The Ultimate Maldives Travel Guide – Jetset Christina (Updated 2020)
Planning a trip to the Maldives or a Maldives honeymoon? Here’s your ultimate Maldives travel guide for the best hotels in the Maldives, best places to see in the Maldives, things to do in the Maldives and all your Maldives travel questions, answered!
2020 MALDIVES UPDATE – The Maldives is open for tourism. In accordance with the Maldivian Government, guests are required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result. The test must be conducted within 96 hours of departure. They will also complete a travel declaration and contact tracing form prior to checking-in and your hotel property will require temperature screenings for all associates, guests and visitors arriving to the island. For further ease, guests can also receive a COVID-19 test administered by the property’s on-site doctor 72-hours prior to departure. If you are planning on going to multiple resorts, you’ll need to take a PCR COVID test 72 hours before leaving the first resort (which costs around $199)
Doesn’t just seeing its dreamy name give you the travel bug? I think the Maldives may be the buzziest destination around the world right now. And it’s not hard to see why. It’s a country that’s 99% water and only 1% land, made up of 1200 islands (only 200 of which are inhabited), and many thriving coral reefs. The ocean is a brighter turquoise blue than anywhere in the world, and the overwater resorts take luxury to a whole new level. While 10 or 20 years ago, only the elitest of the elite would have even heard about the Maldives, let alone gotten the chance to visit and see it in person, today we see pictures of this paradise flooding our Instagram feeds every single day, and every single photo makes you wonder – could this place really be on earth?
Well, I’m here to confirm that The Maldives DOES exist, it is EVEN more beautiful and breathtaking in person, and yes. It is in fact heaven on earth.
Planning a trip to the Maldives can be a little overwhelming at first. There are more than 200 resorts to choose from (!!!), and they all cater to a different traveler, with a different budget. Each resort has different things to offer (some are better for divers, some are better for surfers, some have better food, some have better overwater bungalows, etc, etc) and since very few of us have actually been to the Maldives, it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to planning. My main goal with traveling there this time was to make sure I could give you guys the best recommendations and info you need to plan your trip to this heavenly country.
I had a lot of questions about this mysterious, otherworldly paradise going into my first trip to the Maldives, and a lot of questions came up from you guys while I was there, so I thought it would be fun to structure this Ultimate Travel Guide to the Maldives as a Maldives FAQ! Let me know in the comments or shoot me a DM on instagram any other questions you may have and I’ll be sure to answer them!
Barefoot, eco-luxury. A stunning and wild paradise on earth.
If I wrote a blog post on the very best hotels in the world, there’s no doubt that Six Senses Laamu would be on my list. This perfect island paradise was a huge highlight of my trip to the Maldives. Everything is perfect about Six Senses, from the natural paradise vibe, to the world-class food (their dinners are great, but their over-the-top breakfast buffet and complimentary homemade ice cream bar were the best things ever), to the villas that make it hard to ever leave your room! (I highly recommend upgrading to a pool villa, if you’re like me and a sucker for dreamy infinity pools), to the adorable island bikes you use to get around (that are personalized with your initials if you’re a repeating guest!), to all of the incredible activities there are to do on the island, from snorkeling to sailing to surfing (the Six Senses’ type of surfing is often called “luxury surfing”, because they boast some of the best waves, but you’ll often be the only one surfing them, a luxury priceless to most surfers).
At Six Senses Laamu, you can do it all, and nothing at the same time. It’s the perfect place to strike the healthy vacation balance between the two. Your bike to breakfast and morning paddle board or surf session can balance out that insane breakfast buffet. You can try a new yoga class while taking in views from the pavilion that are sunset-lounge-worthy, or dive into your new novel before diving into the sparkling turquoise sea. Your afternoon snorkels and manta ray dives are balanced with sunset champagne & canapes. You can enjoy the privacy of your overwater bungalow or walk over to get a pizza made in paradise and 2 for 1 margaritas at Sip Sip. You can even get dropped off at a completely private sandbank for the day, complete with a set up umbrella, beach chairs, and cooler. A vacation at Six Senses is truly a choose-your-own adventure, and at the end of each fun-or-relaxation-filled day, you’ll melt into your mattress blissful, content, and maybe just a little bit sunburned.
