7 unique experiences for a memorable vacation in the Maldives

Otherworldly views, underwater adventures, haute cuisine and valuable lessons in the luxurious art of doing nothing—here’s your guide to soaking in the fine experiences that the Maldives has to offer.

With swathes of turquoise waters as far as the eye can see, white sandy beaches and one-island resorts that ensconce you in luxury, the Maldives is straightforward in its appeal. The country is made up of 1,192 islands of which only 200 are inhabited. They’re grouped into a double chain of 26 atolls, with a select few atolls occupied by a sole resort. Which means, the Maldives allows you to play out your fantasy of being stuck on your own private island. But unlike Tom Hanks in Castaway, you get to revel in all the creature comforts you desire. 

The archipelago is also well-connected with the rest of the world. Velana International Airport, the main gateway to the Maldives, sees flights from Europe, the Middle East and South-east Asia, though the highest international traffic to the country is from Sri Lanka, India and Dubai. If you’re travelling to a resort, your transfer to and from the airport will usually be taken care offall you need to do is jump into a speedboat or seaplane and enjoy the view.

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It’s no wonder then when the Maldives opened its borders to all nations from July 15, 2020 with a 30-day free visa on arrival, that tourists with a pent-up demand for travel and a need to unwind from the stresses of the pandemic descended on the island. According to data published by the Ministry of Tourism, The Maldives has welcomed a total of 2,00,871 tourists so far this year, as of March 4, 2021. India remains a top market for the destination with 46,541 Indian tourists arriving at the archipelago, followed by Ukraine and Kazakhstan with a recorded 13,350 arrivals and 8,537 arrivals, respectively.

Whether you’re planning a honeymoon, are a water baby who can’t wait to reunite with the ocean or just want to claim a slice of paradise, even if only for a few days, here are some experiences to to add to your list when planning a trip to the Maldives.

(Disclaimer: Activities available in the Maldives may be subject to travel restrictions. Please check the latest COVID-19 protocol before booking your stay.)

Soak in local culture at Malé 

While Malé  is often just a stopover on one’s way to their resort, we suggest adding a day to your itinerary to explore the bustling Maldivian capital and experience local heritage and culture. The town’s grid-like structure encourages wandering. Sultan Park is a leafy spot to relax at. Here you can explore works by local artists at the National Art Gallery, and a range of artefacts showcasing the country’s history at the National Museum at the western end of the park. Marvel at the intricate wood carvings, calligraphy and lacquer work at the Grand Friday Mosque and the 17th-century Hurukuru Miskiiy (Old Friday Mosque). But remember, non-Muslims must seek permission to enter and photography is prohibited. For a crash course in the sights and sounds of the Indian Ocean, visit the main market, full of local produce, freshly caught fish and other curiosities.

Frolic on your own private island

luxury hotels W Maldives
Gaathafushi is a private island available to guests at the W Maldives. (Photo: Courtesy W Maldives)

At the W Maldives, you can book your own private tropical island, Gaathafushi, located a stone’s throw away from the main property. Play mermaid at the surrounding silent lagoon, hang out on the signature W Bed under a thatched roof, and enjoy a candle light barbecue by your own private chef. If you choose to stay overnight, there’s also a champagne breakfast that awaits you in the morning. W Maldives offers various packages ranging from a half-day trip to an overnight stay. “For anything else, just ask. The island is yours and we will deliver whatever you want, whenever you want it,” the resort website declares.

For more information, visit www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/mlewh-w-maldives/ 

Swim with sharks and stingrays on a stunning private cruise

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Ditch the mainland and hop on board the Four Seasons Explorer for an all-inclusive, three-, four- or seven-night cruise. The journey will take you through the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve where you’ll drift by the garden island of Kuda Huraa and the pristine Landaa Giraavaru on a private, three-deck catamaran. The highlight of these cruises are daily diving trips with a marine biologist where you can marvel at the soft coral ceilings of the Fares Caves, hang out with stingrays at Eboodhoo Cove, and explore the grey reef shark hot spot of Rasdhoo Madivaru, the whitetip-shark and octopus refuge of Maaya Thila, the whale shark haven of Maamigili Beyru and the Machafushi shipwreck. 

For more information, visit www.fourseasons.com/maldivesfse/ 

Share a romantic dinner on a treetop

Dine in a treetop pod at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives. (Photo: Courtesy Waldorf Astoria Maldives)

The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi offers 11 unique dining experiences. At Terra, you can dine with your sweetheart on a treetop, ensconced in a nest-like bamboo pod. Six of these pods can seat two with a seventh that can accommodate four. The theme of the menu might as well be decadence, with Miyazaki wagyu beef, alba white truffle and an extensive wine collection, including Krug Champagne. Social distancing was never this much fun. 

