World's Best Destination for the third year in a row

Endless beaches of sand as fine as flour and as white as snow, but much warmer; waters that from far away are turquoise or navy blue (never better said) and up close are crystal clear; vegetation of palms, coconut palms, breadfruit trees and Bengal fig trees that kiss the sea and shade hibiscus and bougainvillea; a fauna made up of butterflies, huge fruit bats and small iguanas on land and sharks of different types and sizes, manta rays, curious napoleons, tuna, turtles and millions of small fish of infinite colours underwater. Is this not Paradise?

In this Paradise, as you can see, there are no snakes and apples to tempt man or woman, but there are other temptations in the form of spectacular resorts with villas, cottages and bungalows that balance on the sea or blend into the jungle, restaurants offering food and drink from every possible continent, infinity pools that blend into the ocean, land and sea sports... and the ever-present temptation of the ever-present temptation of the sea and land sports. ... and the ever-present temptation to rest and do nothing, to let time pass while the body is saturated with pleasant sensations. It is no coincidence that the Maldives has been recognised as the world's best destination for the third year in a row. 

It is nothing new to compare the Maldives with Paradise. An old legend says that the invisible hand of some god took a little piece of Eden and sprinkled it on our planet, and it fell just right in the form of a garland of 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean. Men called this archipelago the Maldives, and it is no coincidence that in Sanskrit the name means garland.

The description, without falling into superlatives, which is a complicated task, says that it is 26 atolls with a total area of only 298 km2 (Spain occupies more than 500,000), with 1200 islands, of which only about 200 are inhabited, most with only one resort on each island, which in order to accommodate their guests have created dozens of villas on the water like huge spider legs, which is one of its main attractions. It is the flattest country in the world, with the highest "peaks" barely more than five feet above sea level. 

To compensate, it has the best seabed in the world, which delights expert divers and snorkellers who decide to explore its depths, especially in Baa Atoll, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Always surrounded by a wonderful lagoon of turquoise tones, you can find some islands with long tongues of sand that get lost in the sea or colourful coral reefs that have become home to millions of colourful fish and some of their big brothers, even the majestic whale shark.

The Maldives is considered one of the three best places in the world to dive. Its spectacular coral reefs and exotic marine life are astounding. All this with the added attraction that these beautifully untouched seabeds are generally very close to the beaches, so even snorkelers without tanks can enjoy them. The tropical sun, clear water, warm waters and extraordinary coral formations - estimated at more than 3,000 coral reefs - make it look like a giant aquarium.

Officially a Muslim country, it rigidly controls the entry of alcohol across its borders at the airport in Male, the capital - the only island with tall buildings and home to most of the country's sparse population - confiscating (and returning on departure) even the small bottles of wine that some people take off the plane. 

But in the hotels, Christian infidels can sin to their heart's content with liquor and wine of the best brands. Religious figures, common among those from neighbouring India, are also banned.

Although apparently the plan on any of the islands is similar: beach, snorkelling, sun loungers, good food and drink, sumptuous accommodation, bodu-beru concerts, sunset dhoni excursions, visits to deserted islands or fishing villages... the reality is that many of the resorts are trying to offer more original proposals. For example, there are already several of them that have installed underwater restaurants where you can contemplate the abundant marine fauna while enjoying one of the 400 different wines on offer, or stay in an overwater villa and take a dip? down a waterslide in your room, sleep in a bubble room on the beach, swim with a whale shark, play golf, tennis or paddle tennis and then relax in a full-service spa.

Choosing the right resort

As you can see, each of the Maldives islands offers more or less the same, the difference can be in choosing the right resort, the one that offers what you are looking for with original and private accommodation, with facilities that allow you to enjoy the desired sports or more relaxed leisure, with a good and varied gastronomic offer, with a careful and friendly service and with a touch that makes it different. There is plenty to choose from and a good idea is to let yourself be advised by experts who know the destination well, as is the case of the wholesaler Arena Tours, which has been offering Maldives for more than 16 years. As the choice is endless, we will focus on just two very special ones.

Located in the South Male Atoll, 12 kilometres from Male International Airport and about 25 minutes by speedboat, the 5-star Velassaru Maldives is one of the best options for those who value the privacy of staying on an island in the middle of the ocean close to the capital. The island is small and can be circled around the water's edge in just 15 minutes. 

