Newly launched cheap flights and resorts looking to outdo one another with extravagant new experiences make the Maldives one of this year’s hottest travel picks.

More than 100 resorts occupy their own island in the 1,190 island archipelago of the sparkling Indian Ocean—each offering the kind of picture postcard setting that impossible expectations are made of. The good news is that, if you pick the right resort, even your highest hopes will be blown out of the water: crystal clear waters, turquoise lagoons, villa-lined jetties jutting out to sea and luxury service on tap.

Some say the Paradise isles are, whisper it, a bit boring, but in fact there are now so many resorts putting on underwater, overwater and island-based activities and excursions that you couldn’t possibly fit them all into one trip. So we checked out* four special, but completely different, top-rate resorts, each of them offering their own take on that trademark Maldivian indulgence.

A stay here is never going to be cheap (though see below for details of cheap flight access), but for a once in a lifetime experience it’s pretty much the gold standard.

*Tough job

 

BEST FOR LIVING THE DREAM: Niyama

Stay: What can we say—Niyama is where to stay if you want to feel like a rockstar. The villas are stylish, sexy and fitted with contemporary furnishings, such as the light fittings influenced by the native coral. The resort feels like an ultra-exclusive village with sandy paths leading you between villas, pristine beaches, uber hip eating and drinking venues, state-of-the-art facilities and the serene Lime Spa. They’re eco-conscious too, with an on-site marine biologist there to give guests an insight into the underwater world, and the opportunity to plant your own coral. The downside is that the high price means you can’t stay as long as you’d like (forever?).

Eat: There are seven dining and drinking venues, but stand-outs are Edge, an overwater restaurant and bar accessed by boat, Subsix, the world’s first underwater club, and Tribal, an alfresco dining space, specializing in African and South American flavors; try the lobster ceviche and chargrilled ostrich.

Do: With a daily schedule of activities, such as yoga or DJ workshops, an extensive range of watersports and excursions, including trips on Maldivian Dhoni boats, as well as the gym, spa, game simulator center and marine biology lab, you’ll never feel like you’ve had enough time here.

Need to Know: Travel to the resort by Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane for US$600 ($759) return. Nightly rates range between US$850 ($1,074) in low season for a beach studio to US$14,900 ($18,829) in high season for a two-bedroom beach pavilion (we can dream).

Oluveli Island, PO Box 2002, Dhaalu Atoll, 96 0676-2676, www.niyama.com.

 

BEST FOR ROMANCE: The Residence Maldives

Stay: The resort is set one of the farthest flung islands from Male, so you’ll need to take a domestic flight to nearby Kooddoo Airport, from where you’ll be taken by speed boat to Falhumaafushi, The Residence’s own island. That might seem like a lot of effort, but it’s worth it when you discover the extraordinary abundance of sea creatures among the coral right by your own villa, or as you’re whisked away to a nearby sand-bank for candlelit castaway cocktails as the sun goes down, revealing the starlit sky. The resort itself exudes classic elegance with Maldivian style water and beach villas that incorporate contemporary luxe detailing. Honeymooners, this one’s for you.

Eat: The Dining Room serves up international cuisine in a contemporary setting, while overwater restaurant Falhumaa specialises in fresh seafood—we met the man who free dives for the lobster each day, so you know it’s fresh—and fine wine. You can sit in the pool while sipping on cocktails at the Beach Bar, which also serves up tapas.
Do: Guests can either spend their time lounging by the pool or at The Spa by Clarins, or by making the most of the natural surroundings with the watersports, diving and boat excursions on offer.

Need to Know: The resort is accessed by a domestic flight with Maldivian Airlines for US$400 ($505) return. Villa rates start at US$940 ($1,188) per night.

Falhumaafushi, Gaafu Alifu Atoll, 96 0682-0088, www.theresidence.com/maldives.

 

BEST COMBO OF LOCAL AND LUXE: The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi

Stay: If you want a taste of true Maldivian life while still experiencing the total luxury that the archipelago is known for, this could be the one for you. The resort encourages guests to gain a more memorable experience of the islands by exploring what the local community has to offer, from visiting the farms and villages to Maldivian cooking classes. The resort is huge, with as many as 221 villas, but each guest still receives the attentive service of a boutique stay. You’re sure to leave here with some stories to tell.

Eat: There’s plenty to choose from with 11 eating and drinking venues scattered across the island, including poolside bites, an overwater eatery, beachfront grilled seafood and specialist spots for vintage wines and Champagne. Each night has a dining event, such as Champagne and lobster BBQs.

Do: This is another resort for those that don’t like to sit still—findiing time to relax is almost a challenge with a daily schedule packed with activities like sunset fishing and wine academy. The spa is huge—a maze of tranquil pathways through tropical flora, leading you to private villas that are each inspired by a different flower.

Need to Know: The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi is reached by seaplane with Trans Maldivian Airlines for US$1,300 ($1,644) return. Rates range from US$520 ($657) for a beach villa to US$4,270 ($5,396) for the celebrity retreat, per night.

Noonu Atoll, 96 0656-0591, www.thesunsiyam.com/irufushi.

 

NEW! Atmosphere Kanifushi

Stay: This brand new resort prides itself on being one of the very few five-star all-inclusive resorts in the Maldives. The setting is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, with a huge beach that you almost always have to yourself. The island is pretty big compared to others so guests can borrow bicycles to cycle along the wide sandy avenues that are lined with soaring palms. Plus, it’s almost liberating to be able to eat and drink top rate cuisine and cocktails without having to pay a cent. The resort doesn’t have the boutique, personalized service that the others offer, but you do have a huge amount of privacy.

Eat: Most guests dine at The Spice, a spacious beach-front restaurant with a buffet and live cooking stations. For light bites and drinks head to The Liquid and The Sunset pool bars, or try out Just Veg, the Maldives’ first purely vegetarian restaurant and Teppanyaki Grill for Japanese cuisine.

Do: The all-inclusive package includes non-motorized watersports and snorkelling trips out to the incredibly pristine reef. You also get to join an additional excursion, such as a sunset boat trip or fishing. Treatments at the Akiri Spa by Mandara are an optional extra.

Need to Know: Travel to Kanifushi by seaplane for US$459 ($580) return. Villa rates range between US$900 ($1,137) and US$1,680 ($2,123) per night based on two sharing.

Kanifushi Island, Lhaviyani Atoll, 96 0662-0066, www.atmosphere-kanifushi.com.


Essentials

Getting There
In late January Tigerair became the first low-cost airline to launch direct flights to the Maldivian capital Male, making the archipelago more accessible than ever (at least you can save money on the journey!). Flights leave Singapore on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday each week, departing at 9.50am and arriving just after 11am. The return flight runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, departing Male at 12.15pm. Fares vary depending on the season but expect to pay around $400.

Once you’re there, most resorts will arrange transfer to and from Male. To travel between resorts you’ll typically need to go back through Male.

Visa and Currency
Free visa permits are issued on arrival. US dollars and credit cards are used at all resorts.

When to Go
Temperatures are usually 26-30°C, with the high season from January to March. Mid-May to November is monsoon season, so you can expect some rain.

Is it safe?
The last decade has seen a considerable amount of political unrest in the Maldives, though currently it appears more stable than it has for some time. Since you’re in and out of Male before you know it, it’s not something to get too worried about.