The insider advice on this page is from one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for the Maldives: Justin Parkinson of Linara Travel.
Justin’s frequent trips to the Indian Ocean over the past 14 years make him uniquely qualified to match you with the specific island, resort, and overwater bungalow—even with the specific dive instructor or massage therapist—that best suit your needs. This is especially crucial in the Maldives, where you’re likely to spend all of your time at a single, private-island resort, and there are new properties opening every few months. In the Seychelles, Justin can help you rent a car to go exploring and point you to the best beaches and hiking trails. Given how many people fly to the Indian Ocean via Dubai, he has become an expert on the United Arab Emirates too (see Dubai and Abu Dhabi) and can help you save money there so that you can splurge in the islands. When he’s not exploring these exotic locales, you’ll find Justin at home in either Australia or L.A.
Covid safety intel
The Maldives’ dozens of private-island resorts made social-distancing easy long before it was required. Every resort Justin recommends has stand-alone villas and has adopted the protocols required by local authorities. All seating—in their restaurants (many of which are open-air), by the pool, on the beach—is more than six feet apart. Travelers must wear masks while getting to their resort, but not once there—though resort staff do. Many resorts are more flexible with their cancellation and refund policies than they have been in the past. And when your flight lands at the airport, Justin can have someone waiting to take you by private car (not the bus that other passengers use to get from the plane to the terminal) to a V.I.P. lounge where you can wait away from others while representatives collect your bags and have your passport stamped.
Where to Stay and Eat
Best-value luxury resort
Niyama Maldives has an underwater bar, overwater restaurant, award-winning chef, and powder-soft beaches. Exclusive for WendyPerrin.com readers: Book an entry-level room through Justin (at his special rates) and get a guaranteed three-level upgrade to a Deluxe Water Studio with Pool. At over 2,150 square feet, these overwater villas have a private plunge pool with Jacuzzi, gorgeous bathroom, and a deck with steps leading right into the lagoon.
Best resort for families
One&Only Reethi Rah has a KidsOnly club and a daily roster of imaginative activities, including pirate cruises, treasure hunts, and snorkel expeditions with a marine biologist. Teens have their own adjacent area with a juice bar and games as well as options for nature and adventure trips. There’s also babysitting for infants and toddlers. The hotel will even provide bottle warmers and baby monitors. You just need to bring the baby!
Best resort for two
Velaa Private Island, one of the newest and most expensive island resorts, has your standard sumptuous overwater bungalows and pool villas, but it also has a Romantic Pool Residence, a palatial one-bedroom suite accessible only by boat. All the rooms make the most of the ocean views and come with ample space to dine in, so couples never have to venture outside. Then again, it would be a shame if they didn’t, because Velaa also has one of the best (and most romantic) restaurants in the Maldives.
Best overwater bungalows
The huge 29 water villas at Cheval Blanc Randheli. The resort is owned by LVMH and was designed by the same architect responsible for a number of Aman resorts, so the entire property is stunning, but especially the water villas. As if having the ocean steps from your bed weren’t enough, each one has its own infinity pool. The most private of the bunch are at the end of the jetty (on island B).
Best resorts for foodies
As each resort is on its own island, there are no locally owned restaurants accessible to vacationers. Some resorts do put a much greater emphasis on food than others, though, and Aragu Restaurant at Velaa Private Island outdoes all the competition. Michelin-star French chef Adeline Grattard oversees the menus, while chef Gaushan de Silva (who did a stint at Copenhagen’s Noma, widely considered the world’s best restaurant) creates the finest meals in the Indian Ocean.
Many resorts also have impressive wine cellars, often underground or even in a tower (the latter at Velaa Private Island). A multi-course dinner with matching wine pairings in one of these wine cellars is an unforgettable experience—particularly in the underground cellar at Gili Lankanfushi resort, which also happens to have a cheese room and a chocolate cave.
Tuna curry. Locally caught tuna, with spices influenced from neighboring Sri Lanka and India, has been a staple dish of the Maldivian diet for generations. All the resorts offer it, but the version at Gili Lankanfushi is one of the best. Once a week, the kitchen staff hosts a wonderful Maldivian night and puts a lot of effort into recreating traditional local dishes.
What to See and Do
Night UV snorkeling. Go out after dark with a marine biologist and an ultraviolet light to see how the corals light up in fluorescent greens, yellows, and reds—even those that aren’t particularly colorful during the day. Octopus, moray eels, and sharks are also more active at night.
Gaafu Alifu Atoll. This southern atoll has some of the best snorkeling and diving in the country, without the bleaching that has affected coral in some shallower atolls. And with so much healthy coral, there are lots of bigger turtles, sharks, and dolphins. A particularly great spot is the house reef at the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa.
Best excursion for families
Snorkel with giant manta rays in Maldives’ remote Baa Atoll Hanifaru Bay, where hundreds of rays congregate yearly in July and August for their annual feeding on the local plankton.
Early December and late April. European vacationers drive up prices from Christmas through Easter, but for the few weeks before and after this period, you’ll find a sweet spot of lower hotel rates and ideal weather: Temperatures are consistently in the high 80s year-round, but during these times there is almost no rain or wind, so the water is calm for snorkeling and diving.
May through September can get a little more rain—typically an hour or so in the afternoon or evening, a few times a week—though this is prime surfing season and best for spotting manta rays and whale sharks.
Exchanging too much money into local currency (the rufiyaa). Each resort occupies its own private island, and because island hopping is a hassle, not to mention expensive, most visitors rarely leave. Simply charge everything to your room and you won’t have to exchange any money at all.
Take some underwater shots, using a case for your smartphone. The Watershot housings are rated for depths of up to 130 feet. For optimal photos, get close to your subject—water mutes the colors—and shoot toward the surface, where there is more light.
Some resorts and travel agencies will quote you a room rate that includes meals. Often, however, the arrangement is restrictive—for instance, the meal plan might be valid at only one of the resort’s restaurants and not the others. It’s not always a bad deal to prepurchase meals, but make sure to ask about limitations.
Most resorts add a 10 percent service charge to your entire bill, so it’s not necessary to tip at meals. If your room includes a butler, tip $10 to $20 per day, depending on how much you use your butler and how good a job he or she does.
Lots of sunscreen. You’ll need more than you expect when you’re this close to the equator—and many resorts charge extraordinary prices for a new tube.