With its next-level resorts and secluded beaches lapped by aquamarine waters, the Maldives is rightfully regarded as the pinnacle of far-flung luxury destinations. But staying on top means never resting on its desert-island laurels. After shutting its borders for a spell, the blindingly beautiful Indian Ocean archipelago reopened to travelers with a clutch of shiny new hotels and revamped classics. Here, we take a deep dive into the best resorts in the Maldives.
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This island getaway for aesthetes is one of the cleverest resorts to open this year—a particular achievement during a pandemic. It’s the first of a new progressive brand of hotels from Capella. (The second will be in Ubud, where Bill Bensley’s Capella Ubud is one of the parent brand’s showstopping properties.) Patina and the recently opened Ritz-Carlton are also the first hotels built on the man-made Fari Islands, in the North Malé atoll. With space at a premium, artificial isles aren’t new in the Maldives, but here serious sustainability efforts and conservation projects go a long way to mitigate the environmental impact of the construction. The resort is the first hotel from Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan, who has transplanted his take on tropical modernism to the Indian Ocean. In keeping with the movement, the architecture encourages interaction with nature: The long, linear wooden structures are open to the elements and cooled by swirling fans and perforated screens, creating a chiaroscuro dance of light and shadow. Custom-made furniture from Dedon and Italian designer Paola Lenti sits beneath triangular sun shades strung between towering palms. Then there’s the art collection, which includes a Skyspace light installation by James Turrell used by yoga gurus from Rishikesh to hold classes. In the evening, when the room is illuminated violet, the ceiling aperture frames the moon. The resort’s 90 pool villas aren’t the largest in the Maldives, but they impress in other ways, with glass walls that retract on three sides. In the bathrooms there are exfoliating seaweed soaps from Haeckels, and at bedtime vitamins appear on pillows in lieu of chocolates. The Flow Spa, where the treatment rooms look like sugar cubes tossed into the long grass, offers high-tech therapies—flotation pods, LED-light therapy, Iris sound immersions—alongside rituals like an out-of-body experience in the Watsu pool with Balinese healer Purnomo Diretno. Patina also has eight bars and restaurants, each one exceptional. The Maldives’ next generation starts here.
Turquoise Holidays offers seven nights in a one-bedroom beach pool villa from $7,716 per person, including breakfast, international flights from New York, and transfers. All other prices quoted in this feature are also through Turquoise Holidays.
JW Marriott Maldives Resort & Spa
There isn’t a hibiscus plant out of place at this Indian Ocean escape set in the far-northern Shaviyani atoll. The neighboring islands are mostly undeveloped, so the seaplane transfer, at about an hour, is a little longer than most, but the payoff comes in the form of never-ending horizons, uninterrupted expanses of sea, and crystal-clear night skies. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end of the island to the other—which makes it medium-size by Maldivian standards. Offshore, there’s a large house reef where you can see large white-tip reef sharks, moray eels, and clouds of shoaling fish. For bigger marine thrills, a dolphin cruise yields sightings in the thousands, and a fishing expedition turns up sailfish the size of small children. Back on dry land there are two main swimming pools, a glass-encased spa, and a gigantic kids’ club, not to mention 60 pool villas shaped like upturned galleons. There are overwater and land options; skip the former in favor of a spacious, bougainvillea-veiled plot of sand just feet from the ocean. The duplexes, with their upstairs living rooms, are excellent for families. Inside, the decor strays from the usual Maldivian teak chic toward muted shades of blue and amethyst. Among the five superb restaurants, the lunch-only Kaashi is a standout for authentic Thai. There are also three bars, including one by the pool with the Missoni stripes along the bottom, and another serving 98 types of rum inside a tree house overlooking the beach. While there aren’t many surprises, this is a polished take on the tropical-paradise blueprint.
Seven nights in a duplex beach villa from $22,420 for two, including breakfast and seaplane transfers
When this spot in the North Malé atoll came into existence just over 20 years ago, Malé’s international airport was barely more than a tin shed, postcards were the main mode of communication, and most islands lacked regular electricity. Now Gili Lankanfushi is considered within easy reach (just a 20-minute speedboat transfer), yachts and seaplanes crisscross the ocean and sky from morning till night, and the neighboring islands have streetlights and a Coca-Cola factory. But relax—some things never change. This hotel is still set in one of the most achingly beautiful lagoons in the country, a vision of broad white beaches, shape-shifting sandbanks, and waters that dance from peacock green to sapphire blue. All the villas are stilted over the water, keeping the island wild and the beaches on full dazzling display. When a fire ravaged the resort in 2019, it was an opportunity for renewal. Interiors were redesigned with handmade wooden furniture and woven lampshades sourced from sustainable suppliers in Bali; bathrooms are now stocked with organic potions and reef-safe sunscreen. For the ultimate do-not-disturb energy, maroon yourself in one of the clapboard Robinson Crusoe villas on the edges of the lagoon, reachable only by a little pontoon, and lie on your rooftop deck tracing the spine of Scorpio across the night sky. Putter back to the island for sunrise yoga; beach and jungle restaurants where ingredients come fresh off the boat or are pulled from organic gardens; and expert therapists from Thailand, Bali, and India at the Meera Spa. Baby coral grown on ropes in the house reef will eventually be replanted in the sea in a bid to create reefs that are more resistant to climate-change bleaching. (They also serve as an underwater hammock for a big green turtle that stops by most days.) This seven-year-old coral-restoration program, as much as the dreamy location and impeccable service, is why Gili Lankanfushi still stands above the crowd.