Which resort should you choose? There is no such thing as the best resort, as it all depends on your preferences, and what you are looking for in your perfect holiday.
Here are some important things you should consider, to narrow down the vast number of resorts. When you have figured these out, you can contact your agent or simply make a post in the Tripadvisor Maldives forum; and some of the knowledgeable people there, can suggest a good match for your holiday. The more of the points below you specify, the easier it will be to recommend the right resort for you.
Size of resort
Are you looking for a large resort with lots of restaurants, bars, entertainment and activities? Or are you looking for a small, intimate resort with few bungalows?
Location of resort
Do you wish to have a real getaway experience, with few boats, planes or resorts in your view. The Male atolls are the busiest ones, but on the other hand, the easiest ones to reach (and cheaper transfers). If you wish to get a true Robinson feeling, it can be wise to choose an atoll that is not a part of the central atolls, to the far South or North. There are however still some atolls with few resorts also in the central part, but most of the atolls in this area have lots of resorts these days.
Type of accommodation
The iconic water villas are something many people dream about to experience in the Maldives. I really do advice you to try it at least once in your life. On the other hand, they are also more expensive. Personally, I do prefer them over beach villas in general, but not at all resorts.
I have a lot of friends that are seasoned travellers to the Maldives, and some prefer to be located directly on the beach, with soft sand between their toes. And at some more luxurious resorts, beach villas are sometimes the most expensive option. So, they are not always more expensive, but most often so.
You also find semi water villas at some resorts. In general, they are halfway on land and halfway over water. Most often the bathroom will be on land, and often outdoor ones, while at least the deck will be over water.
If budget is an issue, many resorts also have garden villas. You won’t have sea view or direct access to a beach, but most islands are small, so it won’t be a long walk.
If you are a larger family or a group, there will most often be villas with several bedrooms as well. But please be aware that a two-bedroom villa, will actually often be more expensive than two villas. This might not always be the case, but you should check before you book! I totally understand that leaving smaller children in a different villa is a no go, but if they are old enough to sleep on their own, it can save you money.
Also note that villas can be detached, or semidetached. The latter means that the villas are not free standing, and will be sharing a wall with your neighbours.
Do wish to have a private pool? It is one of the things that will have a big impact on your holiday budget. Some people think they are totally unnecessary, as you will have a beautiful huge pool right at your doorstep (the ocean). While others may love to have one. Water villas with private pools is a wonderful experience. You may not always be able to use the ocean instead. Imagine yourself sharing a bottle of wine in the ocean, it may be choppy due to bad weather or it might be dark. Floating in your own pool after dark, while watching the stars is a wonderful experience!
Style of resort
Do you prefer modern or rustic design of resorts? You will find both approaches in the lower or higher budget end. It’s simply just a matter of personal taste.
B&B = Breakfast included
HB/ Half board = Breakfast and dinner included
HB+/ Half board plus = Normally means half board with drinks included.
FB/ Full board= Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.
AI/ All inclusive= All meals and drinks are included.
Which board plan you should go for, depends on your eating and drinking habits. Also keep in mind that all inclusive is often not really all inclusive (like in the Caribbean). Some resorts do offer good all inclusive packages, with even lobster or Champagne included, but it is most often not the case. Some resorts do have more than one type of AI, it can be named premium or more fancy names with more premium brands or dishes included, or sometimes it can be called dine around, which means you can eat at many restaurants. If they do have a dine around one, the normal AI will typically include just a buffet for your meals.
The all inclusive packages are good value for money at some resorts, while overpriced at others. And if you don’t drink alcohol, it will most often be cheaper to pay as you go. But do keep in mind that water and soft drinks are not for free either.Some people also prefer a stress free holiday, not having to worry about the final bill at the end of the holiday, even if it won’t save them a penny.
Transfers are either done by speed boat, seaplane, or domestic flight + speedboat. The resorts in North Male and South Male atoll can all be reached by speedboat. This is the cheapest way of transferring to a resort. Speedboats can also operate when its dark, while seaplanes cannot. And if you have a late evening departure at the end of the holiday, you can maximize the time of the resort.
Seaplanes are the most expensive way of transfers. They can reach most atolls, except the ones furthest away from Male. These are shared transfers, private seaplane transfers can cost you thousands of dollars..
Domestic flight + speedboat do reach all over the Maldives. Some also choose it instead of seaplanes to save a bit of money. But keep in mind that not all resorts do offer domestic transfers.
Personally, I think this is one of the most important aspects of a resort. Being able to snorkel directly from the beach or your water villa is wonderful. If you stay on a resort island without a reef, you will have to do excursions to experience proper snorkeling. If you on the other hand don’t care about snorkeling, you surely won’t need a house reef.
A close drop off will offer easily accessible snorkeling, but a vast sandy lagoon will give you the best turquoise colours.
Most, if not all resorts have a dive club on site. South Ari is the atoll most famous for diving, but many other atolls do also have great dive sites.