But, aside from being a such a fabulous world-class luxury five star resort, Six Senses is so much more. They are leaders and trailblazers in sustainability practices, and are setting the standard for eco-luxury for the entire hospitality industry worldwide, striving to be a completely sustainable resort. The resort’s mission and values focus on protecting paradise environment and benefitting the communities and ecosystems around them. Their sustainability manager, Megan, is wonderful and leads popular tours of the “back house” of the resort, where you can see everything from their desalination tanks that provide drinkable water derived from the sea for the entire island, to how the island creates its own energy to run the resort. She’ll tell you how all soaps, shampoos, etc, used at the resort meet the highest standards of biodegradability, and are all all-natural and non-toxic. They are striving to be completely plastic-free by 2022, and use no plastic bags, straws, or even plastic toothbrushes, on their island, instead, they’ll find a sustainable way to do everything, such as creating bamboo straws and toothbrushes, and only using glass bottles throughout the resort (did you know that glass comes from sand, and thus can be recycled into sand infinity times?). They even their own gardens, filled with vegetables and herbs used in their restaurants, and have a food waste composter that uses the food waste from the resort to help fertilize said garden.
Every single thing the resort is doing is having as minimal of an impact as possible. It makes you start to wonder about all the other resorts you’ve ever stayed in, and its hard not to think about how many resorts aren’t thinking about their impact on the environment, and the incredible waste and toxicity they create. I know that I noticed right away that a beach hotel I stayed at wasn’t offering reef-safe sunscreen in their store, a seemingly easy switch that every hotel on a reef should make!
You can feel good about vacationing at the Six Senses Laamu – their love for their island and our world is contagious and something you will take with you long after you’ve gone home.
For more on the Six Senses Laamu, check out my Six Senses Maldives Hotel Review here.
Ultra-luxurious, opulent, seven-star luxury and service.
There are two categories of villas: sunset-facing and island-facing. While the sunset-facing villas are a higher category of room, and make for some dreamy sunset views, there is no problem with the island-facing villas. The overwater villas here are a design-lover’s dream, and are designed to resemble manta rays, each giving you an incredible amount of privacy, which I love. If you’ve ever stayed at a St. Regis anywhere in the world, you know about their signature butler service, which usually includes complimentary coffee, pressing of your clothes, and a butler available to you whenever you need it, for whatever you need.
This dreamy private island resort is set on more than 22-acres, and has 77 beautiful villas scattered through the island – each with their own private pool and private entrance for an unparalleled degree of seclusion and privacy. The premium two- and three-bedroom villas – including the famed John Jacob Astor Estate, the largest overwater villa in the Maldives – are perfect for families and groups looking for a perfect escape.
It is worth noting that because the St. Regis is a seaplane away from the main Male airport, all guests have to pay $695 for the round-trip seaplane transfer. However, if you think of arriving to the St. Regis via a seaplane as its own excursion (sea plane rides in the Maldives are one of the best experiences you can have!!) It’s easier to justify the cost somewhat.
Is the St. Regis Maldives popular with families?
Yes, the St. Regis is very popular with families and there is a kids club. I think honeymooners will still enjoy it and find quiet, but families will absolutely adore this resort.
I love that at the Fairmont Maldives, each of the 120 villas features a gorgeous private pool. It’s located in the Shaviyani Atoll in North Maldives, and the island has a gorgeous nine kilometer-long house reef directly accessible from the beach. While the overwater bungalows exude modern classic luxury, the unique ultra-private safari-tented jungle villas offer a romantic castaway vibe. Guests of the resort have plenty of activities to choose from, such as glamping BBQs in the jungle or watching movies at the jungle cinema.
