Crystal-clear waters, palm trees, ultra-white beaches and a luxurious nature: we’ve arrived in Malè and will now discover what there is to do and see in the Maldives, a true paradise on earth.
Malé is, quite simply, a gateway to paradise. The capital of the Maldives, it is here that the airport is located, from where you can reach the other islands of the archipelago and the famous atolls with their crystal-clear waters and white sand.
If you are planning a trip to the Maldives, take a few days to discover Malè: seeing it from above is quite impressive. The hyper-urbanization is obvious, especially if you consider that the entire capital extends over an island of only 5 square kilometers in the middle of the ocean. In this travel guide, therefore, in addition to discovering the most beautiful islands of the Maldives, we will plan our visit to Malè, one of the smallest capitals in the world, and one of the most densely populated.
What to see in Malè, capital of the Maldives
Forget the quiet, the beaches and the white sand. Forget, in other words, that you are in the Maldives. Because Malè doesn’t even have a beach! The skyscrapers, the chaos of the city and the thousands of mopeds that zigzag very fast through the traffic are the predominant characteristics and ones to which you ought to pay close attention.
And yet, despite this image, which is inconsistent with the typical quietness of the archipelago of which it is part, Malè preserves small spaces of authenticity: and these are the places that, for the first time, we will go to visit.
So, let's go to the city’s fruit and vegetable market and the nearby fish market, fresh and dry: it is here that you’ll find the true soul of local life. These are very picturesque places that, despite the pungent smell of the fish (which could make most people curl their noses) deserve to be visited and photographed.
From the fish market, we venture into the island to reach Sultan Park, a green area where you can finally find some peace and quiet. It is overlooked by the National Museum, where you can learn more about Maldivian culture through the traditional objects on display. If you are interested in art, the National Art Gallery is also located near the National Museum.
We continue our visit to Malè on the seafront that runs along the entire perimeter of the island. It is overlooked by government buildings and narrow streets leading to the center of the island.
But it's time to take the ferry and leave the city chaos behind: because we're about to get to know what probably comes closest to our idea of paradise. Let's embark to reach the most beautiful islands of the Maldives archipelago.
A bit of geography: where the Maldives are located
The idea we have of the Maldives is rather vague. The territory on which they extend, in fact, is strongly fragmented and represented by many islets (about 1200) grouped into 26 different atolls, located in the middle of the Indian Ocean and precisely south-west of India. Understanding which Maldives islands to visit and on which atolls to settle for your holiday, therefore, is not that simple. Not all atolls are inhabited and, among these, only ten are accessible to tourists. Below you will find a guide to the most beautiful atolls of the Maldives, as well as the most famous and visited ones.
Holiday at the atoll of Ari, the most famous of the Maldives.
Welcome to paradise. The atoll of Ari is made up of 81 islands and lies about 60 km from Malè. This group of islets is very famous because it is here that you will find two of the most renowned diving spots in the world. In short, as you will have understood, Ari's atoll is a paradise for snorkelers. Just one dive will leave you speechless, as the Maldivian underwater world is magnificent.
If you decide to visit Ari's Atoll, then plan a boat trip to Hammerhead Point, North Ali, where you can see the beautiful hammerhead sharks. In the southern part of the atoll, in South Ari, instead, we find the diving point called Dhidhdhoo Beyru where, if you are lucky, you can admire the magnificent whale sharks, completely harmless to man. You can reach Ari by ferry or small local planes, which land directly on the island of Maamgili. As one of the most famous atolls in the Maldives, Ari is undoubtedly the most touristy. If you are looking for quieter and more relaxed solutions, we recommend choosing one of the atolls from the list below.
The least frequented atolls in the Maldives: Lhaviyani
The Maldivian economy is mainly fueled by tourism, but before its atolls became one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, life on these islands and atolls was very different. If you are looking for a more authentic atmosphere, then, you might think of visiting the less frequented atolls of the Maldives, which, being less of a tourist attraction, have preserved more of the traditions typical of the place.
