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For many people, the Maldives is the archetypal tropical island getaway. Soft, white-sand beaches backed by swaying palm trees; turquoise waters; balmy weather – if you're looking for Indian Ocean bliss, this island nation has it all.
Dig a little deeper and it just keeps giving, with legendary scuba diving and snorkelling, a cuisine of distinctive fish-based curries, and – somewhat contrary to popular opinion – some interesting independent places to stay among the big all-inclusive resorts.
The Maldives isn’t your usual holiday destination – far from it. For a start, every resort in the country is on its own private island (quite a claim in itself), which means that for many visitors, what you see and do while here will very much depend on the resort you choose. Some focus more on diving, others on relaxation and wellness.
The capital, Malé, is an island city and quite a contrast to what you’re likely to experience elsewhere in the country – densely packed, busy and very much somewhere where local people live and work. It's worth visiting if you want to get a sense of what life is like away from the resorts – there aren't many big sights, but you can eat at local restaurants, check out the vibrant fish market, and learn a little more of the country’s history at the National Museum. Many hotels offer a guided day trip.
If you’re travelling independently to the Maldives, a popular island to head to is Maafushi – here you’ll find a progressive atmosphere, plenty of locally-run places to stay, and an array of excursions and activities on offer. For many holidaymakers, the highlight of a visit to the island is heading out to one of the floating bars; you can also spend the day on a nearby resort for a little more exclusivity.
Unsurprisingly, many head to the Maldives to dive in the clear Indian Ocean waters, and there are countless fantastic sites to choose from, plus an all-star cast of marine life that includes reef sharks, whale sharks, manta rays and hammerheads. If diving is likely to be the focus of your holiday, you’ll have two options: stay at a dive resort or go for a liveaboard. The latter will enable you to get to some harder-to-reach (and potentially less busy) spots, but you won't get the taste of laid-back Maldivian beach life you'd get at a resort.
It’s often said that there is no such thing as a bad beach in the Maldives and pretty much every one of them is a stunner. That’s not to say they’re all the same, however: some islands, like Baa Atoll, have expansive shallow lagoons, perfect for a gentle wallow; others quickly drop off to a reef, making them better for snorkelling. If you're after a specific kind of beach, our tip is to take a look at the whole island, not just the accommodation, before choosing a hotel.
The Maldives has consistently hot temperatures throughout the year, rarely dipping below 25°C even at night. Even the sea temperature remains balmy year-round. That said, the islands are spread over a wide area and can have their own microclimates, so it’s worth doing some detailed research on your shortlisted islands before you book.
Prices are at their highest during the peak season, which runs from December to April. This is the dry season, when the Maldives is generally at its hottest. Even at this time of year you can get a little rainfall, though it passes fairly quickly. Divers and snorkellers will find visibility at its best during these months.
If you’re looking for a good bargain, consider the wet months of September and October – though it’s worth choosing a resort that has plenty of facilities to keep you occupied during downpours. Visibility can be poor during these months thanks to plankton in the water, but this has some benefits, including higher instances of manta rays and whale sharks (both of which feed on the plankton). Remember, too, that the nature of tropical rain can mean that showers are intense and heavy for a short while before giving way to clear blue skies again.
Marking the end of the month-long Ramadan fast is a three-day festival known as Eid. It’s celebrated in June with feasts, into-the-night dancing and traditional games, though events can vary from island to island.
This annual event stops the nation, as a mix of modern and traditional parades, performances and celebratory military drills fill the streets. The bulk of the action can be found in the capital, but you can expect something exciting on each island.
Internal travel in the Maldives is all about boats and planes – away from Malé, there is very little driving. International flights arrive at Malé Airport, on an island just east of Malé itself. A passenger ferry runs regularly from the airport to the capital, and other public ferries run from there to some of the nearby islands – but if you're relying on ferries, bear in mind that they don’t always run daily. Most visitors arrange speedboat or seaplane transfers; indeed, many of the resorts further away from Malé can only be reached by seaplane. There's a whole terminal of the airport dedicated to seaplane flights, mostly run by Trans Maldivian Airways.
Once you're at your resort, your travel is likely to consist of wandering the island on foot, or taking boat or plane excursions organised through your hotel. Hotels on some of the larger islands – Villingili, for instance – offer bikes to help guests explore a little further afield.
The Maldives is an Islamic country so if you’re planning a visit to one of the residential islands, be mindful of local laws and customs – alcohol is not available outside resorts and modest clothing should be worn.
Flying into Malé is only the first part of the journey - you’ll still have to make it out to your island! Public ferries and speed boats are the cheapest options if you’re staying close by, but for those further away, you may need to take a seaplane.
Choose your accommodation wisely. The over-water villas may seem like the definition of pure bliss, but it can be quite a trek to the other facilities on the island.