It’s almost impossible not to talk about the Maldives in cliché: bright-white super-soft sand and pristine waters in a thousand hues of blue. It’s all true – and so is the fact that the Maldives is home to a disproportionate number of the world’s best beaches.
At its highest point, this South Asian archipelagic nation hits 7.9ft (2.4m). Indeed, this is not a destination for hiking or high-vantage views. Instead, the Maldives is for lounging under palms to gawp at the Indian ocean, watching as that solitary sandbar appears and disappears under the tide.
It’s worth remembering how small the Maldives islands are: Only 200 of its 1200 or so islands are inhabited, so you’ll have no problem finding one that is footprint-free. Others we love for their amenities and activities too. These are seven of the best beaches to visit in the Maldives.
Best for seeing bioluminescent plankton
The beach on minuscule Mudhdhoo Island may only be small, but it certainly deserves its Unesco protection status, as part of the surrounding Baa Atoll’s biosphere reserve. From its snow-shores you can see the island’s halo reef that houses clownfish, stingrays and majestic reef sharks.
But the real reason it’s made it onto our list is because of how it lights up a night. Millions of tiny organisms live in the shoals, each giving off a bioluminescent blue glow that creates the illusion of a starry sky when they wash up on the sand. Evening strolls on the beach don’t get much more romantic.
Best for luxe resort stays
Best for This implausibly pretty island – also known as Makunufushi – is a speedy boat ride from where your plane lands in capital Malé. Little more than 100 steps wide, no larger than a soccer pitch, it’s home to uber luxe Como Cocoa, one of the Maldives’ first luxury resorts.
Its wrap-around beach looks exactly like the photos, but what really draws the eye are the shifting sands of its 2625ft (800m) sandbar. Not a bad place to lay out a blanket and enjoy a papaya platter. Feeling active? It’s a 10-minute stroll from one side of the island to the other. Or, if you’re keen to snorkel, the island’s two reefs are home to eagle rays, playful blacktip sharks and squid.
Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru
Best for accessible snorkeling
Twenty five minutes in a speedboat from Velana International Airport and you’re there. Almost a perfect circle, Vabbinfaru’s silken sand frames the entire coastline, with the best of the beach on the western side, which blends into the largest part of the island’s sizeable lagoon.
Start your day with some beachside yoga and then make the most of Vabbinfaru’s marine life: A fabulous coral reef that offers some of the best snorkeling within striking distance of the Maldivian capital. Pufferfish, turtles and small sharks galore.
Best for spotting sea turtles
As popular with locals as it is with nature-loving tourists, Long Beach on the javelin-shaped Dhigurah Island in the South Ari Atoll seamlessly segues into a snake-like sandbar. Take a seat on one of its picnic tables and settle in for a day doing absolutely nothing or take a tour to see the whale sharks – it’s the best place in the Maldives for them.
Something closer? Grab your snorkeling gear and paddle into the surrounding lagoon – it’s a hotspot for sea turtles. The island also has its own dive centre if you want to see them up close, while nearby cafes and shops lend the place an atmosphere not dissimilar to that of a lively Thai island.
Bikini Beach, Maafushi Island
Best for price-conscious travelers
Hanging out on one of the Maldives public beaches can be tricky: it’s a devout country and conservative clothing is often obligatory. Not so on Maafushi Island’s Bikini Beach. What you gain in freedom, you give up in seclusion. Though, for those who like a bit of an atmosphere on a price-conscious holiday, this strip of talc-white sand is perfect.
Either take the perfect Insta snap on one of its palm-tree swings or enquire about the Coral Garden Tour, which includes a full day of snorkeling, drinks and return transfer. (Maafushi translates to "Big Island" – apt considering Maafushi has the longest coastline in all of Maldives.)
Best for quirky details
Located in the Baa Atoll Unesco Biosphere, the Finolhu resort is spread across four islets, with 1.25 miles (2km) of pristine beach and an impressive 1.1-mile (1.8km) sandbank – the longest of any Maldivian island resort.
While the resort may comfortably be filed under "ultra-luxe", it’s quirky too: there are VW campers parked on the beach and vintage phones for ordering Champagne. As for water, the local osmosis plant turns the sea into drinkable water, so you won’t find a plastic bottle in sight.
Best for escaping the world
It’s hard to pick a favourite beach in the Maldives, but if we had to then it might just be the aptly-named White Sandy Beach on Fulhadhoo Island. Sleepy, wild and miles from the crowds, the end-of-the-Earth attributes of this Northern Atoll will charm those looking for desert island seclusion.
Facilities on the beach are few, save a handful of sunbeds under bamboo canopies. From there, you can wave at the local fisherman – who live in a small village to the east – as they bring in the night’s catch.