Gili Lankanfushi is such a magical place, you guys. The overwater bungalows here give off a rustic chic, understated luxury vibe, and feel somewhere between a luxurious pirate ship and a floating treehouse. They’re gorgeous. You’ll want to spend all day laying out on your hammock over the water, and all night sleeping under the stunnnning stars (your butler – called your “Friday” can set it up for you!). Some of the villas – called the “cruisers” give you an even more unique experience as they are only accessible by boat (you can boat yourself during the day or there is always one on call for you!). And, if you want the best of the best, or have a big family, you can look into the biggest overwater bungalow in the Maldives, called “The Private Reserve”, which is complete with four bedrooms, its own infinity pool, its own private ISLAND, and a slide into the ocean.
Gili Lankanfushi was started by the same owners as Six Senses, so many of the principles, philosophies, vibe and decor remain similar between both properties. What’s nice about Gili Lankanfushi is that it’s only a boat ride away from the airport, so you won’t need another domestic flight or a seaplane to get to it, making it a popular vacation choice for Americans and Maldives honeymooners who want to make the most of one week in the Maldives. I highly recommend this spot if you’re looking to avoid an extra flight!!! (and the extra cost that comes with it!)
Some big highlights of this resort were the destination dining options (you can dine privately in gorgeous settings all over the island), the sunset Dhoani cruise (a traditional 2-person Maldivian sailboat that cruises around the lagoons at sunset with a bottle of champagne – so romantic for honeymooners!) and the dinners at the resort!! Gili does an incredible asian street market buffet every Tuesday, and a to-die-for Mediterranean market buffet on Fridays, on all other days they have multiple restaurants open, including a fresh sushi restaurant called By the Sea. I also definitely recommend going to their beautiful spa and getting a massage! Their massage tables look over glass-bottom floors so you can watch the fish swim while you’re getting massaged!
Famous for having the first underwater restaurant to ever exist in the world, Ithaa Restaurant, and its 2 award-winning spas, this gorgeous Maldives property is consistently one of the most popular.
The super-spacious overwater bungalows stretch up to 500m into the Indian Ocean, and feature floor-to-ceiling windows and beautiful sea views. It takes a 30-minute scenic seaplane transfer from Male International Airport to get to Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, which is about the same as Kandolhu.
$$$ Luxury budget hotels in the Maldives
No matter what resort you stay in in the Maldives, the beaches and water is all the same, and you’re going to have a fabulous experience. I asked some local experts on what resorts were good at a lower budget and were the best value hotels in the Maldives, and they gave me these two hotels, where you can still have the overwater bungalow experience, but at a rate much more affordable than the more expensive resorts.
I was told that Summer Island has one of the very best beaches in the Maldives! It’s a great option for a luxurious but still budget resort in the Maldives. The resort features an infinity pool, an overwater spa and fitness center, watersports, volleyball, a dive center and gorgeous views all around the island. Definitely go for a water villa and ask for a sunset view 🙂 It’s only 20km from the airport and the boat shuttle is included in the rate, which is a big win!
I was told that Halengeli has outstanding food and a beautiful setting, but is a bit further away, which makes it a bit more expensive for the 50 minute speedboat from the airport. But, it’s still a fabulous value hotel in the Maldives. It has a beautiful spa, an outdoor pool with gorgeous views, and a paradise bar.
Should I stay in more than one resort in the Maldives?
It depends on how long you have in the islands. If you have a week to 9 days, probably not. While there are tons of stunning hotels and resorts, making it tempting to want to split your time among two or three, the Maldivian islands are veryyyyy spread out from one another. Many resorts are only accessible via seaplane or domestic flights, and you don’t want to spend your relaxing vacation in paradise packing, unpacking, and dealing with airports and flying. On top of that, many of the resorts are similar to one another, so it’s better to get the FULL experience of one, than two half experiences at two.
However, if you have more than 9 days or two weeks or more, it can definitely be fun to explore two different resorts! Just make sure you pick two very different resorts rather than 2 that might be too similar.
What’s the food like in the Maldives? Do I have to eat at the resort? Do the resorts include food in the Maldives?
