My hand hovered over the sliding glass door; I had always imagined being in this exact situation and I wanted to make sure I was fully present to absorb it. As I set foot onto the private deck, the fog of exhaustion temporarily lifted while my unwashed plane hair simultaneously frizzed to the extreme.
745 shades of blue (give or take) greeted me in the Maldives, stretching out for miles. Sun glistened on the plunge pool and the only sound was the clear lagoon water gently lapping below as I took the wooden steps straight into the sea. It was then that I could confirm that overwater bungalows are, without a doubt, as magical as they seem.
But, it had taken a total of four flights, an overnight layover, and a speedboat ride to reach that zen-like bungalow moment. So, was it worth it?
It’s amazing how quickly the stress of long travel dissipates when you’re on a sandy swath of land in the middle of impossibly clear water. I had a total of three islands, Robinson Club Noonu, LUX* North Male Atoll, and Kuramathi to visit on my Maldivian tour, where I learned that island-hopping is actually a bit of an art.
Paradise is calling, and here’s everything you need to know about island-hopping in the Maldives.
A window seat to paradise: Island hopping in the Maldives
“Can you take a photo with my phone?” the girl next to me asked, handing it over.
I was lucky enough to be in the window seat as we flew over unreal beauty; endless hues of turquoise dotted with tiny white-sand islands. It was my fourth flight and I was exhausted, but I’d be damned if I would let my eyes close for even a second.
Part of the appeal when traveling to the Maldives is that far-flung, remote tropical destination feel. Approximately 1,200 islands lie in the Indian Ocean to the west of Sri Lanka, where over 140 resorts await to dazzle visitors in search of sunshine and the indulgence of true relaxation.
As it turns out, reaching paradise is no easy feat.
Doha, Qatar, is a main hub for the connecting flight to the Maldives. I spent a cool eight and a half hour layover there before flying into the capital city of Male. Upon landing, the next mode of transportation is determined by the distance to your resort, and how much money you’re willing to shell out.
Seaplanes are the priciest but coolest option, particularly for the outer atolls. The views from above are unparalleled, but some flexibility is required on your part as the schedule may not be determined until the day you’re departing. So, if you’re planning on popping over to another resort, a super early or fairly late in the day arrival is always a possibility as well as a stopover to pick up other passengers from an island along the way. Plan to spend about $270 to $450 per person, roundtrip, to travel via Trans Maldivian Airways.
Some resorts are close enough to Male that they can be reached via speedboat, which depart from right outside the Velana International Airport. These vary in comfort level, depending on the weather, size of the boat, and length of the ride. One of my boat transfers was on a small, open-air speedboat where I bounced heartily in my seat for an hour over choppy seas. The other was an hour and fifteen minutes in a sizable, covered vessel with spotty (but appreciated) WiFi. Rates start at about $25 per ride for a public speedboat operating on a (relatively) set schedule, while private speedboats can cost as much as a seaplane. Book in advance by checking out the posted schedules.
The other transfer method involves an additional regular runway experience with a short domestic flight to a local island and then catching a speedboat ride to the resort from there.
I experienced all three.
Choose a resort that caters to your travel style and preferred activities
Have a family in tow? Looking to scuba dive? Want to party all night long? Don’t worry, there’s a resort for that. Although any tropical retreat is going to be amazing when island hopping in the Maldives, it helps to do a little research and find one that fits your interests and vibe. From spa-centric resorts and ultra-luxury accommodations with private butlers to culinary-based and scuba diving spots, all of the island destinations in the Maldives possess their own personalities. Prioritizing your vacation goals will help narrow it down and land you at the right resort for you.
Whittle down your search from the beginning by deciding if you’d like an adults-only property, or need a kid’s club on site. If your goal is wellness or fitness, you’ll be able to unearth resorts that have specialized activities and packages to highlight that. If you just want to dance barefoot on the beach to techno music…well, you can do that too.
And, if it’s romance you’re after, you’ve hit the amorous jackpot in the Maldives. Not a single overwater bungalow will fail you on that front.
Prioritize slumber and dining options when selecting accommodation
“We start the party!” our enthusiastic Teppanyaki chef declared as he presented the first course of our six-course meal. As if the promise of five more delicious courses wasn’t exciting enough, we were feasting in an open-air overwater restaurant and the chef had just flipped a shrimp into his hat. This was the first specialty restaurant on my island-hopping adventure and it was a nice change from the buffet set-up at breakfast and lunch.
Most resorts offer different degrees of all-inclusive packages, usually with a buffet restaurant as the “basic” meal service. Not all buffets are created equal though; some are rather diverse and others are a bit lackluster. Overall, I didn’t mind the benefits of grabbing a quick bite and having a lot of dishes to choose from. Oh, and going up as many times as my stomach would allow.
