Let’s get one thing straight: Not all atolls were created equal. But on the plus side, the Maldives has thousands of sun-drenched islands, and discovering the perfect one for your trip is all part of the fun.

Every resort in Maldives is its own private island but choosing the right one for you can be difficult. Want to kick off your Indian Ocean holiday in style? Our guide will help you know what to look for in the hunt for your ideal island, whether you’re searching for affordable options or five-star resorts with brilliant dive schools. 

Standup paddleboarder in the turquoise waters off the shore of the Patina Maldives resort
The Patina Maldives resort makes an ideal launchpad for island-hopping excursions @ Patina Maldives, Fari Islands

The distance dilemma

Yes, your sun-kissed island resort might be wonderfully secluded with no other atoll in sight, but remote locations inevitably crank up the price – not simply because there are higher costs to cover (like getting supplies to the resort in question) but because it’s likely you’ll need to pay for a short domestic flight or a seaplane flight to get there. Seaplane transfers are the most expensive option (expect to pay anywhere from US$300 to US$900 for a round trip), while domestic flights to one of the Maldives’ smaller airports (followed by a boat transfer) will be slightly cheaper.

The good news? Some of the best Maldives resorts are just a boat ride from Male’s Velana International Airport, so don’t write off properties simply because of their close proximity.

We recommend: Patina Maldives, the Fari Islands

Located on the Fari Islands development, Patina Maldives, the Fari Islands is only a 45-minute speedboat transfer from the international airport. Fancy a spot of island-hopping? Traveling between islands in the Maldives can be expensive, but Patina Maldives is just a short shuttle-boat service from the Fari Islands’ Ritz-Carlton resort, so there’s no chance of claustrophobia setting in. The Capella Maldives, which will be the third and final Fari Islands resort, is due to open in 2025.

Where to stay for the best food

It may sound self-indulgent, but trust us – knowing your culinary criteria can make or break a holiday. That tiny, exclusive island you’ve got your eye on might well have a Michelin-starred chef, but even the most delicious dishes can look rather plain after you’ve eaten your way through the restaurant’s menu in the space of two days. In summary, bigger is often better if food is a priority. Our top tip? Don’t miss Maldivian Night – most resorts will offer these culinary extravaganzas, typically held in the main buffet restaurant. Chefs will go all out to champion local cuisine, and they’re great opportunities to try local seafood like the Maldivian snapper.

We recommend: Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi

You’ll never go hungry at the South Male Atoll’s Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi resort, which has a staggering 11 restaurants, including ones specializing in Levantine and garden-to-table cuisine. There are regular food-themed events, too – our favorites include Arabian Night and the Twilight Seafood Barbecue, held on the beach.

Where to go for downtime

Why are you going on holiday to the Maldives? If you’re dreaming of lazy sunbathing sessions on the country’s best beaches, your priorities will be different than those of the adrenaline-fueled traveler keen to try every high-octane activity available, whether it’s swimming with manta rays or skydiving (as of 2023, the Maldives now has a skydiving school, which you’ll find on Ifuru Island). As a rule, smaller resorts are great for crowd-free downtime, while larger ones are best suited to families and active types.

We recommend: Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

For the best of both worlds, consider Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu on Baa Atoll – regarded as one of the best spots in the Maldives. There’s a wide range of activities and experiences on offer, but where you can also escape your fellow vacationers by signing up for a night on a nearby deserted island.

A couple on a dock watching a colorful sunset at Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa
Four Seasons Resort Kuda Huraa is one of the best Maldives resorts for honeymoons © Ken Seet/Four Seasons

Money talks

It’s a myth that you have to be a millionaire to holiday in the Maldives, although without a little research, costs can easily spiral out of control. Travelers keen to make the most of their hard-earned cash should familiarize themselves with the packages on offer to make sure they’re getting the best value for money. Options can range from bed-and-breakfast-only packages to to ones that include all meals and drinks, along with certain activities.

We recommend: Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa

A private island in North Male Atoll considered one of the best spots in the Maldives for honeymoons, the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa has a huge range of room categories and offers a brilliant selection of packages, including Island Romance packages that feature fantastic extras designed with couples in mind. Planning on tying the knot? You can get married here, too.

And if you have more questions about budget-planning for a Maldives adventure, take a look at our top 8 ways to save money in the Maldives.

What to look for in sustainability

Taking a second to consider your destination’s sustainability credentials won’t just benefit Mother Nature, it could also save you serious amounts of cash. If an island is producing its own drinking water, growing its own vegetables and transporting guests by boat rather than gas-guzzling seaplane, there will be lower outgoings, which means less costs to cover – all of which translates into lower room rates.

We recommend: Fairmont Maldives - Sirru Fen Fushi

There are numerous reasons to visit the Shaviyani Atoll’s Fairmont Maldives - Sirru Fen Fushi resort, including the fact that it’s tucked inside one of the Maldives’ largest lagoons. But it’s also a great place to learn about sustainability, whether it’s at the Sustainability Lab, where guests can turn discarded plastic bottles into jewelry (waste plastic has also been transformed into various pieces of furniture you’ll see throughout the resort) or during excursions with marine biologists from the Olive Ridley Project, a charity created to protect sea turtles that has a partnership with the property. There’s also the fantastic Coralarium, a semi-submerged structure just off the beach designed by British sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor, who specializes in underwater installations. It doubles as a coral propagation project, and guests can snorkel inside it to admire the tropical fish and brightly-colored corals.

Where to get a culture fix

A growing number of resorts are honoring the region by offering experiences that provide a deeper insight into the Maldives and prove that there are endless reasons to venture beyond your villa. Many now offer trips to local community islands, for example, and in recent years several have opened small museums. At Cora Cora resort’s Dutch Onion Museum (named after the onion-shaped vessels found on the island, several of which are on display), visitors can check out over 400 ancient artifacts found on nearby islands.

We recommend: Heritance Aarah

Heritance Aarah, a beautiful resort on the stunning Raa Atoll, recently unveiled its Live Maldivian Village Museum, which focuses on 4,000 years of Maldivian history. Guests can sample local delicacies at a traditional open kitchen, learn about the art of coral stone carving and find out why locals are known as some of the world’s best boat builders.

Snorkelers filming and swimming near a manta ray in Hanifaru Bay, Maldives
Swim with the manta rays in the Baa Atoll ©Bernard Radvaner/Getty Images

Timing is everything

Let’s get one thing straight: there’s no such thing as a bad time to visit the Maldives. But considering the season is important if you’ve got your heart set on certain activities. If you’re planning on swimming with mantas, for example, a stay on a Baa Atoll resort between May and November is your best bet, although July to October is a great time for manta sightings elsewhere. If you’re planning on a surf session, you’ll need to visit between April and October.

We recommend: frequent holidays

To ensure you experience the Maldives’ best bits, schedule a holiday every month without fail. We’re joking, but you get the point: think what you want to see and do, and brush up on the different areas’ seasonal selling points.

Planning a trip to Maldives? Here’s more of our expert advice to help you plan.

Know these things before you visit

Getting around can be tricky, check out our tips here 

Get out of your villa with these 8 things to do in Maldives

This article was first published Oct 21, 2021 and updated Mar 4, 2024.

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