The food is SO GOOD IN THE MALDIVES!!!! Of course it depends on the resort you choose, but if you choose a luxury resort, you can rest assured you’re going to get some great food during your trip. Whenever possible in the Maldives, you’re getting incredible local cuisine (read: coconut, tuna and other underwater delicacies), and when it’s not possible to grow or fish something locally, the best of the best is imported to the resorts, such as European charcuterie, german sausages, French cheeses and Swiss chocolate.
Since you’ll be on a private island, the only option is to eat at the resort. As far as what’s included in your rate, it depends on the resort, but many offer you the option to go “half board” (meaning breakfast and dinner is included) or “full board” (meaning breakfast, lunch and dinner is included). In my experience at Six Senses and Gili Lankanfushi, I didn’t feel the need for full board, as we would fill up on the amazing breakfast buffets, and be full until dinner time, however, at Kandolhu, I did the “ultimate” inclusions package, which includes alcohol as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I’m so glad we did! Lunch was the biggest highlight of Kandolhu‘s food – they have a Mexican restaurant taco bar on one of their piers, open only for lunch, that was my favorite restaurant in all of the Maldives!!! Seriously. Go to this resort just for this restaurant. And order as many of the tacos and churros as you can eat. SO good.
How long should I spend in the Maldives?
In my opinion, you want minimum of 5 nights at a resort, anything less than that you won’t get the full Maldives experience! After all, part of the experience of these resorts is taking your shoes off, putting your wallet and phone away, and enjoying the private island life to the fullest. You want to give yourself time to experience all that your island has to offer. Around 7 nights would be ideal, in my opinion, or more time if you’re going to more than one resort.
Will I get bored in the Maldives?
No!!! I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions about the Maldives. People worry about getting “island fever” and not having enough to do for a week on an island. If you’re staying at one of the resorts I recommended, trust me, you are going to have ENDLESS activities to do and keep you busy (if you want to!). From snorkeling and diving, to paddleboarding and sailing and all the watersports, to biking, tennis, movie nights, cooking classes, wine tastings, and sunset dolphin cruises. I was having so much fun doing everything on the islands that I didn’t even have a chance to touch my book that I bought for the trip!!!
Is The Maldives only for honeymooners and couples? What about families? Are there resorts that cater to solo travelers in the Maldives?
When I started dreaming of traveling to the Maldives, I was convinced that it was the most romantic place on earth – the perfect place for a honeymoon. While it definitely is that, what I realized when I got there was that the Maldives actually caters to all types of travelers – from couples, to families with young or older children, to groups of friends (the Six Senses had awesome 2-bedroom villas connected by a pool that would be perfect for two couples, and Gili Lankanfushi had 2 bedroom overwater villas that would be so fun for a family), to full-blown 30th birthday parties (the yacht we cruised for a few days on, Searex, recently had a US-based group on it to celebrate one of the friends’ 30th birthdays), to royals with their entourages (Yes, the prince of Morocco was actually staying at the Six Senses when we were there), to solo travelers looking to get away from it all and do a digital detox in the Maldives. It wasn’t all that surprising to learn that certain properties, like Gili Lankanfushi, see quite a few solo travelers, because I can totally see the appeal to a hard-working person looking to go off the map for a week, but not so off the map that they don’t have a little bit of resort society and people around. It wouldn’t have felt weird at all to be at one of their restaurants or beaches alone, but rather relaxing. The Maldives seemed to me like the perfect place to turn your phone on airplane mode, and embrace full relaxation, whether that be by yourself, with friends, or with loved ones.
Is flying across the world to the Maldives worth the flight?
YES. But, if you’re flying from the United States or Europe, you should allot yourself enough time for your vacation. I think anywhere from 6-9 days is the perfect time to spend in the Maldives. You’re going to be exhausted after a 20-30 hour flight, and you’re not going to want to spend your whole vacation jet-lagged.
What time of year should I visit the Maldives?
