Top Experience in Maldives
Welcome to Male
The pint-sized Maldivian capital is the throbbing, mercantile heart of the nation, a densely crowded and fascinating place, notable mainly for its stark contrast to the laid-back pace of island life elsewhere in the country.
Male (mar-lay) offers the best chance to see the ‘real’ Maldives away from the resort buffet and infinity pool. Overlooked by tall, brightly coloured buildings and surrounded by incongruously turquoise water, Male is a hive of activity, the engine driving Maldives’ economy and the forum for the country’s saga-worthy political struggles.
Male is also pleasingly quirky – alcohol-free cafes and restaurants jostle with shops and lively markets and the general capital-city hubbub is very much present. This island city may not have a huge number of sights, but it offers a very real chance to get a feel for Maldives and to meet Maldivians on an equal footing.
Top Choice diving in Rasdhoo Atoll
Also known as Rasdhoo Madivaru, Hammerhead Point is a demanding dive on an outer reef where hammerhead sharks, mantas and other large pelagics are frequent visitors. Outside this reef, the depth drops rapidly to over 200m and the water is exceptionally clear. Hammerhead dives usually start before dawn, descending by around 6 am to have the best chance of sightings.
Ari Atoll & Around
Centered on a vast, sumptuous and inviting oval lagoon dotted with reefs, Ari Atoll sits to the west of the capital and is famed for its superb diving and stellar beaches. The nutrient-rich water that flows out to the open sea through large channels between the islands attracts many ocean-going creatures and divers from all over the world.
South Ari Atoll, a Protected Marine Area, remains one of the best places in the world to see whale sharks, which are spotted year-round on the outer reef, while North Ari Atoll is famous for its hammerhead sharks, although these are far more elusive and require deep diving to see. The small natural atoll of Rasdhoo, to Ari Atoll’s northeast, and the single island of Thoddoo both host vibrant, growing guesthouse scenes that attract budget travelers looking for an affordable diving holiday.
Welcome to Maafushi
The center of Maldives’ independent travel scene, the island of Maafushi has undergone seismic change since the first guesthouses opened here in 2010, and it now has over 50 hotels and guesthouses. It is easily Maldives’ most cosmopolitan and progressive inhabited island, and there is a bikini beach and a very competitive diving and excursions market to boot. You can even leave the island to drink alcohol on floating bars just outside the harbour or take a day trip to one of the many nearby resorts that welcome day guests in search of alcohol, pork and a more relaxed attitude to semi-clad sunbathers.
Maafushi may not be the most attractive island, with only a few good beaches that tend to get crowded, but it’s well located for dozens of day trips and, quite frankly, the sheer amount of guesthouse competition keeps prices affordable. Welcome to Maldives for backpackers.
Top Choice snorkeling in Baa
The centerpiece to the Baa Atoll Unesco World Biosphere Reserve, Hanifaru Bay is a vital feeding and breeding ground for manta rays and whale sharks; you have an excellent chance of seeing these incredible sea giants while snorkeling here. The best time to see mantas is from May to November; whale sharks are here year-round. Note that diving is forbidden.