Few places on earth have sand whiter or water more clear than the Maldives,” says James Jayasundera, the founder of London-based travel specialist Ampersand Travel (see “Top Asia Tour Guides”). The tidy cluster of 26 atolls (groups of coral islands) in the middle of the Indian Ocean has long been a favorite vacation spot for savvy Europeans, Middle Easterners, Asians and Australians, who go for the pristine sand, the coral reefs teeming with exotic fish—and some of the most sophisticated resorts in the world. Now, having fully recovered from the 2005 tsunami and despite being significantly farther afield than the Caribbean or Hawaii, the Maldives have become increasingly popular with Americans, often combined with a trip to nearby Sri Lanka or southern India. Today the 1,190 islands are home to 100-plus resorts, most on exclusive isles accessible only to hotel guests and staff. The classics, like Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa ( rooms, from $750; fourseasons.com) and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island (rooms, from $500; conradhotels1.hilton.com), still shine brightly. But in the past few years, an omnibus of luxury brands—Shangri-La, Jumeirah, Six Senses, Viceroy—has opened, each finding an island to build overwater bungalows and secret dive spots. With so many extraordinary options, the question is no longer “Should we go?” but “Where should we go?” Luckily, we’ve crafted this handy flowchart of the newest and best resorts to usher you into your own private bungalow.
The best way to get to the Maldives is by flying British Airways via London, Emirates via Dubai or Qatar Airways through Doha. Once at Ibrahim Nasir airport, guests must travel by speedboat or seaplane to their resorts, so make all arrangements beforehand.
Member of Fine Hotels, Resorts & Spas.