Head north and, between the northern atolls of the Maldives, moor at Lhaviyani. The only way to reach the atoll is by sea because, unlike the Ari atoll, there is no airport here.
Of the 54 islands that form the atoll, only four are inhabited and, although there is no lack of guesthouses and resorts (though fewer than on the other atolls), you can sense a more authentic vibe to the place. In addition to the beautiful sea and the white beaches – which are a constant in the Maldives – you can have a taste of how local people live, engaged not only in tourism but also in local crafts and fishing.
Then take a trip to Naifaru, the capital of the atoll.
Visiting the atoll of Baa, a World Biosphere Reserve
The most significant atoll from a naturalistic point of view is undoubtedly that of Baa which, also located in the northern part of the Maldives, in 2011 was included by UNESCO among the World Biosphere Reserve sites. The waters of the atoll of Baa, in fact, are champions of biodiversity. There are many species of animals and plants that you can admire while snorkeling and, not by chance, local snorkeling schools organize dives in the many islands that make up the atoll pretty much every day. In Baa you can also buy the Feyli, the typical sarong of the Maldives that is manufactured in these places.
Luxury atolls: discovering Noonu
We remain in the northern part of the Maldives to visit what is universally recognized as one of the most exclusive places in the entire archipelago. In the atoll of Noonu, in fact, there are few resorts, but very luxurious. To stay at the beautiful Cheval Blanc Randheli, for example, the basic rate starts from 4000 euros per night. Luxury aside, among the islands of the Noonu archipelago is the islet of Landohoo, where you can visit the remains of a Hawitta, an ancient pyramid that, according to tradition, was built by an ancient Maldivian people, the Redin.
Unspoilt nature in the Maldives: the atoll of Raa
If you are looking for unspoilt nature and an area less touristy than the others, choose the atoll of Raa as the base of your holiday in the Maldives. Divided by a natural channel from the atoll of Baa, the atoll of Raa is a little more secluded than the other more famous ones. Less tourists visit here, and nature has certainly benefited from that. You will find yourself in a lush environment, above and below the water, and diving into them allows you to explore a stretch of sea that is particularly rich in hidden treasures.
If, for example, you want to take a closer look at the coral reefs, head to the Kandholhudhu Island area, where the richest coral reef in the Maldives is concentrated. The atoll of Raa can be reached directly from Malè by ferry or by the faster (but more expensive) seaplane.
What to eat in the Maldives
The local cuisine will vary depending on where you are on the archipelago. Even the Maldives can offer pleasant surprises from a gastronomic point of view. The uncontaminated nature and the dream-like beaches are accompanied by typical dishes and local preparations that will conquer even the most difficult palates. Maldivian cuisine is - of course - based on fish and rice. Another great plus of the area is the fruit: here you can fill up with exotic fruit varieties that will leave you amazed because of their flavor.
The most typical dish of the area is probably the Mashuni, a tuna-based preparation cooked with onion, tomato and coconut that, by tradition, is accompanied by hikandhi fai, the unleavened bread prepared on the islands.
If, on the other hand, you prefer meat dishes, opt for Geri Riha, a beef-based preparation that, cooked in coconut milk and curry, acquires a very special and spicy flavor. For breakfast, however, do not miss the Huni hakuru folhi, typical pancakes made with the ubiquitous coconut.
In order to plan a trip to the Maldives, you must have an e-passport with residual validity of at least six months. Once you arrive in Malè, you’ll have to apply for the tourist visa, which is issued directly at the airport. The visa is valid for 30 days.
What is the best time of year to visit the Maldives? To understand when to book your holiday, you need to know that it essentially has two seasons: the wet season and the dry season. If you are planning a trip to the Maldives, it makes more sense to choose the months that mark the dry season, from January to March. During these months the rains are less frequent, and it will be possible to enjoy all the beauty that this natural paradise has to offer to its visitors.