The jewel-like islands of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean are known for exclusive resorts boasting lavish spas, sophisticated restaurants, and infinity pools looking out over Technicolor rainbow sunsets. But the nation is also home to some of the world’s most stunning natural wonderlands both above and below the sea. From stargazing to surfing, planting coral reefs, and swimming with whale sharks, these nine Maldivian experiences will get you up close and personal with the beauty of Mother Nature.
Despite their intimidating name, plankton-feeding whale sharks are considered gentle giants of the oceans. As the world’s largest fish, these placid leviathans measure up to 40 feet long and weigh an average of 20 tons. Intrigued? Take a closer look with the Whale Shark Experience at LUX* South Ari Atoll Resort & Villas. Join the resident marine biologist on a traditional dhoni sailboat before summoning your courage to dive into the blue. Whale sharks can be spotted year-round in the tropical Maldivian waters, though peak sightings stretch from August through November.
Discarded fishing nets in the world’s oceans are a major cause of injury to some of the planet’s most endangered species, including the Olive Ridley sea turtle. The second smallest species of turtle (and the most common in the world) these creatures make their home in the warm waters surrounding Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Resort in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The resort has partnered with the Olive Ridley Project to create the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre, a fully equipped rescue center featuring a laboratory, surgical facilities, and a dedicated veterinarian to help rehabilitate the injured reptiles and release them back into the wild. Guests can visit the center to meet the veterinarian, observe the patients as they are fed, and attend regular nightly presentations concerning sea turtle conservation.
An El Niño weather event in 1998 caused water temperatures to rise and created havoc on coral reefs around the globe, including in the Maldives. While much of the coral has naturally recovered since then, protecting the reefs now from future warming events is a major component to the ethos at Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort. To uphold this key initiative, guests can participate in the resort’s Coral Adoption Programme by teaming up with the marine biologist and planting coral in the reef nursery. The baby coral's growth can then be followed online or on a return trip.
The boutique Baros island resort is a virtual Eden for nature lovers, with lush jungle, curious lizards, and dazzling white sand everywhere you look. But the real gems can be found under the sparkling turquoise sea, where colorful coral reefs act as playgrounds for myriad aquatic animals.
Take it all in on a dive with Baros’ Eco Dive Centre, the Maldives’ first sustainable resort-based dive center committed to the stewardship of the surrounding marine environment. Reef conservation programs, shark and manta ray identification projects, and guest education are among the hallmarks of the resort’s ecological pledge.
Surf in Turquoise Waters
The barefoot-chic overwater resort Soneva Jani offers guests the world’s first 100 percent sustainable surfing program; they use surfboards and equipment fashioned from recycled waste, and even provide sunscreen that is eco-friendly. Introductory classes for beginners are held in the resort’s own lagoon.
More experienced surfers can jump in a speedboat with a local guide to explore under-the-radar surf breaks in the nearby Noonu Atoll. Alternatively, the heavenly Baa Atoll is a pristine UNESCO Biosphere Reserve renowned for sea turtles, manta rays, and whale sharks.
The sustainability-focused Six Senses Laamu resort is alive with nature activities of every stripe, including snorkeling, diving, and castaway beach adventures. Another way the resort helps guests get closer to Mother Nature is through food. The executive chef leads a daily tour of the resort’s organic garden, which proffers more than 40 herbs, chilies, and salad leaves used in cooking classes, restaurants, and even spas.
Stargaze with an Astronomer
The first overwater observatory in the Maldives can be found at the utopian Soneva Jani resort. The Maldives is a tad north of the equator, meaning that the resort’s telescope can spot constellations in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres that are rarely visible to the naked eye in more light-polluted areas of the world. There’s also an observatory at the resort’s sister property Soneva Fushi, which offers a unique 3D astronomy experience presided over by the resident astronomers.
Land-based resorts can’t have all the fun. For die-hard divers, a stint on the Four Seasons Explorer liveaboard dive cruise is a luxurious option. The all-inclusive cruises take dive fanatics and casual snorkelers alike on a tropical adventure through the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, an undersea Shangri-la. By day, swim with octopi and whale sharks, explore shipwrecks teeming with reef sharks, or dive in unique subaquatic cave systems. Then, nap on the sun soaked deck before indulging in a gourmet dinner with bubbly or a list of fine vintages.
The Maldives is well known as a playground for more than 20 different species of dolphins, including the delightfully acrobatic Spinner Dolphin, which can jump and twirl as high as 10 feet above the waves. Watch this magnificent nature show on a sunset dolphin-spotting cruise at Gili Lankanfushi Maldives resort.
The resort follows an eco-friendly initiative developed by a marine biologist to ensure the boats don’t disturb the dolphins. These measures include not approaching a pod directly, going too fast, or rapidly changing speed. For a special occasion, charter the resort’s 46-foot private yacht, made complete with a luxurious en-suite cabin and an onboard catering service.