When it comes to vacationing in paradise, destinations don’t get more idyllic than Maldives. The nation’s sugar-sand beaches and impossibly turquoise seas are like a postcard come to life, only prettier. The apparent remoteness of the islands adds to the allure and makes this Indian Ocean archipelago a special place to visit, and the now-iconic overwater villas are pretty cool, too.

One of the first countries to open its borders to travelers during the pandemic, the island nation became the biggest international tourism success story of 2020. Maldives was declared a Safe Destination by the World Travel & Tourism Council in September, later receiving a World Travel Award for World’s Leading Destination.

COVID-19 information for travelers to Maldives

All arrivals, including fully vaccinated travelers, must have a negative COVID-19 test taken within 96 hours of departure. Attach results to the Traveler Health Declaration form, which should be submitted 24 hours before arrival. When it’s time to fly home, in-resort PCR testing is prevalent, but the CDC also just announced that air passengers traveling to the United States can now use approved COVID-19 self-test kits. And, for anyone looking to get vaccinated on vacation, it’s hoped the Maldivian tourism initiative “3V” (Visit, Vaccinate, Vacation) will roll out later this year once the resident population has the chance to become fully vaccinated first.

A destination worth the travel time

Getting there from the United States takes time. At a minimum, expect upwards of 19 hours and at least two flights depending on layovers via cities such as Istanbul or Dubai.

Resort staff will be on hand to greet you upon landing at Velana International Airport and assist with onward connections. Some guesthouses on local islands can be reached by public ferry, but it’s essential to book ahead for private resort transfers. A seaplane ride (20 to 60 minutes) with Trans Maldivian Airways adds a touch of wow to any arrival experience; however, many resorts can also arrange speedboat transfers (15 minutes to two hours) and domestic flights or a combination of the two.

With 1,192 coral islands and more than 150 eye-catching private island resorts spread out across North and South Malé Atolls, transfer times, activities, and budgets all play a part in deciding where to stay. South Malé Atoll comprises 30 islands and is considered one of the best places to snorkel with whale sharks year-round. You’ll find a higher concentration of resorts in North Malé Atoll, home to UNESCO biosphere reserve, Baa Atoll, the world’s largest manta ray feeding station. Waves in the North and Central Atolls draw surfers when swells pick up from April through October.

Whether coming to scuba dive, bliss out on a spa getaway, or take the honeymoon of a lifetime, here are the 10 of the most scenic and peaceful resorts in the Maldives.

1. Sail into the sunset: Baros Maldives

Baros Maldives resort water villas, Maldives resorts

Photo: Baros Maldives/Facebook

Pristine white-sand beaches, a canopy of lush palms, and traditional thatched roof villas await at castaway island escape Baros Maldives, which has welcomed visitors since 1973 and won The World Travel Awards’ Most Romantic Resort in the World an impressive seven times. A slew of dining experiences caters to the culinary crowd, including a sunset dinner cruise for two aboard a “nooma” traditional wooden Maldivian sailing vessel. Back at the resort, paddleboard across the lagoon, snorkel with Hawksbill turtles on the house reef, or sit in on one of the marine biology program presentations at the Marine Center. Depending on the season, nightly rates for seven different accommodation categories (pick from sunrise or sunset, beach or ocean views) range from $463 for a deluxe villa near the beach to $1,200 for a water villa with a private pool.

Getting there: 25-minutes by speedboat from Malé International Airport.

2. Surf an eternal Wave: Cheval Blanc Randheli

With its combination of lush garden jungle and turquoise waters, Cheval Blanc Randheli is an island paradise perfected. Located north of Malé in the Noonu Atoll, this second hotel venture from Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy has opulent villas and a spa set on its own island offering dedicated Guerlain treatments. The resort even has a signature fragrance created by the head perfumer at Dior. From culinary classes and full moon yoga to the brand new surf simulator, guest experiences here are endless. Nightly rates fall across nine levels according to the time of the year and span from $2,200 (May through September) to $5,800 for a one-bedroom water villa (December through January).

Getting there: The seaplane transfer from Malé takes about 40 minutes followed by a dhoni ride.

3. Swim with manta rays: Furaveri Maldives

Furaveri Maldives resort,  Maldives resorts

Photo: Furaveri Maldives/Facebook

Set on a natural island in the northwestern Raa Atoll, scuba diving and swimming with manta rays are the highlights at Furaveri Maldives. Its 107 villas and overwater bungalows are dreamy: Imagine slipping off your private deck to snorkel over the coral reef or walking a few steps to Amigos at Furumathi for a sundowner cocktail. While an Ayurvedic treatment from the spa inside its dedicated Wellness Village will leave you relaxed for days, Insta-gold photo ops await, too. Don’t miss the sea swing or schools of baby blacktip reef sharks that can often be seen swimming in the shallows. With nightly rates ranging from $259 for a Garden Villa to $649 for a Sunset Ocean Pool Villa during their low season, Furaveri is a five-star luxury at an accessible price point.

Getting there: Just a 45 minute seaplane ride from Malé with Trans Maldivian Airways. Domestic flights with Villa Air or Island Aviation. Speedboat transfers can also be arranged.

