The Maldives may be the hottest luxury destination on the planet, but the chain of 26 atolls and islands peppering the Arabian Sea is also one of the most underrated destinations for ethical wildlife tourism experiences. What’s especially unique to this high-end locale is the way wildlife is incorporated into how tourism operates here. There are dedicated excursions and experiences for seeing wildlife, but animals also show up in the most elevated of experiences, such as dining in an underwater restaurant or getting a massage above a floor window with underwater views.
Whether you’re happy to have incidental wildlife experiences while relaxing on an above-water cabana or travel purposely to see the abundant animal life of this part of the world, these nine experiences will take you straight to the action in the wilderness of the Maldives.
1. Sailing among mega pods of dolphins
As night falls at the Mercure Maldives Kooddoo Resort, local dolphins begin their “commute” home through a channel adjacent to the resort. A dedicated boat excursion brings guests to see this nightly phenomenon in which thousands of dolphins playfully make their way through the water, jumping high into the air at a seemingly non-stop pace. If that wasn’t captivating enough, the same channel is used by beautiful fruit bats making their way between nearby islands, putting you right between one of the most unique naturally occurring wildlife experiences on the planet.
Pro-tip: The boat tends to leave a few minutes before schedule, especially if the dolphins have been spotted, so head to the dive dock early.
2. Staying in an underwater hotel room
This is one of the best examples of the Maldives’ special circumstantial wildlife experiences. The underwater rooms of The Conrad Maldives on Rangali Island are a wonderful way to observe wildlife without interfering. It would be easy to say it’s like sleeping in an aquarium, but in reality, you’re the one in a glass room while the sea creatures watch, wild and free. As another option, the recently opened Pullman Maldives has an aqua villa giving that same under-the-sea perspective, though expect to see even more resorts adding this popular feature to their accommodation offerings.
3. Night snorkeling with whale sharks
From November to April, the sea’s largest fish comes to the Maldives to enjoy the warm water. Guests of Como Maalifushi have the opportunity to see these whale sharks up close during the hotel’s night-time snorkel excursion, a rare experience that brings people into the vicinity of one of the most interesting animals on the planet. Whether you jump in the water or hang out on the boat’s deck, this is a night you’ll never forget.
4. Taking a scuba-diving cruise
Divers know the clear, warm waters of the Maldives are unlike anywhere else. The Four Seasons has leaned into this feature by creating a floating liveaboard hotel for their diving guests. The three-story catamaran sails from the garden island of Kuda Huraa to the pristine hideaway of Landaa Giraavaru with no more than 22 other guests onboard at a time. Cruises are offered as three, four, and seven-night experiences.
5. Dining outdoors among wild flying foxes
Flying foxes live throughout the Maldives, giving the islands a truly magical feel as they flit between tropical palms searching for fruit snacks. Maximize your time witnessing these flying critters by dining beneath them, and the stars, at Velassaru Resort’s oceanfront dining, or the Mercure Maldives Kooddoo Resort’s new custom outdoor dinner, which romantically arranges guests in a private garden area.
6. Daytime snorkeling on the reef to see sea turtles
While diving in the Maldives is a truly unforgettable experience, going deep isn’t necessary to appreciate the wildlife here. The Heritance Aarah has a special spot within its atoll where sea turtles reliably gather, and the guides here are great at ensuring you have the best chance possible of spotting them. And even if sea turtles don’t enter the picture, there’s lots of other beautiful marine wildlife to spot on this remote reef.
7. Dining underwater at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
Even if you can’t snatch one of the underwater rooms at The Conrad, you can still enjoy underwater life by dining at the restaurant. The food is incredible, but it can be hard to focus when wild and free ocean species peer in at you from above (and from the sides). It’s another one of those only-in-the-Maldives experiences where luxury meets ethical wildlife viewing, and even those who may not consider themselves animal lovers will be mesmerized by the incredible life surrounding them.
8. Onshore reptiles, crabs, birds, and more
Wildlife lovers will want to keep an eye out for the small life forms that call the Maldives home. Lizards, hermit crabs, mangrove crabs, ghost crabs, geckos: There’s no shortage of local species darting between the bushes and captivating those who are keen wildlife observers. The land-based animal life, from tiny geckos to soaring seabirds, enjoys the luxury of the Maldives as much as any visitor, but the best way to see them is by picking a residence onshore as opposed to above the water.
9. Enjoying the sea’s wildlife while getting a spa treatment
The Heritance Aarah is not only home to the only Medi Spa (a hybrid between a medical clinic and a spa for the purpose of relaxation and rejuvenation) in the Maldives, but it also offers incredible viewing access to undersea life during spa treatments. As you lie down for a relaxing massage, peer through the windows installed into the floor for an extra dose of relaxation: There’s something soothing about seeing fish, sharks, and whatever else feels like swimming by while a trained masseuse eases the tension from your back.