How to Pick the Perfect Maldives Resort

Dreamy resort

A sunny Bank Holiday Weekend was an inspiration to invest a bit of time on Maldives Complete and revamp the Best of Maldives section a bit. With now over 300 distinctions, I’ve had to add yet another tabbed page (‘Service’) to hold them all. I split out sub-categories in a few areas like adding a ‘Sweets’ section for ‘Food’ and splitting ‘Drinks’ into ‘Soft’ and ‘Bar’. I added a new section called ‘Workplace’ distinctions since good management and workplace innovation are pet professional subjects of mine.

With more resorts with more distinctions than ever, it has never been order to wade through the riches of choice to find the resort for your often once in a lifetime trip. The Sunday Times featured a piece a short while back on ‘How to Pick the Perfect Resort’, but it focused on skiing). I often get emails and other contacts from Maldives Complete fans looking for advice on choosing the best resort for them (there is no ‘best resort’, there is only ‘the best resort for you’). I thought I would document the steps I often go through to help them winnow down the selection…

  1. What’s your budget? – Don’t ever say ‘Money is no object’ in the Maldives unless you are a billionaire.  This is the single most important question to ask to start with and will narrow your search significantly (resorts vary in cost from £1,000 per week to over £10,000).
  2. Large or small island? – Some people prefer the intimacy of a place barely larger than a plot of sand and palm tree. Others prefer more to explore and more infrastructure to support a broader range of options and activities (islands range in size from 5,000 square metres to to over 2 million)
  3. How important is off-beach snorkelling? – This is also known as the “House Reef” question. You can snorkel on any Maldives island. But real snorkelling afficionadoes eschew the limited fish and coral life of the sandy lagoons for the thrill of the ‘main event’…house reefs that plummet from the shallows into deep open water where large schools of fish and forests of variegated coral fill the wall between land and ocean. The most active and enthusiastic snorkelers will often insist on a great house reef. Those who just want to try a bit of great snorkelling are happy with going on a few snorkel safari excursions.
  4. Seaplane ride? – The resorts split roughly down the middle between (a) those that are a speed boat ride away from the main Male airport, or (b) those that require a seaplane transfer to a more remote atoll (81 out of 132 resorts are a seaplane ride away). The advantages of the the seaplane ride is that it opens up more resort options, but more importantly the trip can be an exhilarating experience in its own right. The birdseye view of the mottled blue tapestry of island, reef and ocean is almost like visiting another planet. The disadvantages of the seaplane include…
    • Extra cost – Typically about $500 round trip.
    • Extra time and logistics for the transfer – Especially on the return leg where the resorts need to book lots of extra time into your transfer to make sure no weather delays have you miss your plane.
    • Noise – You can’t even talk to your seat mate the small turbo props are so loud in the cabin (ear plugs are standard issue on all flights to reduce the irritation).
    • Fear of flying – You pretty much had to get on a plane to arrive in the Maldives in the first place (unless you are on a cruise stop), but nervous flyers who can just about handle jet planes can find smaller planes a bit to unsettling.
  5. Children? – Some resorts actively cater for children. Other resorts (or sections of them like their warter villas) actively discourage them (or a few even prohibit them).
  6. All Inclusive? – Some people prefer ‘all inclusive’ plans so they know what total costs they are on the hook for and don’t have to keep track of the extra charges that they are racking up. (38 out of 132 resorts offer all inclusive).
  7. Pool? – While the resorts are ostensibly surrounded by the world’s biggest swimming pool, an actual pool is often appealing to some for lounging, refreshing, exercising or playing. We often found that the children could only take so much irritation from the salt and sand of the beach and preferred spending a chunk of time at a more sanitised pool environment (86 out of 132 resorts have pools)
  8. Any favourite activities? – The old myth (and mystique) about the Maldives is that there is nothing to do.  Now with over 120 resorts, there is something for everyone and virtually every activity and pastime are catered for.  If you have a particular interest or hobby like kite surfing, painting or cigar smoking, finding the resorts that offer these will get you right to a short list of places that will offer these special treats for you.

