Visions of white sand and warm tropical breezes dancing in your head as you shovel out from the latest winter storm? Dreaming of empty surf breaks and pristine reefs as you stock up on bread and TP? You might want to consider escaping to the Maldives.
The Maldives, a scattering of more than 1,100 islands in the Indian Ocean, is mostly known as a glamorous vacation destination, the sort of spot where celebs and their soon-to-be-exs sip champagne in their private infinity pools. Recently though, thanks to a change in the tourism laws, hundreds of guesthouses popped up in the country’s formerly off-limits villages — giving travelers the first ever access to some of the country's best surf breaks, dive spots, and fishing grounds.
Local lodging has not only turned this once-in-a-lifetime-splurge destination into a more budget-friendly option (with basic rooms from as cheap as $30 a night). And if you don’t mind a few restrictions on your beer, bacon, and bikinis (the Maldives are an Islamic republic), you can explore parts of the country that, until now, have been almost entirely tourist free. Here’s how:
Know Your Atolls
Resorts are concentrated on a handful of the country’s 20+ atolls — but guesthouses are found on all of them. This means if you travel beyond the well-known resort atolls of Baa, Lhaviyani, Ari, and North and South Male, you’ll be one of only a small handful of guests in the area. *Insider’s tip — every atoll in the Maldives has at least two names (including a Dhivehi name and an administrative one) typically the simplest of the options is used.
Pick Your Activity
Sea-life viewing and fishing are pretty great everywhere — but if you want to focus on one sport, some atolls are better than others. The southern atolls have the most reliable surf breaks, while the northern and central atolls have the best fishing and diving. Whale sharks and manta rays tend to migrate between specific locations, while the country’s 20 different species of whales and dolphins can be sighted just about anywhere.
Select a Guesthouse
Most guesthouses are only a couple of years old, and travelers are just discovering the option — so there’s heaps of competition. To find your best match, there’s a limited tourism site, or you can troll through sites like TripAdvisor, Airbnb, or Bookings.com. Or you can check out these options:
- For sugar-white beaches, great snorkeling, and cool cultural excursions, Vashafaru Inn on Haa Alif Atoll offers bed and breakfast from $70 per night.
- Sport-fishing fans may want to check out the all inclusive Jupiter Sunrise Lodge on Vaavu Atoll. Packages start at $96 per night.
- With great diving and surfing, Reveries Diving Village on Laamu Atoll offers packages starting from $83 a night.