THE MALDIVES TRAVEL GUIDE 2023
The Maldives is famous for its stunning coral reefs, crystal clear water, and lavish resorts. But over the years the island group has shifted from being a destination for the riches and honeymooners only, to an accessible destination for families, friends, and even backpackers.
Writing about the Maldives is fun because it not only meant we could travel there (hence the “tried & tested” formula), but also provide a wider audience with all the options the Maldives has to offer. So here’s a full Maldives Travel Guide with all the info you need about which islands to go to, what places to see, and what to do, from Budget to Luxury. Are you ready for paradise?
How to get to the Maldives
From your hometown you can usually fly with Emirates or Qatar Airways with a stop in Dubai or Doha before you land in Malé Maldives. Many people asked us if Malé is worth visiting before heading to the islands and the answer is NO. There isn’t much culture or sightseeing spots so you better go to the reason you came here in the first place; PARADISE. Once you have arrived there are two options; by boat or by seaplane. The Maldives consists of more than 2000 islands, many are local but also privately owned. It’s the private islands where you’ll find the luxury resorts and the local islands now offer some guesthouses and small hotels.
Be aware that this destination is primarily Muslim so on the local islands you must wear respectable clothing (like covering your shoulders and legs). Often there is only one “bikini” beach on those islands as oppose to the privately owned islands – where you’ll find most of the more luxury resorts, and you can pretty much walk around in your beachwear all day.
Budget Resorts & Islands
Ok, you better write this part down because I bet you all want to know about the budget options in the Maldives right? Many of these islands are accessible via the local ferry and isn’t that expensive.
1. Thulusdhoo Island
Thulusdhoo Island is only a 30 minute boat ride from Malé airport and is very popular with backpackers, friends and people that want to visit the Maldives on a budget. In addition Thulusdhoo is also considered to be one of the best surf spots in the Maldives so surf vibes to be expected! This island and the vibe here reminds us of El Nido in the Philippines. Budget hotels (some high end but not many) and total paradise in terms of scenery. In total there are about 25 hotels and guesthouses on this island so book in advance if you are planning to visit it during the high season which runs from November until May. Some accommodations we can recommend are Iru guesthouse, Batua Maldives Surf View (best spot for surfers) and Reef Edge Thulusdhoo. Rooms costs between 50 and 200 USD per night.
2. Maafushi Island
Another great budget friendly island but there are a few things you need to know before visiting. From Malé it takes about 2,5 hours to get there, so a bit longer than Thulusdhoo. This island is local so it’s not like one of those private resort islands. In terms of scenery, Maafushi can be a bit disappointing with a lack of palmtrees and there is only one beach. That being said, backpackers love this island because it’s a great option for staying in a budget guesthouse. From here you can visit surrounding paradise-like islands on various day trips.
Midrange Resorts & Islands
We visited 2 resorts on the islands that we would consider more accessible for couples and families. Obviously you can find many resorts in the Maldives that would fit in this category but we wanted to highlight those that we loved.
1. Grand Park Kodhipparu
Visitors of Grand Park’s are mostly couples and honeymooners but they also welcome many families. The park contains a collection of overwater villas with private access to the ocean and beautiful beach-front pool villas. That being said, It’s also a priority for Grand Park to make it more approachable for all kind of travellers including millennials. The island itself is actually quite small but yet it feels spacious and serene. For a nice sunset dinner we would recommend going to Breeze Poolside where the sky turns into the most beautiful purple, pink and orange tones when the sun is lowering. On special request, the restaurant can arrange a private dinner for a couple (or even a group) on the beach, which totally feels like a scene from a romantic movie!
Even in the evening, when everyone walks barefoot and dressed up towards one of the 3 restaurants, it feels peaceful.
For some topnotch dining you should head to the award-winning speciality restaurant “Firedoor” which is one of the top restaurants in Maldives. It’s settled over the water on the south of the island and baby sharks swim there regularly around. Together with great food, Grand Park Kodhipparu also offers different wellness treatments. Facials, skin treatments, massages; they have plenty options to choose from. Good to know; morning and evening yoga are complimentary for all guests at the yoga look-out deck.
Want some more action? The water sports centre on the south part of the island is a candy store for ocean fanatics. They have an endless list of activities such as kayaking, windsurfing, catamaran sailing, stand-up paddling, wakeboarding and much more. This is also the place where you can pick up a snorkel set (free of charge) and use during your stay around the island. All right, let’s talk prices. Right now the prices vary from 650 to 3000+ dollars per night depending on the season and type of villa. In low season you can get a water villa with private sea access for around 800 dollars per night which you can book.
2. Crossroads (Saii Lagoon & Hardrock Hotel)
At only a 15 minute speedboat ride from Malé airport you’ll find the multi-island destination Crossroads, making it very easy to get to. The two hotels you’ll find on Crossroads are Saii Lagoon by Hilton and The Hard Rock Hotel. Guests can “cross the road”, move around freely on both islands and visit each others restaurants. There are bicycles spread on the islands which you can pick-up and drop off anywhere you like. In the middle of the two hotels you’ll find the marina where there are special cuisine restaurants, clothing boutiques, a discovery centre, spa & wellness, a mini supermarket, a kids club, water sports and a beach club. It’s save to say that you won’t be bored here!