The answers to the first 6 questions typically will get you down to a manageable shortlist through the Maldives Complete Resort Finder. From there people use question 7 as a tie breaker or just surf the Maldives Complete Profile section to see which property most captures their fancy.

46 Thoughts on “How to Pick the Perfect Maldives Resort

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  2. Hi Bruce,

    Hope your well and you could help me find the right resort/island,
    I want to book for my honeymoon, my budget is around £3000 including flights,
    Looking for island which has jet ski, and fun activities, my partner is worried she will have nothing to do,lol
    We are not interested in snorkeling, just a chill out holiday really,
    We don’t mind seaplane or boat transfer, there will be no children, looking
    for cheap island with water villa/bungalow,
    Any help is appreciated.

    Kind Regards

  3. Mo – Happy to help if I can. Where are you flying from?

    A browser through the database indicates that 30 active resorts have jet skis so that won’t be difficult to find.

    If your partner is concerned about “nothing to do”, tell her to glance at this page – (and if there are any particular activities that strike her fancy, that will help to narrow down your search).

  4. Hi Bruce,

    A little help required. Me and my spouse are travelling for our honeymoon (3N/4D stay). The resort guide was indeed helpful, and we were able to find one in our budget. Only constraint, each resort is charging exorbitant price for airport-resort transfer and back. Any suggestion so that these high prices can be avoided, I mean any alternative way to travel to the resort at cheaper prices?

  5. Ankit – Apologies for the delay of response (I am actually travelling myself at the moment). It depends on the resort. Some of the medium distance resorts have the option of a seaplane transfer or a boat transfer (for example, you can get to Kuramathi by 20 minute seaplane or a 2 hour boat ride). Other resorts that are very far away (eg. South Ari, Haa Alifu) offer the cheaper alternative of a domestic flight. But if it is a resort that you can only get to by seaplane, the costs for the seaplane are always high. That’s just what it costs to fly these things. They are very expensive pieces of equipment and only carry a modest number of people across which to spread their costs.

  6. Caroline on August 16, 2016 at 12:35 pm said:

    Hi Bruce,

    My husband and I are planning to visit the Maldives again after visiting Mirihi last June. Can you recommend a resort has good house reef and lots of fishes?

  7. Caroline – Probably the best way to get a short list is to go to the Finder section of Maldives complete and select “Resort”. Then you can filter on “House Reef” selecting “Distinctive” or “Very Good”.

    Be aware that (a) “Distinctive” means that some aspect of the reef is amazing, but other aspects might not be so great, and (b) most of the house reefs have changed (for the worse) dramatically over the past year due to global warming (sea temperatures are record highs) exacerbated by El Nino as well as the COTS epidemic.

  8. Hello. I am female traveling alone. I would like a suggestion for a place I can get to by boat that has great snorkling and possibly also a snorkeling trip near by as well. Not expensive where I can wear a swimsuit and possibly have a drink if I want. I will be there 3 to 4 days.

  9. All resorts will have “snorkeling trip near by” to the best snorkeling spots in the area.

    Depends on your definition of “great snorkeling”. For Maldives aficionados, that usually means a very accessible ‘house reef’ (one where you can get to in a minute from the beach) with lots of both coral and animal sea life. With the recent bout of warm seas (amplified by this year’s El Nino) and the COTS outbreaks, many reefs have been hit hard.

    If you want to “get to by boat” (which makes a lot of sense for a short stay of “3 to 4 days”), then you are pretty much limited to North Male and South Male atolls.

    I would look at the following…
    – Kurumba: Not great coral on the house reef, but amazing animal life (sharks, turtles, rays, morays). Very diverse and lively place where a single person would be able to socialise and mix a bit. Not cheap as a 5-star property, but probably the best value 5 star in the Maldives –

    – Club Med Kani – Not great house reef at all, but plenty of fine snorkeling excursions to get your snorkeling fix. Some very good value villas. Definitely great ambiance for a single person –

  10. Bruce – You indicate that most of the house reefs have changed dramatically (for the worse) the last year. We are planning a trip for March 2017 and I’m now concerned that given a great house reef with snorkeling is a must for my wife and I, the Maldives may not be the place to go…at least yet. Is the impact primarily to the coral or has the fish life also been impacted? We visited Biyadhoo in 2002 and found the house reef excellent. Wishing to go to a different island (and less dated), we are considering the following resorts: Vilamendhoo, Angaga, Angsana Ihru, Ellaidhoo and Eriyadu. Want easily accessible house reef with good snorkeling plus good dive center (will do some diving…but mostly snorkeling). For a treat, also looking at spending a few days at Mirihi or Kandolhu. Any suggestions on best islands (1 high end, 1 lower end)? Or should we wait another year or two? Thanks.

