Maldives – More than 5*?

Why the Maldives is more than its 5 star resorts…

Look, we get it. The overwater villas, private pools and outdoor showers get us going, too. And while we’re guilty of falling head-over-flippers for some of the world’s best and most beautiful resorts in the Maldives (Joali, Soneva Jani, Kudadoo – here’s looking at you), we also want you to know that there’s so much more to experience in the country than just the glitz and glam…

Water babies will likely already be aware that some of the planet’s best underwater life is right here, among the atolls of the Indian ocean. A singular, 30-minute snorkelling session might have you coming face-to-fin with grey-tip reef sharks, manta rays, turtles and schools of fish as colourful as Disney’s Dory. There’s nothing quite as humbling as being a guest in the underwater world – and the reefs in the Maldives are some of the most vivid on earth: psychedelic blues and pinks line the ocean bed. At Joali Being, you can take a tour of the coral nursery with the on-site marine biologist – you’ll see two types of coral structures in place, supporting the life and soul of a healthy seabed – just one of the ways they’re nurturing this all important commodity.

Divers will rejoice, too: the crystalline lagoons afford particularly good visibility, and waters are (more often than not) calm, making for great conditions. Plus, the Maamigilli channel in the South Ari atoll is one of the only places in the world that you can see whale sharks year round, without any malpractice to get them there. Stay on Dhigurah – one of our best-loved local islands – to have a solid chance of seeing them (we were lucky enough to swim with eight of the gentle giants in the space of three days – more on that in an upcoming blog).

Malibu, Oahu, California and Bali might be better-known surfing holidays – but there’s no shortage of ocean swell in the Maldives, and a lot of the surf spots are raw and relatively undiscovered. Less crowds mean quieter breaks and more room to ride (or, in our case, to wipeout). Head to the North Malé atoll or Himmafushi in the Kaafu atoll for good waves. If you’re less keen on being on just a wooden board in the water, you can also spend days exploring the coral-encrusted atolls in kayaks, canoes, dhoni boats and jet skis




But back on land – because despite the Maldives being 99% ocean, there’s plenty to love on the sandy, palm-tree-lined islands too. The food is a good place to start: fresh Maldivian crab, lobster and tuna are served steps from where they came from. ‘Catch of the day’ heads up more menus than in any other destination – and rightly so. Make sure to try a traditional Maldivian breakfast, too. Called mashuni, it’s a mix of tuna, coconut shavings, onion, chilli and lime served with a roti (similar to a flatbread). Wash it down with a coconut (they’re in abundance here), and sample some local fruits – succulent mangoes and papayas are grown on the rich plantations of Thoddoo island in the Alif Alif atoll.

There’s something about a string hammock on the beach that encourages even the most always-on brains to properly wind down – and that’s one of the other things we love about the Maldives: the peace. You can go entirely off grid here (save for a few envy-inducing instagrams – needs must). But really, the country is a true relaxation destination – busyness is removed, bare feet are encouraged, and WiFi can be sparse: all of which make it even more idyllic.

And last, but certainly not least: the people. We’ve met waiters working in cafés who survived the 2004 tsunami by hiding in a fishing boat. We’ve met locals who could paddle-board before they could walk, and who get just as excited about wildlife sightings as travellers do: I was awoken from a sunshine-induced slumber once to an excited barman alerting me to a pod of dolphins just off the island; and was ushered to the beach one evening (by a waiter grinning ear-to-ear) to witness the luminescent plankton lapping the shores. There are expats, too – from Indonesia, Italy, India and beyond – who were drawn to the country by the pristine waters and lack of footwear, and spend their days treating coral nurseries, taking travellers on snorkelling trips, or teaching yoga. But there’s a common thread – everyone cares deeply about the islands. And it’s important to recognise that there’s trouble, even in paradise.


The archipelago is particularly vulnerable to climate change – islands are at risk of disappearing – and so travelling the country sustainably is critical. If you’re opting for resorts, then know that Joali, and sister property Joali Being, are front runners in their sustainable approaches. Measures include an on-site water distilling plant, impressive recycling system and glass bottle crusher, plus villas are made from eco-friendly local materials and the owner is passionate about being involved in genuine planet-first partnerships (Joali works with the Olive Ridley Project, Women in Tech Maldives and Zero Waste Maldives, among others). Local islands are also a sustainable option – Dhigurah, Huraa and Dhiffushi are some of our picks – because you’re directly impacting the local economy. You can get to them using local transport (some ferry routes cost only £1), therefore reducing carbon emissions from your trip; and dine at local cafés and restaurants – benefiting the local island’s residents and families.

Written by Hannah Dace, Wanderlux Editor

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