Kurumba has quite literally made the history books. Widely regarded as the first ever private resort to have opened in the Maldives way back in 1972, Kurumba is unfussy, easily accessible, and suitable for all age groups. More down-to-earth in its approach than the more high-end resorts in the Maldives, Kurumba has a relaxed appeal that is as good an introduction to the country as any. Most of the luxury bungalows come with attached plunge pools and other attendant extravagances. But the brightly decorated deluxe and superior rooms with spacious outdoor bathrooms are just as comfortable. There are several dining options (for those times when the family simply can’t agree on what to eat), including Indian, Middle Eastern, and Japanese restaurants, among others. If you have never snorkelled, Kurumba’s topography makes it a terrific place to start. The lagoon surrounding the hotel (demarcated by the house reef) has a gentle gradient and uniformly shallow water in which it’s easy to spot several types of fish and coral. Children can choose from adventure activities such as banana boat rides and parasailing while seniors could take cooking classes, wine-tasting lessons, or learn about orchids with the resort’s resident horticulturist (www.kurumba.com; rates from approximately $400/₹24,800 for a superior room including breakfast; 10 min by speedboat from Malé airport).
Guests at Atmosphere arrive by seaplane transfer from Malé, which affords unforgettable aerial views of Maldives’s circular atolls. Palm-fringed Kanifushi extends over two kilometres, and is dotted with suites and villas offering azure views of the lagoon. The resort, which opened only in December 2013, offers all-inclusive five-star packages, which include meals, drinks, snorkelling, spa treatments, and dives (with exceptions). Guests can kayak through Lhaviyani Atoll, take an electric buggy to go across the island, or explore the stunning coral reefs in the area, home to spotted turtles, baby sharks, and dolphins. The family-friendly resort has spacious rooms and offers babysitting services for children below four years and a kid’s club with a daily schedule of activities to keep young ones occupied. The buffet meals also cater to the finicky tastes of juniors. Couples looking for quiet can book a private villa in the middle of the island and use the adults-only pool (atmosphere-kanifushi.com; doubles $490/₹30,840; 30 min by seaplane from Malé airport).
Anantara Dhigu is both plush and intimate. Guests on this sunny island resort spend their days cycling between scuba shack, spa, and the hotel’s many restaurants. The sunrise- and sunset-view villas are perfect for a romantic holiday while the more opulent water villas, with a private pool and outdoor deck, are for when you want to splash out on the finer things in life. If vegetating on the beach all day is too sedate for your family’s liking, you can try your hand at a number of water sports including kayaking, kitesurfing, and parasailing. Snorkelling is de rigueur but if you’d like to take your tryst with marine life to the next level, the fully equipped PADI dive centre offers a variety of scuba-diving certifications, as well as assisted dives for beginners. Children between 3 and 12 can spend the day at the Dhoni Cub, a specially designed area for children that includes 2 dhonis (traditional sailboats), a climbing wall, and a tree house (dhigu-maldives.anantara.com; doubles $500/₹31,000 for the sunrise beach villas, including breakfast; 35 min by speedboat from Malé airport).
Every bit as cool and edgy as other W hotels worldwide, W Retreat & Spa is the place to go to if you’re looking to hang with the hip crowd. With colourful names such as Wonderful Beach Oasis, Wow Ocean Escape, and Extreme Wow Ocean Haven, it’s clear that the rooms are meant to represent a marked departure from the somewhat sombre nature of most other resorts in the Maldives. Complete with large infinity pools, outdoor barbecues and glass floors, the rooms are lavish in the luxury department. There are several watering holes within the property, including Wet, a poolside bar, and Sip, a sunset lounge that offers a well curated wine list, in addition to sushi, oysters, and caviar. But the real showstopper lies beneath the surface—exactly 15 steps below the resort, 15Below bills itself as the only underground nightclub in the Maldives. Offering an impressive selection of vodkas and well mixed cocktails, the club frequently hosts international DJs (www.wretreatmaldives.com; doubles from $1,000/₹62,100 for the Beach Oasis rooms; 25 min by seaplane from Malé airport).
With a whopping six bars spread out across the resort, Meeru sets the agenda quite clearly. That’s not to say that the accommodation options in varying levels of luxury don’t check all the right boxes. The Jacuzzi Water Villas, accessible by a private jetty, are the pick of the lot. The resort organises two interesting excursions: a snorkelling expedition to the uninhabited island of Kagi, and a day trip to Dhiffushi, where guests can familiarise themselves with the local way of life. Casual and laidback, Meeru is just the sort of place you should visit with a big group of friends. After a long day in the ocean, settle down with sundowners and a view of the water at Uthuru Bar (www.meeru.com; doubles from $375/₹23,300 for garden rooms, inclusive of all meals and taxes; about 55 min by speedboat from Malé airport).