  11. Jim – All of the resorts that you have listed have excellent house reefs. As you note, with the impact of warm oceans and COTS, it’s hard to know really which have been the most effected. I generally think that the Kaafu atolls (near Male) have been hit harder (but none of your islands are there). I’m also wondering if island closer to the open ocean (ie. edge of the atoll) might get colder water and fare better? Just speculation. Most of the best house reef islands are traditionally well inside the atoll where (a) they are protected more, and (b) where the topology of the islands tends towards the small, island “dots” which male the reef accessible and have a drop-off.

    • Bruce – Thanks for the input. Any other resorts that are in the price range of $300-$500/night that you’d recommend be on our short list (outstanding house reef + good dive center+nice beach)? Also, if we are looking at 2-4 days at a resort running around $800-$1000/night, with same criteria, any other suggestions? And does spending twice the money at these resorts actually give you twice the quality in accommodation and food? I don’t want to pay a bunch extra for amenities we’ll never use.

  12. Hi Bruce,

    Thanks for this great site. I am having hard time choosing a place for me and my 6 friends. We want some place quiet with beaches and something to drink. Couple of us including me love everything related to water so snorkeling is a must. we’ll be staying for 2 nights and don’t want anything fancy. I would really appreciate if you could help me out

  13. It depends on what you mean by “anything fancy”. As the post describes, the range of budget in the Maldives is quite extensive. ‘Not fancy’ could still be thousands of dollars a night. What’s you budget? You mentioned “having a hard time choosing”…do you have a short list?

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  15. Hi Bruce! A Long post coming your way:

    First, thank you for the comprehensive Maldives analysis on your site, it has been very helpful!
    I am planning a 5-day holiday with my partner to the Maldives on January 2017 (10 year anniversary!)

    Thanks to your site I have managed to reduce the huge list of options to 5 resorts that -barely- accommodate our budget 🙂 I could use your help to make a final decision!
    Our top picks are: 1) Dusit Thani Maldives, 2) The Residence, 3) Velassaru, 4) Sun Aqua Vilu Reef and 5) Ayada Maldives.

    We are in our late-twenties and looking specifically for a water villa with pool. Privacy within our villa is very important, i.e. we don’t want that neighbors can easily peek at us. Also we would like well maintained facilities, doesn’t have to be high-end luxury, but we wouldn’t like it to look outdated or show excessive wear. Any advice?

    Also, I’m having a hard time deciding between all inclusive and breakfast only. With breakfast only, I’m scared about the price of everything else. How much can it cost on average per person per day to eat and maybe a couple of cocktails? With all inclusive, besides the added cost, I’m concerned about the quality/variety of what is actually included.

    One last thing: we are a gay couple, we are aware of the country’s views on this matter, and although we are not into public displays of affection, do you think we can still receive discriminatory treatment for staying together on a villa and such? Will you still recommend Maldives?

    Sorry for the long post and thanks again for the help!

    • Of those resorts in your short list, my favourite is Ayada. Primarily for its reef which is the best of your list (though all the reefs have suffered damage from warming seas). Dusit and Velassaru are superb properties as well.

      I would recommend looking at the back area pictures of the rooms you are considering in the Maldives Complete Room Profiles to see if the privacy is what you are looking for. I think they have pretty decent dividers on the sides.

      The best thing to do is to look at the menu for the dining and think about your eating and drinking habits. My wife and I have huge breakfasts, then a snack for lunch (or a pina colada!) and then a nice diner. As a result, we don’t consume a lot on our third meal and we don’t drink a huge amount so half-board tends to suit us. AI is really designed for people who eat and drink a lot. That said, it is also easier on the mind because it is more convenient and you are not constantly thinking about how much something costs.

