metres above the water’s level, making this the lowest-lying country in the world). There are no bad beaches, nor ugly islands, and there’s plenty of marine life — but that doesn’t mean the Maldives is one-dimensional.
Many of the coral reefs around the South Malé atoll have been damaged by a combination of worldwide bleaching that began in 2014, coupled with a growth in huge construction projects around the capital Malé. This area is still great if you want a quick boat transfer from the airport and are happy just to loll on a beach, unperturbed by a bit of sea traffic and the lights of nearby resorts.
But if you’re looking for the kind of splendid isolation and marine life that the Indian Ocean is famous for, splash out an extra on a return seaplane transfer further afield. Popular choices include the Baa atoll, a UNESCO-protected biosphere, and the raa atoll.
Alternatively, the Lhivayani and Shaviyani atolls are less developed, with coral that came through the bleaching trauma almost unscathed. Noonu, in the north, is where the jet-setters head to, while the south has larger islands and is known for its marine species — it can also be reached by normal flights if you don’t fancy the seaplane.
Wherever you decide to go, expect to find some of the best-trained staff and highest service standards in the world, with enough to do to keep even the most active visitor entertained. all-inclusive packages have become more widespread and could be the way to go in a country where almost everything has to be imported. Just be sure to check exactly what’s covered before you book: the best deals throw in watersports, fitness classes and experiences as well as food and drink. If you’re looking for gold-standard fly-and-flop relaxation, you will love the Maldives.
The best hotels and resorts the Maldives has to offer
This long-established all-villa resort on a tiny private island in the North Malé Atoll is a hop from the international airport. The diving centre at Baros Maldives has PADI instructors and marine biologists, and it sorts free snapshots of your underwater explorations. The food is hit-and-miss, but the sea views from the fine-dining Lighthouse Restaurant make for an unforgettable experience.
Anantara Dhigu Resort And Spa
Value is hard to come by in the Maldives, but Anantara Dhigu Resort And Spa does it in spades. A 35-minute speedboat from the airport, it’s the cheapest of three conjoined resorts, and you can use the facilities of the other two, too — often for free — though the beach, spa and main pool are nicer here than at the neighbours. If you’re booking as a couple, they’ll try to upsell you next door because that’s ‘adults only’, but Dighu is big enough that it never gets crowded with hordes of children, so decline and spend your saving in the (underused) nonbuffet restaurants instead.
Hip vibes and Saint-Tropez-ish design have attracted the likes of Kate Winslet and Kate Moss to Amilla Fushi’s shores. Choose from three villa types — beach, overwater or ‘treehouses’ with raised pools. The surrounding Baa Atoll is home to more than 1,200 species of fish and top dive sites, but its UNESCO-protected status has made it very busy. Even so, it’s home to a flourishing reef, with a mini ‘blue hole’ — an underwater cavern — to swim into.
This design resort in the undeveloped Raa Atoll is well-placed for flits to local islands — perfect for those seeking some Maldivian culture. Parents will appreciate the huge kids’ club at Dhigali Maldives, which has a water park and complimentary ice cream. Corbusier-cool villas work for couples, too, though, with their sleek white-on-white interiors. Honeymooners will love the drama of the Haali bar, which is shaped like an upturned bird’s nest and turns up the dial on the romance with its cocktails.
Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas
After undergoing a lavish renovation, the residence options at this private island resort redefine luxury. An invitation for those who require secluded rejuvenation, the Beach Pool and Overwater Pool residences offer exclusivity of the highest kind. Combining luxury and bespoke services, each of the accommodation choices is equipped with the latest technology, a Bose sound system, in-villa wine cellar and a Villa Host – who is on call 24-hours a day – to attend your every whim.
This Baa Atoll resort, situated in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve confirms that to enjoy Mother Nature you need to get wet — here, by Hanifaru Bay, you’ll brag about snorkelling alongside the Indian Ocean’s healthiest populations of whale sharks and manta rays. Watery thrills are the name of the game in-resort, too: try wine-tasting in the underwater SEA restaurant (the cellar has over 450 labels); soak in your glass-bottomed bath and stargaze through the Maldives’ biggest telescope at SKY – the only overwater observatory in the country.
