Things to do in the Maldives

What can you do in the Maldives if you don’t fancy spending your entire vacation sunbathing or strolling along white sand beaches? Plenty, and much of it beyond the obvious too. Read on for our top things to do in the Maldives, from getting your cultural fix to spa breaks and helping out with much-needed conservation projects. And you can still get your suntan.

Stay on a local island

Basing yourself on one of the Maldives’ 200 or so local islands for part or all of your vacation gives you the chance to enjoy not only the tropical trappings but also invites an authentic, first-hand glimpse into the day-to-day lives of indigenous islanders.

This is still a relatively new concept, having begun only in 2009, but once you arrive on islands such as Guraidhoo, Thoddoo and Dhigurah you’ll discover a world away from the expensive alternatives as well as placing your hard-earned vacation money where it’s needed most. Keep in mind that as the local islands follow Islamic laws that the resort islands do not, you won’t be able to drink alcohol, and dressing modestly is preferred.

Scuba diving & snorkelling

What to do in the Maldives? Get underwater, of course. There are dive centers virtually everywhere in the archipelago. Mathiveri in North Ari Atoll, Dhigurah and Dhangethi in South Ari Atoll, and Gan in Laamu Atoll are just some of the dive bases where you can gain your water wings, offering fully accredited PADI courses and featuring knowledgeable expert instructors as well as a great variety of dive sites. Boat dives, drift dives and shipwrecks add to the abundance of coral reefs and marine species, including manta rays and whale sharks.

Alternatively, liveaboard cruises give you the chance to discover many of the dive sites in the northern atolls that are out of reach of most day trippers. Many visitors, somewhat ironically, combine diving in the Maldives with a spot of fishing. Reef fish such as grouper are a major part of Maldivian cuisine but sadly their popularity is leading to depleted stocks and unhealthy reefs. So if you love seeing vibrant marine life underwater, stick to admiring the fish from behind a mask rather than at the end of a line.

Snorkelling – straight off the beach or from a boat – is another activity to try, with many coral reefs found just a short distance from the shore. Boat trips for snorkelling offer a fantastic means of discovering what can be found below the glass-clear surface, with manta rays, sea turtles and sharks just some of the marine creatures to prompt fishy tales around the smoky swirls of evening beach barbecues.

Island-hopping cruises

Beyond resort islands and local islands, there’s another option for staying in the Maldives – a liveaboard cruise on a small ship.

A dhoni is a traditional Maldivian wooden vessel, often used for fishing. Dhoni cruises in the Maldives carry up to around 16 passengers sleeping in shared cabins with bunkbeds, as well as five crewmembers who take care of the sailing, cooking and cleaning. You, meanwhile, focus on the important stuff such as snorkelling, swimming and sunbathing on deck.

Other options include a private cruise aboard a stylish Turkish gulet, or a spacious catamaran where you can lounge on the netting, keeping your eye on the waves for sightings of sharks or turtles.

Conservation volunteering

Tourists aren’t the Maldives’ only visitors. Conservation cruises are a great chance to learn about the wildlife of the Maldives. You can snorkel with whale sharks while helping the Maldivian Whale Shark Research Programme collect data, meet local NGO Save the Beach, swing by a coral nursery that’s busy regenerating reefs, and learn about the importance of seagrass to turtles. Beach cleans, meanwhile, are rewarded with barbecues and glorious mauve-peach sunsets.

Other conservation trips zoom in on sea turtles, encouraging volunteers to get hands-on with protecting these amazing and endangered creatures.

Five of the seven sea turtle species frequent the Maldives, including hawksbills, leatherbacks, Olive Ridleys and loggerheads. Between May and June, turtles make their way up island beaches to lay their eggs in the sand, and in July and August those eggs hatch, the hatchlings then pootling on down to the sea where, hopefully, a small fraction of them will survive into adulthood.

Turtles face many threats at sea, from carelessly discarded fishing lines to collisions with boats and plastic bags they mistake for jellyfish. On land, they can be disorientated by lights and noise from beachfront bars and restaurants, blocked by beach furniture, disturbed by careless tourists or have their eggs poached.

On a turtle conservation vacation in the Maldives, you’ll be helping turtles that have been rescued from the illegal pet trade, or from fishing nets, and getting them back on their flippers. Other tasks include beach cleans, developing awareness of the issues with local people and tourists, and conducting reef surveys.
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.

Cooking & cultural experiences

The Maldives are renowned for a fairly simple yet always delicious selection of traditional dishes, with tuna, coconuts, rice, sweet potatoes and chillies usually featured in one form or another.

Curries are a Maldivian mainstay and the chance to learn how to create the national dish of garudhiya is a joy, especially when combined with trips to the agricultural landscapes of Fuvahmulah or Thoddoo. Seafood such as shellfish and lobster rarely appears on menus outside the resorts, and it has usually been imported. Octopus is caught locally, however.

“Common dishes are mostly derived from nearby India, so Maldivians cook a lot of curry to eat with rice,” says Ruth Franklin, co-founder of our Maldives specialists Secret Paradise. “Many Maldivians love rihaakuru, a thick sauce made from cooking fish for a long time. I would highly recommend trying it with roshi (a version of Indian roti bread). Another popular dish with our guests is mas huni roshi. This is either canned tuna or dried tuna mixed with grated coconut, lime, onion and chilli and more often than not eaten for breakfast with roshi.”

Staying on local islands in the Maldives is a way to gain a real appreciation for the authentic cuisine of the islands, rather than the international fare on offer in many resorts.

Spa & yoga retreats

Wellbeing retreats in the Maldives are situated in gorgeous natural settings such as the dense forests and banana groves of Hanimaadhoo in the Haa Dhaalu Atoll. The marriage of meditation, yoga and warm ocean waves is perfect for keeping happy and healthy on vacation, while helping your body regain its natural balance. Therapeutic treatments and traditional remedies may also be available on Maldives spa vacations, inviting you to unwind over herbal tea as you chat to an expert about what scrubs, facials and massages you’d like to exfoliate yourself into sublime submission.

Combine the Maldives with Sri Lanka

Given their proximity to each other (two hours direct by air), it’s little surprise that many people choose to combine a stay in the Maldives with some time in Sri Lanka too. A typical two-week trip to Sri Lanka and the Maldives might take in Galle Fort, city stays in Kandy or Anuradhapura, elephant and leopard watching in national parks such as Yala, Wilpattu or Udawalawe, and hiking through tea plantations, before you fly on to Malé and from there on to a resort or local island.

Our guide to Sri Lanka and the Maldives explains the advantages of visiting both on the same trip.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Pakhnyushchy] [Stay on a local island: Alessandro Caproni] [Diving & snorkelling: Li Yang] [Spa & yoga retreats: KreatePix - Yuni Martin] [Cooking & cultural experiences: Satdeep Gill]