The Maldives See And Do
Huvafen Fushi Resort
North Male Atoll
Tel: 960 664 4222
Russian oligarchs cruise through these atolls in the latest mammoth yachts, but equally chic and considerably more environmental are indigenous sailing craft made of coconut wood called dhoni. This slower boat resembles an Arab dhow, and its roots are traceable to the sailboats that brought ancient Phoenician explorers to these parts sometime before 300 B.C. Huvafen Fushi is the best place to experience a trip on these ships. The 65-foot boats have been updated with cushy comforts like pillow-strewn daybeds at the bow end and an attentive crew of three. Frette sheets in the understated rooms down below make these the resort's exciting new "floating" room category, though a night or two at sea should suffice for most. Sunbathe between snorkels or dives among the Maldives's kaleidoscopic coral rich with angelfish, Napoleon wrasse, turtles, and whale sharks. Disembark at one palm-fringed deserted isle after another where the crew prepares picnic lunches of grilled just-caught tuna and chile lobster. Adventurous couples can arrange an overnight on one of these idyllic sand spits, complete with bed and specially delivered morning breakfast.
North Male Atoll
Those who tire of island life may want to head to Male (pronounced "MAHL-ee"). At one square mile, it's the world's smallest capital city. Don't set aside too much time: Even leisurely strollers will cover all of the sites in a few hours. Along the way, listen to the local language, Dhivehi, which encompasses elements of Arabic, Sinhalese, Hindi, and Indian regional dialects like Malayalam and Gujarati. Start at the waterfront near the main square called Jumhooree Maidan. Stroll along the main fishing harbor where dhonis unload their catch for the colorful fish market nearby. Seek out the National Museum in the former Sultan's Palace, which has 11th-century stone figures excavated by adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and rifles used to fight against the Portuguese in the 16th century.
Male is home to more than a dozen mosques. Gold-lacquered Grand Friday Mosque dominates the city's skyline, but Hukuru Miskiiy (Old Friday Mosque) is the city's oldest, dating from the 17th century. Built by Sultan Ibrahim Iskandhar, it served as Male's main place of worship for almost four centuries. The coral-walled inner sanctums are hung with lamps and panels engraved with ornate Arabic writing. However, unlike at most mosques in the Maldives, visitors are not allowed inside. Wander instead among the elaborately carved coral headstones in the surrounding cemetery. Abu Al Barakat, the North African explorer who brought Islam to the Maldives in the 12th century, is buried here.
There are local restaurants for lunch, though none compare to the cuisine at top hotels. The Maldives is a strict Muslim country, so don't expect to find much alcohol in the capital. Boutiques along the northern end of Chaandhanee Magu are the best place in Male for souvenir shopping. Look for local handicrafts like seashell jewelry and artful replicas of traditional Maldivian sailboats, called dhoni, carved by locals from coconut wood.
Tropicsurf at Anantara Resort Maldives
South Male Atoll
Tel: 960 664 4100
Surfing may have originated in the South Pacific, but it's thriving in the Maldives with legendary waves and year-round water temperatures of 79 to 82° Fahrenheit. Tropicsurf, an Australian company recognized as an industry leader, has instructors based at Anantara and the Four Seasons who bring serious wave riders by helicopter to secret breaks between the atolls. The company only accepts hotel guests, so if riding waves is your priority, book at one of these properties. They are equally adept at teaching novices to hang ten. The first lesson typically consists of stand-up paddle surfing in a serene turquoise lagoon on a special beginners' board. The lesson at Anantara conveniently ends with a final paddle up to the Dhoni Bar where celebrations for staying afloat are in order. More advanced surfers can catch the curls alongside a coach and be videotaped as part of Tropicsurf's personalized skill-progression program. If you opt not to do the Tropicsurf program, you can arrange group and private lessons through most resorts.
Four Seasons Explorer
North Male Atoll
Tel: 960 664 4888
While underwater life deserves plenty of attention in the Maldives, even those who dive under need to come up for air. Linger atop the ocean's undulating surface, having fun on a Hobie Cat or cruising aboard a luxury sailboat; or go for something with considerably more kick, like the speedboats maintained by all of the major resorts. Among the countless boats that sail these equatorial waters, the 129-foot, triple-deck Four Seasons Explorer stands out as one of the most decadent. The luxury catamaran accommodates up to 22 guests for three-, four-, and seven-day cruises between secluded locations and picturesque sandbanks. Cruise alongside bottlenose dolphins or jump in to swim among them. Snorkel or dive with a marine biologist in rarely visited waters, home to unicorn fish, giant Maori wrasse, and vermilion rock cod, plus spotted eagle rays, sharks, and rare turtles. The yacht's dive center is managed by international instructors and is equipped with Nitrox Air plus top-quality gear. Back on board, Four Seasons spa therapists join the expedition to unknot swimmers' muscles. Smiling staff are on hand to arrange sunset fishing from the local dhoni boat and dig dinner tables into the sand for beach barbecues.