Plus, now with even more gastronomical choice – and an expansive spa menu – Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas is a superior option for those who crave visceral pleasure. A culinary journey awaits your senses: there is a Teppanyaki grill restaurant named FIRE to whisk you to Japan, while SPICE offers a fiery taste of Asia along with spectacular views over the vast Indian Ocean. You’re sure to leave well-rested here as the award-winning Anantara overwater spa boasts world-class treatments that have been infused with the healing properties of indigenous plants. With an option to take your relaxation a step further, there’s an authentic Ayurvedic head massage called a Shirodhara on offer here, which is sure to leave your mind, body and soul feeling anew.
Maalifushi By Como
If you’ve dreamt of swimming with whale sharks, Maalifushi By Como is for you. Staff hand over a pager and bleep you the minute these gentle giants appear in the vicinity — even at night. While on standby, swan around your spacious, white and bleached-wood villa (Demi Moore prefers the overwater pool variety); go deep — spiritually — at the spa or mingle at the sociable bar and restaurant (stick to the green juices, rather than booze, if you’re waiting for the call to flipper-up).
The Maldives isn’t known for its party scene, but W Maldives is an exception. One of the country’s most upbeat resorts, it boasts pool-party charm, with the chance to dine ankle-deep in water or rock out at DJ nights. It’s perfect for the athleisure generation, who spend days detoxing with coconut water and nights downing cocktails at beachfront lounge bar Sip. The resort has another island, Gaathafushi, which you can reserve exclusively for a desert-island experience.
This eco-minded all-inclusive hits the sweet spot between indulgence and affordability. The moment you’re off the seaplane, staff encourage you to swap shoes for flip-flops, and many guests go barefoot throughout their stay (restaurant floors are sand). Join a wine-tasting knee-deep in surf, sipping while (harmless) baby sharks swirl above your toes; cosy up with popcorn at an outdoor movie night; or join a sunset cruise in search of dolphins. Food is largely buffet-style at Constance Moofushi Resort, but tasty (lobster and Champagne included), and while entry-level beach villas are on the dark side, they have outdoor bathrooms and direct access to a quiet, pretty beach.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
Spanning two Alif Dhaal Atoll islands and connected by a bridge, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island’s remote geography means that guests can dip in and out of daily life without sacrificing personal privacy. Golf buggies whizz around between the 150 all-over-water villas and 12 award-winning restaurants and bars, over-water spa, pools and beach. For enthusiastic spa-goers the dedicated Spa Retreat complex is also home to a clutch of utopian villas, each with their own spa room. While for those seeking ultimate isolation, there’s THE MURAKA, a first-of-its-kind, two-level residence with a master bedroom submerged over 16 feet below sea level.
If you think that the Maldives can’t be done on a budget, think again. With B&B rooms for less than $100 a night, and all-inclusive rates less than $150, Equator Village lacks the gloss of newer resorts, but nevertheless it has simple charm: white wicker chairs dot public areas, while pretty English gardens, tennis courts and a pool feature. Set on a buzzy island in the southerly Addu Atoll, it’s a prime place to get a taste of Maldivian culture, with cookery classes or village visits. Nearby dive sites are top-quality.
Fairmont Maldives, Sirru Fen Fushi
On the island of Sirru Fen Fushi at the edge of the Shaviyani Atoll — where the islands are mostly undeveloped — this place sees virtually no sea traffic and barely any light pollution. Such isolation at Fairmont Maldives, Sirru Fen Fushi encourages visitors to get creative with their fun — art classes, photography or trail walks. Don’t miss a swim in the semi-submerged, inter-tidal art gallery: a steely structure near the shore, with sculptures and corals.
An Austin Powers perkiness pervades every element of this resort, perfect for fun-loving families: reception is renamed Mission Control, for example, while a pink Kombi van lists daily ‘Mojo Magic’ (activities). Villas at Finolhu are retro-quirky, too, with rattan chairs and Bakelite phones with a ‘Press for Champagne’ button. Finolhu is serious about its food, though: it has some of the Maldives’s best dining, with a North African spot serving tagines, and the Crab Shack, set on a sand spit.
Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
This family-friendly resort occupies a spacious island in the manta-rayteeming Baa Atoll, and is home to some of the most covetable villas in the Maldives. They are all big, exceptionally private (cloaked in greenery) and come with pools, whether beachside or overwater. The quality of the food is not quite as strong, but it’s hard to knock the personable staff, the marine-life centre (with rescued turtles) and the generous beach at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru. The Ayurvedic spa is a worthy splurge: get a free, half-hour Ayurvedic consultation first to make the most of it.