Be sure to splurge on at least one specialty a la carte restaurant at your resort. My favorites were Robinson Club Noonu’s over-water Teppanyaki restaurant mentioned above, LUX*’s Peruvian-Japanese restaurant INTI, and Kuramathi’s Inguru lagoon-side restaurant.
Seafood enthusiasts will jump for joy — fresh as it gets fish dishes and sushi abound. If you want to sample some local fare, try the fish curries, yellowfin tuna, reef (job) fish, Garudhiya soup (fish soup — a Maldivian staple), and cassava coconut cake.
The Maldives is one of those famous overwater bungalow destinations, and I was a huge fan from my first night. I fully enjoyed rolling out of my bed for a sunrise swim directly off my own deck. That’s not all there is though. Each property has various lodging options at different price points, ranging from cute beachfront studios to multiple-bedroom palatial presidential suites that will have you feeling like a celebrity.
Most have both beach and overwater villas depending on whether you want to catch your z’s perched above the water or directly on the sand. When choosing your room, make sure to ask if it’s sunrise facing or sunset facing and adjust based on your preference and usual vacation schedule. The bungalow decks tend to get shaded by mid-afternoon if you’re sunrise facing and vice versa.
The bungalows are beautiful, but there’s plenty to see outside them
I wasn’t bored, but I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. I had the rare luxury of time and loads of sunshine to play with at the resort. I could linger at breakfast, alternate between pool and sea dips, have a glass of champagne with lunch, and then take a nap just for the hell of it.
Maldives is “treat-yo-self” to a T. Whether you’re interested in melting your cares away at the seaside spa, snorkeling to your heart’s content, viewing marine life from a glass-bottom kayak, or simply zen-ing out in your private plunge pool (um, yes please), there’s something for everyone. More adventurous folks can catch a thrill surfing, diving, or parasailing, too.
And the best part? You can be social at communal pools and beach bars, or just relish in the sunny solitude of paradise. Some of my favorite activities from my island-hopping adventure included kayaking at Robinson Club Noonu, a ceviche making demonstration at LUX* North Male, and some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever done at Kuramathi. I saw schools of unicornfish and even a shark.
Sunset is a full-on ritual in the Maldives. Once you see the first one, you’ll understand why. Every night, guests gather at sundowner beach bars, sand bars, or choose to watch the sun paint the sky from the privacy of their own villa, with a refreshing drink in hand. Evening entertainment ranges from cover bands, karaoke, pool tables, and theme parties.
Logistics for island hopping in the Maldives
The prime benefit of island-hopping is experiencing different resort vibes, activities, restaurants, and the chance to shake it up a little. With so many choices, picking just one resort to experience can be overwhelming. That’s where island-hopping comes in, allowing you to create the perfect combo.
In order to travel to the Maldives (and back to the US), you’ll need proof of a negative COVID-19 test, even if you are fully vaccinated. In addition, I was tested at each resort before traveling to the next. Make sure to check the current restrictions and guidelines before traveling.
It should be noted that in order to hop over to another island, it will most likely require a transfer back to Male before getting onto another form of transportation for the next resort. This became taxing with only having a couple of nights at each property. Staying longer at each resort so that you actually have time to enjoy it would definitely help.
If you’re tempted to visit the islands in the far corners of the Maldives, it might be wise to pick just one resort and stay there for the entirety of your trip. It’s nice to switch it up by exploring different islands, but if you burn too many days transferring back to Male and then to the next spot, it’ll get old quickly. Island-hoppers may want to make up their itinerary with properties nearer to Male for ease of transfers.
Male’s Velana International Airport is notoriously muggy. Should you have a long wait here, pay for lounge access. You’ll thank me when you’re sitting in the air-conditioning with wifi and snacks.
Maldives lives up to their tagline, “the sunny side of life.” Bring plenty of reef-safe sunscreen That said, it rains here. Rainy season tends to be from May until October, though I was there in mid-June and it was all sunshine. You’ll score better deals by traveling in the off-season but if you don’t want to risk the rain, try the “shoulder” seasons where peak and low seasons cross paths. Here’s looking at you, October and April.
If you have snorkel gear, pack it. Most dive shops at the resorts have rentals, but they don’t always work that well and it’ll be nice to use your own. That’ll free you up to snorkel right off your bungalow or beach whenever you please.
The Maldives is a majority Muslim country. Alcohol is only available at the resorts, don’t make the mistake of buying duty-free items on your way as they’ll get confiscated at the airport. Also, bring some cash. USD is accepted in most places and it’s nice to have on hand for tips and odds and ends. The Maldives is only an hour flight to the capital of Sri Lanka. If you’re able to extend your trip, I highly recommend combining a Sri Lankan adventure with a Maldivian beach bliss escape.