There are different types of accommodation: bungalows and villas with or without private pool, on the beach or on the water with direct access to the ocean and a large terrace. All are spacious and well equipped, with wooden floors and ceilings and ceiling fans, flat screen TVs, international TV channels and DVD players, with minibar, wine fridge, coffee maker and full bathroom and in many cases private outdoor shower, with beach bags, slippers and toiletries, some have extra beds for children. There is also a 270 square metre suite, with butler service, a huge terrace overlooking the sea, large infinity pool, dining area with sofas and sun loungers... a real floating palace.

Between swims in the sea and the infinity pool overlooking the beach and ocean, you can enjoy a relaxing spa treatment in one of the pavilions built over the water or take a trip on an authentic Maldivian boat, while sipping a glass of champagne with canapés and fruit, with a crew demonstrating traditional fishing methods. Facilities include a gym and tennis court.

At the Velassaru's five restaurants and two bars, on the beach, by the lagoon, by candlelight or under the stars, a variety of cuisines and tempting culinary creations await. At the Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant, on a platform over the water, you can savour seared salmon in flaming woks, exciting sushi and sashimi bites and innovative dishes. 

The Vela offers a huge buffet for breakfast and dinner with cooking stations featuring a variety of tempting flavours, succulent imported meats and the freshest local seafood. Exotic flavours in a spectacular setting, with one of those exotic dishes being one of the highlights: Valencian paella. At the neighbouring Turquesa, meals are à la carte. Perhaps the best is the Sand which as the name suggests is on the sandy beach or on small walkways over the water, with Indian Ocean specialities while watching the sunset.

Another super all-inclusive option

From the air, after a 40-minute flight as the seaplane whisks you from the capital Male to Raa Atoll, the slender coral cay of Dhigali Island anticipates pure Maldivian bliss. Surrounded by a coral reef that protects it from unusual waves and unwanted visits from small sharks, the island's beaches resemble a string of pearls surrounded by lush vegetation that leaves little to guess what lies beneath. The island is relatively large, although electric mini-buses run every few minutes to get around. 

The sleek and modern Dhigali Maldives 5*, decorated with contemporary style and taste, is an oasis in the Raa Atoll, its fine white sandy beaches seem to disappear into infinity while the coral reef surrounding the island allows snorkelling just a few metres from the beach. This elegant resort stands out for the quality of its gastronomic offer and the very complete Premium All Inclusive, which makes it truly exclusive. It also stands out for its various environmental initiatives, ranging from the design of its villas, the preservation of flora and fauna, the treatment of waste water, the absence of plastics and the recovery of traditional cuisine.

Because the Premium concept offered to all guests is the best way to experience all that this green paradise has to offer. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in the Premium all-inclusive offer, a selection of wines and spirits are also part of the package. A full minibar is offered in the room, with a wine and champagne fridge, half-litre bottles of spirits replenished daily, with snacks and sweets and little touches, from the complimentary cake for birthday and anniversary celebrations to the free Kids Club for children aged 4 to 12.

Such are the attractions of each of the accommodations that you are tempted to enjoy them and forget for a while about the wonderful beaches or the fantastic restaurants. Even the 20 simpler beach bungalows, which are tucked away in tropical gardens, have luxurious furnishings, large beds, open-air bathrooms and a luxurious outdoor rain shower, a large covered terrace with private loungers for relaxing and of course the premium minibar. And while there are also overwater villas, perhaps more appealing are the Beach Villas a few metres from the water, with a private pool and bathroom comprising an invigorating rain shower that is open to the balmy island air and a large covered outdoor terrace leading to the porcelain sands of the beach.

An impressive range of activities are available in the premium all-inclusive package, from snorkelling to non-motorised boat trips, group yoga sessions, access to the gym and spa and a free dolphin watching cruise and a glass-bottom boat trip to discover the incredible marine wildlife without getting wet.

The gastronomic offer deserves a special mention. You can start your day by ordering breakfast on a floating tray to be taken by the villa's private pool. There are eight restaurants to choose from, from the impressive buffet for breakfast and dinner at Capers with more than a hundred dishes to choose from all kinds of cuisines and showcooking on the spot, to the sophisticated atmosphere, among plants and small lakes at Batutta, named after Ibn Battuta, one of the greatest travellers of the 14th century, born in Tangier and who travelled all over North Africa to the Middle East and reached Southeast Asia and the Maldives. A taste of the cuisine of these countries is offered in this unique restaurant, hidden in the jungle of Dhihali.

To end the day, there's nothing like a tropical cocktail at the Haali bar, in a bird's nest hut with cushions on the beach, where you can enjoy a good drink while you watch the spectacular sunset and see for yourself that you're not dreaming. That the Maldives is a dream come true.

Text: Enrique Sancho

Photos: Carmen Cespedosa, archive and y hotels

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