Dive Into the Maldives: An Expert’s Guide
From ultra-lux properties to private dinners under the stars to picture-perfect over-water villas, F1S advisor Leah Winck answers all our questions about visiting the Maldives—including how the island nation in the Indian Ocean offers something for everyone.
Dreaming of a trip to the Maldives? With its beautiful water and stunning resorts, the island nation in the Indian Ocean is truly a place like no other. But here’s the thing: As you start thinking about your visit, it can feel like every property you look at or island you consider is jaw-droppingly gorgeous—because, well, they are.
And that can make it overwhelming as you try to parse through where to stay, what to do, and even when to visit. To help, we tapped F1S advisor Leah Winck, who recently spent a month in the country with her husband, experiencing a wide range of islands, resorts, and activities. Here, she shares her expert intel, whether it’s your first time heading to the Maldives or you are visiting the islands for a second, third—or tenth!—time. Let’s dive in.
F1S: When is the best time to visit the Maldives?
The high season is typically from December through June—but there’s really not a low season, so they can accommodate you at any time throughout the year. That’s been especially true lately because the Maldives re-opened very early during the pandemic and we’ve seen consistent interest in visiting.
On this trip, my husband and I spent 28 days there in November. The weather was amazing—we had three days of showers. Usually, it’s very hot in June, July, and August, with the rainy season spanning from August to October, but that also depends. Since the country is so vast, it can be raining on the northern islands and not in the south or vice versa. So all in all, I would say that no matter what time of year you want to visit, we can help you figure out the best itinerary.
F1S: What is the travel experience like?
We flew into Malé, which is the capital and where the main airport, Velana International Airport, is located. We went on Qatar Airways and connected in Doha, Qatar, though other popular connections are through Dubai on Emirates or through Singapore.
It’s not necessary to spend the night in Malé. And though the airport is easy to navigate, it can be a bit overwhelming if it’s crowded. That’s why booking through a company like F1S is a good idea: Our partners on the ground will always have signage with your name and help you transfer to the boat or seaplane that will take you to your resort.
Of all the islands in the Maldives, about 200 or so are habitable. Some are further from Malé than others, so depending on where you’re headed you’ll either take a boat or seaplane, which can be a commercial or private plane or hotel boat. If you’re transferring via plane, I’d say on average expect anywhere from a 20-minute to an hour flight.
But no matter how long your transfer is, the views—especially if you’re flying—are just amazing. It’s remarkable to see the islands from the sky. It’s like a painting, with dollops of blue and turquoise. The water is truly indescribable.
F1S: Speaking of all the islands, do you recommend island hopping? If so, what’s the best way to do that?
On average, most people have about a week to 10 days to spend in the Maldives. My situation was different because I went to see as much as I could, so I was hopping every two to three days and saw, in total, nine islands and nine resorts.
But, typically speaking, if you have seven to 10 days, I would definitely do no more than two islands. That’s because each island is very, very different—whether it’s the sea life, the food, the fauna, the layout, or the size, each has something distinct to offer.
Plus, there’s only one resort per island, so it’s unlike anything we have here in the States or in the Caribbean. So for example, if you visit Gili Lankanfushi, that’s the only resort on the whole island.
One thing I will say though, is that the amazing concierge service provided by many of these luxury resorts can be super helpful when you’re island hopping since they can help you pack and unpack—along with other things, like setting up a special private dinner.
F1S: We always see photos of those gorgeous over-water bungalows. Are these a must when visiting the Maldives? What other types of unique rooms are available?
You’ll find that every resort offers different types of accommodations, whether it’s garden, beachfront, or overwater. They’re primarily all freestanding villas, so they’re not connected or part of a main building.
For example, at Soneva Jani we stayed in an over-water villa. It was immense, with a retractable roof, an outdoor bathtub, outdoor shower, private pool, and rooftop patio. It was very, very expansive—and just incredible. Most of the villas even have their own private water slide into the ocean, which the resort is famous for.
On the other hand, at Soneva Fushi, we stayed in a two-level garden villa, which has a path leading to the beach. We couldn’t see the water, but we felt like we were in the jungle, so it offered a totally different vibe. It was much more rustic and we loved the natural elements and sustainable materials incorporated throughout. And though we didn’t stay at JOALI Maldives, their beach villas, which have their own private pools—some even have two pools!—look just stunning.