Lily Beach Resort & Spa
While most resorts favour the driftwood look, this all-inclusive has a cosmopolitan edginess that attracts young couples. Rooms are almost spiritual havens, with four posters and party-sized tubs; public areas shimmer with statement chandeliers; and there’s always someone taking a selfie by the floating hammock platform. Dining is excellent and with four restaurants and four bars there’s plenty of choice. The beach is a disappointingly narrow strip and it’s difficult to find a private corner, but the vast infinity pool at Lily Beach Resort & Spa more than compensates.
Gili invented ‘No news, no shoes’, and they actually bag up your footwear on arrival because here it’s barefoot informality all the way. Fine, since these are some of the softest sands in the Maldives and, with every villa overwater, there’s plenty of beach to stroll on. The look matches up: dreamy pale-wood villas are open to the breeze, and each has its own rooftop terrace (ask your butler to make it up for sleeping under the stars) and hidden slice of sea for skinny-dipping. There’s a lot of seaplane traffic overhead, but relaaax — the island’s pandanus jungle swallows most of the noise.
Label-loving couples snap selfies at its underwater spa, draping themselves on oversized daybeds to watch fish go by. The appeal of Huvafen Fushi pervades in minimalist rooms, and yet more Insta opportunities await at its mindblowing Lonu Veyo flotation pool, so salty it’s like zero gravity. The magic is cranked up further with dinner in romantic Vinum, a wine cellar adorned with suspended sculptures. It’s dressy, so pack heels, but not wetsuits — nearby dive sites have suffered a lot of coral bleaching.
Hurawalhi Island Resort
Turquoise and zesty lemon tones brighten the decor at this youthful-minded resort. Hurawalhi Island Resort has bombshell beaches, a colourful house reef (healthier than most) and a fantastic all-inclusive offering (more generous than most, including round-the-clock drinks and a free sunset dolphin-spotting tour). Not included — but worth the splurge — is a seven-course dinner at Hurawalhi’s spectacular 5.8 undersea restaurant. Book the 6pm seating to see the ocean transform from day to night.
Kuramathi Maldives has 360 rooms, but fear not, it’s a large island, with plenty of room to escape. Explore the rambling exotic gardens, walk the kilometre-long sandbank, or take to the waters (some of the country’s best snorkelling awaits right off the beach). Kuramathi is perfect for families, with a winning summer-camp vibe, first-rate kids’ club and dedicated family pool. The most coveted rooms are in the minimalist two-bedroom beach houses (sleeping six) with floor-to-ceiling sea views from comfy beds.
It’s rare for a relative newcomer (not yet two years old) to boast such sophistication, but this toddler is smart way beyond its years. Conceptual art dotted around the island, curated book collections in the bedrooms, Art Deco interiors and inventive architectural lines everywhere — Joali is an island for aesthetes. Its natural beauty is just as impressive — the lush greenery and curving sandbank are the envy of its high-end rivals — and it attracts some accordingly beautiful guests, so you’ll want to pack your poshest kaftan and suck your tummy in. Until, of course, you retreat to the privacy of your vast, but elegant, villa and private pool…
It’s the Indian Ocean dream: a palmfeathered island, wrapped with a wide ribbon of ridiculously white sand, so tiny you can walk around it in 10 minutes. Suites number just 30, with thoughtful touches such as GoPro cameras. Children over six can stay, but Kanddolhu Maldives is mainly a serene sanctuary for couples, who spend days messing about on kayaks and stand-up paddleboards
Upending the ‘marooned in paradise’ concept, Kanuhura’s beach bungalows stand just a few metres apart, lending a friendlier feel than most others. Occupying a large island in the Lhaviyani Atoll, it has over two kilometres of shoreline to comb, plus two nearby islands for desert-island hijinks. Families are welcome and up to two under-12s can stay free (sharing with parents) and babies get complimentary passage on seaplane transfers to and from the airport. Activities, including a free weekly ‘Maldivian warrior workout’, are a sure-fire way to get generations bonding.