Crossroads is also freely accessible for locals and day trip travellers who are coming from Malé or another resort.
Best Dives is crossroad’s water sport centre where they have a wide range of sea-excursions such as dolphin discovery tours and sunset cruises. Snorkel sets and pedal boats are usable for free and you can pick these up anytime you like. Forthwith, we also booked a fishing trip with locals so we could catch our own fish traditionally with one line. It was a very enjoyable ride where you can watch the sunset on the way back from the boat’s rooftop.
But also for couples or friend groups who look for a little bit more “hustle” and life in the Maldives will both Hard Rock and Saii Lagoon be very suitable options. Due to their great variety in restaurants, cafes and other hospitality options, there is so much to discover. While we were there, they even organised a small festival to celebrate the Thai New Year. This creates that extra lively atmosphere and makes it feel like you are in a small, tropical beach town. Foodie tip: my favourite restaurant on crossroads is Mr TomYam; a beach restaurant with a Thai-Italian fusion cuisine.
Saii Lagoon (Part of Crossroads)
If you travel with kids and are looking for a place in the Maldives to go with your family than Saii Lagoon is the perfect place to go. A huge, heavenly kids club is located at the Marina area where you can bring your kids for a day or just a couple of hours. We were staying in one of the stylish sky room’s at Saii Lagoon which featured a private balcony with ocean view. In like manner, the room itself felt really spacious and was comfortably furnished with a huge bed, spacious bathroom and chill-out corner. Another option is the Beach Room which contains stylish custom-made furnishings and a private terrace that opens to a white sandy beach. If you want a spacious upscale villa then you’ll find something in their collection of beach villa’s (with or without private pool). They also frequently host special complimentary festive activities such as easter hunting and Christmas celebrations.
Given that the prices at Saii Lagoon prices start at 350 dollars per night – for an ocean view sky-room in low season, it’s quite affordable. A big yellow ocean villa with private pool though, start at 2000 dollars per night and go up to 3000 dollars during high season. An in between option would be the beach villa with pool. These start at 1200 dollars per night in low season and go up to 1700 dollars in high season. Plenty of choice we would say!
The Hardrock Hotel (Part of Crossroads)
Let’s get into Hard Rock Hotel; the place to go for a chic yet rock-and-roll holiday filled with relaxation and entertainment. This resort is designed around sound and you’ll find music infused in elements such as a pool bar with underwater speakers, free guitar hire and music-themed restaurants. Guests can borrow Fender® guitars, yoga mats and headphones for free during their stay. Additionally, it wouldn’t be the Maldives without the iconic overwater villas and this place is no exception to that. This part of the island offers 3 on-site restaurants, however you can make use of all the dining outlets at Crossroads. Equally, it’s also a great destination for a family trip as the kids can enjoy “hanging out” with the cool crew. The resort created a kids space for performances and have grassy, sandy areas for them to explore outside. Price wise, this hotel is a little bit more expensive however comparable to Saii Lagoon.
Ultra Luxury Resorts
Well, get ready for some jaw dropping moments, because these resorts are one of a kind and we had the pleasure of visiting them.
This incredible resort as opened in November 2021 so is very new and moreover, the first wellness retreat in the Maldives. People can follow wellbeing programs that vary between 5 to 28 days. Ocean villa’s will cost you around 3500 USD per night but it will be everything you have ever dreamt of. Anyone from the age of 14 and older can come here, even just to relax and enjoy their amazing cuisines. During the summer period, kids from all ages are also welcome!
Honestly, it was one of the best experiences we’ve had. The service at JOALI BEING is absolutely topnotch, so are the views and the stunning architecture. While you’re here, try their Tea Celebration. Tea is the one product that is connected to all 4 pillars of JOALI BEING (it’s good for the mind, body, skin and soul) and that’s why they offer a special tea celebration at the Mojo bar. Here you can taste extra-ordinary teas and learn about its heritage, medicinal working and the best ways to prepare it. Highly recommended if you’re a tea or herbal lover!
Comparatively, JOALI Maldives has a very similar by style but it’s a bit different. Run by the same brand, JOALI Maldives is particularly popular with families and couples. For example, they offer a kids club, activities on and in the water and their island has 4 restaurants. Not to mention their Ocean Villa’s – absolutely stunning and all include a private pool. Check or book your stay here.
What else can you do in the Maldives?
Being so close to the ocean correspondingly results in many water activities. For example; diving, snorkeling, dolphin watching and you can even swim with whale sharks! The best place to swim with whale sharks in the Maldives is the South Ari Atoll where they can be spotted year-round. The following three islands are best for whale shark tours: Dhigurah, Dhangethi and Maamigili.
Besides this, you should visit the Maldives knowing that you can combine luxury with budget nowadays. It does take a bit of planning and perhaps you can visit during the off season in order to make it more affordable. Whatever route you take, visiting the Maldives is a one of a kind experience!
Photo’s by Iris Vermeij & Elke Salverda unless mentioned differently