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You don’t know dreamy until you’ve experienced, in person, the spectacular beauty of the Maldives. Each of its 1,190 coral islands is postcard-perfect, but it’s the water that’s the true game-changer. Every other sea and beach pales in comparison. The epic diving might leave you too jaded to ever strap on the oxygen tank anywhere else. From the rest of the world’s point of view, it’s almost unfair.

From above, before landing at Malé airport, travelers get a taste of the intense blues and greens that mix like food coloring in a glass of water. But there’s nothing like getting in it, and on it. Simply swimming in this part of the Indian Ocean – always the perfect temperature, always crystalline clear – is an almost heavenly act. And then there are the private sandbank islands, constantly shifting shape and size, and often available for intimate picnics or standout sunrise yoga sessions (as at One&Only Reethi Rah). But there are so many other ways to make once-in-a-lifetime Maldivean memories – here are six.

Stand-up paddleboarding and surfing

If you’re more of an observer, grab a stand-up paddleboard from the shore of any resort and set out for some intimate aquatic wildlife spotting. From your perch just on top of the surface, you can see everything, whether you’re gliding over a ray chilling half-buried in the sand, or spotting a crazily colourful species of fish you’ll swear you’re the first to discover. Those fueled by adrenaline will want to rent (or bring their own) surfboard to carve up the breaks in the southern atolls such as Yin Yang, where waves break biggest from June to September. On Thaa Atoll, Como Maalifushi is perfectly situated near several popular waves.

Fishing

Fishing in the Maldives is not your standard rod-and-tackle experience. Here, they do it old-school. The only technique allowed in the country is line fishing, and it’s illegal to fish on the house reefs that surround most islands. Virtually every resort – including Constance Halaveli and Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa – has its own boat to take guests on spectacularly scenic private trips at sunrise or sunset, but the real treat comes back at the resort when the chef creates a culinary masterpiece out of your catch, or even teaches you how to prepare it yourself. Catch-and-release game fishing for big guys like barracuda, tuna and marlin is also widely available for those into the sport of the hunt.

One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives

One&Only Reethi Rah sits beside one of the country’s top shark sites

Swimming with whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles  

The staff at the Maldives’ many private island resorts often include marine biologists and specialists, always on hand to help guests learn about the world underwater. Hanifaru Bay is a popular destination for snorkeling and diving with the most incredible creatures in the sea, which depending on the season might include black- and white-tipped reef sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and whale sharks – the world’s biggest fish. Cocoa Thila, too, is a world-class diving destination, and One&Only Reethi Rah sits beside one of the country’s top shark sites. Meanwhile, the house reef at Soneva Fushi is so mind-bogglingly packed with life, you may not need to go anywhere at all except out into the shallows with your mask and snorkel.

Boats and beyond

Catamarans, Hobie Cats, windsurfs, glass-bottom kayaks, banana boats – any time you’re on the water in the Maldives you’re guaranteed a gorgeous day. Six Senses Laamu offers aquatic safaris in search of spinner and bottlenose dolphins, and you can also include a picnic and sunbathing on a snow-white private sandbank. Other resorts, including Constance Halaveli, provide catamaran lessons, and Como Cocoa Island maintains a stash of watercraft to borrow – assuming you don’t want to just sit back and spot flying fish as a captain sails you from one paradisiacal island to the next on a traditional handcrafted dhoni.

Niyama Private Islands Maldives, Subsix bar

Subsix bar at Niyama Private Islands Maldives

Overwater and underwater bungalows, bars and tubs

What’s better than being in an infinity pool with an ocean view? Being in an infinity pool over the ocean, of course. The overwater bungalow is practically a signature of the Maldives and, although each resort does it differently, they’re all hands-down incredible. Huvafen Fushi’s living rooms have glass floors, and its spa is actually underwater – with glass-walled treatment rooms  dotted across the ocean floor. At Six Senses Laamu the bath tubs have glass bottoms so you can peek at the silvery and vividly colored fish below as you soak. Then there’s the submerged glass-sided bar Subsix, at Niyama Private Islands Maldives, which is reached by speedboat and the descent of a three-storey staircase. It’s like living in a dream.

Diving in the bioluminescence

You may think that daytime – when you can see that turquoise water in all its glory – is the only time to enjoy the sea, but at Amilla Fushi, Milaidhoo Island and Soneva Fushi, for example, there’s marine magic after dark, too. On night dives in the Unesco-protected biosphere of Baa Atoll, a guide can lead you past octopus and lobster to the underwater clouds of bioluminescence, an aggregation of harmless glow-in-the-dark plankton that makes the water shine with a brilliant blue light.

Featured image is Huvafen Fushi

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