8 top things to do in the Maldives beyond your villa

It’s time to bust the myth that there’s nothing to do in the Maldives apart from sipping rainbow-hued cocktails, snapping beachfront selfies and sprawling on chaise longues.

Don’t get us wrong – we love doing all of these things. But there’s more to this archipelago than just relaxation. The Indian Ocean’s most popular holiday destination offers something for everyone.

Today, in addition to lying out in the sun, the most popular activities in the Maldives include skydiving, art master classes and visits to islands where locals live. Read on to discover the best things to do on your next Maldives getaway.

A scuba diver watches brightly colored fish at Velassaru Resort, Maldives
The Maldives’ waters teem with stunning marine life, which you can see both above and under the water © Vladislav Klimin / Shutterstock

1. Get a scuba certification

This is an obvious one. The topography of the Maldives’ atolls means the water in which you’ll learn is clear, calm and shallow. The nearest beach is always close by, meaning beginners can head right into the ocean for introductory sessions that would be done in a pool elsewhere. This also means you’ll quickly become accustomed to sharing the sea with a wide range of stunning marine life. And since dive instructors in the Maldives are on longer contracts than freelance instructors elsewhere, you’ll gain an insight into the region’s waters through the people who know it best. The Maldives is also a great place to gain additional qualifications, such as those for technical or shipwreck diving. 

What’s more, resorts are going all-out to offer qualified divers a wider range of experiences. On the Noonu Atoll, for example, Siyam World now offers blue-light diving: night dives with blue illumination that reacts with the fluorescent pigments in certain types of marine life, causing them to glow. 

A snorkeler gets close to two huge manta rays in the Maldives
Take an excursion with marine biologists to swim up close to majestic manta rays © courtesy InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort

2. Admire the Indian Ocean’s marine life

Not up to scuba diving? No problem. The Maldives’ waters are teeming with marine life that are just as accessible through other means. Most resorts offer excursions for guests keen to see brightly colored fish up close. At Anantara Dhigu resort, just a short speedboat ride away from Male, you can sign up for marine-biologist-led excursions to see (and swim with, if you’re feeling brave) nurse sharks. Similarly, at the InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort, close to the UNESCO-listed Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve, guests can join resident marine biologists from the Manta Trust on ray-spotting excursions.

Planning tip: Pack your own fins and goggles if you’re planning on snorkeling – you’ll avoid equipment-rental fees and reduce the risk of having to use ill-fitting kit.

3. Immerse yourself in Maldivian history

A growing number of resorts are paying homage to the region’s heritage by giving visitors the chance to learn about the Maldives’ history. At the Raa Atoll’s Cora Cora Maldives, guests can visit the Dutch Onion Museum to admire artifacts found around and near the island – including two ancient, onion-shaped bottles for which the museum is named. Also on display are stone tanks once used to collect rainwater, and which date back to the 12th century.

Similarly, the Heritance Aarah resort on the Raa Atoll has the Maldivian Village, an immersive museum where guests can learn about the region’s earliest inhabitants and life in the Maldives some 4000 years ago.  

The dining room at 5.8 Undersea Restaurant at Hurawalhi Island Resort, Maldives
Taking dinner surrounded by sea life is a bucket-list Maldives experience © courtesy Hurawalhi Island Resort

4. Dine, drink or detox underwater

There’s little you can’t do underwater in the Maldives. The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island has an underwater suite for guests who fancy sleeping with the fishes. Several resorts offer swank underwater restaurants, including Hurawalhi Island Resort’s 5.8 Undersea Restaurant – a spot on most people’s Maldives must-do list. Niyama Private Islands Maldives is home to Subsix restaurant, where underwater highlights include sea-urchin-like chairs, while Ozen Life Maadhoo welcomes diners to take the plunge at its M6m restaurant.

To sip wine that’s been aged underwater (as one does), head to the Emerald Maldives Resort and Spa. For a different kind of indulgence, head to Huvafen Fushi, where you can enjoy one of the resort’s legendary detoxifying treatments in the underwater spa. The large number of options for couples make this a wonderful option for lovebirds searching for memorable (if unusual) romantic activities.

A woman gives the thumbs-up sign during a tandem skydive in the Maldives
Skydiving lets you see the Maldives’ waters’ many shades of blue from above © courtesy Ifuru Island Maldives

5. Go skydiving

Skydiving is new to the Maldives. In 2023, the enterprising owners of Ifuru Island Maldives resort, which has its own small runway, realized their stretch of tarmac made it the perfect place to set up the Maldives’ first permanent skydiving facility. Currently, the skydiving school is led by world-champion skydiver Will Penny, who has over 21,000 jumps under his belt.

You don’t have to be a resort guest to take the leap. And if you opt for the VIP package, you’ll land next to a table on which you’ll find a chilled bottle of champagne and a selection of canapés.

Planning tip: If you plan on skydiving during your Maldives trip, aim to stay close to Ifuru Island – there are plenty of resorts in the same atoll.

A street with flowers on Maafushi Island, Maldives
See how Maldivians live on a “local island,” like Maafushi © gg-foto / Shutterstock

6. Visit a “local” Maldivian island

Believe it or not, not every one of the Maldives’ islands has been taken over by glitzy resorts. Hundreds of them still have vibrant local communities, and many resorts offer guests the chance to visit these villages and to get a sense of the Maldives life beyond the ’gram.

At the Fairmont Maldives – Sirru Fen Fushi, guests can visit a nearby island and clear litter from its beaches. The Cora Cora Maldives offers guests the opportunity to visit an island abandoned due to rising sea levels – an excursion that provides sobering insights into the heightened risks faced by these low-lying atolls.

Planning tip: Not all resorts formally advertise a trip to a Maldivian island. Ask if yours can organize private visits to local communities; most are happy to help facilitate such excursions for guests. 

7. Master a new skill

These days, many resorts go way beyond beachfront service, offering such self-improvement activities as art lessons (Joali Maldives is one of several resorts with an art studio and in-house art teacher), photography master classes or workshops specializing in traditional Maldivian crafts. At Gili Lankanfushi, on the easily accessible North Male Atoll, guests can try their hand at kajan thatch-roof making, practice speaking Dhivehi bas (the local dialect) and join a Maldivian drum lesson.

A woman tends to coral fragments, the Maldives
You can play a small part in protecting the Maldives’ delicate reefs while on vacation © courtesy Vakkaru Maldives

8. Adopt your own piece of coral

The Maldives wouldn’t be the Maldives without its stunning reefs, which encircle the islands on which you’ll find the most popular resorts. While these reefs have not always been well looked after, most resorts today have in-house marine biologists tasked with caring for the corals and nurturing newly-planted coral fragments – a process known as coral propagation.

Check out a vast range of coral-related activities, ranging from opportunities to plant and adopt your own coral fragment (Vakkaru Maldives is one of many resorts to offer this) to underwater master classes led by marine biologists where you can help log details about the house reef surrounding your resort. The best part? Since resorts know that a pristine reef will attract more guests, coral-related activities are often free of charge – making them one of our favorite free activities in the Maldives, too.

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