The Maldives is famous for being “80/80/80” year-round, meaning it’s 80 degrees, 80% humidity, and 80 degree ocean water the whole year. The dryest season runs from November-May, but this is also peak season for tourists, meaning not only are the resorts usually at 100% capacity, but the prices are twice as high than the rest of the year. And, since The Maldives are so popular during the high season, make sure you are booking well in advance if you’re traveling then. I think a lot of people are scared away from the Maldives’ “wet” season, but, after experiencing 10 straight days of sunshine, and 2 partly cloudy days with the occasional rain squall blowing through, and talking to lots of people working at the resorts about the different seasons, it seems like no matter what time of year you visit the Maldives, you could get incredible weather, or rain, it’s kind of random! They see plenty of rainy days during the dry season, and plenty of gorgeous days during the “wet” season! My advice is book your trip when it works for you, and hope for the best! Also, rain in the Maldives is NOT the worst thing in the world. The resorts have plenty of things to do if it rains, from wine tastings and cooking classes, to games and movies, and lotssss of good food. The sun is so intense in these islands you may be wishing for a rainstorm for an excuse to hang inside after a few days outside here! 🙂
How expensive is it to travel to the Maldives?
The Maldives is a dream destination for many people, and a trip there is likely a once in a lifetime trip, because it is very expensive to travel there! Flights aren’t cheap, unless you happen to live in India or Sri Lanka or anywhere nearby, and resorts and food certainly aren’t cheap either. And many resorts are only accessible via seaplane which usually costs $800 per person round trip on top of your airfare to get to Male airport (this is arranged through the resort, and there isn’t another option).
While there are definitely ways to do the Maldives at every budget, I can assure you that this is a destination worth splurging on. Especially if you’re going to the Maldives for a honeymoon, an anniversary, or a special occasion, I would save up big before the trip to make sure that I could splurge on the right resort and experiences. That being said, there are always ways to save money on your trip. Pool villas will always cost more than villas without a pool, and beach bungalows can be great options as well versus an overwater bungalow (or you could do half the time in an overwater villa and half the time in a beach bungalow!) At Kandolhu, we got to experience both and loved that the beach bungalows had direct private beach access and a pool (pictured below!)
JETSET TIP: When it comes to budgeting for a big trip, especially in a destination like the Maldives, I always plan on spending 30% more than I originally budgeted for, that way, all the little extra expenses that come up (like taxes and fees and activities you decide to do last minute, or transportation and seaplane rides) don’t faze you. Since you budgeted for all those extras already, you can forget about money for the week and have the time of your life.
I have a whole post on What to Pack for the Maldives, so check that one out too, but I’ll summarize it here!
Sunscreen. Lotsssss of sunscreen.
The sun is very intense in the Maldives (The islands straddle the equator), and you’ll feel it as soon as you arrive. Make sure to avoid that first-day-of-vacay lobster burn, and stock up on some sunscreens before you leave. And please make it reef-safe sunscreen! Most of our sunscreens we use are toxic to the reefs we swim over after we put it on. Help practice sustainability on your travels and buy some reef-safe sunscreen for your trip.
If you’ve been thinking of a perfect excuse to invest in a GoPro, this trip is it. There are so many beautiful tropical fish everywhere you look in the Maldives! And some awesome turtles, sharks, and manta rays too! I highly recommend bringing a GoPro (I use this one) with you for your trip so you can capture the incredible marine life!
If you’re from the UK, then nope! But if you’re from the US, you will. While some of the resorts may have US plugs available in the rooms, I always make sure to buy a power converter and adapter before a trip to be safe (I like this one by Travel Smart by Conair because it also works for all my hair tools, and is a power converter and adapter in one… plus it comes with plugs for use all over the world, so you won’t have to buy a new one for your next vacay!)
Leave your shoes at home!
Ask your resort ahead of time to be sure, but most of the resorts have a “barefoot luxury” vibe, and encourage you to ditch your shoes the second you arrive. It’s an awesome feeling not to wear shoes for a whole week, and to be eating dinners with your toes in the sand rather than squished into uncomfy heels! I brought one pair of tennis shoes for the resort gyms, but found out that some resorts actually have shoes you can borrow for that reason! You really only need one pair of shoes for the airplane.
Can I get a YAAASSSS, LADIES!! This means SO much more room in our suitcases for bikinis!!!!
Lots of swimwear!