Cheval Blanc Randheli is also amazing. In terms of high-end luxury, it truly exceeded my expectations. The villas, which include over-water options, are just gorgeous: Very modern and contemporary, with beautiful furniture, big bathtubs, high ceilings, and amazing views. And in general, the food was phenomenal, the spa was beautiful, and the service was top-notch—it really stood out in my mind as the crème de la crème in terms of service. They listen intently, so if you say, ‘oh I’d love to take a bath tonight’, you can expect to have a full bath drawn with rose petals and candles lit when you return to your room. The attention to detail is unsurpassed.
So overall, I’d say there are benefits to both staying over-water and staying on land. But if I had to choose, since the water in the Maldives is so spectacular and you’re traveling all that way, you want to experience the over-water stay.
F1S: We want to do all the water activities! What do you recommend—and what are some of your favorite spots?
Though we didn’t visit Anantara Kihavah, I know they pride themselves on having an amazing reef and manta ray spotting during their migration season, which generally runs from June to November. Another good resort for snorkeling, diving, and manta ray sightings is Six Senses Laamu.
Many of these islands and resorts range in the clarity of the water. One of my favorites was our last stop—COMO Cocoa Island. There are only 33 rooms and it’s definitely smaller, with a more laid-back, rustic vibe. The water was incredibly blue and clear and the reef on one side of the island was amazing. No more than two minutes after we got in the water, there were sea turtles right next to us.
So like we’ve talked about, each of these islands has something different to offer. Sea life, snorkeling, kayaking—you name it and you’ll find it. Scuba diving is also a big draw in the Maldives, and at many resorts you can receive PADI—Professional Association of Diving Instructors—certification right on-site if you’re not already certified. They do try to limit motorized activities, like jet skiing, so the sea life isn’t disturbed.
It’s also important to note that sustainability is huge in the Maldives. Many resorts are planting coral gardens to restore and regrow coral reefs that have been damaged. Gili Lankanfushi even offers a program where you can support their efforts and have a coral reef grown in your name.
In general, the Maldives is a place where relaxation takes precedence. It’s truly the perfect place to do nothing. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also encourage everyone to take advantage of the resort activities. Between classes, like art or cooking, wine tasting, or even just learning from the on-site marine biologist, which many resorts have, there’s so much to do. At Soneva Fushi there’s a zip line, and a huge organic garden, and you can even tour their recycling center. They reuse so much—even their glassware is made from recycled material. Patina Maldives has a big emphasis on art, and we loved the James Turrell installation we saw while there.
F1S: Is the Maldives family-friendly?
There are definitely programs that cater to kids. Cheval Blanc’s children’s area is amazing and offers amenities for babies up through teens, including a trampoline, climbing wall, and shallow pool. The Ritz-Carlton Maldives also has a great kids club, as does the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi and Patina Maldives. Patina has different areas for different age groups and what stuck out to me was one of the rooms had a 3-D printer and other cool features that any teen would be game to hang out and play with.
The other thing to remember when considering going with little ones is that it’s a long-haul flight, at least from the States, so you want to make sure the kids are ready to fly that distance. Also keep in mind that there aren’t any cars on these islands, so you’re primarily getting around by bike or golf cart. So you have to consider that if you’re going with a baby, you’ll be using golf carts and pushing a stroller more often than perhaps in other settings. That being said, though, it’s all kid-dependent and these luxury resorts are incredible when it comes to service. Everyone was more than accommodating and just so helpful to the families we saw.
F1S: We do know that the Maldives is a honeymoon hotspot. What are some must-dos for couples?
Oh yes, romance, honeymoon, babymoon—all of it. It’s such a romantic, beautiful, peaceful place. Many of the resorts offer incredible private experiences, like star gazing, snorkeling, or sailing.
The private dining options are especially amazing. One of the highlights to me was, at Soneva Jani, they did an amazing private candlelit dinner. They also offer dining on their zip line, where you basically have a different tasting course at each stop. You can privatize that and make it really fun.