Kudadoo Maldives Private Island
Here’s an all-inclusive with intimacy: just 15 zen-cool overwater villas — all with proper eco-cred — ringed by a healthy reef. At twice the price of other top-end resorts, Kudadoo Maldives Private Island is not cheap, but this jet-setter-level resort includes everything in the rate: Ruinart Champagne, award-worthy meals, unlimited watersports, plus personal fitness gurus and mini-bars stuffed with your favourite spirits, as well as spa rituals and excursions. If you’re travelling with a group — say, for a wedding — you can buy out the whole thing.
A teeny tiny island that’s big on family-friendly facilities, JA Manafaru is a chic hideaway that is home to just 84 spacious villas and suites, each with private pool and outdoor space. Live large in the two-storey, three-bedroom Royal Island Suite (with its own spa facilities, barbecue area and ornamental pond) or make the resort your leisure playground with beach volleyball, a futsal pitch, games room with mahjong, infinity pool, and more. Parents can escape to the Calm Spa while kids have the dedicated Coolzone and Chillzone plus there’s a full menu of watersports.
Meeru Island Resort & Spa
Meeru Island Resort & Spa rocks the quintessential ‘no news, no shoes’ Maldives vibe, with sand-floor bars and alfresco restaurants. It’s large enough to fit in 286 rooms — making the $35 investment for a week’s bike hire worthwhile — but thanks to clever design it still feels intimate (dedicated adults-only areas help). Highlights include a candlelit beach dinner and sundowners at the overwater Asian Wok restaurant and bar, watching reef sharks circle. There are plenty of distractions beyond the wildlife, too, including a museum, spa and tennis, badminton and golf.
In the Maldives’ ongoing ‘arms race’ to see which castaway resort can be the most castaway, Milaidhoo is way out there. Isolated a seaplane ride away, in the Baa Atoll, with no other islands in your eye line, it keeps the peace by banning under-9s (and drones!). Villas have such huge decks and delectable pools, you’ll never need to leave them, and for those who want to go the full Crusoe, there’s the option not just to dine on a private sandbank, but to sleep there, too. Otherwise, simply eat on board the docked dhoni boats of Ba’theli restaurant — and imagine casting off…
Niyama Private Islands
It’s not the beaches — it’s the bonkers extravagances the kids will talk about when you get back home. There’s a simulator room and underwater Seabob scooter to zip you across the lagoon-like Captain Nemo, a treetop restaurant and a sub-aqua alternative decked out with starfish-shaped spotlights. There’s one resort, but two sprawling, bridge-connected islands to pick from: Chill for honeymooners and the family-oriented Play. Villas at Niyama Private Islands are slightly disappointing in contrast to the activities on tap: go for a beach house, rather than a pricier overwater suite.
One&Only Reethi Rah
Beloved of moneyed Russians and American investment bankers, this is one of the Maldives’ most overtly glitzy resorts. But don’t let that put you off. One&Only Reethi Rah has sublime food (don’t miss tropical-forest-coddled Botanica), ridiculously on-it butler service and room to explore (the island is so large, it takes 10 minutes to cross by bike or golf cart). Glam villas are private (even the entry-level beach ones); an adults-only infinity pool is film-set slick; and a rambling spa comes with a yoga pavilion and barber.
Ozen by Atmosphere
Many all-inclusives add sneaky charges for snorkelling equipment, premium drinks or the chance to dine anywhere other than the buffet. Ozen by Atmosphere is a notable exception. The deal includes one meal at its fancy underwater restaurant, M6m, at no extra cost, and all the Moët you can drink. Dark wood villas, split between beach and overwater, are big and work well for families or couples — vast outdoor bathrooms are a highlight.
Raffles Maldives Meradhoo Resort
A by-the-sea take on the glamorous Singapore heritage hotel, but with added palm trees and moreish Maldives Slings. The marine life in this part of the island nation is supersized — whale sharks are as wide as mini-buses — and a bounty of unchartered reefs makes Raffles Maldives Meradhoo Resort a prime choice for divers.
Six Senses Laamu
At Six Sense Laamu, you may see washboard-chested Kelly Slaters barrelling towards the beach. The wave they’re riding is Yin Yang, a renowned surf break, and it’s turned this eco-sensitive resort into a Shangri-La for cash-rich surfers from Bondi to Brazil. Happy hours at sunken poolside bar Sip Sip increase the boozy-Bali vibe, and there’s a full list of dusk-to-dawn activities, including sea-kayaking and night-diving.
