Fine dining, languid afternoons spent on the beach and endless azure seascapes are often what comes to mind when you think of the quintessential Maldives escape, but there’s plenty of other experiences to discover. If you want to see the most of the Maldives, why not try a liveaboard adventure or join a swimming tour that’ll take you to untouched parts of the archipelago. Or, simply unwind on a lavish wellness retreat that will leave you feeling fully refreshed and rejuvenated. Whichever your choice, these 10 intriguing Maldives experiences are bound to inspire your next journey to this iconic destination.
1. For seafarers: Carpe Diem
Eschew dry land and go for plush live-aboard options in the Maldives with the Carpe Diem fleet of three ships. The newest and largest is the Carpe Novo, which boasts 12 cabins, all with ensuite bathrooms, over three decks and can accommodate up to 22 guests. A team of local dive instructors will accompany you on a range of seven–10 day itineraries, such as the one to Central Island – popular for its opportunities for manta ray and whale shark sightings. As well as diving and snorkelling, you can also try surfing and paddle-boarding or even help environmental groups with ongoing conservation projects.
2. For wave chasers: COMO Maalifushi
With up to 20 pristine surf breaks within a short speedboat ride, COMO Maalifushi in the southwestern Thaa Atoll provides the perfect jump-off point for both beginners and salt-crusted surfers who’ve seen it all. To help you do it in style, luxury surf company TropicSurf has a permanent set-up at the resort from April to October each year. The resort has also distinguished itself with a Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice Award for 2022.
Ross Phillips, founder of TropicSurf, has ridden some of the world’s most revered breaks, but says the Maldives is his favourite spot. “There are just so many waves here,” Phillips says. “The swell from Antarctica peels around the islands and gives them this predictable shape and a long ride.” TropicSurf has had a presence in the Maldives since 1999, when Phillips says you could have counted high-end wave-hunters on one hand. But that was before resort-based surfing swept the nation.
At COMO Maalifushi – the first and only resort on the Thaa Atoll – you’re far from the madding crowds and in a prime position for the predominant swell direction (translation: you’re pretty much guaranteed waves). This is the new frontier of luxury surfing – which means a customisable and exclusive experience. In reality, that can include anything from a lesson for first-timers in the glassy lagoon through to your own private charter aboard the resort’s 21m yacht, Cameron, to surf perfect waves without a soul in sight.
For those who just want to eat, sleep and surf on repeat, a “surf pass” gives you access to daily jaunts out to secluded breaks on three atolls. “People come here just to surf Farms [break],” guide Adam Webster says. “For a little wave, it’s got a spicy take-off but a happy ending.”
3. For art lovers: JOALI Maldives
JOALI Maldives, a luxe 10ha private island retreat located on Muravandhoo in the Raa Atoll, has distinctly artistic leanings thanks to founder and owner Esin Güral. “I’m always interested in modern, innovative, authentic and unique works of art and design,” Güral says. “For the art concept, we worked with a young team [Zeynep Ercan and Ala Onur, the curators of Istanbul-based art collective No LaB] trying to reshape the white wall concept and curate unique experiences.” Their vision translates to an impressive assemblage of handpicked art pieces showcased throughout the grounds of the property.
A great way to experience these is to tour the resort by bike or on foot using JOALI’s art map, which highlights artists and their works. These include South African architect and designer Porky Hefer who is responsible for the Manta Ray Tree House – a striking woven creation, elevated five metres above the ground – as well as New York-based sculptor Misha Kahn who worked with Maldivian craftsmen to create the Underwater Coral Sculptures – an installation made with a mix of mosaic tiles to represent the effects of coral bleaching that guests can dive among.
4. For explorers: Angsana Ihuru
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the Rannamari, a sand dredger which was brought to Angsana Ihuru in 1999 to be used as an artificial reef. The wreck has since become home to local marine life 28 metres under the sea. To mark the occasion and spread awareness about conserving marine life in the Maldives, Angsana Ihuru and its sister property Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru are organising a 10TO10 dive event from 10 to 14 June. The event, which will be live-streamed, will see their in-house team of dive instructors and up to 100 guests explore the site.
5. For Bond villains: The Muraka
The Muraka made waves when it opened in late 2018, and for good reason. This exclusive two-level, three-bedroom villa is the first underwater abode in the Maldives, with the bottom storey fully submerged five metres below the Indian Ocean. The curved acrylic dome affords extraordinary underwater views, which you can enjoy from the comfort of your bed.
6. For wind riders: Maafushi Dive
A little unexpected, perhaps, but the Maldives is actually one of the best places in the world to try your hand at kitesurfing. There are sheltered lagoons aplenty, but the low-lying atolls at Maafushi Dive are still exposed enough for the wind to propel kiteboarders at speeds of 15 to 20 knots.
“We’re very lucky because practically every lagoon is good for kitesurfing as they’re sheltered by a faru (reef wall). The sandbanks are also good, because you can get one side with flat water and the other side with waves… so if you’re more advanced you can jump the waves and do stunts,” says Asim Mohamed, who runs Maafushi Dive and organises the annual Raalhu Gudi kitesurfing festival.
“My favourite gear for the Maldives is the foil – a fast, relaunchable kite you can launch and land on your own, without a buddy – not just because it’s very effective… it allows you to absorb even more of the beauty of the Maldives because you can stay out for longer,” explains Youri Zoon, Dutch kiteboarding world champion and co-organiser of Raalhu Gudi.
7. For stargazers: Sky
The Maldives’ proximity to the equator means you can actually see the stars in both hemispheres from SKY, at the Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas. It features the country’s first overwater dome observatory housing a research grade 16” Meade LX200 telescope with 360-degree movement and a viewing capacity of 30 million light years away. The resident astronomer helps guide you through the wonders of the night sky.
8. For water babies: SwimTrek
SwimTrek offers eight-day tours of the Maldives where guests swim up to 5km per day, spending evenings aboard the spacious MV Sharifa. “The great thing is the way it caters for both experienced swimmers and those new to open water swimming,” SwimTrek participant Mimi Munro says. “We do the same routes, but slower swimmers and those who want to look at the coral get dropped off earlier. It is challenging, but there’s no pressure – if you want to laze about on the boat, [you can].”
9. For aspiring scientists: Six Senses Laamu
Reaching out to the next generation of environmentalists, Six Senses Laamu has designed a junior programme geared towards six- to 16-year-olds. An in-house team of marine biologists mentors budding conservationists in a range of programme specialties such as data collection and survey conducting skills through on-the-ground field (well, in this case, beach) research.
10. For wellness devotees: Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru
Set amidst 18 hectares of jungle, Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru is a 103-villa property that offers a complete immersion into Ayurveda, a 5,000–year-old system of medicine developed by the sages of India.
The 1.2ha Spa & Ayurvedic Retreat complex is grounded in a strong natural healing philosophy and encompasses open-air treatment cabins, an Ayurvedic village filled with fluttering prayer flags and fragrant herbs, as well as a yoga therapy centre, which specialises in personalised programmes. One of their two Ayurvedic physicians – who hail from Kerala and are certified in Western medicine – will give you a consultation and dosha analysis, then oversee your entire Ayurvedic immersion retreat, assisted by the yoga instructors, chefs and therapists.
Words by Jalean Wong, Sarah Harvey, and Celeste Mitchell
Illustration by Twisstii
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This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine