Amid the coral, the hot white sand and the mesmerising reflections of the Indian Ocean, you’ll also find plenty of things to do in the Maldives.
No longer the preserve of blissful honeymooners in water bungalows, the Maldives entice friends, extended families and solo travellers to her shores through a mix of new hotels and revived traditions.
I travelled to my third island in the Maldives this summer, to review the Baglioni Resort Maldives on Maagau Island[hosted.]
I'll tell you about the hotel, of course. But let me also share with you all the other brilliant things to do in the Maldives.
On the island of Maagau in pristine Dhaalu atoll, lies a beautiful, tropical taste of… Italy. Wait, what?
That’s right, the luxurious Baglioni Hotels opened their latest offering in the summer of 2019, combining the best of Italy with the best of the Maldives. And, perhaps surprisingly, the combination really works.
On the Italian side, think luxury Italian brands like Ferrari Trento for an aperitivo, Frette for handmade bedlinen and Insium in the spa.
On the Maldive side, think 96 villas, each with access to turquoise water. Sandy paths, palms, coconuts, a mix of local staff, visits to neighbouring islands, and Maldivian food and dance.
Read more about the gorgeous Baglioni property further down. But first, let’s talk more about 21 things to do in the Maldives.
With a less than 1% of the country consisting of solid earth, it’s no surprise that water and air activities feature highly in the Maldives. Forget the open road. It’s time to take to the skies and dive to the depths (though ideally, not in the same journey.)
With only 1% of the country being land-based, it’s the water and what lies beneath it that steals the headlines in the Maldives. Widely regarded as one of the world’s top dive destinations, official figures estimate that 15% of all international visitors grab an oxygen cylinder and head into the deep.
And it’s not hard to see why.
What lives on your bucket list? A swim with a whale shark maybe? Some manta rays? Eagle rays? Reef sharks, moray eels and hammerhead sharks? Ok, so those last ones may be an acquired taste.
If you are a diver, you’ll already know this. If you’re not, bear in mind that learning to dive takes some training. It is possible to complete taster dives on a single day but you need to time them carefully since you can’t dive and fly too close together for safety reasons.
Did you know?
Gaathugiri or Banana Reef, located to the north of Male atoll and inside Kuda Kalhi, is one of the most popular dive sites in the world. Its name derives from, you guessed it, the shape of the island from the air. ;-)
Beyond the taster sessions, you’ll likely need to complete a PADI Open Water course.
Many of the hotels in the Maldives will offer this (including the Baglioni Resort.) Courses range from beginners to advance (and even PADI Bubblemaker for children who are age 8-10 years old) and involve a fair amount of written work. If you have limited travel time and want to spend most of it outside the classroom, then look into completing this qualification before you travel.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The local swimming pool is hardly as exciting as the shore of an atoll but at least that way, you won’t be stuck sitting an exam while the whale shark swims by without you…
Top Travel Tip
Planning on diving and flying within the same 24 hours? Check out the latest health advice. It’s not always advisable so factor this into your travel plans.
Snorkelling is no poor man’s diving. Yes, you won’t be able to head as deep but the light is brighter closer to the surface and, of course, you don’t need to spend time studying before you go. Simply scoop up your snorkel and head to the beach – or drop off the edge of your water bungalow.
That said, there is a technique to it (and a video of said technique coming to the blog someday soon!) You can take your own mask and snorkel (the tube that sticks into the air) but unless you have trouble with your feet, it’s easier to hire the fins (not flippers) on arrival.
I’d highly recommend practising somewhere where you can put your feet down for the first time. It can feel a little claustrophobic at first to control your breathing and keep your face in the water.
Ah but what there is to see beneath the sea!
Long-nosed hawkfish and stripy, shimmering angelfish. Scarlet-tendrilled lionfish and the shimmering rainbow parrotfish. Clownfish (yes, Nemo) and butterflyfish. We even saw a silver, glinting barracuda, tempting us to become its prey.
Yes, the stand-up paddle board has reached the Maldives! On choppy water, it’s like battling a giant cuttlefish with an even more giant cocktail stick. On calm days, it’s like standing on the intersection of a moving train while punting along in bliss and calm.
Either way, no qualifications nor training are needed and it’s easy enough to pick up gear at most hotels.
Sharks, schmarks! The whole joy of a beachside villa or over-water bungalow is the chance to head into the great big blue for a swim. And then emerge onto one of the many sand beaches to dry out.
Still looking for more water sports? Head into a kayak and paddle around.
Advantages? You can, erm, keep your hair dry. And take photos without a waterproof camera (as long as you have nerves of steel.)
Perhaps some of the most famous manmade icons involve the underwater experiences. The Huvafen fushi spa claims to be the first, and only, underwater spa, for example. The Muraka at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island offers guests underwater hotel rooms. I haven’t tried them…yet.
Again, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Maldives are on one of the best sites for big game fishing in the world. Catch include the likes of tuna, dorado, wahoo, barracuda, and swordfish, although fishing laws are strict. Go with a reputable guide.
Having tried it once, I’m not a fan of fishing, for sure. But I did see a barracuda swimming towards us while snorkelling…
Seaplanes are the Maldives what the motorways are to Great Britain, except much, much more glamorous.
Over 328 flights take off and land each day amid the islands, although only between dawn and dusk. And the chances are that if you venture far into the Maldives, you’ll need to take one.
To the uninitiated, the idea can seem rather, well, cool. To the thoroughly initiated, well, it’s pretty much the same.
The main hub lives a short bus ride from Velana International Airport in Malé. Many of the luxury hotels have their own lounges on site (if not, there is a waiting room of sorts with benches and a view of the blue, blue sea.)
The Baglioni Resort, for example, took over the W lounge earlier this year and offer a shower, light buffet, non-alcoholic drinks and some welcome air conditioning.
Why such a focus on the lounges?
Because flight schedules vary. Pilots read the weather conditions, as well as the passenger lists, and flight timings change frequently in response. You may find yourself with a wait of several hours, so it pays to feel comfortable.
Check flight plane connection before booking your international flight unless you particularly want to spend an evening in Malé. Seaplanes can’t fly after dark (it’s too dangerous) so you need to make sure you arrive with plenty of time to make your connection.
But with all that said, let’s move on to the beauty and majesty of the thing, shall we?
Hot, noisy and cramped the seats may be, but the sight they offer is nothing less than the view of the gods.
How else to explain the teardrops in blue, the soft rain of celestial jewellery seen from the sky? Do you think this section is overwritten? I challenge you to take to the skies to see the sight and then come and read it over once more.
Even if you don’t need to take a seaplane (a few hotels lie in reach of Malé by boat) then I’d highly recommend you fly in one.
Recommended reading: The Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist (With Printable)
You can get all serious about birdwatching in the Maldives. Or you can just stay quiet in a beachside villa and wait for someone to turn up.
The Maldives have beautiful birds, with some poetic names. The black-naped tern. The flesh-footed shearwater. Even the white bellied storm petrel. Lovely stuff.
My favourite? The white breasted waterhen, seen strutting about in reception with three little chicks. Dainty and slightly robotic, it turns out she’ something of a celebrity: it’s the national bird of the Maldives.
The very nature of the Maldives makes them perfect for private island hotels and resorts. The islands are so small. So ridiculously, unfairly beautiful.
But people do actually live in the Maldives, of course, and not just in the capital Malé. It’s not that easy to visit other islands, you’ll need to take a boat at least, but it’s not that hard either.
At the Baglioni Resort, for example, staff run trips to the closest island, Rinbudhoo (pronounced rhim-boo -DOO.)
Khassu’s eyes light up when he hears we are going. He staffs the front desk, with a view of the ocean, and first me at dawn when I arrived with my tripod.
“I grew up there?” he tells us. “I can tell you everything about it.”