At Gili Lankanfushi, they have their own gorgeous chapel in the middle of the ocean. So couples can have a local, private ceremony that is just such a unique and romantic experience. Destination weddings here are out of this world. I met a South African couple who had a vow renewal ceremony at the chapel surrounded by family members. It was truly something special!
They also have amazing dining choices as well, often set up under the stars, which I thought were beautiful too.
Each resort I visited also has wonderful spas. I had an amazing facial at Cheval Blanc—it was like no other. I loved the products they used and my face just felt so refreshed afterwards. The massage I had at Gili Lankanfushi was probably the best I’ve ever had in my life. A new option that just opened in November that’s on our list to check out on our next visit is JOALI BEING, which is all about wellness and offers “Immersion Programmes” focused on their four main pillars— mind, microbiome, skin, and energy—for up to 12 nights.
I think the key thing to remember at all of these resorts is that, even though they’re all unique and offer so many different features, they’re very service-oriented—which they pride themselves on, and that we found to be incredible across the board.
F1S: What is the local cuisine like? Any standout dishes we should definitely try?
We found the food to be amazing. A lot is grown organically in the resorts’ gardens and of course, there is an array of locally caught fish. Some food is also imported, like really high-end beef from Australia. There are Indian influences, too. And you’ll find all the resorts offer vegan and vegetarian options as well. It’s all very fresh and super tasty—I didn’t have a bad meal.
At the two COMO resorts in the Maldives—Cocoa Island and Maalifushi—they really focus on a very clean, healthy way of eating. At Cocoa Island, they have a seeded avocado toast, which they make in-house and it was incredible. I was really obsessed—so much so that the head chef gave me a container to take home, which I thought was so sweet.
At the Waldorf, for example, there are 11 restaurants on site. So for those that really want a great, varied gastronomic experience, they’ll be happy there. They have a Chinese restaurant that specializes in Peking duck. The Soneva properties have a dedicated chocolate room as well as a gelato room, and you can enjoy unlimited amounts daily. All of this to say that there are a variety of cuisines offered at all the resorts—and at many, you can opt to do full or half board meal plans, where some or all of your meals are included in the rate.
Also, people often ask about alcohol since it’s a predominantly Muslim country, where most of the Maldivians themselves don’t drink. But you can find alcohol at all of the resorts. Cheval Blanc has one of the most incredible wine collections I’ve ever seen. And in general, their dining was bar-none and super elegant.
F1S: It all sounds so amazing! Anything else we should know?
When it comes to the Maldives, I can say comfortably that there is something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a smaller, more rustic resort, something remote, or extreme luxury, you can find it. Maldivians are super friendly, as a culture and as a nation. And the islands themselves—the landscape, the ocean, the flora and fauna, the sea life, the surroundings—it’s truly a must-see and experience destination.
See the Maldives Now: 6 Great Offers
Here’s a look at some of the current promotions in the Maldives that your F1S advisor can set up for you.
Cheval Blanc Randheli. Their Summer Delight package includes dinner at their White Restaurant, a 60-minute spa treatment if you stay at least four days—plus the offer is ideal for bringing the kids: Their meals and stay are free.
JOALI Maldives and JOALI BEING. As part of their summer promotions, which you can use for travel through the end of September, stay for 7 or more nights and you’ll get 45 percent off your booking at Joali BEING and 35 percent off at Joali Maldives, plus free half board. There are discounts and complimentary half board if you stay for just 3 to 6 nights, too.
Como Cocoa Island. Their June offer, which is for travel through the end of September, includes a 40-percent rate discount, a free upgrade to their full board meal plan, and a free room upgrade, if available at booking. They also always have a combo deal with sister property, COMO Maalifushi, where if you stay for four nights at both resorts, you get 35 percent off your room rate, a free sunset cruise, and turtle snorkeling expedition, and more.
Soneva Jani and Soneva Fushi. Both resorts boast a Bucket List Offer, which includes a champagne breakfast, private beach dinner and other private dining options, a 3D astronomy session, snorkeling with manta rays, their Essential Wellbeing Package, and lots more.
Reach out to us today and we can help you create your customized Maldives travel experience.