      Do not worry at all about being gay on a Maldives resort. I have many gay friends who have visited there regularly and have never experienced anything discriminatory. You will be fine.

      I hope this helps.

  16. Iris Santiago on November 13, 2016 at 10:59 pm said:

    I want to take my family on a four day trip to the Maldives I have a 12 and 15 year old boys! I really want to be in a fun resort preferably and overwater bungalow. I also have a budget of 400 a night the max can you help me please

  17. Take a look at the following resorts which have the most value priced over-water villas – Cinnamon Dhonveli, Embudu, and OBLU by Atmosphere.

    I would also give a look at Club Med Kani. Unfortunately, its over-water villas are a higher standard and are considerably more expensive and likely out of your budget. But the resort itself is full of activity and superb for a 12 and 15 year old (you will love it too).

  18. Shubhod on December 19, 2016 at 1:17 pm said:

    Hi Bruce,
    Thanks for this great blog. I am having hard- time choosing a place for me and my wife. We want some place quiet with beaches and with lots of animals. As we ain’t masters in swimming water sports are no for us. we’ll be staying for 3 nights(2N beach bungalow and 1N water bungalow)budget restraint and just want to enjoy the peaceful beaches. I would really appreciate if you could help me out.

    If you could help me out from the picks to take the final decision.
    1.Club Raanhali
    Thank You.

    • Shubhod –

      1.Club Raanhali: Very quiet, relatively convenient
      2.Kurumba: Highest quality. Very good for weak swimmers as it is surrounded by shallow lagoon protected by seawalls. Least quiet as near Male – so you will get periodic sounds of airplanes taking off and landing at the nearby airport. Most convenient as just a few minutes from airport.
      3.Veligandu – Least convenient. I don’t know much about it as I haven’t been to it.

  19. Just starting my search. Looking for a water villa with excellent shore snorkeling/right from our deck…$1000 US dollars price…per night preferable. Can’t decide between boat or seaplane transfer…staying 10 nights…should we split between 2 locations? Good snorkeling is top priority. Thank you for directing us to some locations.

    • Nancy,

      10 night split – Some people really like just getting into chill mode and once there not disrupting it all, but we found that after about a week, we were keen to explore a new reef, new resort, new menu, etc. It would be ideal if you could split your trip with a very nearby resort that would require just a short resort boat transfer. Transferring with a sea plane will eat up the better part of one day of your treasured holiday time.

      Some ideas:

      SOUTH ARI – You could do something like Vakarufalhi and Lily Beach (they are right opposite each other and both have superb house reefs). You might be able to manage Athuruga and Thudufushi (not only nearby, but same ownership so very easy to manage a combo trip).

      NORTH ARI – Halaveli, Kandolhu and Ellaidhoo are all nearby each other, all have great, accessible house reefs, Halaveli is a bit pricier, but Ellaidhoo is a bit more value range so it might balance out to something manageable.

  20. Warren on January 17, 2017 at 3:52 am said:

    Hi Bruce,
    First, thank you for putting together such a website. The information available is second to none.
    My wife and I are thinking of heading to the Maldives in the first week of April, 01 – 08 April.
    I’m looking for overwater accommodation, all inclusive package, with excellent snorkeling. I’m an experienced snorkeler and diver (but after an unfortunate accident I am now unable to dive) and my wife is of more moderate experience and skill level so I would be looking for a resort with excellent reef snorkeling as well as a drop off.
    In terms of eating and drinking, we like to do both and preferably more premium drinks.
    Budget would be around the AUD$1,500 (USD$1,100 – 1,200) per night but could go higher to USD$1,400 – 1,500 for the right resort.
    Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated as neither of us have been to the Maldives previously.

  21. AUD$1100-$1500 is essentially the 4 star. Any other criteria to help filter? Have you tried using the Room Type Finder, filtering for AI=Yes and WaterVilla=Yes and seeing what comes up?