For more information, visit www.waldorfastoriamaldives.com/ 

Let your worries float away at an underwater spa

Maldives hotels huvafen fushi
Enjoy a massage underwater at the spa at Huvafen Fushi in the Maldives. (Photo: Courtesy Huvafen Fushi)

There’s relaxing on vacation in the Maldives and then there’s relaaaaxing. Book a treatment at the underwater spa at Huvafen Fushi where you’ll be surrounded by calming blue waters and reef views. The top-to-toe treatment, exclusively designed for the resort, combines reflexology, pressure point and shiatsu techniques, massage and breathwork to ease stress, improve physical strength, correct hormonal imbalances and, well, leave you in a state of bliss. 

For more information, visit www.huvafenfushi.com/ 

Go glamping under the stars

Gaze at the night sky from a secluded Beach Bubble at Seaside Finolhu. (Photo: Courtesy Seaside Finolhu)

Seaside Finolhu offers guests a luxury beachside camping experience. As the name suggests, the Beach Bubble is a domed tent with all the amenities of a hotel suite, including wooden flooring, a double bed and a bathroom. The translucent dome allows you to gaze at the night sky and watch the sunrise all without ever having to leave your bed. Sweetening the deal is a private barbecue and breakfast by the beach. A minimum three-night’s stay is required to book this villa, but who’s complaining?

For more information, visit www.finolhu.com/rooms/beach-bubble-tent/  

Help save a coral reef

Local environmental agency Reefscapers conducts coral restorations in the Maldives. (Photo: Pexels)

Four Seasons Resorts have been working with local environmental agency Reefscapers on various marine conservation projects, including turtle monitoring and coral reef propagation. At the Marine Discovery Centres in Landaa Giraavaru at the Baa Atoll, and Kuda Huraa at North Malé Atoll, you can interact with a team of international marine biologists and sign up for their coral restoration programme, which is also open to kids. Participants will learn about the formation and ecology of coral reefs and help transplant specially harvested live coral fragments onto a new frame. You can opt to add a custom message to the frame and receive updates as it grows. Other events include turtle monitoring and feeding, where participants will learn to identify and photograph different species of turtles, a shark snorkel safari and a dolphin-watching cruise. Schedules are subject to change so make sure to check with the Marine Discovery Centre for updated information.

For more information, visit https://marinesavers.com 

Learn a valuable lesson in sustainable living 

Slow, eco-friendly living are the pillars of life at Soneva Fushi. The eco-conscious resort offers guests hands-on tutorials on sustainable practises and interactions with local flora and fauna. At Namoona Baa and the neighbouring island of Maalhos, you can learn of the resort’s sustainability initiatives to reduce the amount of single-use plastics in the Maldives. At Soneva Fushi’s Eco Centro, you’ll gain an understanding of permaculture and how island-grown coconuts can be used for food and raw material. For younger travellers, the resort also offers a journey up close with the wildlife of Kunfunadhoo island replete with stories about them and lessons in spotting animal tracks.

For more information, visit https://soneva.com/soneva-fushi 

Getting there

From Delhi: As of March 9, IndiGo offers flights from Delhi to Malé  with stopovers at Mumbai, Bengaluru or Kochi. GoAir flies from Delhi to Malé  with stopovers at Mumbai or Bengaluru. 

From Mumbai: As part of a joint air bubble agreement between India and the Maldives, Vistara began non-stop flights from Mumbai to Malé  from March 3. Both IndiGo and GoAir also offer no-stop flights from Mumbai to Malé .

What’s the COVID situation?

As of March 9, the Maldives has reported a total of 20,794 coronavirus cases and 64 deaths. The country began its rollout of the AstraZeneca COVISHIELD vaccine on February 1.  

The country is open to all nationalities, however, travellers arriving from the UK will have to undergo a 10-day quarantine. All passengers arriving at the Maldives must have a certificate of a negative PCR test carried out within 96 hours prior to departure. The result must be attached to the Traveler Health Declaration form which must be submitted online within 24 hours prior to arrival. Visitors are required to download and use the national contact tracing app, TraceEkee, during their stay. Tourists may split their stay between hotels, however, if you spend more than 48 hours in the Greater Malé area, you must take another PCR test before moving elsewhere.