With almost 1,200 islands (about 200 of which are inhabited), the Maldives has a bounty of beautiful beaches to choose from. Although the beaches generally aren't vast and wide, as the islands they ring are small, some are particularly spectacular and out-of-this-world. Tourists can wear bathing suits at beaches on the private islands but you'll need to cover up on "local" inhabited islands, except where there are dedicated "bikini beaches." This is because the Maldives is a conservative Islamic country. Alcohol is also not permitted on the local islands (it's only available at private-island resorts).
Fulhadhoo, Baa Atoll
Stunning Fulhadhoo is part of the remote Baa Atoll UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, in the central-western part of the Maldives. Fulhadhoo is ideal for budget travelers, as there are a handful of reasonably-priced guesthouses. It's an inhabited island with a population of around 250 people who live in the fishing village on the far eastern side. Besides the village, you'll have the rest of the substantially-sized island to yourself, including a long stretch of picture-perfect coastline and house reef. Picnics to a nearby uninhabited island are possible as well.
Bikinis can be worn on the western side of the island. 3 Hearts Guesthouse is a popular option with private beach access. The only drawback for some: no alcohol on the island.
Getting There: The island can be reached by speed boat from Male in about two hours. Boats don't run every day, so check the timetable first.
Finolhu Kanufushi, Baa Atoll
If chic luxury is more your style, you'll find it at Finolhu Kanufushi in Baa Atoll. Finolhu means sandbank, and this extraordinary island lives up to its name—it has what's said to be the longest sandbank in the Maldives, extending for more than a mile. The powdery, soft sandbank connects the main island to three smaller islands.
At the center of the scene is funky and newly-upgraded Finolhu Seaside resort. Aimed at hip fun-loving travelers, you can party by the beach with DJs spinning at the poolside bar. The resort also offers water sports, and a magical exclusive glamping experience in a custom-designed bubble tent on a secluded part of the sandbank.
Getting There: To reach the island, take a 30-minute seaplane transfer from Male.
Dhigurah, South Ari Atoll
The beach on narrow and elongated Dhigurah Island runs for almost its entire length on both sides. You can admire the sunrise on one side of this thickly-forested island and the sunset on the other! At the southern tip of the island is a sandbank where picnics and romantic dinners are held. You'll have to do without alcohol though, as Dhigurah is an inhabited island.
Whale sharks and manta rays can be seen year-round off the coast of the island while diving or snorkeling. There are more than 30 dive points around the island, plus famous dive spots such as Kuda Rah Thila, Manta Point, and Reethi Thila nearby. If you stay at TME Retreats, you'll be right next to the island's only bikini beach.
Getting There: To get there from Male, take a direct speed boat (about two hours), or domestic flight to Maamigili (20 minutes) and boat from there (30 minutes).
Ihuru, North Male Atoll
The tiny, circular Ihuru Island is barely 656 feet (200 meters) wide but that means you'll never be far from the beach! The main attraction is the impressive house reef, often deemed to be the best in the Maldives. Angsana Ihuru resort has 45 thatched beachfront Maldivian villas dotted around the island, with plenty of personal space for everyone. The atmosphere is laid-back, as the resort isn't as upmarket or expensive as some. However, it has won multiple awards for environmental awareness.
You can be pampered at the resort's wellness spa, and take a boat across to the more opulent Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru resort on a bigger neighboring island. Don't miss the flock of stingrays that turns up there to be fed at 5 p.m. every day.
Getting There: A short 20-minute speed boat ride from Male will get you to Ihuru Island.
Veligandu, North Ari Atoll
Veligandu is another island with a glorious long sandbank. It lies at the southern end of the island, where there's snorkeling on the house reef. Diving and water sports are also offered. Or, simply while away your time in a hammock or on a sun lounge. Veligandu Island Resort & Spa has been operating on the island for decades and was refurbished in 2014. It's a friendly and relaxed yet stylish "barefoot" resort, with iconic overwater villas as well as beach villas. Children are only allowed to stay in the beach villas though. Honeymooners love this resort and it provides great value for money.
Getting There: Veligandu is easily accessible via a 20-minute seaplane flight from Male.
Velassaru, South Male Atoll
A perfectly positioned infinity swimming pool is the highlight on the beach at Velassaru Island. It belongs to Velassaru Maldives resort, which occupies the island. The beach dazzles as does the contemporary and minimalist resort. Dining and drinking are centered around the beach, where the resort's seductive oceanfront lounge bars and restaurants steal the show. Outdoor movie nights are sometimes held on the beach under the stars. You can also get a spa treatment in one of the over-water spa pavilions, go snorkeling and diving, or do water sports.
Getting There: Velassaru is just a 25-minute speedboat ride from Male.
Reethi Rah, North Male Atoll
One of North Male Atoll's largest islands, Reethi Rah has no less than 12 postcard-worthy beaches! The ritzy One & Only Reethi Rah resort is spread over the whole island and stands out for its unique combination of space, privacy, and activities. The beach villas are shrouded in vegetation and carefully placed all over the island to ensure seclusion. They come with their own patches of sand and some even have their own plunge pools. There are very generously-sized over-water villas too.
Notably, the resort has five restaurants, two bars, a beach club, a comprehensive wellness spa, PADI National Geographic dive center, three swimming pools (one for adults only), a kid's club, water sports center, and even a tennis court.
Getting There: The island can be reached by luxury yacht, speed boat, or seaplane.
Mirihi, South Ari Atoll
Mirihi Island's compact size gives it a wonderful advantage when it comes to viewing the glowing blue bio-luminescent plankton off its shore. Fewer guests mean you'll have more beach to yourself to observe the spectacle. The plankton is most visible from summer to winter, particularly when there isn't a full moon.
Mirihi Island Resort was the first resort in the Maldives to have overwater villas and there's only 30 of them along with six elegant beach villas. You can enjoy private dining by the beach, spa treatments, water sports, diving, and snorkeling at the excellent house reef (which has its own shipwreck), and swimming with whale shark excursions. The island isn't ideal for families, as there are no specific facilities for kids, though children are allowed. If you're after a peaceful experience, it's wise to avoid school holidays.
Getting There: Mirihi is a 30-minute seaplane flight from Male.
Nalaguraidhoo, South Ari Atoll
This relatively big island has a broad sand-spit beach, plus a shallow lagoon and house reef for snorkeling and canoeing. Family and budget-friendly Sun Island Resort provides an extensive 462 guest rooms on the island, ranging from standard beach bungalows with the ocean at your doorstep to overwater bungalows. There's also an enormous swimming pool facing the lagoon, award-winning wellness spa, six restaurants, multiple bars, and plenty of activities including water sports and wildlife spotting. The island is best suited to interactive, social travelers.
Getting There: Unfortunately, transfers to Nalaguraidhoo are costly and involve a domestic flight followed by a speedboat ride.
Kuramathi, North Ari Atoll
Mile-long Kuramathi Island has some delightful hidden-away beaches, discoverable via the paths that snake their way through the thick, pristine foliage. There's also an idyllic long sandbar at one end of the island perfect for watching the sunrise and sunset, and two major dive sites (Holi Faru and Rasdhoo Reef) close-by. Upscale Kuramathi Maldives resort, with 360 villas and suites, is one of the largest resorts in the Maldives. Families will appreciate it, as there's a special kid's club and plenty of things to do, including some of the best snorkeling around. However, couples will feel just as content there, at one of the many beach-side pools or bars, or wellness spa.
Getting There: Take a 90-minute speedboat ride or 20-minute seaplane flight to reach the island.