You’re going to be in the water every day of your trip – so pack your bikinis and swimwear accordingly! Also, keep in mind you’ll probably be keeping pretty active in the ocean – from surfing to snorkeling to jumping off your villa, so you’re going to want to not only pack some chic swimwear to lounge on your overwater bungalow in, but make sure you pack some bikinis you can actually swim in (you girls know what I mean… so many of my bikinis are pretty much just for sunning and fall off every time I do anything active in the water, hah!) My favorite for snorkeling were my Watercolors bikinis! (you can get a discount for being a JetsetChristina reader with the code JETSET)
And these are some of my other favorites I wore in the Maldives: *click on each photo to shop*
Do not underestimate the Maldivian sun. Having a couple chic sun hats with you to protect your face (and neck) is so important! Not to mention they look chic in all those vacation photos you’re about to take. Click on the photos below to shop the hats that I brought on my vacation!
Cute cover ups and beach dresses!
Click the photo to shop
Can you bring wine to the Maldives?
Ugh. No. and it sucks. I was actually flying to the Maldives from the Amalfi Coast, and was SO excited to pack at least 5 bottles of delicious Italian wine in my suitcase, but I’m so glad I googled bringing wine in the Maldives before I bought them! The Maldives is a muslim country, and as such, alcohol is not allowed in the country. If you try to sneak it in your suitcase they will find it, and you can get fined, or worse, thrown in jail. Sooooo not worth it. The good news is an exception to this rule has been made for the private islands that the resorts live on! (yay!) which is why they’re allowed to sell you alcohol and you’re allowed to drink your sunny days away with poolside pina coladas and champagne sunset cruises. Alcohol at the nice resorts in the Maldives is more expensive than bringing your own, but I was actually shocked that the booze was less expensive than resorts I had been to in French Polynesia and Bora Bora and bottles of wines at restaurants in the Maldives were less than in restaurants in Bali, so that was a big win!
Most of the nice resorts feature in-house sommeliers, as well, and I was very impressed by the somms at Six Senses and Gili Lankanfushi, who both picked out outstanding bottles of wine to pair with every dish! I was very impressed, and being a Napa Valley girl, that’s hard to do!
Oh man, I have gotten this question a lot! Since both paradises are known for their overwater bungalows, beautiful resorts, and sparkling blue waters, it’s hard not to compare the two. But, when it comes to honeymooning in Bora Bora versus a honeymoon in the Maldives, it completely depends on the couple! I found both places to be absolutely unreal vacation destinations. The water is so beautiful in both, and both boast some seriously incredible aquatic life. While I absolutely loved both, I personally found Bora Bora to be a little more “resortey” and the Maldives to be a little more private, evoking a feeling like you are in a paradise in the middle of the Indian Ocean (I also found this at Cambodia’s ultra-private Song Saa Private Island!) I think Bora Bora’s much-easier flight path from the states make it a great and easier option for couples who may not be able to take as much time off for their wedding and honeymoon, but the Maldives’ mystery and allure make it that much cooler for the couple that want to go where none of their friends have gone before.
Do you need a travel agent for the Maldives?
No! You definitely don’t need a travel agent for a trip to the Maldives! I always book myself, and it’s super easy. I like going through this site to find the best deals. If you book direct with the resort, be sure to tell them that Jetset Christina sent you! Also I always appreciate if you book through the links in my site as I receive a small commission that helps me keep running the blog!!
PS – have more questions on the Maldives, or any other destination? Join the JETSETTERS secret facebook group to get & give travel recs to our Jetset Christina community and connect with other #JSCJetsetters!
Pin this post!
*Please note that this post contains affiliate links to some hotels! If you choose to book one of the hotels I recommended, I would so appreciate you using these links to do so! An affiliate link basically just means that at no cost to you at all, I get a small kickback from the booking site for bringing them your business! I never recommend any hotels that I don’t 100% LOVE & think you will, too! If you have any questions at all, please see my advertiser & affiliate policy page here.
Check out these related posts:
What I use to take my photos
Easy tips for better vacation photos
Gorgeous Maldives photography prints for sale (and other destinations!)