News & Reviews Indian Ocean Maldives The best luxury resorts in the Maldives (2024 edition)

Fresh off my sixth Maldivian trip, this time experiencing the island’s interpretation of Christmas, I thought it was time to bring out everyone’s favourite form of 21st-century art: a list.

After three weeks of “research”, my mission was clear – to return with a fresh set of recommendations beyond our clients’ familiar territories of Velaa and Cheval Blanc Randheli.  But I am coming back with the same news.  Imagine how livid you’d be if all the Hubble Telescope managed to tell us is the Earth rotates around the sun.

Velaa Private Island

Why: Come at the king, you best not miss.  Many have tried in the ten years since Velaa opened, but it remains the undisputed champ. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of the Maldives, offering everything from rock climbing to snow rooms to submarines. It’s as if someone dared them to fit every conceivable amenity onto one island.  With 47 rooms, it operates at the perfect level to offer every amenity known to man whilst providing excellent service and privacy.  The island is almost as stunning as the food.  And with the owner’s relentless drive to pour resources back in (a Wellness Village, their latest attraction), it will take something special to top it.

Why not: Other than the four-bedroom Residences, I, nor any client, nor anyone I know, nor anyone of sound mind, thinks much of the rooms.  Luckily, there’s so much to do you won’t want to spend much time in them.

Cheval Blanc Randheli

Why: Some may not like the Frenchness of a property in the Indian Ocean, but to them, I say merde your own business.  The design feels timeless, if being copied ten years later makes something timeless.  A mere 25-minute boat ride from Velaa, the luxury gods were so kind that they decided to put two of the best properties on Earth near each other.  It, too, offers the perfect room size at 46.  The island is not natural, but it’s well developed over a decade since it launched, and many of the original issues are long gone.  They, too, continue to invest, with the kids club having recently been rebuilt to keep ahead of the competition.  The highlight is, amongst many things, the variety of food, their spa on its own island, and the sense of privacy.  Having been on the island at 100% occupancy it still felt like it was only us.

Why not: The service during our last stay was somewhat ropey.

The Nautilus

Why: The only Relais & Châteaux property in the Maldives, if that means anything these days.  That should tell you that The Naitlus focus on food, and let me tell you what a huge lie that is.  No, wait, wrong notes, The Nautilus is indeed fantastic at food.  Their service is superb, too, with each room having a dedicated butler.  They go all out to bespoke the experience just for you. It’s an ideal retreat for relaxing and enjoying the finer things in life, like sleep.

Why not: A pro can become a con; the size of the island means the facilities are not at the same level as other resorts.  If you’re someone who thrives on social opportunities, extensive facilities, or a wide range of activities, it’s probably not for you.

Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi

Why: Bucking the trend of small resorts, Waldorf Astoria Ithaafushi has 119 rooms. It’s an easy 45-minute boat ride from Male, which those of you who don’t like flying might consider, but then I would question how you get to Male in the first place.  Yes, it’s a Waldorf, but trust me, it’s actually very good.  No, really.  I swear.  They focus on having as many restaurants as possible and making you forget you’re in a Waldorf.  Having opened in 2019, everything is still super shiny, with some of the best rooms in the Maldives on offer, but they’ve still made upgrades in that time, such as doubling the size of the gym.

Why not: The island is 4km from point to point.  Our butler was terrific, but it’s not the kind of place where everyone knows everyone and service is personalised just for you.

Joali

Why: Everything about Joali appeared to be gearing up to compete with Cheval Blanc Randheli and Velaa, except for their 73 rooms, which make it too big to offer the same bespoke service.  They have taken a distinct approach by weaving art into, well, everything and combining luxury with elements of traditional Maldivian design. It’s an interesting mix that tries to offer something a bit different from your standard luxury resort.  The spa is brilliant, the beach is beautiful, which is rarely rare in the Maldives, and it’s hard to beat an ice cream store that hands out free ice cream.  Their biggest selling point is an intense, deep desire to please. It’s almost over the top but in a good way.  Mostly.

Why not: Because Velaa and Cheval Blanc Randheli exist.

Joali Being

Why: The Maldives first Wellbeing Island.  Probably the last, too, seeing how they’ve had to continually adapt their business model due to the lack of these kinda-useful beings called guests.  Still, Joali Being is one of the most beautifully designed properties I’ve ever seen.  The island is not much to shout about, but what they have done with it needs to be commended.  With just 68 rooms and 39 treatment rooms, it’s safe to say wherever they end up, wellness will certainly play a big part.  If you’re into healthy eating, exercising, and then spending the rest of your day having one of their nine billion treatments, this is the place for you.

Why not: Whilst it’s moving in the direction of being a wellness resort that caters to families, it’s still not there, meaning if you happen to be responsible for ensuring the human race does not go extinct and have children, there are far better places to go.

Kudadoo

Why: Just 15 rooms, Kudadoo is the smallest option on this list. It’s also the only all-inclusive property, making it great for those who love winning the game.  You know the game, the epic value for money seekers, where you must have twelve meals a day whilst pouring unopened bottles of Krug into the ocean.  The island is tiny, with all the rooms and facilities overwater, but they still managed to fit in enough to keep most people occupied.  An all-inclusive spa is undoubtedly something we can all get behind.

Why not:  I could copy/paste exactly what I said about Nautilus here, but to an even more extreme level.  At least at The Nautilus, you have an island; here, you have about as much sand as in my daughter’s sand castle.

One&Only Reethi Rah

Why: One&Only Reethi Rah is like the granddaddy of Maldivian luxury, having set up shop when most of us were still marvelling at how Pluto was no longer a planet.  Yes, the year was 2006, a time so long ago we actually had to talk to one another as social media was in its infancy.  Anywho, back to my point.  Boasting 122 rooms, it is the largest island on this list, with 12 beaches and a space shuttle needed to get from one end of the island to another.  Fortunately, you only need a boat to get there from Male, which seems to appeal to a lot of people and perhaps is why it’s so popular.    It has a reputation as one of the Maldives’ best; it’s not a reputation I will enhance because there are better options on this list, but it does have a Missoni store, which is enough reason for my wife to want to return. It’s also worthy of being on this list because it offers excellent food, good service and a lot of activities and facilities.

Why not: It’s 18 years old, and whilst it’s still looking good (no inappropriate jokes about 18-year-olds, thank you very much), the competition has bettered it in many ways.  The rooms, though spacious, are where you feel the years the most, even if the resort has been regularly sprucing up its facilities.

Intentional omissions

I’m not including these on a “best of” list for the very reason that I’ve stayed in them and they’re not:  Patina, Soneva Jani, Soneva Fushi, Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Huvafen Fushi.

Ignorance omissions

I am not including these as I’ve yet to visit them: Ritz-Carlton Fari Islands, Gili Lankanfushi.

Financial omissions

I am not including these as I lack the $50,000 per night to stay in them: Four Seasons Voavah.

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 13th Feb '24

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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