Maldives map & highlights

Wondering where to go in the Maldives? It’s not hard to find inspiration in this archipelago of nearly 1,200 islands clustered into 26 atolls stretching 800km from north to south, and lapped by the Indian Ocean under which most of them will sadly one day disappear. For this is the world’s most low-lying country, and whether they are privately owned luxury ‘resort islands’ or ‘local islands’ offering a much more authentic and enlightening experience of Maldivian culture, they are all at the mercy of rising sea levels. Small boats – including traditional dhonis – are the best way to glide between islands. Pad about on sun-bleached decking as you ponder whether to go snorkelling before or after taking breakfast on an isolated sand bank.
Dhigurah Island, South Ari Atoll

1. Dhigurah Island, South Ari Atoll

Dhigurah is an exquisite local island to base yourself on for a scuba diving vacation, right in the heart of a marine-protected area where massive whale sharks abound. There are some 15 coral reefs teeming with fish in the vicinity, while the famous Rangali cleaning station is also nearby where manta rays gather to be picked clean by smaller fish.
Fulhadhoo Island, Baa Atoll

2. Fulhadhoo Island, Baa Atoll

Fulhadhoo is a local island 100km northwest and two hours by speedboat from the capital, Malé. Boasting one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, the island is popular with couples and families seeking a luxurious retreat in a boutique resort, and divers seeking turtles and dolphins. You can also dip into Maldivian culture by taking a local-led cookery class or wandering into the village.
Gan Island, Laamu Atoll

3. Gan Island, Laamu Atoll

The local island of Gan is a great place to stretch your legs, with 8km of white sand beach the perfect excuse to hunt for ruined Buddhist pyramids and secluded surf spots, or walk over sandy causeways to the adjacent islands of Fonadhoo and Kahdhoo. Divers will be in their element as the coral is pristine and there’s very little in the way of boat traffic.
Guraidhoo Island, South Malé Atoll

4. Guraidhoo Island, South Malé Atoll

Guraidhoo is one of the best local islands in the Maldives if you’re looking for cultural insights. You can dine with a Maldivian family, watch how traditional boats are made, stay in a locally owned guest house, and pop into a café to try homemade hedhikaa – sweet and savoury snacks often served with a cup of black tea or coffee.
Hanimaadhoo Island, Haa Dhaalu Atoll

5. Hanimaadhoo Island, Haa Dhaalu Atoll

Stay at a Maldives eco resort on this local island draped in an expanse of untouched forest, where all activities are coordinated by the local conservation center. Snorkelling trips contribute to biodiversity monitoring, the pool is saltwater, and when you go diving with whale sharks, manta rays or dolphins you can be certain that the boat operators place a premium on animal welfare.
Indian Ocean

6. Indian Ocean

Getting underwater in the Maldives is irresistible and, no matter whether you’re staying on a resort island or a local island, there are plenty of reputable and experienced scuba diving professionals out there to help you start your aquatic adventure in the safest way possible. Of course, you don’t have to take a PADI course to explore the Indian Ocean – just grab a snorkel and dive right in.
Kuredu Island, Lhaviyani Atoll

7. Kuredu Island, Lhaviyani Atoll

There are around 100 resort islands in the Maldives that are run autonomously from Sharia law. Essentially, an entire island is owned by one company with low-rise accommodation ranging from three to seven (what?!) stars. Kuredu Island is one such resort that has spa facilities, resident turtles, over-water villas, swimming pools and infinite Indian Ocean vistas.
Malé, North Malé Atoll

8. Malé, North Malé Atoll

Malé is the island capital of the Maldives. Most visitors fly into the international airport here and speed off to a resort island, but we recommend sticking around a while. The tight-knit streets of colourful high-rise buildings hide markets, mosques and oceanside cafés that welcome tourists but, refreshingly, aren’t built for tourists.
Naifaru Island, Lhaviyani Atoll

9. Naifaru Island, Lhaviyani Atoll

Sea turtles lay their eggs on beaches in the Maldives in May and June, while in July and August the tiny hatchlings make their way down to the sea where, hopefully, long lives await them. But turtles face many threats, including the wildlife trade and discarded fishing nets. On Naifaru, you can volunteer with a marine rescue project helping to rehabilitate turtles and return them to the wild.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Maldives or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Pakhnyushchy] [Dhigurah Island, South Ari Atoll: Tchami] [Fulhadhoo Island, Baa Atoll: Alessandro Caproni] [Gan Island, Laamu Atoll: Mark Hodson Photos] [Guraidhoo Island, South Malé Atoll: Volodymyr Vlasenko] [Hanimaadhoo Island, Haa Dhaalu Atoll: Andreas Faessler] [Indian Ocean: Piktour UK] [Kuredu Island, Lhaviyani Atoll: Arnty M] [Malé, North Malé Atoll:] [Naifaru Island, Lhaviyani Atoll: Rayyu Maldives]