And, indeed, he can. The island population, like many others, doesn’t surpass the few hundred mark. But amid the leaf-swept sandy pathways, live a mosque, few shops and a school.
“We’ve just received an award from the Oxford exam boards,” Khassu adds. “Every student on the island passed.”
Beyond academic excellence, Rinbudhoo is the silver and goldsmith capital of the Maldives.
“A king or a sultan had a jeweller in the past, who was also a thief,” says Khassu. “He was exiled to my island and grew bored when he was there. So, he taught everyone how to make jewellery and now we have a reputation for being the best in the Maldives.”
Unfortunately, the shops were closed on our visit. But Khassu shared a video of the process through his Facebook page.
OK, so you’re faux marooned on a tiny, tropical island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to eat well!
Coconuts, fish and starches combine in Maldivian food, to give a range of fresh, zesty flavours and a whole load of bite sized pieces that are deep fried.
Mas huni is a typical Maldivian breakfast dish. It involves finely chopped onion, tuna and chilli with lightly grated coconut. It’s typically served with a freshly baked roshi flatbread and some sweetened hot tea.
Rice, sweet potato and cassava make up the staples with fish, usually cooked rather than raw, soaking up curried flavours in a mild-mannered style.
As of 2019, more islands have hotels than are inhabited, making the Maldives a great melting pot of the best in the world. I was a little sceptical about this at first.
Shouldn’t a trip to the Maldives be about learning about the Maldives?
But then I thought about it. Why? That’s not the way the world works. A visit to London wouldn’t ignore the communities who have joined Britain over the centuries. In Paris, I visited the Monde Arabe.
And so, one of the things to do in the Maldives is to embrace the chance to learn about other cultures as well. For example…
To add a little structure to your island paradise holiday, consider creating themed days. You could have an active day, with yoga, snorkelling and stand up paddle boarding. A “do nothing” day where you stare at the sun and the stars.
And then, in the Baglioni, you could have an Italian day: Italian spa treatments in the morning, an Italian cooking class in the afternoon and then wine tasting (Italian, optional) before dinner at the Italian restaurant Gusto in the evening in the evening.
With Italy, it works. A British-themed day in the Maldives and, well, perhaps not so much.
With a dedicated sommelier and chilled tasting room with a view of the sea, it’s a whole new way to discover the fruit of the grape.
Ever wanted to make handmade pasta with an Italian chef? Now you can in the Maldives? Roll up your sleeves, wash your hands and take part in the easy part of the cooking experience.
Yes, seriously. The light in the Maldives is gorgeous! And forgiving for those of us over the age of twenty-one!
Practice portraits. Landscapes. Macro. Arty shots. Timelapse. Underwater shots. Try out your gimbal, your microphone and any other aspects of your vlogging kit.
On a private island, no-one’s going to pressure you, steal your kit, knock it over or harass you for money. It really is a photographer’s paradise.
Do you get restless just lying on a beach or sunbed? Me too!
That’s why you can also…
Pff, so technically the origins of yoga lie in the Indus-Sarasvati Civilisation of northern India around 5000 years ago instead of in the Maldives in the 21st century.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a great thing to do in the Maldives.
In fact, I challenge anyone to find a more invigorating way of starting the day than by practising yoga on one of those over water runways as the sun comes up.
It seems a tad too hot for me but the guys in our group loved it.
Maybe it’s the tropical foliage, the siren call of the ocean or the bone-white sand but the beauty of the Maldives makes perfect sense as a spa location.
Forget fluorescent lights and whale music. With nature this refined, the best spas employ the best therapists and let nature take care of the rest.
Although there are plenty of things to do in the Maldives, you don’t need to do them all. Or any of them. Never forget the importance of doing nothing. Neuroscience reveals year on year, the importance of rest for the mind, body and soul. Yes, soul. The discipline is just still trying to work out exactly what that is.