It’s easy to lose a hold on reality in the Maldives, where the sand is truly white, water a brilliant turquoise and the resorts picture-perfect in every sense. There are few opportunities for travellers to scratch the surface, interact with locals and understand the Maldivian way of life. That’s precisely why it’s worth getting on a seaplane and making the hour-long journey to Gan, a “real” island on which Maldivians live and work. On the island, Equator Village is easily the pick of the accommodation options. The hotel’s bare-bones rooms may lack in luxury but more than make up with their all-inclusive, pocket-friendly rates. Excursions to discover the island are actively encouraged—borrow one of the hotel’s bikes free of cost and weave your way around at a leisurely pace. Equator Village is the very antithesis of what the Maldives has come to be famous for—and in some ways, that’s why it shouldn’t be missed (equatorvillage.com; doubles from $140/₹8,700, inclusive of all meals, tea and coffee, and select alcoholic beverages; one hour by seaplane from Malé airport).
Located on the same island as the airport, Hulhule International Hotel is a good pit stop to rest your weary feet before you begin exploring the country. A 10-minute bus ride from the airport, it offers comfortable accommodation in a setting that is a welcome relief from the hubbub of Malé. The 136 rooms offer all the expected mod-cons, including a Jacuzzi in the super-deluxe rooms. Although the resorts are highly permissive when it comes to alcohol, the Maldives is still a strictly Islamic country and liquor is banned in the capital. It is allowed on Hulhule though, and as a result, the HIH’s Champs Bar wears an almost celebratory air on most evenings. Expatriates living in Malé and tourists thirsty for a tipple crowd the outdoor deck. The service is friendly, if not always very prompt, and it isn’t unusual to find new friendships being fostered at the end of a long night (hih.com.mv; doubles from $400/₹25,000 for a superior room, including breakfast and taxes; festive season surcharges apply; 10-minute bus ride from the international airport).
Over the years, One & Only Reethi Rah has cemented its reputation as one of the top resorts in the Maldives. Frequented as often by couples as by families, Reethi Rah’s crossover popularity hinges on its award-winning design and impeccable service. The 128 beach and lagoon water villas are striking in their sleek simplicity, with natural materials such as coconut shell, rattan, and thatch creating a warm, welcoming aesthetic. Each of the Grand Water Villas, seemingly suspended above the water, have a spacious swimming pool overlooking the ocean. Dining Options include Far Eastern, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and contemporary Japanese cuisine. Children between the ages of four and nine are kept entertained in a demarcated section under the watchful eye of staff. And adults can translate their Maldives experience into a painting with guidance from Christopher Hogan, an artist-in-residence who specialises in abstract marine forms (reethirah.oneandonlyresorts.com; doubles $1,130/₹70,200 for the beach villas, including breakfast and snorkelling trips; approximately 1 hour 15 min by speedboat from Malé airport).
Consistently rated as one of the most exclusive resorts in the Maldives, Huvafen Fushi wields its charm with understated elegance. Although unabashedly glamorous, the decor also stays true to a warm, tropical theme with thoughtful touches such as a reception area with a sandy floor (kick off those shoes!) and several serene water bodies. Don’t let the casual air fool you, though: the 44 private bungalows and multi-room pavilions offer every conceivable luxury, including personal butlers, private plunge pools and glass floors that afford a real-time view of the underwater world. While Huvafen Fushi justifies its elite positioning in more ways than one, its real luxuries are those that you can’t put a price on. The coral reef that rings the island plays host to some of the most varied marine life in the Maldives, including stingrays, (harmless) nurse sharks, and corals in all shapes and sizes. You may have to brave the odd coral cut but think of it as the ultimate souvenir of your stay (www.minorhotels.com/en/peraquum/huvafen-fushi; doubles $1,000/₹62,000 per night for the beach bungalows, including breakfast and snorkelling trips; approximately 30 min by speedboat from Malé airport).
One of the newest resorts in the Maldives, Niyama is an ideal destination for couples. It echoes its sister resort Huvafen Fushi’s smart yet laidback vibe. Discreetly distributed along the white sand, the beach villas with plunge pools offer plenty of privacy. Large bathrooms with tub, enclosed shower and open-air rain shower are particularly elegant. Niyama gives the romantic dinner a million-dollar treatment at Epic, its fine dining restaurant situated on another island, a ten-minute speedboat ride away. Sipping on a cocktail by the deck with the lights of the resort twinkling in the distance makes for a moment worth getting legitimately sappy about. Round off an evening at Subsix, an underwater bar that feels like being in a large aquarium, except that stingrays, manta rays, and sea turtles occasionally stop by for a curious peek into the human world. Or engage with marine life in a more hands-on way, on a memorable expedition with the resort’s resident marine biologist to plant coral on the seabed (www.niyama.peraquum.com; from $800/₹48,000 for a beach studio, including breakfast; approximately 40-minute seaplane transfer from Malé airport).