  22. felisita on February 15, 2017 at 11:21 am said:

    Dear Bruce, Quick question: As a female solo traveler who doesn’t want to bump into too much honeymoon couple, where is the best island to hop in for about 5 nights? :).

    I would love the opportunity to go surfing, any water sports activities, probably diving (depends on the current as I have equalizing challenges..), snorkeling and just do nothing.

    Appreciate if you don’t mind to give an advice of course,

    thank you so much!

  23. The first resort that comes to mind is Club Med Kani. See my post here – As the post says, they have tons of activities including surfing and are right next to one of the great dive sites in the Maldives (Lankan Point, a major manta feeding station). Also, the proximity to Male will reduce transfer time eating into your holiday time for the relatively shorter stay of 5 nights.

  24. Hi Bruce, thank you very much for this very useful & informative blog. I am planning my husbands 63 years old birthday in June. since our flight arrives just before 9 PM, we wish to stay in a hotel that does not require a transfe by seaplane. My husband would love snorkelling/scuba-diving. All that I hope is unblocked Seaview & not noisy. After much research, it seems our choices are limited to (1) Baros -highest rating (2) Taj Exotica – lovely design with bath room overlooking the Seaview (3) One & The Only (4) Coco Island-with snorkelling & scuba-diving/fishing & dining on the Dhoni. Which one would you recommend? Grateful for your thoughts.

  25. All four of those are excellent properties. Each of them has a completely different vibe and strengths. Baros and Cocoa have snorkeling from their beach, while Reethi and Taj require a short boat trip. Baros and Cocoa are tiny, while Taj and Reethi are quite a bit bigger. All will have virtually identical scuba diving. Reethi will be considerably more expensive while Taj will likely be the best value. Lots of small differences that entirely depend on your individual preferences.

    When people have a shortlist, I often recommend that people read through my “Best of the Maldives” post and see which distinctions appeal to them most.

  26. Louise Murray on March 3, 2017 at 2:11 pm said:

    HI Bruce – thanks for your message on trip advisor. I am considering a water villa with a slide at Soneva Jani for a family of 4 but its coming just outside of our budget – can you recommend any other hotels that offer OW rooms with a slide around the £1,500-2,000 per night range?

  27. bruce on March 6, 2017 at 10:27 pm said:

    The other “Soneva heritage” resorts (Gili Lankanfushi, Six Senses Laamu) also have water villa slides, but only on their biggest residences.

    Centara Grand has a “slide-mobile” for water fun you can get from their water sports centre-

  28. Hi Bruce
    i love your website!!
    i have few questions that i would need your help in !!

    1- i would like your recommendation on a 5 star hotel that have amazing white sands but also we can do snorkeling for hours
    2- is it worth the money to spend on sunset villa ? or we go for a sunrise villa?
    3- a lot of people are advising me to take the sea plane as the experience is amazing – what about the boat trip?
    4- what are the activities that we can do in Maldives ? beside snorkeling , diving .. is it true we can do island jumping ?
    5- i am not sure if there is an ideal resort , where the island is big enough , a lot of good activities and nice ambiance at nigh yet its an amazing site for snorkeling !!

    • Dee – Glad the site is useful to you.

      1. Anantara Kihavah, Maafushivaru and Kandolhu comes to mind for the mixture of white sands and fine snorkeling.
      2. Here’s the post on the differences. It really depends on whether you enjoy watching the sunset from your villa –
      3. The boat trip is just fine…but the seaplane ride is indeed *amazing* (but it’s also pricey).
      4. The activities found in the Maldives are boundless (though each island only will offer a few select activities) – Resorts will often provide excursions to (a) uninhabited “picnic” islands, and (b) inhabited local islands. You can’t easily just visit another resort island (unless you break your trip into pieces staying for a bit at one and then moving to another).
      5. There are plenty of big islands with lots of activities. The bigger the island, in general the snorkeling from shore is weaker (big islands tend to sit on the atoll edges on big plateaus, while small islands are intra-atoll dots with steep house reef drop offs). Take a look at Kuramathi and Kuredu who have quite sizeable islands with lots of activities and very good snorkeling.