Malé, capital city of the Maldives, ranks as one of the most densely populated places on earth. But with a total population of less than 150 000, it’s still one of the smallest cities on the planet as well.
Once the island of Kings, when it wore the name Mahal and bore fortified walls and doroshi gates, today the modern skyscraper cityscape overlooks the turquoise blue.
The Royal Palace, the Gan'duvaru, was destroyed following the abolition of the monarchy, along with the picturesque koshi forts. But the Old Friday Mosque, or Malé Hukuru Miskiy, still stands, its minaret made from coral boulders.
One third of the country’s population live here but for many visitors, the only view of Malé is the ribbon bridge connecting it to the airport island as their seaplane soars up into the blue.
For those who venture into the city, catch bloodied slithering tuna at the main fish market or stay clean with a visit to the national museum. The Buddhist coral stones may have been looted during the 2012 protests but the lacquer-work boxes and Thaana-engraved wood remain, along with more modern artefacts like a massive early computer and gramophone. You can arrange full or half day walking tours to learn more about the city. Or just wander around on your own.
Did you know?
The name "the Maldives" literally means the islands of Malé.
The UNESCO Biosphere reserve sits just north of the Hashidhoo Kandhoo channel in the central western part of the Maldives. UNESCO describe it as home to “globally significant biodiversity” and a “long history of human interaction with the environment.” (a core part of UNESCO Biosphere status.)
The Baa Atoll supports one of the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and functions as “a stepping stone for the transport of planktonic larvae of reef organisms.”
Now there’s a funky sentence.
It’s possible to visit, although I haven’t had the chance – yet.
Fly into Velana International Airport on Hulhule island, just 2 km from Malé. From there, you will likely need to arrange a boat or seaplane to reach your resort or hotel. Make sure to arrange this in advance as seaplanes don’t fly after dark.
Most standard UK passport holders will be issued with a visa on arrival at the time of writing but always check in advance to be sure.
As scattered and marooned island chains, travel between the islands involves either a boat or a seaplane. A bridge connects the airport to the main island of Malé so you’ll be able to travel by road there.
Once on the islands, they are small! Walking or cycling coves most land. Smaller boats cover the rest.
That’s right, get 40% off if you book and travel this September. This is an absolutely amazing deal but why are they offering it? They’re brand sparkling new with more rooms available to open later in the year. That’s it. Go for it, now’s the time to go!
A few facts: the Baglioni Maldives includes a freshwater pool, Kids Club for children 3-12, a gorgeous spa and three main restaurants. It’s Italian to the core when it comes to the food: it has to be good. Why?
“If you travel all this way to stay on an isolated tropical island,” one Italian staff member told me. “You need the food to be good.”
Gusto, the main Italian a la carte restaurant, serves pasta cooked on site by Italian chefs using traditional methods. Umami, the Japanese restaurant perched over the sea, offers sushi, sashimi and sake, excelling with rainbow maki and miso with lemongrass.
And then there is Taste: the international restaurant with themed evenings, Maldivian food and breakfast, Italian cornetti, and simple eggs, toast and coffee in the morning.
Beyond the activities already covered in the article, Baglioni offers pedalos, windsurfing, an air-conditioned gym and beach volleyball court. Oh, and there’s a PADI Gold Palm 5-star Diving Centre, which also offers night dives and sunset cruises.
You can cruise beneath the stars, search for dolphins by day or board a traditional Maldivian craft to relax and watch the sun go down.
Luxurious to the core, the Baglioni Hotel & Resorts properties began in 1974 when Roberto Polito acquired the Punta Ala in Tuscany (Hotel Cala del Porto.) The collection now includes 10 luxury properties, including Milan, Florence, Rome and London.
Roberto’s son, Guido Polito, now continues the tradition with this latest opening in the Maldives.
Try the "jet lag" treatment at the Baglioni Spa. I was a little sceptical (I assumed I'd just fall asleep) but I've never felt so good after a long haul flight in my life. Bliss!
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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