Taj Exotica Resort & Spa
With the airport located a mere 20-minute boat ride from the ivory shores of Emboodhu Finolhu Island, the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa is ideal for those looking for a quick and accessible break. Lagoon villas with wraparound sundecks afford sea views for miles, while beachfront rooms boast plunge pools and private courtyards.
Nailing the ‘barefoot luxury’ vibe, natural woods fill eco-sensitive thatched villas, where space and privacy promise an air of Robinson Crusoe (butler service means you’ll have your own Mr or Ms Friday, too). Sustainability is taken seriously at Soneva Fushi, and there’s a vegan restaurant. Scores of visiting Michelin-quality chefs, a help-yourself ice-cream parlour and handmade chocolate room, superb kids’ club and these quite incredible villas make this island a treasure..
The Residence Maldives Dhigurah
The simple teak-and-thatch design isn’t going to win awards, but few hotels beat this location: in the gorgeous Gaafu Alifu Atoll, skirting the equator. Here, islands are larger and Dhigurah stretches for over two kilometres, with another kilometre-long wooden bridge linking it to a sister resort. Cycle over for brekkie and bring an appetite: this all-inclusive doesn’t skimp. Don’t upgrade: even standard rooms come with private pools.
The St Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
Contrary to appearances, thatch isn’t compulsory in the Indian Ocean and if you want an island paradise with a more urban aesthetic, Vommuli’s for you. Slick interiors draw a stylish crowd and the food and drink are as sophisticated as any city’s. The spa at The St Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort is similarly sexy — it’s called Iridium, which gives you an idea of the Bond-villain-lair look — but the big surprise is how offspring-friendly St Regis is: fun all-family activities and a ton of clan-sized rooms.
Velassaru Maldives is honeymoon central, with in-house wedding photographers constantly snapping couples at the infinity pool or laid-back beach bars. It’s not all gooey — free sunrise cruises and a weekly outdoor cinema keep the feel nicely communal. Villas have an urban sleekness, while the proximity to Malé is both a plus (you’re in resort 30 minutes after touchdown) and a minus (sea views are marred by cargo ships).
Velaa Private Island
Velaa Private Island where the European elite go to bronze their pins, and the mood is refreshingly un-smoochy. There’s an array of hi-tech toys to play with and with a staff/guest ratio of 8:1, zero waiting time for scuba gear. Villas are nature-inspired, with shimmers of mother-of-pearl and live orchids dangling from the rafters, but — look away eco-warriors — as with many Maldives resorts, it takes loads of water to keep the island looking lush (much of it soaked up by a nine-hole golf course).
The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort
An enviable location within the Baa Atoll Unesco World Biosphere Reserve forms the backdrop for upscale downtime from the second you step off the boat onto the arrival jetty with its visually arresting shell-shaped canopy. The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort architecture is a modern twist on island cliché with talking points such as the ‘floating’ lily pad daybeds in the main pool. Westin signature Heavenly beds, outdoor rain showers and guaranteed jaw-dropping views come as standard in your choice of one to three-bedroom pool, over water or garden villa.
Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa
Picture postcard tranquillity beckons a mere 20 minutes by boat from Malé airport making this Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa an all-round winner. A hospitality icon on North Malé Atoll, it’s packed with first-class facilities yet has ample space to ensure that sought-after sense of seclusion. The cosy pool cottages are great for couples or those with small children, while the over-water bungalows charm from every angle. The spa is also a sight to behold – housed on its own island, its dotted with private pavilions in lush gardens.
LUX* North Malé Atoll
No, it’s not South Beach, but the glam, white-and-windows villas at LUX* North Malé Atoll Resort & Villas look like they’ve been lifted straight from Miami Vice. The LUX* brand is known for quirkiness and this place delivers: think grind-your-own peanut butter at brekkie; on-site coffee and ice-cream shops; a London-style phone booth with free international calls. Most villas are over water and all have private pools and rooftop sundecks, perfect for privacy-seeking couples (ask for one on the sunset side of the island). Food is top-drawer, service standout, but quality snorkelling (plentiful turtles and healthy reefs) requires an hour’s boat ride.