4. A favorite among surfers: Anantara Dhigu

Thanks to a range of surf breaks on the island and nearby, Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort is a favorite among the international surfer crowds. Watch expert-level riders as they charge house reef wave ‘Veli Left’ over a beer from Dhoni bar or sign up for a beginner lesson with Tropicsurf coaches François and Coline, who also run guided trips to outer reef breaks and farther afield to North Malé Atoll. With its pure white sands, crystal-clear blue waters and stunning views (especially from the infinity pool), nightly rates at Anantara Dhigu during low season range from $594 for a beachfront sunrise villa to $1,197 for an overwater pool suite, including breakfast and dinner.

Getting there: 30 minutes by speedboat from Malé International Airport.

5. A solar-powered heaven: Kudadoo Maldives Private Island

Encircled by a private beach and clear waters as far as the eye can see, the views are as stunning as you would expect them to be from this Robinson Crusoe style eco-paradise. With just 15 villa residences, the entirely solar-powered Kudadoo Maldives Private Island makes for an uber-exclusive intimate getaway with prices to match. Nightly rates start at $3,800, although Beach Pool Villas at sister property Hurawalhi Island Resort (home to the impressive 5.8 Undersea restaurant) begin at $750. You can walk the circumference of Kudadoo in 10 minutes, but it’s the underwater coral reef, home to Maldives’ largest population of turtles and mantas, that will keep you captivated. Being adults-only, it’s also a favorite among honeymooners and wedding parties.

Getting there: Private transfer to the seaplane terminal in Malé followed by a 40-minute flight.

6. Glamp under the stars: Amilla

The chic overwater villas at Amilla Maldives Resort and Residences are dreamy, but guests are also going crazy for a new glamping experience at this ultra-luxe hotel in Baa Atoll. With a nightly rate starting at $750, three curated bubble tent packages are currently offered, including “Bubbles and Stars,” which comes with Champagne and a private chef dinner. For additional luxury amenities at Amilla, there are personalized Rolls Royce beach buggies, an overwater yoga pavilion, and a spa set among 400-year-old banyan trees.

Getting there: Half an hour from Malé by seaplane, or a 10-minute speedboat ride from Dharavandhoo Airport.

7. Swim with whale sharks: COMO Maalifushi

Located in Maldives’ southern reaches, COMO Maalifushi is the first and only resort to open in Thaa Atoll. The atoll is home to a gorgeous stretch of beach and house reef teeming with colorful fish and corals. While Thaa Atoll is well known for its diving spots, it’s also a great place to see whale sharks, and during November and April, guests can take part in a guided night snorkel with these gentle giants. Sophisticated and beautifully styled, 65 villas, including beachfront suites and a two-story residence, are positioned around the island and cost upwards of $1,1000 a night. However, anyone interested in WFM (Working From Maldives) might like to jump on the new month-long package, which starts at $16,000.

Getting there: It’s a 60-minute seaplane transfer from Malé airport.

8. Taste world-class wines: Raffles Maldives Meradhoo

At Raffles Maldives Meradhoo, the experiences are spectacularly five-star, and the luxury is unparalleled. Set on far-flung Gaafu Alifu Atoll, the palm tree-lined private island is home to some of the largest overwater villas and residences in Maldives, with nightly rates starting at $1,750. Take a guided snorkeling tour of the house reef with your dedicated marine butler or enjoy a whale shark encounter with marine biologist Giulia Pellizzato. The newest addition to Raffles Maldives’ guest offerings, though, is back on dry land. Recently opened, The Wine House features over 400 labels and tasting experiences, ranging from a chocolate and wine pairing to a Champagne flight.

Getting there: A 55-minute domestic flight to Kaadedhdhoo airport where guests are met by their butler and whisked to the resort in 10-minutes by speedboat.

9. Adrenaline-fueled adventures: The Nautilus Maldives

With its swaying palms and thatched pavilions, The Nautilus Maldives in Baa Atoll is comprised of 26 houses across the island, each with a private pool, direct reef access, and postcard-perfect views. Wellness is a top priority with July 2021 being dedicated as the resort’s first Holistic Spa Month to coincide with the launch of experiential journeys inspired by Taoist practices and Tibetan philosophies. Travelers looking for thrills will love the 12,000-foot solo or tandem skydiving experience. Despite the nightly rates also being sky-high (they start at $3,800) Nautilus really is the resort that bucket-list dreams are made of.

Getting there: A limousine transfer to the private VIP airport lounge for fast-track immigration followed by a seaplane ride to Baa Atoll takes 30 minutes.

10. Affordable luxury awaits: Meeru Island Resort & Spa

Despite being the third-largest resort in Maldives, Meeru Island retains a relaxed atmosphere and some of the most approachable pricing with nightly specials from $518 in low season and $716 at peak times. From the freshwater swimming pools and nine-hole golf course, diving, and water sports centers to the spa (of which there are two) plus a long list of excursions, you will be hard-pressed to run out of things to do here. Located at the water’s edge and a popular meet-up spot, head to Dhoni Bar for drinks and the best sunset views on the island.

Getting there: 55 minutes by speedboat from Malé.