  29. Krishna on April 13, 2017 at 9:39 am said:

    Which of the three Fihalohi or Kandoma or Olhuveli better for a family of 2 + 2 (aged 13/17)? Water Villa and Snorkeling are key factors apart from the budget.

  30. Krishna – I have only visited Kandooma (of the 3 you have listed) so it would be hard for me to compare them directly. Sorry.

  31. Zahidah on May 11, 2017 at 4:57 am said:


    Me and my friend will go to Maldives on 26 June till 1st July 2017.

    We are still confused in which island should we stay? We are planning to stay on a budget guesthouse for 3 days then 1 night stay in over water villa. Do u have any recommendation? Some said we should go to Maafushi island cos it;s cheaper and all excursion activities offered at a super cheap price. Then we are looking for the cheapest over water villa with the cheapest transportation cost as well.

    Thank you in advance.

  32. bruce on May 11, 2017 at 12:15 pm said:

    I don’t really know much about the new guesthouse segment. I haven’t stayed in them and I haven’t researched them much. To save on transportation costs, you want to stay in the South Male (or maybe North Male) atoll. The cheapest water villas I know of in those atolls are at Embudu (it is a lovely little resort too…I stayed there last summer).

  33. Kanika Tewari on August 22, 2017 at 6:31 am said:

    Dear Bruce,

    I am looking at a 4 star property and a water villa. i would like to see animal life of turtles, sharks and sting rays. Ideally would not like to take the plane as it increases cost.

    can you please help, ill be very greatful.

  34. Kanika – Turtles, sharks and sting rays are all among the most common creatures in the Maldives. I would look at a place like Olhuveli, Bandos or Embudu which are 4 star resort with lively and easily accessible house reefs within a speedboat transfer of Male.

  35. Hi Bruce,

    Thanks so much for all of your helpful information. My fiancee and I will be going to the Maldives for the last week of September this year (so in less than 3 weeks….!). Our priority is scuba diving. We are looking to be as budget-conscious as possible (I do not want to pay over $250 per night), and really could care less about amenities, food, drinking, etc. All we want is the best diving possible for our stay. We’d like to be semi-close to Male to maximize our time (but preferably far enough to not hear planes). And we’d just like to be in the water as much as possible. Considering that we want to be budget-conscious and as much accessibility to the best reefs as possible, what resort do you recommend?

    Thank you!

  36. Lu – Your budget with limit you most of as there are very few resorts at $250 or less. Being close to Male (or at least in the North or South Male atolls will both reduce some time spent transferring, but also eliminate what can be an expensive charge for a seaplane transfer. Frankly, the *best* diving spots are scattered all over the north and south Male atolls. You will taking boat trips to get to them. There is no one cluster of superb dive spots that you can get a resort next to. I would look for deals at the value priced resorts like Olhuveli, Club Med Kani, Summer Island, Centara Ras Fushi, Cinnamon Dhonveli, Embudu, Rihiveli.

  37. sanjeev on September 9, 2017 at 1:03 pm said:

    Compare Paradise island resort and Sun island resort in terms of ratting / fascilty/infrastructure /activity

  38. Sanjeev –

    Similarities: Large islands, not really a house reef (so you take a boat to snorkel spots), value-priced, older properties.

    Differences: Sun Island – South Ari Atoll (which some claim is better diving, but at least has the potential to see nearby whale sharks), bird sanctuary, jungle restaurant, huge spa facility. Paradise Island – run by Italians which gives it a lively vibe, generous snacks set out in afternoon and evening, sporty (squash courts, golf driving into lagoon, beach tennis).

  39. Lorna Boyle on January 21, 2018 at 7:33 pm said:

    Hi Bruce
    I am trying to book a holiday for myself and my daughter who loves snorkelling. The following hotels are within our budget Adaaran Select Hudhutsn Fushi and the Adaaran Select Meedhupparu what would be the best option for snorkelling. thanks.

  40. Meedhupparu is much better for snorkeling. Hudhuranfushi is on an atoll-edge plateau which makes for difficult snorkeling on the outer atoll edge and in general the access is considerably further away from the beach. Meedhupparu is an inner atoll island so it is a round island with a house reef dropping off quite close to the beach edge.

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