The Maldives hotels
The 1,190 coral islands of the Maldives stretch like a string of pearls across 34,750 square miles along the equator. Just over 200 of these are inhabited, and only half of those allow tourist hotels (usually at a rate of one per island). These uniquely idyllic conditions have given rise in recent years to unprecedented levels of luxury as big players like Conrad, Four Seasons, and One&Only compete with regional chains like COMO Shambhala to capture the attention of an increasingly sophisticated and demanding clientele. An underwater restaurant at the Conrad was soon followed by an underground spa at Huvafen Fushi and then a sunken bar at the photogenic W Maldives.
Luxury lovers who want to spend quality time with world-class marine scientists; try an Ayurvedic detox diet; or learn to surf, scuba dive, or cook Maldivian fare face the daunting task of choosing between the endless over-the-top properties. Those only staying for a few days should consider limiting their choice to hotels accessible by speedboat from Male International Airport in the North and South Male atolls. Many flights arrive in Male in the middle of the night, when seaplanes are unable to ferry you to your hotel, so those staying at farther-flung resorts might have to spend a night in the capital or on a plastic chair at the airport before getting a transfer the following morning. Travelers with more than a few days often opt to book at two or three resorts during their visit, to dive with mantas in one atoll and scout for dolphins at sunset in another.
Outside of a few neighboring resorts in North and South Male atolls, few opportunities exist to dine off-island except in the form of picnic on a deserted sandbank. Four-star resorts typically offer meal plans with premiums to eat in the fine-dining outlets, but these top-of-the-line properties generally opt for all-inclusive breakfast only. Travelers concerned with culinary variety should stick to the hotel clusters around North and South Male atolls, where it's possible to island-hop.
Be prepared for sticker shock. This is one of those cash-in-your-savings, once-in-a-lifetime destinations, and hotels will eat up a big chunk of your budget. High season runs from December to March, but travelers seeking lower room rates may still see more sun than rain in the traditional monsoon season between May and October.