Made up of 26 atolls scattered across the Indian Ocean from north to south in a shape that resembles an exclamation point, Maldives is a fragile wonderland of white sand, palms, lagoons, reefs, and Hockney-blue seas. Of the 36,000 square miles it covers, less than 1 percent is land. If the sea level were to rise just a few feet, its nearby 1,200 tiny, flat-as-a-tabletop islands would be gone; don’t underestimate the urgency when those who have been there suggest that you see the world’s lowest-lying nation before it’s too late.
Each resort – there are almost 100 – occupies a private island and is dedicated to showing off its own jewel of the sea. Divers and snorkelers revel in the easy access to miles of coral gardens in shallow, crystal-clear waters. They come in search of small, colourful creatures like unicornfish, harlequin sweetlips, and glassfish, as well as hulking reef sharks and manta rays. Above the water, visitors enjoy everything from deep-sea fishing to kayaking, or simple reading, snoozing, and contemplating one’s enormous good fortune in a hammock with a view.
Native Maldivians inhabit not even one-fifth of the islands, and it is rare to meet a local aside from those employed by resorts. Tourism is vital of the Maldivian future, and many of the resorts are environmentally and socially responsible. The Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru – where 48 villas (each with an ocean view, four-poster bed, and private garden) stand just steps from the aquamarine water – prides itself on stewardship of the ocean and has established a marine lab that, among other efforts, protects sea turtles that nest on its beaches. The award-winning SonevaGiliLankanfushi, with its 45 over-water bungalows (some reachable only by boat) built from natural materials and open to sea breezes.
Blissfully operates under the oft-borrowed “No News No Shoes” mantra. It strives to achieve complete sustainability through ambitious preservation policies and educational programs with local communities. Both resorts are nothing short of island heaven; for confirmation, spend on afternoon being pampered at their world-class spas and open-air waterside dinning venues. Unlike the majority of resorts accessible only by seaplane from the airport at Male, the capital city and island, each is a 20-minute boat ride away.
WHERE : 250 miles/400 km southwest of India, spreading more than 500 miles north to south.
BEST TIME: Dec – Apr for driest days and clearest weather.