When to go
The Maldives is a very expensive holiday destination, and the time you choose to go will hugely impact your budget. Chances for rain and unsettled weather is statistically higher during low season, but it is also a cheaper time to go on holiday. The rain will usually come in heavy showers, that clear up fast. So, you will most likely experience a mix of rain and sun. But you can be lucky and have wall to wall sunshine for your entire holiday, or several days of rainy weather.
High season experience better weather, calmer sea, better underwater visibility, but also higher prices (quite a bit!). But there is no guarantee that the weather will stay that way.
The very highest prices are seen during peak season, during Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Low season: May – September/ October
High Season: January-April
Shoulder season: November, first half of December (also October at some resorts), second half of April unless it’s a late Easter that year.
If you go without children to a family friendly resort, also check when holiday weeks are in the major countries. Well, unless you wish to be overrun by children of course.
If you seek advice on Tripadvisor, you should clearly state your budget with transfers, but excluding international flights. Some people states that budget is not an issue, not knowing that prices can be up to 50.000 USD per night (for private islands, underwater villas etc). Or of course even more for resort takeovers, which means you practically book the entire resort.
Family friendly vs. Adults only resorts
There are many resorts that do cater well for families, with kids club etc. While others have an age limit or are even fully adults only. If you seek 18+ resorts, this will really limit your options to just a few resorts. If you are fine with 8+ or 12+ you will indeed have some more options to choose from.
If you go as a family with young children, you will often not be allowed to stay in water villas, while some resorts will allow you if you sign a waiver. Personally, I would never stay in a water villa with a toddler, but that is not up to me to decide.
If your budget is not able to stretch to a resort island, local islands will be far cheaper. But do be aware of the Sharia laws, in terms of no alcohol, pork, modest dressing etc. I am no expert on local islands, so you should rather seek advice somewhere else.
Not everyone is keen on just laying on the beach (like myself) and all resorts will have a lot of water-based activities. These can be kayaks, SUPs, windsurfing and of course snorkeling.
There will also be a number of motor bases activities like jet skis, parasailing etc. You can also hire a private boat with captain to explore the atoll, find other snorkeling spots or simply to drive you to a deserted sandbank so you can really explore the Robinson feeling where you are left for some hours or the day. It normally included a lunch or dinner with some drinks on the sandbank as well.
Some resorts will have evening entertainment, while others not. Or yoga, cooking classes or other forms of activities during the day.
All resorts do have a spa if you would like to fill your day with relaxing treatments and massages. Most resorts also have a gym, but not all are well equipped.
Bucket list options
Underwater restaurants are on some people’s bucket lists. Less than 10 resorts have these, but you can often book it from another island and get private round trip transfer. It is quite expensive, but something many dream about. These can be found at Conrad Rangali, Niyama, Anantara Kihavah, Hurawalhi and Ozen. At Huvafen Fushi they also have an underwater spa.
Whale sharks: South Ari is your best bet for spotting whale sharks all the year around at Maamigili. You might also see them at Hanifaru bay in the Baa atoll between June and November, but less frequently. One note should be given… If you see yourself swimming alone with these beautiful creatures, think again. The truth is more related to chaos. Masses of tourists jumping in the water coming from several resorts. People almost fight for their best positions closest to the whale sharks and it is all happening in deep water (so you should be a decent swimmer).
Imagine yourself with tons of tourists chasing that poor whale shark, or that you pay quite a bit for this activity with chances great of actually not seeing one. I have been lucky to swim white these beautiful creatures a few times in the Maldives, but I won’t join in on these types of excursions again. The number of tourists has become too many and they should rather be left alone. Many of the whale sharks also have propeller injuries or scars from the boats.
Mantas: The best spot for seeing mantas is at Hanifaru bay during low season. You might not see one, or you might be lucky to see tens, or even a hundred at the same time. Many atolls do however have cleaning stations for mantas where you can swim with them. Be aware that the cleaning stations are on the West or East side in the atoll, and they change side between low and high season.
Natural island vs artifical
Lastly, but not the least; Would you like a natural island or are you happy with an artificial one? Reclamation and dredging are a really bad thing going on in the country. It kills the marine life around it, and alters the natural flow pattens in the ocean, having a huge impact on the environment. So, land areas around it would have to put up island defense (beach walls, groynes, sea walls etc.). If you are fine with that; then let me ask you: Would you like to have a worse beach? (pumping sand will make the sand more coarse, instead of silk soft talcum sand). The new artificial islands are also sparse in vegetation, and you will miss out on the true jungle feeling, and without the sound of singing birds and many wonderful creatures like lizards and other animals running around. And what about snorkeling on a reef full of life? It will mostly be like an underwater desert, with a few fish…
If you have any other preferences or requirements, you should also mention these to your agent or on the Tripadvisor forum (or any other forum for that matter).
Good luck with finding a wonderful choice for your holiday. If it is your first time to the Maldives, most resort islands will blow your mind… Trust me on that one!