The string of tiny paradise-like islands that make up the Maldives have long been considered the world’s most romantic destination, serving honeymooners and the super-wealthy alike. But can they possibly be as heavenly as the brochures suggest?
Odds are, you’ll make up your mind before you even land. Just sitting on the 15-seat plane, staring down at the strings of coral-fringed islands scattered across the vast Indian Ocean, you’ll quickly realize that it’s true: the Maldives are a dream come true.
In the Resort
The Maldives boast year-round tropical weather. Once you arrive at your resort, your first order of business will be to strip off your outer layer (and more if you’re feeling frisky) and dive into the ocean. While staying in an over-water villa, you climb down the steps of the wooden deck and immerse yourself in the tepid water, feeling the stress of everyday life melt away. The clarity of the water is staggering. Aside from the odd sea cucumber, there’s literally nothing but baby-soft sand underfoot. And the temperature is perfect, just cool enough to be refreshing.
Although most resorts here also offer beach or jungle villas, the thatched villas on stilts that have become a trademark for the Maldives are worth booking, even if it’s just for a few nights. They offer privacy and the opportunity to swim or snorkel straight from your porch, and it’s thrilling to peek over the top of your book and see dozens of colorful fish and the odd stingray or baby black-tip shark swim past.
In The Water
The glistening cobalt-blue ocean in this part of the world is nothing short of spectacular. As such, there’s no shortage of watersports on offer, including diving, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, water-skiing, glass-bottom boat trips, kite surfing, surfing and paragliding.
Escape paradise (if you must) with a short cruise to spot dolphins or whale sharks, visit deserted islands and sand banks, or try your hand at sport fishing. In the freedom of the opens seas, you never know when pirouetting pods of dolphins will come racing by.
Out at Sea
If given the chance, sign up for a Catch It and Cook It fishing excursion in a traditional sailing dhoni. Cold beer in hand, you’ll learn how to toss a weighted line into the depths and reel it in until the raw tuna you’re using as bait dangles a few meters from the seabed. Your catch will be impressive: a large red mullet, maybe, or an emperor fish. Regardless, once back on dry land, you’ll scale the fish with guidance from the chef.
The excursion comes with a cooking lesson on how to gut and marinade your fish with garlic, ginger, chili and lime juice before skewering it with palm leaves and roasting it on an open fire. By the time the fish is ready, the night sky will be heaving with stars and crabs will be scampering around the flame torches with envious looks in their beady little eyes. In this atmosphere, we can assure you: fish will never taste better.
Out and About
Visit a local island to gain insights into traditional island living. From Vilu Reef, you can take a short cruise over to a neighboring Bandidhoo, where little has changed in 300 years. There are no cars, motorbikes nor traffic lights—just serenity and quiet along two sandy streets lined with small homes and the odd shop, even some old houses built from coral.
Groups of fishermen sit around tinkering with fishhooks or keep cool swaying in makeshift swings under trees. As you walk around, you’ll see boats constructed from palm trees, gardens bursting with gourdes and guavas, and passion fruit trees bursting with color.
Some resorts offer day trips further afield to Malé, the capital of the Maldives. Providing a major contrast to traditional islands, Malé is like a cartoon Manhattan, bursting at the seams with pastel-colored tower blocks and kooky administrative buildings. Roads are abuzz with motorbikes, hawkers and children in school uniform. You can grab a bite to eat at one of the many alcohol-free bars and restaurants (it’s a Muslim country) or explore its lively markets selling all sorts of knick-knacks.