Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Maldives

ES1 Paradise definitely suits Emma Sparks © Emma Sparks

Emma Sparks, Deputy Editor at Lonely Planet, recently returned from a trip to the Maldives.

Tell us more… I spent five days exploring an island nation I’d always dreamed of visiting, in as many different ways as possible – by land, sea and sky. I stayed at Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa which is tucked away on a private island in the southernmost atoll of the archipelago. If you want a far-flung, middle-of-nowhere island escape, this is it.

In a nutshell… I can confirm: the Maldives looks just like it does in the brochures. The water is that blue. The sand is that white. The over-water villas are as epic as you imagine. But there’s more to these tropical isles than meets the eye. Drag yourself off the sunlounger and dig a little deeper to find abundant wildlife, rich culture and fascinating history.

ES3 Male's fish market © Emma Sparks

Good grub? Fishing is the second largest industry in the Maldives, after tourism. Fishermen still catch tuna using traditional pole and line methods – and I found plenty to eat in the form of the ubiquitous tuna curry, as well as mas huni (chopped tuna, coconut, chilli and onion) and flatbread, which makes for a tasty breakfast. A visit to the fish and produce markets of Malé, the capital, was an eye-opening experience – a true taste of local life. Fish-flavoured crisps, anyone?

Defining moment? Two incredible wildlife experiences stand out in my mind. First, coming face-to-face with a sea turtle for the first time – a traveller’s rite of passage. And secondly, being entertained by hundreds of playful spinner dolphins which surrounded our boat during a sunset cruise. Unbelievable.

If you do one thing… Get a glimpse of local life by visiting the inhabited islands – I toured Addu City by bike, exploring an old British military base and stopping for ‘short eats’ (local spicy snacks) at a local cafe. Malé’s also worth a day or two, with its impressive Islamic Centre and ancient coral stone mosque.

ES2 The Old Friday Mosque in Male, made using ancient coral © Emma Sparks

Fav activity? I like to climb up mountains when I visit a new place – but the Maldives is the world’s lowest country... So while summiting the nation’s highest point, Mount Villingili (5m), was a novelty, I decided to find a different way to get a bird’s eye view of paradise: parasailing. Soaring above the deep blue lagoon was remarkably peaceful – as if I wasn’t relaxed enough!

Quintessential experience? It’s undeniable: the Maldives is a wonderful place to chill out. How you relax is up to you. Sunrise yoga overlooking the beach; snorkelling along the reef spotting colourful fish; or indulging at the spa – whatever it is, it’s time to unwind!

Watch the interview

Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Find out where our picture editor, Claire Richardson, just got back from.

Emma Sparks travelled to the Maldives with support from Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.