Hushed as if it were hiding secrets, Baros rightly promotes itself as a destination for honeymooners. The thatched roof villas are intimate while not skimping on luxury. The pool villas with a view of the beach are particularly picturesque, and a dedicated “villa host” ensures that all your needs are taken care of. The casual Lime restaurant is perfect for daytime dining (and a dip in the infinity pool after), but the Lighthouse restaurant with its striking pagoda-like dome is the showstopper of the property. It may take some skill to negotiate the shallow but coral-rich waters that surround Baros, but once you get the hang of it, you will be able to discover an extraordinary variety of marine life. The resort also has an active marine centre manned by enthusiastic staffers who keep daily tabs on the acquatic visitors to the island, including four resident sea turtles (baros.com; rates from $800/₹48,000 per night for the deluxe rooms, including breakfast; about 25 min by speedboat from Malé airport).
In October 2010, Soneva Fushi lived up to its billing as a “green” luxury resort by hosting an environmental summit focused on reducing the planet’s carbon footprint and providing luxury “with a conscience”. The resort, part of the Six Senses group of eco-conscious resorts worldwide, offers every luxury that (lots of) money can buy, including spacious villas judiciously spread out across the large island, decorated in a rustic, unfinished style with the minimal use of plastic. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transport within the island. Other charming details include Fresh in the Garden, one of the resort’s five highly rated restaurants, which is perched loftily above a vegetable and herb garden. Some of the produce used in the restaurants is grown on the island, and a recycling facility ensures that there is minimal wastage of resources. Don’t forget to make time for a spot of stargazing at the resort’s observatory, possibly the only one of its kind in the Maldives (soneva.com/soneva-fushi; doubles from $1,600/₹99,500 per night for Crusoe villas; Soneva Fushi charges all visitors an additional carbon tax of 2 per cent; approximately 30 min by seaplane from Malé airport).
Its location in Baa Atoll—designated by UNESCO as the only biosphere reserve in the Maldives—gives the Four Seasons at Landaa Giraavaru a special responsibility. It is one that the resort has wholeheartedly embraced with a slew of initiatives aimed at preserving the region’s biodiversity. These include a Marine Discovery Centre that educates guests about the fragile ecosystem through lectures and interactive exhibitions; a turtle rehabilitation programme that aims to protect, rehabilitate, and release green turtles that have been injured by fishing nets; and the Manta Trust, a collective of marine biologists who study the gentle manta rays that populate these waters. When you are not enjoying the resort’s other pleasures such as a dolphin cruise or a romantic meal in the middle of the water, you could also plant coral on the seabed or watch a baby turtle being put through its paces at the Marine Discovery Centre (www.fourseasons.com/maldiveslg; doubles from $1,100/₹68,400 for a beach bungalow, including breakfast; 40 min by seaplane from Malé airport).
In a landscape where resorts compete with each other for bragging rights, it’s easy to forget the simpler, earthier pleasures of being in the Maldives. While pampering you with its facilities, Medhufushi allows you to soak in the relaxed, unhurried atmosphere of the island nation. The 112 beach and lagoon villas are spread out over 24 acres, but if you’re looking for even more privacy, two free-standing lagoon suites are set in the middle of the ocean, and are accessible only by boat. Avid surfers from around the world are flocking to the Maldives for its unexplored surfing possibilities. Meemu Atoll, on which Medhufushi is located, is a great place to try your hand at the sport given its relatively isolated location. The resort also organises kayaking, windsurfing, canoeing, and jet-skiing. The atoll is also particularly reputed for its marine life and it’s not uncommon to find manta rays milling about. While there is no house reef at Medhufushi Island Resort, there are several diving sites close by to explore with the help of trained instructors from the resort’s Werner Lau Diving Centre (www.aaaresorts.com.mv/resort/medhufushi; doubles from $475/₹30,000, including breakfast; 40 min by seaplane from Malé airport).
First appeared as “For The Love Of Lagoons” in the January 2015 issue.
For a first-hand account of our Web Editor Neha Sumitran’s visit to the Maldives, go here.
Vidya Balachander is a food and travel writer based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Having called Mumbai home for several years, she recently decided to go on a real-life adventure. Colombo is the first pit stop of many she hopes to make in the years to come.