There are many nations around the world with bragging rights to miles of pristine white coral sand and balmy turquoise seas but few can take it to the same level as the Maldives. Its 1,200 islands are spread out over 26 coral atolls; the combined land of all the islands is little more than 100 square miles. That means you are rarely more than a few steps from the beach. Many of the villas are actually built on stilts out over the water, so you may actually have to walk onshore in order to get to the beach. Besides curling your toes in the sand, many people come here to sample the Maldives enviable world-class dive spots. Others simply snorkel among the endless coral reefs. There are so many coral atolls here that our English word derives from the Maldivian name atholhu.
Serving an eclectic menu that ranges from beef stroganoff to fish curry to pizza, this restaurant not only offers unbeatable prices for its great food, but—being built on a waterside jetty beside the ferry terminal—it also offers tremendous seaside views. Granted, part of that view is the airport on the neighboring island, but time your visit right and a glorious tropical sunset is yours at no additional cost.
In order to dine at this waterside Lebanese/Moroccan restaurant, you'll need to be staying at the amazing Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru. And if that's the case, you probably won't bat an eye at the pricelist. The rooftop restaurant is built out over the water and has amazing sunset views to complement the couscous with marinated lamb chops or falafel. Conjuring up images of 1001 Arabian Nights, there is a more down-to-earth hookah lounge on the ground floor.
Sala Thai Restaurant
Said to be the best Thai restaurant in the Maldives (though for balance we should point out it doesn't have many rivals) this place secures its authentic status by having fresh ingredients flown in from Thailand on a regular basis. The décor is more Bangkok than Malé—all the better to enjoy spicy red beef curry or delicious phad thai noodles.
This simple and laid back central Malé restaurant gives visitors a chance to enjoy a range of affordable dishes, from couscous to hamburgers, in a relaxed and informal dining atmosphere. As the name hints, there is often live music provided by local Maldivian groups, although—as the name slightly misleads—it covers all genres and styles and is not restricted to jazz.
This dining complex in the Anantara Kihavah Villas resort is actually four restaurants in one. Sky is a rooftop bar perfect for sunset cocktails; it serves succulent meat kababs. Salt offers a range of fish and meat dishes served on salt blocks to add depth of flavor. Fire is a Teppanyaki lounge where Japanese chefs theatrically prepared dishes before your eyes. But the real showstopper is Sea, an extraordinary and romantic underwater cellar–restaurant with panoramic glass windows where parades of colorful tropical fish glide past as you dine on gourmet creations.
You don't need to take a PADI dive course in order to enjoy the amazing underwater scenery of the Maldives. Most resort islands have coral reefs that are sufficiently close to the shore and shallow enough for you to paddle across them in snorkel and mask. You may not experience swimming with Manta Rays or some of the other offshore dive wonders, but balance this with the knowledge that the shallower reefs are altogether more colorful and intense as they are flooded with more tropical sunlight.
One of the major reasons many people come to the Maldives is to experience some of the world's best diving. Crystal clear tropical waters, colorful reefs laden with exotic fish species, and occasional wrecks all add to the allure. Most resort islands run dive courses for the uninitiated and will organise trips to nearby dive sites. The costs of these can run into the hundreds of dollars. Live-aboard boat excursions are a cheaper option to staying at luxury resorts and they also give access to more varied dive sites. These boats can go for as little as $175 per person per day, including dives, meals, and accommodation, though you will sacrifice some comfort at the lower end of the rate scale. Check out the website below for more info on this type of trip.
The Sultan Park and impressive whitewashed villa housing this museum are perhaps more impressive than the collection within, but if you are in Malé it's worth spending a little time perusing the quirkily eclectic contents that tell the story of this miniscule island nation. The display rooms contain model boats, ceremonial thrones, and items dating back to pre-Islamic days, although some Buddha statues from this early period had to be removed when they were attacked and damaged by Muslim extremists in early 2012.
Hukuru Miskiiy (Old Friday Mosque)
The oldest mosque in the Maldives, Hukuru Miskiiy dates from the late 1650s and was built on the foundations of an earlier temple. The strangely shaped squat minaret in front, which resembles a giant wedding cake, was added during the 1670s. At first glance the mosque looks a bit rough (it has a corrugated iron roof to protect it from the elements) but closer inspection of the white coral walls will reveal some lovely carved patterns. You are welcome to go inside—the interior is justly famous for its woodcarvings and lacquer work—but it is still used for prayer so dress respectfully, as you would when entering any religious building.
For every one person who comes to the Maldives to dive, there may be five who come simply to relax, unwind, and enjoy the coastal scenery. The beaches surrounding the resort islands are superb. There is, after all, a reason they chose to put your resort here. Every beach has fine, brilliantly white coral sand, coconut palm fringes, and warm, turquoise, tropical seas.